British cyclist Bradley Wiggins and Joanne Simpson, daughter of Tom Simpson, commemorate the 50th anniversary of Tom Simpson's 1967 death on the slopes of Mont Ventoux, France.
OPINION: Your brow may be be graven by molten sunglasses, your legs may be shrieking like teenies at a Bieber concert, and there may still be 90km of vertical climb ahead - but you've got it easy this holiday. That mad bike ride you planned is just a roll in the park compared to the utterly insane journey of a bloke called Tim Moore.
Moore decided to ride nearly 8558 kilometres from the frozen wastes of Finland down to the Black Sea. And he chose to do it on an old East German collapsible shopping bike from the Cold War era. It's called an MIFA 900 and has wheels the size of dinner plates. It's a laughing stock, even in northern Finland where humour rationing still exists.
And that is where Moore's journey starts as told in his book, The Cyclist Who Went Out in the Cold. Moore's wife speculated that he probably wouldn't die, but she did worry that he might go mad. Go mad? What sort of person would even think of such a crazy ride?DENIS DOYLE/GETTY IMAGES
Chris Froome of Team Sky celebrates after winning the Vuelta a Espana in September - but how will he be remembered?
Well, the answer to that, as we find out later in the book, is Englishmen born in feudal villages and New Zealanders. When Moore is nearing the end of his journey in Serbia he finally meets two other touring cyclists. They are from New Zealand and they are pedalling from Spain to China. Bonkers.
* Armstrong invite slammed
* Rival slams Froome double standard
* Froome under drug investigation
* Cycling NZ gets $200k
But at least they have proper bikes and the weather is sultry down there in Zajecar. Back up in Finland Moore has to put on so many layers of clothing that he starts to "froth up like a salted slug" before he is even out the door. He then runs the risk outside of his sweat freezing on his skin and his brain making hypothermic prank calls to every other part of his body.
"The first rule of Arctic Bike Club is. You do not join Arctic Bike Club."
But just when Moore thinks another prankster is on the line at the other end of his brain, he finds out that something is ridiculously true - like the Finnish word 'juoksentelisinkohan' which means 'I wonder if I should run around aimlessly'. And so for your festive amusement I tracked down some other Finnish words and phrases that may be just as crackers.
Finnish scrabble sets must all contain 27 letter 'y's because how else could you ever score with 'hyppytyynytyydytys' which translates as 'bouncy cushion satisfaction'. And in case you are ever wondering, the phrase 'vihdoin vihdoin vihdoin' means 'I finally whipped myself with a birch branch'.
And yes, you are on the sports pages. A Latvian describes Moore as a "happy and great sport person", so that proves it. Mind you, I think this was the same Latvian who serves Moore some pancakes and then says: "My husband is a closed person with no emotion, he does not like Sinead O'Connor or understand my sand sculptures."Ad Feedback
But I have left Moore stuck in Finland where he is wondering if he will ever get to the border. The alcohol has run out and poor Kimi is contemplating downing a jerrycan of antifreeze to warm the spirits. There will be snow again this Christmas in Finland.
Kimi says to his friend Mika: "We could drink this but we'd probably go blind."
Mika looks dolefully around the cottage and out the window and says: "I think we've seen enough."
No-one does dark humour quite like the Finns. But we must be getting on. There are 18 other countries to get through. Through Russia where they banned the 'ask the audience' round in Who wants to be a Millionaire because the Ruskis always deliberately misled the contestants. And on through Estonia, and take note Stasi New Zealand, where "we are not a place that will tell someone they have had enough to drink".
Ingestion is a constant theme of the book as I guess it is in all cycling books. Andy McGrath's Bird on a Wire won this year's William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award. It tells the story of Tom Simpson who cycled himself to death on the 1967 Tour de France when dosed up on amphetamines and alcohol.
The book recounts: "As Larkin wrote, 'what will survive of us is love' and there's an abundance left for Simpson … 'Nobody had a bad word to say for him,' his old Olympic team-mate Billy Holmes says. 'I'm anti-drugs, but I wasn't anti-Tommy. I was never anti-Tommy'."
I wonder if they will say the same about Chris Froome. I suspect not. Froome tested for too much salbutamol during his recent victory at the Vuelta and athletes like Tony Martin are already accusing cycling of double standards and scandal.
Moore relies on different drugs to get him through. Alcohol is a constant companion and Moore is delighted to find 'bulk wine' listed on one menu. And in some places it is the only option, like in Serbia, where Moore is warned not to drink the water because: "It is technical water only".
But at least he has 'Magic Man' energy drink, "an adrenaline enema" which frequently sends him into afternoon song. When Moore can't buy Magic Man, he finds an alternative called 'Strong Hell'. Then there is his little vial of tabasco, guaranteed to resuscitate even the whitest asparagus,
And there is a lot of white asparagus in Germany where waitresses coax "pallid stalks of spargel between my helpless lips". I imagined the winter waitresses of New Zealand doing the same with spoonfuls of pumpkin soup.
On and on pedals Moore on his two-geared children's bicycle, past Romania rock sculptures that look like Brian Blessed in a wizard's hat, until final he reaches the shores of the Black Sea.
"Those hairy, copper knees had now risen and fallen 1.7 million times."
And surely his wife is right. Moore is mad. At journey's end he is now "like an institutionalised old lag finally given parole in the Shawshank Redemption". How can he ever part from his GDR bike. In some countries he is hailed as a hero by passing motorists. And it all gets a little bewildering when a pair of moustachioed Begbies jump out of an Audi in the Czech Republic and want to take hero photos.
"I'm sorry," says Moore, "But who am I?"
HOLIDAY 'SPORTS' BOOKS
The Cyclist Who Went out in the Cold by Tim Moore
Bird on a Wire by Andy McGrath
Swell by Jenny Landreth
The Battle by Paul O'Connell
The Boys who Built the Boat that Flew - the inside story of New Zealand's America's Cup (unfortunately no one has written this book yet)
- Sunday Star Times
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