Life changing tour experience

Marika pedals to the top of Mount Ventoux.

Mountain killer: Marika gets to the summit of Mount Ventoux. Photo: Marika Mulqueen

In 2008 Marika Mulqueen, a quiet Bendigonian, was asked to be part of a support crew for a charity ride that would follow the exact route of the 2009 Tour de France, to raise money for Crohn’s disease. Thinking it was a fantastic opportunity to see the French countryside, eagerly agreed to support her then-boyfriend, Damian.

Marika knew very little of the tour and from her research it was described as the most gruelling sporting event in the world, covering 3,500 km over three weeks, with stages around 200km a day. Marika reading that the overall climb of the race was equivalent to climbing three Mount Everest’s was happy at this stage just to be support crew.

Marika relates when Damian started training he spent mornings, nights and weekends on the bike or organising the ride. In an effort to spend more time together, Marika began joining him on his training rides, starting on a men’s mountain bike, baggy t-shirt and sneakers. Having not been on a bike for at least six years Damian took on the additional effort of pushing Marika up the hills.

Over Christmas 2008 Damian headed to the Victorian Alps for hill training. On the second last day Marika plucked up the courage and took on Mount Hotham, probably not the wisest choice for her first hill climb. Marika in her sneakers and baggy t-shirt determined to reach the top, cried, walked and cried some more, setting a cracking pace of 5.5 – 10 kph eventually making it. It was an ecstatic moment at the summit, giving Marika confidence that she could now accomplish anything. Here was borne the dream of riding the 2009 Tour de France circuit despite only five months to train.

Marika with a rye smile remembers making up excuses and writing training schedules instead of actually training. Managing a meagre 3000km over the five months, on average it equated to 150km a week; three quarters of what she would be required to ride on a daily basis. Realising the Tour included some of the toughest mountains in the world Marika also needed to hill train, managing only 14 training days of climbing; keeping in mind there were 63 climbs in the 2009 route. To make herself feel better Marika looked at her hill training statistics and calculated an average speed for climbing of 15.83km an hour, feeling much better, until realising this included going down the hill as well.

The longest stage being 224km, with 175km of it up hill would mean at best Marika would be in the saddle for over 14 hours. Damian, his mate Dale and Marika found themselves at the start line in Monaco, June 4th 2009 full of enthusiasm ready to ride through several countries including the Tourmalet, the Alps and Mount Ventoux. Not realising fully the extreme heat, snow, rain and unbelievable headwinds all to be ridden in as well as endured falls, punctures, dehydration, hunger, being completely and utterly lost and run ins with the police.

Marika ranks seven stages as the toughest days of her life, with stage six being the hardest. Having fallen away from the guys again her left leg started hurting with a sensation like fire piercing her thigh at every pedal rotation. With excruciating pain all Marika could do was cry. Not wanting to look weak in front of male riders leaving her glasses on hoping they didn’t see the tears fall out from underneath. For 30km Marika battled with her thoughts of giving up, all the while crying and pedalling with one leg. All that kept Marika from getting in the support car was replaying constantly in her head “Pain is temporary, Quitting lasts forever.”

Not quitting, Marika kept going and finished that stage, and all the rest never getting in the car, never walking, always riding hard, not once standing to pedal; as kind friend had said “if you do that you let the mountain win”. Marika shared there were few simple pleasures apart from a Mars bar every 50klms. There were many other challenges like surviving on an average of five hours sleep a day, living on sugary cereal, sandwiches and pizza to match the long days in the saddle. All this faded when taking in the breath taking scenery.

Marika proudly accomplished the 3500kms with the ride raising $23,000 for Crohn’s disease, as well as gaining the most amazing experience of a lifetime. To read Marika’s stage by stage accounts of this incredible adventure please visit her blog.

See you on the road soon God willing


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