SADDLE sore, aching legs, swollen hands and feet and toes that are black and blue – welcome to the world of cyclist Helen Russell who is one of 11 cyclists with former England footballer Geoff Thomas doing the world’s toughest bike race, the Tour de France, one day ahead.
As we reported last week Helen, a member of Evesham Wheelers, had crashed on Stage 2, suffering a gashed leg which required 10 stitches.
This week we caught up with her at the village of Biert on Stage 12, the third day in the Pyrenees Mountains on the road from Lannemezan to the heights of Plateau de Beille.
“I am so tired,” she said, “and I ache all over, in places you don’t expect either – it’s so hot that my feet are swollen and my toes are black and blue from being stuck in my cycling shoes,” said Helen, aged 39.
“It’s over 30 degrees, there’s very little shade, we’re on the bikes all day and we’re so fatigued I’m not sleeping well either.”
Despite the pain though she’s still thrilled to be on the trip, which aims to raise £1 million for Cure Leukaemia.
The tour leader Geoff Thomas was diagnosed with blood cancer in 2003 and given months to live and the event is his way of celebrating his tenth year in remission by giving something back to the charity that saved his life.
Geoff claims the news their collective fund-raising efforts have risen above the £600,000 mark is a massive fillip as they tackle the mountains.
“I mentioned on social media the other day that we’ve been through some really tough days, covering a lot of miles,” he said.
“Helen’s injury was really nasty and required ten stitches. James also needed stitches and we mustn’t forget that Simon suffered a collapsed lung and broken ribs just three weeks before the challenge started.
“The longest stage of the tour on Monday 6th over cobbles, and the horrible weather on the way to Le Havre last Wednesday, took a lot out of us.
“It was taxing both physically and mentally. Concentration levels had to be extremely high to keep everyone safe.
“Yesterday, we overcame our first mountain stage. It was painful but a great achievement by the team.
“It’s at the end of these tough rides that you start looking at your JustGiving pages. Seeing donations coming in, and getting messages of support on social media, really does lift the riders.
“So news that we’ve topped £600,000 has given us all a tremendous boost.”
A special guest also joined the tour yesterday (Thursday) when Lance Armstrong, the now infamous winner of seven Tour de Frances and himself a cancer survivor, joined the team to boost moral.
“Lance is of course a controversial figure, but this is a charity bike ride and if his presence can help raise the profile of the event and raise more money then that’s a good thing,” said Helen.
Helen has set herself a fund raising target of £50,000 and so far has raised just over £13,000 of this total.
To make your donation in the battle against leukaemia visit http://www.justgiving.com/HelenRussell-LeTour