It's Only a Bike Race -

How Hard Can It Be?

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Winner of New Book Awards Prize!


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The Awards Judge Organization proudly announces the

Winners of the First Annual 2015-16


Los Angeles, CA—The Awards Judge Organization has announced the Winners of the First Annual NEW BOOK AWARDS.   The New Book Awards were created to boost recognition for outstanding literary achievement filtered out of a wide spectrum of America’s diverse literary community.  One purpose of the awards is to bring attention to independent and self-published works that might otherwise go unnoticed.  The New Book Award winners range from well-known and established writers to aspiring authors and first works. There are no quotas for diversity; the winners list simply reflects the quality chosen through a natural selection process.

The Awards Judge Organization (AJO) is a national independent product review & ratings commission.

The full text of the press release announcing the list of award winners including "It's Only A Bike Race" can be found at

Le Tour de France - A Vacation On Wheels?

Riding a bicycle around France during July sounds like an idyllic way to spend a few weeks during the summer. Visiting different regions of the country while on a leisurely ride through vineyards and sunflower fields seems like a fun pastime in which all French gentlemen should aspire to partake at least once during their lifetime. Just to add a little adventure and interest to the two-wheeled vacation, there would be a small prize for the first man to return to Paris. …. This was the ill-informed overall impression of the Tour de France that the author had gained during five years of studying French at high school on the other side of the world.

Some twenty years later when he was able to make his long-awaited first trip to France, he began to discover that his pre-conceived notions of the event were removed from reality by a large distance - over 3,000 kilometers to be exact. Having realized the extent of his original misperceptions about the Tour de France, the author was eager to discover whether it was still possible to enjoy the Tour de France in the way he had visualized it as a youngster. Substituting a campervan for a bicycle, he decided to follow the Tour de France for three weeks with the aim of enjoying the race while simultaneously taking in the sights, sounds and tastes of France. This book tells the story of his quest.


Youthful Dreams of France

“Ride a bike around France for a few weeks? What a great idea! We’d get to see France and maybe even get our names in the paper.” Secure in the vast store of worldly knowledge that we had acquired by the ripe old age of 13, my friend Tony and I fancied ourselves as being capable of almost anything we set our minds to. Our bikes were our constant companions as we explored our neighborhood on the western side of the city of Adelaide in South Australia, and they were our main form of transportation to our basketball games, the beach and of course school. With broadly similar geography to Los Angeles, Adelaide is located on a flat plain with the sea to the west and hills to the east. However unlike Los Angeles, Adelaide in 1969 had a population of fewer than one million people. Traffic on the roads was therefore not heavy and the flat landscape made it a perfect location for Tony and I to ride our “deadly treadlies” as we called them.

In May of that year I had begun studying French at high school. The class was taught by Mr. Vale, an energetic and very capable English migrant in his late twenties who also taught German and Latin. My two older sisters had also studied French before me with other teachers, but Mr. Vale’s 1969 first-year class was different because we would be the first class ever to use the new French curriculum known as “Ecouter et Parler”. This curriculum, whose title translated to “Listen and Speak” in English, was revolutionary for its time because it was based around a series of reel-to-reel tape recordings that the teacher would play to the class. Mr. Vale was clearly excited about using this new system, and his enthusiasm carried through to his students. Being a natural mimic since my early childhood, this teaching approach was a natural fit for me as it was based around us repeating the sounds, words and phrases that we heard on tape. French quickly became my favorite subject and I soon became curious to learn more about the country of France.

Sure enough, after several months the curriculum started to incorporate segments about France and the lifestyleof the French people. Photographs in the text book were used to create discussion, and among the black-and-white pictures of delicious-looking pastries, pretty countryside and ornate buildings, there were a couple of pictures of gentlemen riding old-fashioned-looking bikes. Mr. Vale explained to us that these men were participating in the “Tour de France”, which he further explained as an event that lasted several weeks and involved riding a bike around France. At first I thought he meant that it was a marathon event in which the participants rode from sunrise to sunset without a break, but when he told us that the bikes were only ridden for a few hours each day I realized that it was obviously not as hard as it had sounded at first. The seed of a potential adventure was now firmly planted in my early teenage mind, but I wasn’t quite sure about my ability to ride the distances involved. I knew that France was a small country compared to Australia and therefore the distance to be travelled each day could not be that far – riding from one side of France to the other had to be a lot shorter than trying to do the same thing in Australia.

A month or two earlier my friend Peter and his family had relocated to a newly-developed suburb in the hills south of Adelaide, and although we missed his company on our regular bike rides we had managed to stay in touch by phone. Peter had continued to study French at his new high school using the same curriculum, and thus he had been exposed to the same Tour de France photos as me. During one of our phone conversations it was decided that during the next school holiday break Tony and I would ride our bikes to Peter’s house, stay a couple of nights and then return home. This would be a true test of our ability to ride the Tour de France because Peter lived almost 25 miles away!

When the school holidays finally arrived, Tony and I set off for Peter’s house at Port Noarlunga one morning with the idea of exploring the limits of our ability. We had never ridden more than 5 miles in any one direction, so this was indeed uncharted territory for us both in every sense. Everything went fine for the first 15 miles, at which point we reached the limit of the Adelaide Plains and encountered the base of the first set of hills. We soon concluded that trying to ride up the hill was no fun at all and so instead we dismounted and walked our bikes about a mile-and-a-half to the top of the hill. At this point things became fun again because we were now facing a nice downhill slope. We remounted our bikes and were soon on our way again. This process repeated itself several times until we reached Peter’s house and were proud to say that we had covered the distance of 23.4 miles in a little over two hours. These results spoke for themselves and there was no doubt in our minds that we had proved ourselves to be veritable Tour de France material.

We did rest for a couple of days before attempting the return journey, but we figured that if we could ride for longer than two hours and cover more than 20 miles in one day then all we would need would be a little bit of practice to get us to ready do the same thing every day for three weeks in France. It all sounded wonderful: by the time we were old enough to go to France and enjoy this two-wheeled holiday known as the Tour de France I would have become quite conversant in French, and such a skill might help us meet some French girls. Exactly what we would do when we met said French girls, we weren’t quite sure. But we had seen enough from TV shows and movies to know that it could be interesting to make their acquaintance in between our two hours of cycling each day. I related my Tour de France ambitions to my mother upon our return from Peter’s house, and although she was not very familiar with France and its culture she had a broad general knowledge that led her to suggest that the bike-riding part of this whole scheme may be quite challenging. I dismissed her motherly concerns with the exasperated air of the well-informed and worldly 13-year-old I considered myself to be when I replied “Well, it’s only a bike race. How hard could it be?”

During the following years as I continued to study French under the patient and inspiring Mr. Vale, I maintained a desire to visit France and see for myself the places we had read about in class. Unfortunately the three-man potential Tour de France team disintegrated during this period as Peter had switched from studying French  to History, and Tony had left school and started his first job as a bicycle messenger. I couldn’t quite understand why, but he swore that last thing he would want to do on a holiday would be to ride a bike. Meanwhile news of each year’s Tour de France was hard to come by in the early 1970s in Australia, with the daily newspaper as the only source of information. The month of July was the height of the football season, and it seemed that the sports editors could seldom find room to report results from a bike race that took place in the middle of the night on the other side of the world. Any news that did appear was in the form of a short list of the overall standings buried in fine print in the back pages of the sport section among the results of the recent pigeon racing and sheaf tossing contests.

After five years of studying French, my enthusiasm to ride in the Tour de France had diminished somewhat because by now my primary means of transportation had changed from my trusty Malvern Star bike to a second-hand car. But my desire to visit France had grown considerably, and given the absence of available information to the contrary, at the advanced and sophisticated age of 17 I had no reason to think that the Tour de France bicycle race was anything more than an extended vacation on wheels. It wasn’t until 1989 that I was able to visit France for the first time for a tantalizingly brief three-day trip in mid-July by high-speed train from Dieppe to Rouen, on to Dijon and then back to Dieppe to take the ferry back to England. I saw enough of the fleeting scenery during that short trip, and tasted enough of the wonderful food, to know that I must return for a longer period. I was finally able to do so in the mid-90s while working in Sweden, from whence I was able on a number of occasions to take a car ferry to Germany and then drive south to spend a week or two in the rural countryside of Provence.

During the twenty or so years following my first trip to France I returned to Provence on around ten different occasions, and each visit had the effect of making me want to come back again. During this period the level of my desire to visit France was further enhanced by the daily telecasts on American television of Le Tour de France that seemed to constantly showcase verdant and lush countryside interrupted only by charming and picturesque little villages. By this time Lance Armstrong had made quite a name for himself, and even though my main focus was on the scenery I began to notice that the race seemed to call for a level of physical exertion by the riders that was far beyond what my friends and I had imagined in our youth.

Eventually the all-too-close live views of riders climbing impossibly steep mountain roads served to shatter my romanticized vision of the race. It seemed to be such a wasted opportunity that the riders would be  sweating and panting as they followed the bike in front of them instead of proceeding in more leisurely style while admiring the bucolic views that surrounded them on every side. For some 200 riders to take this race-focused scenery-ignoring approach day after day while travelling to many different parts of France seemed almost criminal to me. And heaven only knows what tasty foods and special wines they were not enjoying along the way!

There was only one thing to be done: if those athletes were going to travel around France for three weeks without a single sideways glance or extra helping of dessert, then it was up to me to offer myself as a living example of the correct way to participate in Le Tour de France. It would indeed be a three week vacation on wheels – camper van wheels, that is. Instead of having a support team of doctors, psychologists, trainers and masseurs I would be accompanied by my ever-patient wife. And instead of having the events of each day memorialized in video form, I would use the written word to chronicle my gallant endeavors to enjoy both the race and France itself. I can only hope that you, dear reader, enjoy reading about the journey half as much as I enjoyed the actual experience!


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