This is a story of Tour de Lockdown: How three “mature” ladies conquered the Tour de France (virtually). The idea started with a boot!
In March, I invited Fiona Wallace, of Elderslie in Renfrewshire, to take part in my Give COVID the Boot video.
Fiona decided to “throw a boot” from her turbo trainer and as she did so, she casually suggested she was planning to ride the distance of the Tour de France virtually during lockdown.
But Fiona confesses she had not even looked at what the distance might be. She adds: “And I wasn’t sure if it was doable for a wee 61-year-old wumman.”
But since she had made her announcement on a public video, she felt the challenge was now real.
Fiona then enlisted two of her fellow cyclists from Walkers Cycling Club, mother and daughter Susan and Fiona Walker, to help her ride the 2,200 miles. They also decided to raise money for the Trussell Trust.
And so the Tour de Lockdown was born. They started on April 13.
Why turbo the Tour de France?
All three ladies had reasons for taking up the challenge. Susan says: “On March 31st, I received the letter I had been both expecting and dreading telling me that the NHS had identified me as someone at risk of severe illness if I caught Coronavirus.
“The advice was unambiguous: Stay at home and avoid all face-to-face contact for at least twelve weeks. There it was. I was now shielding.”
Susan, 67, adds: “After several years of health problems, I had been getting back out on my bike, enjoying both social and fitness benefits. The thought of losing that was yet another blow.
“Having a challenge to address was the perfect remedy, even if I did doubt how well I’d manage in the early days.”
Fiona Wallace had been working from home after her workplace, West College Scotland, went online with its courses.
She says: “I had decided to use the time in lockdown to get fitter and since the gym and the swimming pool were not available to me, the turbo trainer seemed a good alternative.
“I’d had cataract operations in the latter part of 2019 and I had kind of lost my cycling mojo as a result. But this challenge certainly gave me the chance to get back on the bike, albeit in the shelter of my garden and garage.”
Fiona Walker, 45, had been similarly furloughed from her job at East Ayrshire Leisure, where she works as a sports centre supervisor and fitness instructor. She found she was missing her daily fitness sessions.
She says: “It very quickly became clear that my work was keeping me fit and active on a daily basis, and the thought of not having that input frightened me. I know how easy it is to lose fitness in a short space of time and how difficult it is to regain it. The challenge offered me a great way of keeping active.”
Walkers Cycling Club
The trio met through the Ayrshire cycling club, which arose from the cycling shop founded and owned by the Walker family.
Although Susan and her husband John have now retired and the shop – Walkers Cycling – is no more, the club remains its legacy.
In the past few years, Walkers Cycling Club has been instrumental in promoting cycling activities in the region, especially in the discipline of cyclocross, where its now legendary beach park course was twice selected to host rounds of the major HSBC Cyclocross Championships.
Fiona Wallace says: “Susan, John and Fiona are accomplished cyclists while I consider myself a relative newcomer, having only taken up cycling in 2009.
“Susan has been cycling for a good 50 years and, in 1996, she and John joined the ranks of successful Land’s End to John O’Groats riders, having ridden the 1,115 miles on a tandem and crossing 25 counties in the process.”
Fiona Walker has also been riding for many years. She says: “I rode my first MTB race nearly 31 years ago. I’ve raced MTB XC and endurance, road, TT, CX and track. These days I mainly just do track and CX.”
The Tour de Lockdown
Having started on April 13, the trio finished two weeks earlier than planned this week. Susan completed 573 miles, all on her turbo. Fiona Walker (836 miles) and Fiona Wallace (796 miles) spent most of the time of their turbo trainers and completed some miles on the road. The total is 2205 miles clocked.
The women report that one of the most successful aspects of the challenge was the “significant health and fitness benefits”.
Susan says: “To begin with I was managing five or six miles in half an hour, but by the end I had worked that up to doing 15 miles in an hour, six days a week. And I have shed half a stone in the last 10 weeks.”
For Fiona Walker, the benefits have been mental. She says: “I’ve suffered from depression on and off for 20 years. Cycling has always been a big part of dealing with it.
“I’m furloughed from work and live on my own, so in the early days of lockdown I had been struggling, especially with motivation. Riding my bike for this challenge has kept me going and having that goal made me ride even when I didn’t feel like it.
“I always feel better after a ride anyway – and this had the added bonus of being for a particular cause.”
For Fiona Wallace, the benefits have been enormous. As a Type 2 Diabetic, she relies on being active to manage the condition.
She says: “I took up cycling soon after I was diagnosed and it has helped me maintain a decent blood sugar level. I was worried lockdown might compromise that, so participating in the challenge was very welcome.”
Not only did the ladies finish the challenge two weeks ahead of plan, but they have also raised around £750 for the Trussell Trust.
Fiona Wallace says: “Additionally, we have managed to stay fit and active at a time when it would have been too easy to give in to laziness and cake.”
Susan adds: “There’s no such thing as too much cake; just not enough cycling.”
To support the cause see: Tour de Lockdown.