A few weeks ago, Thomas Delaplace participated in his first BikingMan. And for a first, his choice fell on a choice piece: the Pyrenees, the Basque Country and a simply epic Euskadi event, which caused quite a few victims among the participants with a record withdrawal rate. Thomas went to the end, driven by a desire to prove something, driven by a deep rage to overcome this challenge. Here is the story of his adventure, his Euskadi, which goes well beyond the few days spent on the bike:
Monday, September 6th, 2021, 5 am. I am taking the start of what I believed to be the end point of my transformation, started two years ago. But in reality, this is the start of my new life …
We are in September 2019, two years before the BikingMan Euskadi, and I just celebrated my 39th birthday. From the height of my 1.78m and wide of my 120 kilos, nothing feels right. Years of sidelong glances, of remarks about my appearance, victim of what is called “ordinary racism”, got the better of my joviality and my lack of self-confidence. A woman who loves me and a not-too-bad professional situation could have made me a satisfied and happy man if only the little seed placed in the corner of my brain by some people had not destroyed my self-esteem.
It’s decided ! I will prove to others what I am really worth and who I really am. I turn to specialists, nutritionists, dieticians who support me and re-educate me in my diet.
It’s hard to find the right protocol when you’re just a good eater: I don’t eat snack, I’m not a compulsive eater, just a guy with a fucking good “fork”! Eat little, eat slowly, drink a lot … my body is under strain.
Now you have to play sports … I’ve been enrolled in a gym for some time now, but it’s time to get serious. 6 months later and a few tens of pounds less, patatras, covid and confinement. Stopper? No ! My work colleague, Guillaume, emeritus CrossFitor, goes on video every night to do a CrossFit WOD together.
I feel good, I am sharpening myself and I can even do my first pull-ups !!!
End of confinement, we can do outdoor sport again. I naturally orient myself towards running, but years of being overweight have had the better of my knees and forced me to slow down. I have an old racing bike in my garage that I have had since 1996 and that I use to get around town. For connoisseurs, a good Columbus steel frame fitted with Shimano 600, the ancestor of the Ultegra. Here we go: 20, 50, 80 then 100 kilometers on a ride in July 2020. The satisfaction of having made it motivates me to continue.
At the end of August, Guillaume told me that he wanted to try his hand at triathlon and that he was going to climb the Ventoux in early September with some friends. This one really has a trick for motivating me and challenging me.
Suddenly, I signed up for the Toulouse triathlon XS version to test myself (in the end, the covid got the better of the event). And at the beginning of September, I embarked on the ascent of the Tourmalet. I don’t talk about it, don’t tell anyone because I’m afraid I’ll not get there, that I’ll set my foot on the ground and end up turning back.
So Saturday September 12th, I take my bike and embark all my hatred in the ascent of the Tourmalet. Arrived at the top, I burst into tears, an emotional discharge which makes me lose all my means. If I managed to climb this giant of the Pyrenees then I can go much further!
On my return, I am looking for a new challenge and register for the Alpe d’Huez triathlon version M. This will be my 2021 goal! But that will be without counting the discovery of the BikingMan!
At the beginning of October, during a meeting with colleagues, I discover that one of my colleagues from the North is riding a bicycle. We talk, we exchange on our common affection for this sport and we leave it there. A few weeks later, Romain, my colleague from the North, sends me an email with a YouTube video of BikingMan with the title: “these guys are really sick !!!”. I watch the video and then the YouTube flow offers me more and naturally I watch them.
My mind tells me those guys are machines, I can’t even imagine doing it one day, although I know I wish I could accomplish such a feat.
Then the phone rings:
– Hi ?
– Hi Thomas, it’s Romain, so what do you think?
– About what ?
– Well, about the BikingMan!
– Uh…. These guys are sick!
– Wouldn’t you like it?
– Yes, but I don’t have the level …
– Frankly, considering what you have accomplished in 1 year already, I know you have an iron mind and I would like to do it, but not solo. And doing it with someone who’s got a strong mindset like you, I think if we go for a year from now, that’s going to do it.
– OK, thanks. Let me think about it.
It took me a week to decide which BikingMan to do. It will be EUSKADI!
And off we go for 1 year of preparation: buying a new bike, buying bikepacking equipment and riding…. Riding a lot! Romain living in Lille and now being myself in Toulouse, we find a “lucky” moment to go riding together for 1 week in March 2021 in Gran Canaria. Go through the days, gain elevation and, above all, ride together. It’s going well, we ride well together and we get along well.
The months go by and look the same, I ride and spend hours on the saddle. Strangely, every time I go out and get myself out of my corner (the Pyrenees, the ascent of Alpe d’Huez, the Ventoux …) I am filled with doubt. I’m always afraid I won’t make it, that it’s too big for me. Fucking self-esteem! And yet it passes. Not to the rhythm of a Van Aert, or a Boursette (I’m starting to know the big names of the BikingMan), but it’s okay.
The deadline is approaching, we are starting to talk about strategy. How many steps, how do you “cut” the test. We start to believe in it… and there, 15 days before, Romain calls me to tell me that he is forfeited, big knee problem, and that for a few days, each time he has taken the bike, after 20k, violent pain assailed him. What to do ? Am I to give up ? Am I going solo? I’ve been preparing for a year, 1 year of sacrifices, I can’t give up like that. I send an email to Axel Carion who switches me as solo without any problem.
However, everything is called into question. Alone, it’s not the same as a duet. Who will motivate me in the hard times, with whom will I discuss and share some laughters ? So I review my racing strategy and prepare my playlists.
Saturday September 4th. I wake up, I think about what to expect. The stress rises, the lump is gradually placed in my stomach. 1 pm: time to go, I load my bike in the trunk of the car, I kiss my wife, caress her round belly under which a work is still in progress. It’s due in a month time! Fortunately, we chose the Basque Country and not Portugal! When I got to the Eden Village Bela Basque campsite, I found it easy to get to the race village. The welcome is warm, I will learn later that all these nice people who welcome you with kindness, calm and benevolence are called the Race Angels (these are aptly named!). Collecting my bib, checking the bike and compulsory equipment then weighing the bike: 13kg without food and water; not bad ! Additional pressure: I meet all those I have known for months through YouTube or Instagram such as Axel Carion, Laurent Boursette, Julien Marty, the FastClub… It’s quite funny because we have the impression of knowing them… but why don’t they recognize me ?! Anyway, I feel like the event is too big for me.
I doubt, even though I’ve been telling myself since paying my ticket that quitting isn’t an option.
I return to my hotel for a little solo evening while waiting for the Sunday briefing. A good burger and a good beer by the ocean and tomorrow morning I’ll go for a swim.
Sunday September 5th, 2 pm, time for the briefing… Everyone is here. The familiar faces of the BikingMan, the strangers of the BikingMan, the ball in my stomach and Muriel and Stéphane, two participants who live in my area and whom I discovered on Instagram. We had talked a lot together during this year and we even had the opportunity to meet for a drink at home mid-August. It feels good to be with them. After the briefing, we stay, we discuss, we share and I don’t really want to go back to my hotel alone, but hey, I have to, right!? When I got to the hotel, I took a video with my wife, who had taken the time to slip a present into my bag because today, I am 41 years old!
Monday September 6th, 5 am. After hearing the Basque songs, I place myself in the 2nd wave. Let’s go! The first kilometers go smoothly, the weather is good, I still smell good, there are people, the day is breaking and the first difficulties too. The goal for the day is to reach Argelès Gazost, that’s after 315km and 5400m of elevation gain. Col de Légarré, Col d’Osquich, Col de Bugalaran, a few walls to go through and then as a dessert for the day … Spandelles. When I think back to what Axel said: “Before CP1 it’s the appetizer! Serious things start at CP1”. Fortunately, this day was embellished with messages from my family, friends, news from Muriel and Stéphane (the Wormes for close friends) and phone calls with my sweetheart. I ended the day with the strength of rage and the desire to eat at this fabulous pizza distributor spotted at Argeles Gazost.
Tuesday September 7th, 6 am. I know this day will be complicated. I started according to my plan to ride 200km and sleep in Escot: I had imagined myself starting from Argeles Gazost, unrolling to the Aspin pass, continuing on the
Tourmalet and fly over to my target for the day. But unlike Hannibal Smith, my plan did not go off without a hitch. Before attacking Aspin, there are some small difficulties to pass, we grind the teeth and we move forward! Aspin check! Tourmalet Check…Point!
Thank you to the Races Angels who always have the right word, the right smile, the one that makes you want to resume and quickly see them again at CP2. I get back on my bike to finish my ascent of the Tourmalet and, when I reach the top, receives a phone call from a friend:
– Hello Thomas? It’s Damien, are you okay?
– Yes I’m fine, in the hard but fine!
– Where are you?
– At the top of the Tourmalet!
– Is that so? I’m in Luz-Saint-Sauveur, get down quickly and let’s have a drink!
My friend is from Bordeaux and a sales representative in the eyewear industry. Without telling me, he had organized his tour accordingly because he wanted to see “the extra-terrestrial” in his words. In short, I found him in Luz-Saint-Sauveur and we had a drink at a bar… A little moment of happiness and great boost. I hit the road again and stop to eat and sleep at the foot of Soulor, 50 kilometers earlier than my initial plan. But in the end, it was a good thing, it allowed me to cut “early” and sleep “early” because tomorrow I will have to make up for the delay: objective CP2.
Wednesday September 8th, 4 am. Heavy legs, sore ass, I set off again with the Soulor for breakfast. I know it’s going to be a long day, 225km and 6500m of elevation. Soulor, Aubisque, Marie Blanque, Ichère, Labays are on the morning program. It’s beautiful but exhausting. I can’t count the number of times I touched the right lever hoping 2 more teeth had magically appeared! After my lunch break in Arette, I try my first powernap under the sun at the foot of a tree. 20min will do me good … say 45 min. I wake up and go back!
La Pierre St Martin, Issarbe, Hourcère, Soudet, it never stops. Yesterday, I had Damien as my boost, today, arrived at the Spanish border, it’s my brother! I receive a video on WhatsApp. Small family video montage shot in a humorous way to encourage me and tell me that they are proud of me. Originally from the north and Flemish in addition, we don’t usually express our feelings very much, but here the message was clear. Suffice to say that the descent on Isaba was tricky because with wet eyes, it was complicated. Arrived on Isaba, I stop to have a bite and see what’s left before reaching CP2. Hot but playable… The ascent of Larrau seems interminable to me, especially since on the Spanish side, we do not have the indications of the remaining kilometers and the percentages. The descent is perilous: night, fog, rain, cold, thunderstorm in the distance, goats and cows in the middle of the road, all this spices up and ends up paralyzing my hands. One last and we are at CP2: Bagargui!
Fuckin’ Bagargui! Just thinking about it, I still get chills. I think this was the worst climb of my entire BikingMan. Why pedal when you realize that you would be going faster on foot?
Fortunately, there was CP2 at the end of the day, well night actually, since I finally got there at 2am! 22h on the saddle. How do I still stand up?
Thursday September 9th, 6 am. After sleeping at CP2, I’m leaving. The weather is bad, gray, foggy, I can’t get to warm up. A certain routine sets in. When I leave, I always stop at the first place I can eat: bakery, cafe, whatever, because here you never know when the next meal will be and this is even more true after CP2. Thank you Radio Cyclo for the info! The sumptuous landscapes become commonplace. It’s beautiful … but normal in a way! The day goes by without a hitch. If all goes well, it’s my last big day and tomorrow I’ll meet up with the team.
As much at the start of the race we see people, the more the days go by, the more alone we are. That day, I didn’t see anyone from the race, wondering if we are on the right track.
Friday September 10th, 5 am. This is the last one !!! I have 120kms and 2000m of elevation gain left. I’m on cloud nine, I’m going to do it… Family, friends… I’m getting lots of messages to encourage me on this final stretch. I didn’t think I would be followed so much.
The Wormes are eagerly awaiting me in Anglet. When you see what I have left to do, you think it’s good, it’s in my pocket. But in reality it’s hard, not physically, but mentally.
I’m flushed, tired, I stop a lot, I go bar crawling. When I arrive in Sare, I stop to take my traditional Coke + Perrier on the terrace. I blink 25 minutes. When I open my eyes I hear a warm “Are you okay Thomas?”. Two Race Angels who were supposed to be waiting for me near La Rhune for the photos, saw me stopped for a while and decided to get down to see if I was okay. They found me asleep on the terrace, they sat next to me, we had a coffee and they waited for the sleeping biker to wake up! We chat a little, we laugh and let’s go! I pass next to the little Rhune train, the corniche and the “Boursette memorial”. Along the ocean is magical. St-Jean-de-Luz, and finally Anglet. From the Corniche to Anglet, I hardly stopped crying. The emotional discharge is intense, even violent. I who thought that this ordeal was going to be the high point in my life, I realize this is just a stage and the start of my new life.
I left to do this BikingMan with a heart filled with hatred, with the visceral desire to prove to all those who never believed in me that I was capable of it, capable of doing an exceptional thing that they themselves would not have been able to do. It was the dark side that animated me. This Friday September 10th at 1:30 pm. in Anglet, everything has disappeared. I have received so many messages of support and even admiration from my loved ones, friends of
a long time that I had not seen for ages and that only Facebook and Instagram gave us the opportunity to stay in touch with, that in reality, it is they who carried me during this race, except maybe in Bagargui! Refocus on the essentials, live your passions to the full, know who really matters to you and love them, these people, and don’t give a damn about others.
There it was, the story of a guy who two years ago to the day weighed 120kgs and was lost.
It was the story of a guy who, a year ago to the day, climbed the first pass of his life on a bicycle.
It was the story of a guy who three weeks ago became a BikingMan.