The Tour de France is not for the weak-hearted says Eastbourne retiree Jonathan Paape, who recently took a group of 17 Kiwis on the ride of their lives.
Paape, 60, and the team spent all July cycling alongside the famous race through the French countryside, eventually ending in Paris.
Though it sounds romantic "it's bloody hard yakka", he said.
"It's like running a marathon everyday."
It was the first cycling tour, hopefully of many, Paape plans to run as a part of his business The Mad Keen Cyclist.
"From my own point of view it was a challenging exercise to try and get up and running . . . but we had an absolutely brilliant time."
Most enjoyable was the 6am ride around Paris on the morning of the final stage, past the famous sights when all the roads are closed.
"You know, it's just breath taking."
The tour was thought up by Paape after he retired from his HiFi equipment business in 2011. He decided he wanted to take a trip to the Tour de France with a bunch of like-minded cycling enthusiasts after his first visit there that year.
"I got on the phone and everyone I asked said 'yeah, I'll do that'."
The eventual group came from all different backgrounds, abilities and locations. One man was recovering from cancer, while a woman had broken her back three years earlier.
"It's a great way to occupy your time. Meet new people. Keep fit. See new things."
Preparation for the gruelling challenge was not always easy, with winter spin classes in Paape's garage a common occurrence in the lead up.
"The steam's pouring off people in about three degrees," he said.
The Western Hills proved to be the perfect training ground for the tour. It is not too busy and drivers are mindful, Paape said
"You just go up and down, up and down until you're absolutely bloody exhausted until you go and have a coffee, and a piece of cake, and come home and have a nana nap."
One of the most challenging, but perhaps rewarding, aspects came from the 2600m Galbier climb. With views that "just go forever" the 300km downhill descent was a welcome relief, Paape said.
"You scream down those roads absolutely full-tit. It's fabulous"
There are plans for many of the same group to do the Tour of California in May 2014 and, if he can get enough people, another Tour de France next year.
It might become a "world tour" said Paape who has plans to take groups to Italy, Greece and China.
- Hutt News