Sweating, swearing, legs burning, chest heaving; I am climbing Mont Ventoux. I am moving at snail’s pace, compared to the professional male and female pelotons who race up it in races such as the Tour de France and Tour de l’Ardeche, but nevertheless, I WILL make it.
The feeling of climbing a mountain and getting to the summit is simply euphoric. The views on the way up offer a brief respite, a chance to drink in the beauty of this planet. The lung-busting, muscle-tearing pain at the top, when your body is at its very limits, is when I feel most alive. And the descent on the way down conjures up childlike glee.
It took me until I was 25 years old to climb a mountain and I first conquered Mt Ventoux. I already had the cycling bug by then though, and had fallen so deeply in love with this sport, I lived and breathed it. If I wasn’t on my bike, I was writing about it, watching it or talking about it.
My uncle, who lives 50km from the base of the mythical Ventoux, first introduced me to cycling. The obsession for him had started a few years before. Before long I had an over-sized Cannondale, all the gear and no idea. My local club advertised a ladies only beginner’s ride and I jumped at the chance and dragged my mum along too. I soon learnt the ropes as the rides got longer and harder, over the Cotswolds hills, and I got stronger and faster.
Growing up I was a swimmer, competing for 12 years in a high-performance environment. I was in the pool 20 hours a week, watching that black line, or counting the tiles on the ceiling. I loved it, and it satiated the burning ambition, competitive drive and work ethic I had.
Sport, therefore, was very much all I knew growing up.
After swimming, and a brief stint rowing, cycling became my solace. Turning the pedals is a source of relief, freedom, joy, pain, exhaustion and everything in between. I could not imagine my life without riding a bike. From social café rides with friends in my club to killer workouts on the turbo, it is a sport that caters for everyone, regardless of age, race, ability or gender. A cyclist is simply a cyclist.
As a woman, my gender has never been a barrier to me doing sport. Swimming and rowing are both sports that allow men and women to train and compete on an equal platform. But I am painfully aware of the gulf between male and female activity levels from the age of 11 upwards and it is one I have worked tirelessly for years to help overcome.
Sport is not a man’s domain and women should never think that. Sport is the most empowering force on the planet. It gave me confidence, purpose and a capability to tackle anything. The physical and mental benefits of physical activity are endless and truly life-changing, no matter what stage you are at in life. Cycling specifically has given me more than I could ever have imagined; a career in the sport I love, a boyfriend, and a form of exercise that makes my heart sing and my legs scream.
They say, of course, life begins outside your comfort zone. Whether that is joining your first club ride to the café for tea and cake, or climbing the toughest mountains in Europe, limits are there to be pushed.
So climb that mountain, however big or small it may be. Trust me, you won’t regret it.