by Chris Tobin
“Words can’t express what we went through,” Waimate doctor Steve Fish says.
He is talking of an epic ride he and a group of other men undertook last year cycling the entire route of the greatest race in cycling, the Tour de France.
He wanted to do the journey before he got much older (he is 50) and so he and a group of fellow veteran, or more politely, experienced cyclists flew into France last year, mounted their bikes and started pedalling, just before the professionals were let loose.
Gruelling is how Dr Fish describes the challenge and if ever he needs to be reminded all he has to do is view a documentary film made of the group’s ride.
The 55-minute-long documentary was screened in Waimate’s picture theatre recently to a packed house.
Dr Fish has a long association with cycling.
Before migrating to New Zealand with his family in 2008 he had been team doctor to the British cycling team when multiple Olympic champion Chris Hoy was starting out and Bradley Wiggins, future Tour de France, Olympic and world champion, was coming through as a junior.
He was also team doctor to the junior British swimming team in 2005.
Dr Fish says he and the other eight club-level cyclists set out accompanied by a videographer to find out if it was possible to ride “one day ahead of the race”.
It was, but at a price.
“I think we had it worse than the pros. They’re fitter and they had 108 riders round them and they had closed roads.
“We only had seven others and no closed roads.
“The pros had nutritionists and cooks, while we relied on supermarkets and restaurant food.”
With each man expending 8000 calories a day, that was a challenge in itself.
“Our time on the bike was also up to twice it was for the pros, which gave us limited recovery time every night.
“We had it worse; in fact some of our team spoke to Jack Bauer (New Zealand professional and Tour de France rider) on the start of the final stage. They said he couldn’t imagine how tough it was for us.
“We all made it but there were some very, very difficult moments when we couldn’t have done it without a team.”
Starting on July 7, they battled it out for the rest of the month through 21 stages, before reaching Paris and riding down the city’s Champs d’Elysees.
“Drivers were incredibly sympathetic – it was a completely different story to New Zealand.”
The longest stage – from Fougeres to Chartres – was more than 231km.
The worst stages were in the thin air of the Pyrenees, where the 37degC-plus heat was “unreal” and where at one time, they had to grind their way up a 7% gradient for 16km.
“It was a microcosm of life – all had their ups and downs over the three weeks. That’s the message of the movie.”
The ride was not just to satisfy personal ambitions, it served also as a fundraising effort for the Mental Health Foundation.
“Fifty percent of New Zealanders will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime.”
More than $80,000 has been raised as a result of their ride.
Fittingly, their epic ride ended where all Tour de France races end – in Paris, not far from the Arc de Triomphe – sipping champagne.