We were blessed with an extra 30 minutes this morning and didn't plan to leave until 8 am. Yay! Too bad I hardly could take advantage of those extra minutes. My body made sure I was wide awake around 6 am, telling me to "get on with with it!".
The Mercure hotel breakfast buffet was in the typical French baguette-croissant-youghurt-milk-cheese-ham-butter-marmelade-juice-coffee-style, and I really missed eggs and bacon (proteins!) after noticing how a lot of my muscle mass everywhere else than in the legs has started to disappear. I really don't have an excess to get rid of and would very much like to keep whatever I have, thank you very much!
When we rolled our bikes out from the storage room, it seemed like we would have a great morning - partly cloudy, slightly below 20 degrees and not particularly windy. Perfect biking weather. I think a lot of us started to feel some mixed feelings about the day - on one hand, we were so close to have been cycling all the way to Paris and the Eiffel Tower, but on the other hand our very special adventure was coming to an end. At least that's what I felt.
We took off knowing we only had a measly 80-kilometer ride ahead of us before hooking up with all the other 16 teams at Place Auguste Baron, and then ride the final 10 kilometers to the Eiffel Tower as one large (and above all, long) bunch of 800 cyclists.
But things would get a little bit more challenging than we thought. We had a navigation equipment problem already after a few kilometers, and were forced to take an involuntary break on the pavement for 40 minutes or so. When the GPS had been fixed we took off on a pretty smooth ride, and after a bit shorter than 30 kilometers we got where we would have our final morning break.
After more eating, drinking and eating we finally gently, gently applied one large last dose of Assos (a GREAT antibacterial vaseline creme that decreases friction and hopefully keeps your most valuable parts at least somewhat recognizable). And took off again. Ouch.
The traffic became heavier and heavier the closer we got to the city, and we had lost quite a lot of time. At a BP petrol station in an undefined Parisian suburb a decision was made to skip lunch, and munch bananas and energy bars instead. Someone seemed to think about filling up his/hers ("hen's"?) bike at the pump.
The last kilometers to Place Auguste Baron went better than we thought, and we got there well ahead of time before the joint ride. We kind of started celebrating already there. A lot of songs were sung. Probably around four or five teams were there when we arrived, and Team Stockholm wasn't one of them. Some of us cheered something like:
"Före Team Stockholm!
Vi åker före Team Stockholm!
Före Team Stoooooock-hoooolm!
Vi åker före Team Stoooooock-hoooolm!"
(A few different ways of saying that we're "ahead of Team Stockholm")
And I have to add a disclaimer here. Of course it isn't as if anyone of us in Team Täby feel any kind of rivalry with our smaller sibling from the southern parts of Stockholm. It just happens to be a fact that we purposely chose a longer (and probably more scenic) route than they did, and that we were faster than them to the Eiffel Tower. We even let them get a head start from Rostock when we split our routes. That's all.
The ride to the Eiffel Tower was unbelievable. We were team five out of seventeen, but still there was no way we could see the front of our "peloton" even on the longest boulevards. That must've been one of the longest pelotons with the same bikes and clothes ever formed. 29 out of 30 bystanders looked happy, cheered or took photos. That last one out of 30 seemed to be stressed to get somewhere, and weren't particularly thrilled with coming to a halt and getting a sudden fifteen minute view of exhausted, deliriously happy Skandinaviens on yellow bikes.
And before long, we saw it/him/her/hen: The Eiffel Tower. It was far from my first time, and like most other tourists to Paris I've been up there a few times. But never has this sight been greater, and never has the feeling of this monument's magnificence been more powerful than in those moments when we were coming closer and closer.
The last few hundred meters were fantastic. Both loved ones, friends and family, tourists and perhaps even a few Parisians were standing packed together, cheering as if was the last meters of Tour de France. A few of us shed a tear or two after the finish line, and afterwards there was an hour or two of hugging, cheering, drinking bubbly and eating crackers (yes, this was an interesting sensation after biking for eight long days in a row AND skipping lunch).
A lot of photos were taken, and I think the ones where you were lifting your bike in front of the tower was the most popular motive. Visit your loved one's Facebook pages, and you'll probably see them as profile pictures or at least in the photo stream.
After that: a fantastic mexican debrief dinner, and then a couple of hours of after-midnight dancing for some, and a bit more sleep for others. Since I have an early flight on Saturday morning I chose the "early" option and got back to the hotel at 1 am. Exhausted and very, very happy.
I'll try to let this experience mature for a few days, and then sum up some thoughts and reflections here that could come in handy for future bike rides like this one.
I'm just so very grateful for this opportunity, and want to give my warmest thanks to everyone involved. I know you have worked really, really hard to make this possible. Our captain, the whole service team with technical service, food and transportation, Alex and Robin, the paceline captains, our navigators, our sponsors, and every single one of the team members. Thank you.
And finally: let us always remember all those children with cancer who are fighting to stay alive in Lund, in Sweden and all over the world. Their challenges are so much harder than the ones we have faced during this week. They are fighting for their own life when it has hardly just begun.