Pyrenees, here we come!

Back when I weighed 200 lbs. and found entertainment from watching what others did, I was a Sports-on-TV guy.  Seeing athletes compete created nice to watch moments and sometimes awe, but not inspirational moments. Yet, there was one group of athletes that created a sense of wow more than any other group – Tour de France riders.

Jeff Gaura
Riding downhill in the Pyrenees

The images of these groups of cyclists, travelling green French country sides and passing through fields of grain were mesmerizing.  They would climb and descend some of the most famous and often intense mountain courses in the world, sometimes in torrential downpours and other times, in really hot conditions.

I never asked out loud, “can I do that with you one day?” but I did think it.  That sort of dreamy thinking was like asking if I could become the president of the world…But I did (and do) want to do it.  I kept that thought to myself.

Fast forward to 2015.  After qualifying for the Powerman World Championship in Zofingen, Switzerland, those thoughts or riding the mountains of the Tour de France from my fat days magically showed up one morning while working out.  I openly asked, “Could I find a way to cycle on part of the Tour de France as part of my preparation for Zofingen?”

Jeff Gaura Pyrenees challenge
Climbing a mountain in the Pyrenees

The internet is great for dreaming….I typed in my search engine “cycling the Pyrenees,” as they are what comes to mind when I think of classic mountain rides.   The Pyrenees are a mountain range that separate Spain from France.  Their role in history as separating two countries and cultures is the stuff of World History.  They are not populous, as they are steep and have limited water.  As such, people have not settled here much.

One ride of interest got my attention.  “Pyrenees pro cycling challenge” was the name.  The copy on the site read, “It is no exaggeration to describe this as one of the World’s great bike rides. You’ll climb some of the most iconic mountains in France – nearly all of them Tour de France regulars and often the sites of great, race-deciding battles in years gone by.”  Their schedule offered all sorts of courses and starting times, but I needed something that would finish about a week before the World Championship, and I wanted it to cover some of the places that I have dreamed of.  I wanted the hard work and the fitness that it would instill in me, with ample time to recover and taper a bit before the big race.

I sent out an email to the contacts listed on the website, with a brief introduction of what I was trying to do, and in the reply, he told me that they have had other world championship duathletes attempt this ride.  The price was right, as well.

What the heck! Life is short, and this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  I committed to the Pyrenees Coast to Coast ride before the World Championship and bought my plane ticket, before I could change my mind.

My how things have changed.  2013 was one of the most unforgettable years of my life. I got to compete in the National Championship and began to get into really good shape.  2014 was a year of overcoming adversity and injury, but it ended with great memories, inspirational stories and personal records.  I got to compete in the ITU World Championships and an Ultra-marathon.

2015 is on track to trump both of those.  I can’t imagine doing 5 days on a Tour de France course with other great athletes followed by the Grand Daddy of all Duathlons.

Feeling blessed doesn’t cover it.  This is awesome.

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