It is a sponsor of Team Sky and, since it came on board, Brits have won Tour de France two times running. A crack team if ever there was one – and which, complete with (Team) Sky blue-liveried XF Sportbrake, was in full force to greet a group of motoring journalist cycling fanatics bright and early on the Monday before Geneva press day.
Plan? A full pro ride-out session with Team Sky and the guys from leisurewear brand Rapha up into the Geneva mountains then down alongside the lake for a few clicks. At around 40km, it wouldn’t risk finishing us off before the show had even started, but would get the old hearts working in preparation for trawling Palexpo.
I’d had several frets in the build-up. My lack of any sort of experience with clip pedals. My lack of clip pedals (thanks Dan). My lack of time in the saddle (I hoped jogging would count). My lack of lycra. I turned up for the briefing in some Nike runners and Russell Athletic shorts, with only the beautiful Jaguar Team Sky Rapha team shirt making me look anything like someone who belonged in such exalted surroundings.
I was about to go and ride a £10,000 Pinarello Dogma too. Like going from indoor karting to driving an F1 car. But Jaguar seemed to appreciate my enthusiasm, and the crew were impressed I was one of the few set to tackle the cold, rainy trek in shorts (I’d dug out some lycra, luckily). So, after a rapid lesson in working out how to twist and release locked-tight feet from clipped-in Shimano pedals, we lined up for the off.
As the man stood there with the flag, I asked one of the chaps from Rapha if they had any spare gloves. Luckily, he did. He’d come to be my hero 25km later.
We were waved off before I had time to put the gloves on, and before I’d worked out how to actually clip feet into said Shimanos. Straight into, I later discovered, an 8km climb. Good job the sheer delight of experiencing a bike so well equipped that it even had automated manual gears was keeping me preoccupied.
Well, that and the motorcycle outrider we had filming us. And the Jaguar XF Sportbrake behind us, and the Range Rover Sport up front with Shep hanging out taking our pics. And, occasionally, a Volkswagen Touran undertaking some very interesting manoeuvres to overtake and get ahead of us so the film crew could set up.
Once on the relatively straight bits, I had time to take stock. They’re quite some operations, these professional cycle rides. The support crew, there all the time, is all-inclusive. The focus of everyone not riding is on the riders. The pros we had with us were, I’m sure, looking at every pedal stroke we were making and analysing it for afterwards. Good job they weren’t required to give a download, I guess.
At roughly half way point, we stopped for energy bars and for me to wiggle my toes sufficiently to temporarily stop the cold-bitten pain (the man pictured above was the one who lent me his gloves. Thank. God). Apart from that, I was having a blast. And, although the second steep incline towards the end caught me out (I went early and mullered myself through gritty determination not to let anyone past again), I was up reasonably near the front at the end.
Which, given how it was a bunch of motoring journalist blokes, naturally turned into a sprint. Of which Henry Catchpole took control of quickly and convincingly, after a battle with a Belgian guy who didn’t know what had hit him (we Brits of course had an inkling). Me, I was there or thereabouts with Dan Trent and Ollie Marriage, legs and chest burning but absolutely delighted with this small taste of le Tour.
As pre-show experiences go, it beat skiing hands down. Had my feet not been so cold, I’d have happily done it al again and more. As it was, I had to have a quiet sit-down moment in the changing rooms after a shower, wrapped up in my ski-spec coat, as warnings of not heating up frostbitten body parts too quickly came flooding back and literally took my breath (at least, made it hard to breath). The cold had got me this time. But it won’t next year if Jaguar does it again.
And, Henry, not that we’re at all competitive, but I will be putting a few more miles under my legs to try and get a little bit closer to you…