Simon Usborne: 'My hope is that residual fitness will see me through the ride and up the 4,000m of serious climbing'



So, I'm told there are a couple of semi-important football matches taking place today. And a game involving ladies who are good at tennis. But we're not that interested, are we? The World Cup and Wimbledon may be their respective sport's grandest contests, but for real heroism, grit and – let's face it – controversy, we must turn to the Tour de France, which starts today in Rotterdam.

I'm fascinated by professional cycling but know relatively little about the three-week Tour, arguably the most physically demanding of all athletic events. So while I can't offer predictions or insights into team tactics (I'll leave that to our sports desk) I can watch in awe and, for one day at least, pedal in the tyre tracks of the greats.

The Etape du Tour, as any keen-ish road cyclist will know, is a giant sportive commonly known as the amateur stage of the Tour de France. Every July, usually when the pros have a rest day, as many as 10,000 riders of varying abilities assemble for the same mountain stage that Armstrong & Co will tackle a few days earlier or later.

Last year's Etape took in Mont Ventoux, one of the most fearsome climbs in the sport. This year, I'll be back in France, tagging along with a contingent of amateurs from Sky, as the Tour celebrates 100 years of mountain stages with a daunting 112-mile route in the Pyrenees that finishes at the summit of the cloud-scraping Col du Tourmalet.

This year's ride will be an experiment of sorts. As I reported from a field last week, I've been off the bike for days after pushing my knees to their limits during the 1,000-mile Ride Across Britain, an epic, nine-day slog from John O'Groats to Land's End that tested the will and bodies of all 600 participants. I made it – just – but the injuries I picked up mean that, on the start line in the Pyrenees, I'll barely have turned a pedal since I reached Land's End.

My hope is that residual fitness will see me through the ride, and up the 4,000m-plus of serious climbing involved (so, about half an Everest in a day). Will my knees hold out? Will the saddle sore that dogged my end-to-end effort blow up again? I'll be sure to let you know. In the meantime, I'm off to watch the footie – from a sofa.

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