Round-the-world cyclist Mark Beaumont joined a group of charity cyclists in June 2011 who rode from Marble Arch in London to the Arc de Triomphe – which usually takes 3 days – in under 24 hours. We spoke to him prior to the ride departing
You started and ended your 'Man Who Cycled the World' ride in Paris. What's your most vivid memory from that first day?
It was all very surreal after planning and talking about the cycle for so long – to be at the start after a really tough year of trying to get sponsorship was a huge relief. The send off was quite low key and then I can remember nearly falling asleep on the bike within the first 10km as I was so exhausted from the manic weeks of preparations. I still had a BBC cameraman filming with me at that point, so it was quite funny not being able to reach the outskirts of Paris without stopping for a few espressos to wake up.
And your most vivid memory from the last day in Paris?
Cyling the last few miles from the Périphérique with a police escort, going as fast as I could, across all the red lights and then cycling around the cobbles at the Arc de Triomphe to a massive reception of friends, family and press. I couldn't cycle across the finish line because of people, and so I walked the final few metres. The British Ambassador had turned out for the occasion and it was a wonderful reception that went on into the night.
Can you tell us more about that final ride up to Paris? Crossing the Pyrenées and realising you were finally on the home stretch must have felt good...
The whole of the last leg from Lisbon was much tougher than I expected, firstly because I was not allowed on some of the roads I had planned, so I had to re-route, adding miles and mountains; secondly I had not appreciated Spain to be so mountainous. Lastly, I had to set an arrival date so family, friends and press could book flights and hotels – this put additional pressure on the daily mileage when I was already digging deep to keep going. I was cycling over 200km most days for the final stretch from Lisbon to Paris and was utterly exhausted, completely focused on getting to the finish.
What other memories do you have of riding through France?
On my second last night on the road I stayed in a wonderful chateau in the middle of nowhere and was given a warm welcome by the owner. Even though I was exhausted, I really remember great places and people that I met along the road. It was also wonderful to be back in a country with great bakeries in every town. Cycling through the vineyards of the Bordeaux region was great fun after the hills of the Pyrenées, and at that point I started to feel like I was close to the finish.
If you could ride anywhere in France, where would you go?
And where would you avoid?
I've cycled across France a number of times and haven't yet found a part I didn't enjoy.
You’ve cycled all over the world – how does it compare to other countries as a cycling destination?
It's one of my favourite countries for cycling. I grew up cycling in France and so it feels almost as familiar as cycling in the UK. For that reason it has a very different feel to more 'foreign' countries, where I don't know the culture so well. France has so much to offer in terms of terrain and culture and it's very cycling friendly.
Can you tell us about your time in Chamonix preparing for your 'Man Who Cycled the Americas' trip? You were fine-tuning your mountaineering skills, but did you also get to spend much time on the bike?
I spent five days around Chamonix to learn the skills I would need on Denali and Aconcagua and to experience living and climbing at altitude. I needed all the time to learn about mountaineering so there wasn't any cycling on that trip. However, I have previously cycled from Chamonix to the French Riviera, over the cols, which was a stunning ride with friends. Another great ride is from Chamonix over into Switzerland.
How have your impressions of France – and cycling here – changed over the years?
When I was a teenager I spent a few summers working in the south coast of France on farms, and then cycled home, via Ireland. In those days, I knew very little about cycle touring, had an old mountain bike and would explore fairly aimlessly. Recently, my cycling in France has been mountain biking in the Basque region and Pyrenées, so in the last 10 years I have explored quite a lot of France and always enjoyed it. My impressions of the country haven't changed much - good food, great scenery and friendly people - and I know there's a lot more to be explored.
Next up you've got a charity bike ride from Marble Arch in London to the Arc de Triomphe. Can you tell us how the ride came about?
I am ambassador for LDC, part of the Lloyds Banking Group, who regularly organise charity fundraising events. Last year a team cycled from Land's End to John O'Groat's and I joined them for half the journey. This year's event from London to Paris in 24 hours is supporting a great cause, Maggie's Cancer Centres, and it also comes at a good time for me to join the team and help my training for the next expedition (rowing in the Arctic).
It's usually a two- or three-day ride, but you're aiming to do it in 24 hours. How close do you think you'll come to making it?
I think that 24 hours will be incredibly tough. The group of 12 riders are all pretty fit but none of them have tested themselves this hard before. I think 265 miles in 24 hours is possible, but we will need to go at a pace which makes sure that everyone makes it, so I think it will be close.
Are you looking forward to the night-time portion of the ride?
I've done a fair amount of night riding and I enjoy the focus of pedalling along just seeing what your headlight shows of the road ahead. Cycling through dawn is always enjoyable and gives new energy to tired legs.
What route are you taking after you leave the ferry?
Calais-Boulogne-Etaples-Rue-Abbeville-Arraines-Poix en Picardie-Grandvilliers-Beauvais-Meru-Pontoise-Paris.
London-Paris is synonymous with charity rides. Why do you think it's such an ideal charity route?
It has the attraction of starting a finishing in great cities, in different countries. Being about 260 miles, it's also a distance which many people can achieve, whether that's in a day or a week. As more people do this event, just like the Land's End to John O'Groat's, more people hear about it and decided to give it a go. For me, cycling London to Paris has the added appeal of finishing back where I finished the around the world cycle.
Finally, what three things could you never cycle without?
Music, suncream and my camera.
UPDATE: Mark's London-Paris ride took place from 3pm on Friday, June 10, and his team arrived in Paris just inside the 24 hours. They raised money for Maggie's Cancer Centres; donations can be made online. There's more on the ride at LDC. Follow Mark's adventures via his blog or Twitter @MrMarkBeaumont
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