The alternative Tour de France - latest news
Fired by a heady mix of adrenaline and foolishness and accompanied by six stout Wales fans, I spent Thursday and Friday cycling from the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff to the Stade de France in Paris.
A total of 450 kilometres in two days - there are easier ways to get to a Six Nations match.
I've been posting updates and photos throughout on la grande adventure here. Feel free to offer your advice, encouragement and outright scorn down below...
Saturday, 0800 CET Location: darkened hotel room nr Grands Boulevards, Paris. Mood: knackered, yet deeply satisfied.
Gatland's men might have fallen short on Friday night, but Wales can be proud of another group of its sporting sons. The pre-ride odds on Le Grand Cycle being completed successfully were estimated by a cycling expert beforehand as "no more than five per cent" - but this peloton laughs in the face of such pooh-poohing. So what if no-one will be able to sit down for days? So what if everyone can only walk with a weird, hunched-over, John Wayne-style waddle?
Now then. It's Wales v Italy in Rome in a fortnight. We've got the bikes. We've got the outfits. And with 437 kilometres already on the clock, we've made big inroads already. Paris to Rome, across the Alps - how hard could it be?
2010 CET: Km: 437. Location: Le Stade de France! Mood: Ecstatic
We've done it! We've done it!
1845 CET: Km: 414 Location: Pontoise. Punctures: Two. Mood: can't believe we've just had a puncture.
Oh, we did not need that. We did not need that. Paris is in our sights - no more than an hour and 10 minutes to go - and now this? Get the pump out. Rip off that tyre. Pull the spare inner tube from the back pocket. The match kicks off in just over two hours. Gatland - keep them in the dressing-room til we arrive...
1635 CET: Km: 380. Location: Gisors. Mood: tired and emotional.
It's incredible what creams a man will smear on his secret places when he's staring into the abyss. With 65km to go to Le Stade de France, it is all unctions to the pumps. The sun is sinking in this foreign land, and the five weary members of Gatland's red army (plus similarly weary man From Beeb) marshall their resources for the final push.
1515 CET: Km: 351. Location: Ecouis. Mood: hurried
No time to stop - just time to tell you of everyone's sorest spot. Alex M: lips. Tom W: undercarriage. Rob M: the buttocks. Rob A: his wheel-arch. Adam: left buttock cheek and mind. Tom F: neck. And texting thumb.
1330 CET: Km: 325. Location: Bonsecours, a hill east of Rouen. Mood: stoic.
There are times when it all seems a dream - flying along at 28 kph in a flying express train of a peloton, the Seine slinking past on our right, the road zipping under the wheels. Every 15 minutes the drinks monitor-elect shouts, "DRINK!", every 30 minutes the dinner-lady elect shouts "EAT!" Five hours to get to Paris to pick the tickets up in time for kick-off. Allez allez allez!
1125 CET: Km: 285. Location: Caudebec, Normandy. Mood: cautiously optimistic.
It's amazing how the things that took hours to hurt on the first day are throbbing within minutes on the second. Salve comes in the form of the impeccable manners of French drivers, who cannot give you enough room as they pass. Big news is that we've lost our first man. Damian, in bits after Thursday's heroic ride, has pedalled slowly in the direction of the nearest train station. 40km to go to Rouen, 20km more to lunch. The aroma coming from the boulangeries we pass is how heaven must smell.
1000 CET: Km: 257. Location: Tancarville, Normandy. Mood: Loving the smooth, empty French roads.
How hard can it be to leave Le Havre without using the autoroute? It depends if the man reading the map only has one usable eye, on account of losing a contact lens on the overnight ferry.
Friday 27th Feb, 0730 CET:. Km to Stade de France: about 200. Location: ferry approaching Le Havre. Mood: sleepy.
Yawn. Stretch. Ouch. Try to climb off bunk-bed and find les toilettes. Legs as heavy as car batteries. Reach for cycling shorts and find them crustier than a baguette. We have exactly 12 hours to get to Paris. Right - where's the cafe? And what's French for "porridge"?
2200: Km: 232. Location: Portsmouth. Mood: Pride tinged with fear.
Heroes, every one of them. Hungry heroes, to be fair, but with the smell of the sea in nostrils and France just a boat away, there can be no room for carping. Damian finally succumbed to his brutal flu in Winchester and jumped on a train for final stretch, bloodied but unbowed, but the remaining members of Gatland's barmy army knocked off the remaining miles with only the occasional dicey moment. And so Day One ends. Will the lads be sensible and retire to cabins to snatch a few precious hours sleep - or is there a thirst for a celebratory something in le bar?
1830: Km: 187. Location: 24-hour petrol station in Winchester. Mood: Whose idea was this?
The news that we have two hours to go is somewhat troubling. Two hours? How can that be? We rendezvoused at the Millennium Stadium 11 hours ago. Right. Let's get the coffees in. And the milkshakes. And the Jaffa Cakes. What do you mean, "other snacks are available"? Where? Let me have them...
1700: Km: 169. Location: Halfway up steep hill outside Andover. Mood: phlegmatic.
Now then. It's time to sort out the men from the boys. 65 km to go to the coast, and it's starting to get dark. A growing sense that Hymn Half-Hour might be called for to bolster spirits - nothing like a rendition of Bread Of Heaven to ease the throbbing of a man's most precious areas. Damian claims his knees have gone - will Winchester remain nothing but a dream for him?
1545: Km: 142. Location: Somewhere in middle of Salisbury Plain, near some tanks. Mood: Increasingly sore.
Just passed some tanks. We were going faster - marginally. Thank all the gods in heaven for that Chinese takeaway in Devizes. Don't go there expecting any food later - it was like a plague of locusts had gone through it. What's that cream Tom Williams is applying to his undercarriage?
1400: Km: 122. Location: Devizes. Mood: hungry.
"Some Wales fans arrived in Devizes/ And had lunches of varying sizes/ Some were too small, and no good at all/ But the other ones won several prizes".
The good news: excellent - we're halfway! The bad news: oh no - we're only halfway... Portsmouth lies 120 kilometres to the south-east. It is downhill, isn't it?
1200: Km: 77. Location: Yate, somewhere in Glouc. Punctures: 1. Mood: focused.
Farewell Wales, hello the Cotswolds. Memo to self - unwrapping sandwich from cellophane wrapper at 25 kmph leads to substantial steering issues. Revelation of day so far: Adam's dad was the writer/creator/mastermind behind 1980s cartoon SuperTed. Tis indeed an honour to be riding in such company. Now - where's the signpost to Chippenham?
1020: Location: Severn Bridge. Km: 51. Mood: probably peaking.
Huge psychological boost as we cross the national border. Average speed picked up on the A48 through Chepstow - surely one of the smoothest roads a man could ever hope to ride. Anecdote of day so far from Damian - unrepeatable but ended in phrase "and all I could smell was my own burning flesh".
0900: Location: Usk Transporter Bridge, Newport. Km: 24. Mood: buoyant.
Uncertain first 10 minutes as party almost gets lost before leaving Cardiff. Picks up as Tom Williams teaches peloton the words to first two lines of the Marseilles. A mere 267 miles to Paris. Allez!
0730: Location: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. Km: 0.4. Mood: officially over-excited.
Le grand depart - six Welshmen in matching Wales tops and Nicole Cooke masks, wading through pains au chocolat provided by the throng of well-wishers. I say throng - there's five of them, but what they lack in numbers, they make up for in cakes. A bloke walking past on his way to work spots the jerseys and looks impressed. "Is that the Welsh team?" he asks, looking thrilled. And then confused. "They're not cycling to Paris for the match, are they?"
0600 GMT: Location: Cardiff. Km done: 0.
And so it begins. A pre-dawn breakfast of porridge, two hard-boiled eggs and two slices of toast, cooked by a man named Dogger in a flat behind the train station. Is this how Lance does it?