Melanie Johnson

We often have teams of colleagues taking part and Alitex have ridden with us 3 times, bringing colleagues along each time – making it both a team building exercise and a seriously fun shared challenge. Teams of colleagues also mean that they often include riders who have very little experience of cycling, but want to be part of the team challenge. Melanie is a perfect example:

Name: Melanie Johnson
Age: 46
Location: Hampshire

Experience:

I had an original Raleigh Racer as a youngster (35 years ago!!) and would cycle around 12  miles through the Yorkshire countryside to the nearest sweet shop  with my siblings & more recently used to potter around when my boys were little with one in the seat and the other on the tag along but that is it! And I hadn’t really been on a bike for 15 years choosing to run instead. A broken ankle and snapped Achilles 18 months ago put paid to this (and I was going a little stir crazy through lack of exercise) so when  I joined Alitex in Jan ’18 and learned of the company’s participation in Le Loop my interest was piqued … I signed up to Le Loop in March, bought a bike and got cycling!

She Says:

Le Loop was an amazing experience! The dedication of the organisers and staff was palpable and infectious and having visited one of the charities to benefit, I was proud to be involved in such an essential and worthwhile venture.  As for the cycling, I honestly loved every minute – I’d had no doubt that I would make it round, but once on the bike and in the pack  my “Northern Grit” kicked in and I was away – with maybe more enthusiasm than skill (still haven’t mastered the difference between High and Low gears!) but I had a ball and feel really proud of not only getting round but the way in which I did so and I recognised a determination and belief in myself that having decided to do something, I will do it!

Where are you now?

I continued to cycle over the summer and signed up for the cancelled Velo South,  but now the winter nights are drawing in and my ankle’s fully working again I’ve swapped the cleats for running shoes once more …. Just for the winter though…..

Tom Holdaway

Name: Tom Holdaway
Age: 36
Location: Bristol

Experience:

I got my first road bike 10 months before I took part! I’d cycled a couple of miles to and from work on a flat bike path on an old mountain bike for years but if we’re talking about sport rather than commuting, my cycling experience was almost none. I’ve been doing Kung Fu since my mid twenties, I’d run a couple of 10ks and played football on and off – a very average amount of sport and none of it would have pointed to me taking part in this.

He says:

I signed up to cycle 4 stages through the Dordogne and Pyrenees and I loved it beginning to end, even the training. It was very fulfilling to take on a challenge so big, learn a new skill, see myself improving and achieve the goal.

I’m not a member of a cycling club and didn’t really have a solid group of mates to train with so I signed up to 9 sportives starting in January and taking me through to May, which gradually increased in length and difficulty. That was completely worth it because it meant I didn’t have to think about long ride training routes – you just sign up, turn up and it’s all organised for you.

I found the ride itself very challenging, but that was probably the point of signing up in the first place. I wanted to do something new and tough in a beautiful place that I’d never been. The Pyrenees were even more amazing than I’d heard and I can honestly say that I enjoyed the mountain stages even more than the flatter stages – once you get used to climbing, it’s actually really enjoyable!

The rest of the group were a great laugh and despite signing up on my own, I met loads of great people, felt very welcomed and would reassure anyone else thinking of taking part on their own. You’ll meet loads of people and there really are people cycling at all speeds (I was a bit worried about that before which is probably normal).

Where are you now?

I have two Bruce Doscher prints on the wall in my lounge which remind me of quite what I achieved. I definitely got the road cycling bug but now I cycle as part of a normal life, not training every weekend. I’ve done a few sportives with work colleagues since Le Loop and when it’s sunny, it’d be my first choice of sport.

 

Andy Smith

Name: Andy Smith
Age: 52
Location: Ex-pat Shetlander living in Berkshire!

Experience:

When I signed up for Le Loop, I didn’t even have a road bike. An “intermittent” Mountain Biker in my younger years, I had completed LEJOG in my twenties, so where I had an idea of what a long day in the saddle looked like, I had no mountain experience. Knowing I was up against it, I borrowed a bike from a friend and got some serious training miles in. I had become very unhealthy, and having turned some self – harmful behaviours around, I was looking for an avenue to continue my journey and see how far I could actually push myself. After all, if I had achieved something I previously thought to be impossible, what else had I talked myself out of?

When I got the confirmation I’d got my place to ride the Grand Loop, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry!

He Says:

Riding le Loop was arguably the most rewarding, challenging, life-affirming and enjoyable thing I have ever done. Each day brought a new challenge, and I soon learned the hardest days were not necessarily the ones you anticipated.

I had expected to be at the back and riding solo most of the time. Being inexperienced at group riding, I hadn’t really considered the beauty of the teamwork in a peloton and the companionship I would encounter on the road. Turns were taken at the front, encouraging words were given and received, and friends were made for life. I did video blogs as I went, and shared my journey honestly, developing a surprisingly enormous following as I went. People saw me laugh, cry, celebrate, beat myself up, marvel at my own achievements and they watched an overweight 50-something who has battled alcohol addiction for most of his life transform and blossom into something approaching a competent cyclist. I lost over 30lbs in training for Le Loop and a further 14lbs on the road, while all my health issues have been resolved. Extraordinary!

What did Le Loop teach me? It taught me the value of patience and the ability to endure – big goals are achieved in smaller chunks and the game is won and lost in your head. Climbing the Croix de Fer on the infamous Alpe D’Huez stage (on which I finished at 11pm!) in around 4 hours was made manageable by bumping into friendly faces in an alpine village and sharing a bottle of coke and a chocolate bar, before pressing on. The organisation of the event was extraordinary, and at times the schedule was brutal with transfers to starts / hotels at times being as tough as the pedalling. The whole thing was faultless, and the Le Loop team were genuinely unbelievable – supportive, patient, encouraging and supremely effective at making sure that things happened when they were supposed to.

But for me, Le loop was about the “moments” I will treasure for the rest of my life:

  • Playing like children with fellow riders in a water fountain on the Lacets de Montvernier (and in most of the other Alpine fountains, if I’m honest)
  • Hearing a fellow Grand Looper describe us as ‘like an old married couple’ to another cyclist
  • Shouting and swearing alone at myself on a climb only to look round and find an 80 year old French cyclist tucked on my wheel shaking his head in despair at me.
  • Staring at Strava in amazement at my record descents of the Mur de Bretagne & Col de Portet and realising Isaac Newton was right about gravity when you weigh 100Kg
  • Sharing a hug with a fellow Looper in the freezing rain at the top of the Tourmalet who had just laid some demons to rest
  • Climbing the Pic de Nore in the searing heat with two epic guys and whoever got to the next kilometre marker first, shouting back, “more shit” or “less shit” depending on the upcoming gradient. (And then snapping my crank within sight of the top!)
  • Getting a text message chasing me for my blog from someone because “their kids were waiting for today’s update”.

Where are you now?

From a life and business perspective, I now help people with alcohol issues and for sure completing the Grand Loop achieved my objective of portraying a positive image of life without a glass in your hand. I am fitter, stronger, healthier, and have a genuine knowing that my limits exist only in my head. I have signed up to do the Mallorca 312KM sportive in April with a bunch of fellow loopers and frankly cannot wait to see them all again. We are also looking at the three ascents of Ventoux, and I am planning recruit some friends to do a few stages of Le loop in the mountains too. I have another Grand Loop in me without doubt, but not next year. If you are looking into doing a challenge like this, I can’t imagine a better organised way to do it. I didn’t know too much about WWMT before I signed up, but meeting some of the kids at the training camp and in the Pyrenees affirmed to me the awesome work they do and as the event went on, this became the biggest motivator.

Russ Middleton

Name: Russ Middleton
Age: 52
Location: Bovey Tracey, South Devon 

Experience:

I hadn’t done very much cycling at all really. Certainly not ridden any mountains, nor had I ever cycled outside of the south west.

A couple years ago I was reading a book that inspired me to do something crazy. It was “French Revolutions” by Tim Moore. I said to my wife “ I’m going to do that when I retire”  ……, she said “don’t be daft” , and the rest is history !

I researched different ways to do the route, and to be honest was initially thinking of doing 50 or so miles a day, and to take 6 weeks to get around. But I found “Tour de Force” as it was called before Le Loop, met up with Sarah in 2016 and somehow booked myself a place to do the Grand Loop in 2018. Pretty daunting but it was a real focus for me whilst approaching a new chapter in my life after policing for 30 years.

I retired from Devon and Cornwall Police in January 2018. I was 52 yrs old, 18 stone 8lbs (118kg), and at 6ft 4 not really built for climbing or racing around the hardest bike race in the World ……

I trained for the full 6 months before the start of the tour (not counting the 4 weeks off the bike after rupturing my medial ligament whilst skiing – idiot!) managed to get pretty fit, and lost 23 kg in the process.

I treated myself to a new bike, which got named “Eric” and I was ready for France ……

He Says:

I used a coach to help me with my training and at the start he said to me “I will do my best to try and get you to a level where you enjoy at least some of the stages”. He was an x-pro and had ridden some big Tours, but never the Tour de France. He couldn’t imagine 21 days in the saddle, particularly not at my level which would mean twice the time in the saddle that the pros take each day.

Well I can honestly say that I enjoyed every single stage, in fact more than that, I had the best of times and was amazed to find that despite the pain on some days, I particularly loved it in the mountains. The scenery, the comradeship, the challenge, the time to think, the pride of the mountain top finishes … all made for what was one of the best experiences of my life. I cannot praise the Le Loop team enough. This is without doubt the absolute best bike ride you can ever do, and I don’t think you will find a better organised trip anywhere.

Where are you now?

I am feeling fitter, stronger and healthier than I ever have.

I have made many new friends for life. I have fallen in love with cycling and am so proud to have completed the full Tour 7 days ahead of the pros.  I still find myself watching the highlights of this year’s actual tour, and thinking quietly to myself “I did that ….”

I’m also immensely proud to be part of a small group of fantastic people that raised nearly £400k between us this year. The William Wates Memorial Trust is doing amazing things for young people and if my small part helps someone like Will or Sky to reach their potential then I’m happy.

As for the future, I don’t really know yet as I’m having a “gap year “with my wife. One thing is for sure though, it will involve cycling, a lot and I’m already booking some events for next year to give me a focus with my training.

If anyone reading this is thinking about doing any part of Le Loop, be that a single Loop or the whole darn thing, my advice is DO IT … Life is too short and you never know what’s around the corner, so take your chances when you can, get out on your bike, embrace the training, seek out some hills, look up and enjoy the ride.