DAY 4, 25 July 2010: Paris, France

10:00 – Slept like a log last night and started the day with another great meal. Spend a little while shooting the breeze with Adrian the photographer, who was among those who didn’t get back to the hotel till 5am. He’s surprisingly chipper. One reason he doesn’t like being made the Big Issue Foundation’s poster-boy, he says, is that it makes him feel a little guilty, knowing that he actually got his life back together doing something he loved to do. It somehow didn’t seem hard enough. Maybe not, I think to myself, but everyone deserves a little luck along the way.

13:00 – It’s the first time in a good while that I haven’t had something specific to do, and being aimless in one of the cities in the world with the most to offer doesn’t make deciding on a plan any easier. Eventually, I leave Adrian and Anthony in pursuit of a ‘big fat steak’ and head in the direction of Montmartre, where I know I can remain aimless in a neighbourhood with atmosphere and some interesting boutiques.

15:45 – Aimless wandering accomplished, board the metro and make for the Louvre to try to find a good vantage point for the final stage of the Tour. Sounds like Contador has the race wrapped up, but anyone could win the stage.

16:30 – Standing under the arcades on the north side of the Tuileries, looking up and down the road. Both sides are lined with spectators two or three deep, and this isn’t even the Champs-Elysees. The voices of the race commentators are blaring through speakers set up along the way, so everyone knows how close the racers are getting, who’s in the lead, and whether the distance between the peloton and the leaders is growing, shrinking or staying the same.

16:35 – At this point, it all becomes something of a blur, but I can tell that people are starting to perk up. Heads are craning left, cameras are coming out. The lone yellow Mavic car with the wheel rack on the top that’s been speeding around for the last 20 minutes reappears, joined by a dozen others bearing the names of major manufacturers and sponsors. Now every camera is out and pointing up the road, and suddenly the babble of thousands of indistinct voices resolves itself into cheers rolling in our direction.
There are the cyclists – the leaders first, about ten of them, and then the rest. Fast. 50.1 km/h, says the commentator. Two seconds later, the leaders are past and the rest of the racers are streaming by to the cheers and sustained applause of the fans. Maybe as much as 30 seconds after they first appeared, they’re gone, speeding down the road towards Place de la Concorde, a host of cars with roof-mounted bikes and wheels surging after them.

17:30 – The peloton has gone by another seven or eight times, the leaders 18 to 20 seconds in front of the pack, and now it’s the final push for the finish line. I can hear the radio commentators getting excited about who’s doing what at the front and I kind of wish I were there to see Mark Cavendish surge past the rest and across the line. Instead, I soak in the enthusiasm of the crowd and people packed into bars and cafes nearby; I can’t make out what the commentators are saying anymore over the general hubbub, but it was clearly a smashing finish.

19:00 – We’re all boarding the Eurostar at Gare du Nord, bound for London. I see a few red-and-white checkered jerseys in the queue and it reminds me of the reason we’re all here. Raising the money to take part in the BIF charity ride was a challenge, no doubt about it, but the satisfaction that’s come with doing it on behalf of people who really benefit from it is enormous. The Big Issue Foundation and the people at Tall Stories, for their part, ran a fantastic ride, more than reward enough for all our fundraising efforts, and a really positive experience all round.

As I finish off this blog, many thanks go out to Kona for giving me this space and helping me in my fundraising by donating a Kona World Bike to my BIF Charity Raffle. I approached Kona after reading about the work they do through their Basic Needs Program. Although Kona’s focus is Africa and the Big Issue’s is the UK, their objectives are similar: helping improve the quality of life of disadvantaged people. Dealing with Kona was an extremely positive experience, and their generous support was a real encouragement as I gradually made my way towards my fundraising target. Thanks.