On 14 July, Bastille Day, and whilst the pros were facing their demons on Ventoux, I rolled into Paris to complete the 100th edition of the Tour de France.
All 21 stages, a week before the pros but on the same scheduling, had been undertaken.
It was a surreal day which started at 5am with a six hour coach transfer from Annecy in the Alps to a goat farm 25 kms outside of Versailles. Once off the bus we were treated to a fantastic rustic French lunch by the goat farmers before saddling up in their barns for one last hurrah.
En route to Versailles, where friends and family were gathering, the peleton rolled at a relaxed pace as the champagne bottles in the riders' jersey pockets were popped and the bubbles were dished out. It was a beautiful sunny day and a chance for us to enjoy riding with each other for one last time and revel in what this group of riders had achieved.
It was an emotional moment coming up to the Versailles Palace as family and friends of the riders had gathered to applaud and cheer their loved ones into Paris. Knowing that my girlfriend Emma was going to be there was a great feeling but I was bowled over further by seeing my Mum and brother who I had no idea would be present. It topped off what was already turning into a fantastic day. Once they had all been given sweaty hugs, the peleton re-assembled and started making its way slowly to the Eiffel Tower. I couldn't help but chuck my water bottles as we peddalled, my one last re-enactment of being a pro rider, although I doubt the local Parisians will be fighting over them as souvenirs. Shame on them.
The final reckoning came as we swung right across the pavé onto the Place Joffre from the Avenue de Suffren and wheeled to a halt opposite the grandiose Ecole Militaire. Large numbers of friends and family had turned out to welcome us at the finish line as well as those that had hot footed it from Versailles. Cue more DIY banners and signage, champagne spraying, hugs, tears of joy and photo shoots. The atmosphere was electric and to have the sun shining down on us, as well as the Eiffel Tower glittering in the background as the French prepared to celebrate Bastille made it all the more special. It is a scene that will be emblazoned on my memory until the end of my days.
After soaking up the atmosphere we all made our way to our final hotel in Montparnasse and dug out our three week creased shirts from the bottom of our bags in an attempt to look respectable for the end of tour party. The tour organisers could not have secured a better venue for the night - the 54th floor of the Montparnasse Tower. The panaramic views of Paris in the sunset were glorious and we had the best seats in the house for the Bastille fireworks exploding over the Eiffel Tower as darkness fell. However, and most importantly, we had a private venue where we could celebrate our achievement together, thank our friends and family for all their support in getting us here and sign off with some heart warming speeches from Rick Wates (one of the trustees of the WWMT and William's brothers) and our lead rider, the mountain goat, the one and only Phil Deeker, without whose generosity of spirit, humility, sense of humour and leadership the TdF would have been half the experience.
But, as is the same with any transcending experience, the bubble has to burst at some point. In an act of sheer brutality, and much tougher than any moutain climb, I popped my bubble at 8.43am the next day as my Eurostar to London pulled out of Gare du Nord. Sitting at my office desk yesterday lunchtime, I could not believe that 24 hours earlier I was preparing to finish my TdF odyssey. Dazed and confused only touches upon it. The reoccuring questions yesterday afternoon - where is my bike and which foodstop am I heading for?
It is too early to reflect on what has so recently come to pass but I am sure to wrap up this blog with a debrief and "what next?" in the coming days. For now it is a case of re-adjusting to reality, dealing with the accumulated fatigue, marvelling at how much quicker the pros will ride the exact same route this week into Paris and to stop eating six times a day. That will be challenge enough.