Like most cycling fans the world over, Jack Thompson had the same dream. “I would love to ride down the Champs-Élysées as the leader of the Tour de France, but my direction never took me that way,” he says. “I want to give hope that you don’t have to follow the conventional path and you can do things differently and succeed, even in the face of adversity.”
Fighting against a tide of hardship and doubt is part of Thompson’s story. Struck by depression and “super-scared to talk with anyone” aged just 12, the Australian later suffered drug abuse and addiction after he finished university and was admitted to rehabilitation. Between and after both significant chapters in his life, there was only one thing that kept him in a positive mindset: his bike.
He tried racing in Belgium, the professional dream a goal, but it never materialised. Instead, the now 32-year-old figured out that it was long-distance cycling that was his calling. “I’ve got a bit of an obsessive personality,” he laughs. “And my mind is very manic: I’m always thinking about something and I can never relax.
“But cycling is meditation for me. It’s the only time when I can switch off, not think about other things happening in my life that might cause me anxiety or overcomplicate things.”
For a man who once rode from sea level to 3,300m in Taiwan four times in a row non-stop and last year set a Guinness world record of riding the most kilometres in one week, a whopping 3,505km, Thompson is about to embark on the biggest challenge of his life: on Monday, July 5, he will set off from Brest, the start city of this year’s Tour de France, and aim to reach Paris within 10 days, two days before the peloton ride their processional race.
Thompson will average 350km a day, climbing around 6,000m. “I’ve given the peloton a 10 day head start, but I’ll be in Paris before them,” the likeable Aussie quirks.
Coining his challenge The Amazing Chase (presented by Wahoo), Girona-based Thompson will first encounter rainy and windy conditions in Brittany – “how do the northern Europeans live through this grim, s**tty weather? The weather is such a prick,” he half-jokingly, half-seriously ponders – before reaching Alps, heading south and then traversing across the Pyrenees, and later arriving in the French capital on Friday, July 16.
Far from being daunted, Thompson is excited. “I am basically doing two stages in one day and backing it up, day-on-day,” he says, adding that he hopes to ride at an average pace of between 27 and 30kmh.
Thompson will fuel himself mostly on a liquid diet, taking as much as 80 percent of his calories through bottles, and eating real food when cravings set in. It’s not romantic, but it’s efficient. He will be supported by a team who are also documenting the journey for a film, and he will sleep around five hours each night in hotels.
“I don’t really have any nerves,” he says, possessing the assuredness of a man who relishes his identity as an ultra-endurance athlete.
“I’m really comfortable climbing, I don’t have any issue with that. I suppose one thing that worries me a little are the transfers because it could be quite easy to lose half-an-hour here or there, and that adds up over the 10 days. I have to manage the time really strictly.
“What else? Honestly, I’m just excited by it all. I get a lot of satisfaction in setting a goal, breaking it down into small chunks and then achieving each small goal. I get an endorphin rush from that day-to-day mentality, not having to please anyone else. It’s f**king cool.”
Then he breaks his momentum. There is a problem. “The French roads, hey… they’re s**t,” he opines. “I guess I’ve taken it for granted how good the roads are in Spain. To be honest, I’ve never really ridden in France, it’s all new territory. It would be nicer if their roads were more like the Spanish ones, though.”
Thompson will adapt. That’s what he does. The first time cycling became part of his life, in his early teenage years, it pointed him in a new direction. “It started with triathlon,” he recalls, “and having these daily and weekly goals gave me a focus. I wasn’t so depressed with the world.”
It was during university that Thompson gave up two wheels “and I noticed my mood dropped off again.” Wanting “to become a man, I felt like a boy,” he trained to put on muscle and weight and his drug problems began. He was reluctant to try cycling again, but finally gave in to his father’s encouragement. “That first ride, it was like ‘f**k, why did I never continue this?”
His flirtations with becoming a pro never took off, also hampered by being diagnosed with chronic fatigue. “Once the symptoms disappeared, I jumped back on the bike and decided to make a living from riding a bike,” he reveals.
He rode the 2015 Transcontinental Race, and has since added to his portfolio of challenges: completing three Everesting challenges in three consecutive days and three different countries, and also riding from the bottom to the top of Portugal in record time.
Riding the Tour is his biggest test to date. “Lachlan [Morton] and I are friendly,” Thompson says of his compatriot’s challenge that has garnered a lot of interest. “What I think is cool is that we’re thinking outside the box of traditional cycling: we’re showing another way is possible and ultra-cycling is super-cool.”
When the Tour reaches its crescendo in the French capital, if all goes to plan, Thompson would have had his feet up for two days, because catching and surpassing the greatest race on earth is just what Thompson does.
Away from the post-race team parties, one may well then find two slightly-mad, definitely inspiring Australians in a corner of a bar. “It’ll be nice to share a beer with Lachlan in Paris,” Thompson says. They will have deserved it.
You can follow Jack’s challenge here - https://jackultracyclist.com/theamazingchase (opens in new tab)
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