One day ahead 2015 Before the Tour 2015
It’s not all about the bike.
“If you knew how bad the journey would be would you have come on this trip?” This was the question that my travel companion asked me after travelling nearly thirty hours to reach the One Day Ahead training camp in Aspen, Colorado. My answer was “Probably not”. Now a few days into the camp my answer is, “You bet I would!”
As a member of Le Tour-One Day Ahead team, I was excited to meet the other members, do some altitude training and also some media work to raise awareness of the charity challenge, which will see twelve amateur and recreational cyclists ride the whole route of this year’s Tour de France one day ahead of the professional peloton to raise funds for Cure Leukaemia.
However the trip didn’t get off to the best start as the journey from London to Aspen was incredibly long and fraught. Due to a delay leaving Heathrow my travel companion and I missed our connection in Dallas and had to wait for the next available flight to Denver. From Denver we still had a four hour drive through the Colorado Mountains to reach Aspen. By the time we eventually reached Aspen we were shattered and questioning whether we had made the right decision to travel. However all that changed the following morning.
After a big American breakfast on pancakes and maple syrup we set off to collect our hire bikes and then hit the mountain roads in the White River National Forest. The team tackled the two climbs of Maroon and Castel Creek and were treated to stunning scenery of snow-capped mountains, alpine lakes and even marmots! Some members found it hard going due to the effects of the long journey and the altitude but luckily apart from a headache I felt OK.
The following day would be a mixture of the surreal and breath-taking. In order to raise the profile of One Day Ahead and increase fundraising possibilities, the organiser, former England footballer and cancer survivor Geoff Thomas had persuaded Lance Armstrong to cycle some stages of Le Tour with us. As part of the media and fundraising work Lance invited the team to train with him for the weekend. Of course Lance Armstrong is a controversial figure but no one can ignore the millions that he has raised to support people affected by cancer and if his inclusion in the challenge can save lives then that is what is important.
Cycling up to Lance’s house to meet him for the first time was very strange and of course we were all a bit nervous about whether we would be able to keep up with him! Lance tried to reassure us that he would take it easy with us as he hadn’t been out on the bike for months. This of course, didn’t really reassure anyone! The first half of the ride was actually easy with the wind behind us, however all that would change as we headed up the incline toward the ski resort of Snowmass. Lance warned us that there was a hard section approaching and you know if a former pro-cyclist tells you that it is going to be hard then it’s time to worry! Not surprisingly the route back wasn’t just hard but for some of us impossible. A long stretch of gravel path at an incline of over 20 per cent meant that some of us (myself included) lost traction and had to walk! Of course Lance easily reached the top!
That evening Lance invited the whole team to his house for dinner. In all my years of cycling I never imagined that I would one day spend Saturday night at Lance Armstrong’s house. The evening was great fun with Lance challenging us all to a game of pool and giving us a tour of his home, during which I spotted his 2003 BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year award!
The Sunday would turn out to be a longer ride but at least this time it was all going to be on asphalt. We headed out with Lance onto the cycle path towards the resort of Basalt and then along the Frying Pan River Road to the summit of Gyp Hill. The return journey was via Woody Creek Tavern a saloon that was a regular haunt of Hunter S. Thompson, the author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Luckily, after overloading on burritos, apple crumble and root beer floats we only had ten miles until we got back to Aspen. This marked the end of the weekend training camp for some team members but I was fortunate enough to be able to for a whole week and was able to discover a few more mountain climbs including the famous Independence Pass at 12,095 feet in the Rocky Mountains, which since 2011 has been on the route of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
The whole experience was amazing. Of course riding with Lance Armstrong was strange and I kept pinching myself to check that it was really happening. However, the main aim of the camp wasn’t to have a good time but rather to raise the profile of One Day Ahead in the States and further afield. The team is aiming to raise £1m for Cure Leukaemia and hopefully Lance’s involvement will raise awareness of the challenge across the US and worldwide and help us to reach that target.
Helen’s Just Giving Page: www.JustGiving.com/HelenRussell-LeTour