By Jonny Long
Despite not knowing how long the Tour de France was when he started the challenge, Jacob Hill-Gowing has ridden the entire distance of the French Grand Tour on a stationary bike within the confines of his one-bedroom apartment.
The 'Tour de Flat', as Hill-Gowing named it, saw the 28-year-old ride 3,500km in 41 days in support of the Big Issue, a magazine sold by rough sleepers that helps them earn an income after the coronavirus lockdown put a stop to sales. At the time of writing he's raised £13,000 for the magazine's vendors on JustGiving.
"Wow, what a mad 41 days, and what an amazing community of generous and welcoming people cyclists are," Hill-Gowing told Cycling Weekly. "I think the enormity of the challenge truly sunk in when I struggled to do 45km on day one. But somehow, 41 days later I've just crossed the line after doing 100km+ rides seven days in a row."
A call from Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas shed some light on the concept of saddle sores and advised the use of cycling shorts with a chamois, but Hill-Gowing says the fact he lives alone and completed the athletic feat within the confines of his small bedroom was more challenging.
"It wasn't easy going, just ask my undercarriage which has taken the beating of its life. I have the ultimate respect for the pros who do that distance for real, inclines and all. But having the mental stress of the distance, coupled with the fact I live alone and have been staring at white walls for 3500km just makes it even more remarkable that I made it before I even mention the bike, that I was sure was going to fall apart," he said.
"But every last second on that terrible exercise bike has all been worth it. To raise money for an amazing charity, that will benefit a good friend of mine, Stevie, the Big Issue vendor on Old Street, and countless other amazing vendors that at the moment can't do what they do every day and lift the nation's spirits."
A number of cyclists, both professional and amateur have also used the lockdown to fundraise to help those affected by the pandemic. Geraint Thomas raised £360,000 by cycling 1,200km on Zwift from his garage in Wales, while London cycling club Kingston Wheelers raised £13,000 for their local NHS hospital as 61 members climbed a total of 200,000 metres on Zwift. Hill-Gowing, however, is not a cyclist and the last time he rode a bike outdoors was seven years ago.
"At the end of the day, I'm in two minds over finishing," Hill-Gowing said. "I'm elated that I've finished this challenge, a stupid one for someone that's not ridden a bike in seven years. But I'm also apprehensive to stop now that getting on the bike has become such a huge part of my life and helped me manage my mental health over the last 41 days. It's safe to say I'm a convert and will see you all out on the road when this is over. Would I do it again? Definitely, but next time for real!"
It seems the challenge has only spurred him on, with Hill-Gowing speaking to us just after getting back from a charity run where participants are encouraged to run 5km, donate £5 and then nominate five friends: "Someone nominated me for this Run For Heroes thing now that I'm off the bike," Hill-Gowing said.
Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.
Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).
I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.
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