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Marion Villette - In The Beginning

Once I was settled in my new place I began exploring my new region by bike, going on 25-35km rides with my partner. Those rides felt like colossal achievements as I had never ridden this long and this far before. It was the end of July, I was on vacation and I was sweating on my bike 2 or 3 times a week. A few weeks in I was still not bored of riding. On the contrary, my love for riding grew with the length of my rides. One of the first challenges I encountered was finding quality cycling gear. That was a tough one: I had to go online to find decent cycling shorts as all the stores I went to seemed to disregard women cycling as an oddity. I wound up with a nice kit and was ready to continue exploring the surrounding areas, often on my own.

One of the most vivid memories I have from these summer rides was when I got to explore the quaint village of Saint Cirq Lapopie, one of the most beautiful places in France. It was really not far away and so, one morning, I filled my water bottles and headed in that direction. The first hour or so was slightly uphill but then there were some short but steeper climbs. My heartbeat was racing like never before and my legs were hurting. Fortunately, when I thought I couldn't continue, the road started to go downhill. After about an hour and a half, I got closer to Saint Cirq Lapopie and was able to admire the magnificent view on the village. It was simply stunning and it truly felt like a reward for all these efforts! However, I soon realised that I would have to climb to the top of the village to reach the other side and return home. And it turned out this village was remarkably steep and craggy!

Once again I had to ride uphill, panting my lungs out for what seemed like hours, all the while passing by people who seemed to wonder if I would suffocate. The climb was purgatory. I don't even remember how I did it, but in the end I had reached the top and I felt exhilarated. Once home, I discovered that this ride had been 52.8km long and that I had climbed 1054m, which was much more than I had ever climbed. I even obtained my very first “Queen of the Mountain” on Strava! Clearly, no female rider had ever tried this climb seriously before (at least not with their stravas on) but still... I got my first QOM!

This achievement gave me confidence and, bit by bit, I rode longer rides until I reached a 75km ride all on my own at the end of the summer; I had ridden further than I had thought possible just a few weeks before. At the start of the fall, I still managed to find a few hours a couple of times a week to go on rides, even if most of my time was dedicated to working. I mostly followed the same roads I already knew by heart, as I wasn't sure where else I could go. This routine, added to the fact that I was riding alone most of the time, started to feel monotonous and I was desperately looking for riding mates, as I longed for some change.

One afternoon, I was on a road that I had ridden a thousand times (or so it seemed) when a male cyclist caught up with me and started to talk to me. He asked if I would enjoy riding with a club, and I said yes. I learned that this local team organised rides every Sunday morning and soon enough, I was all set to go ride with them. I had been told this first ride would be flat and “only” 60km long. Arriving to the place of departure, I met around a dozen people and enquired about the usual pace. The coach told me it would be around 28-30km/h and, embarrassed, I replied that I would not be able to keep up as my maximum average speed so far had been around 22km/h. He encouraged me to try to follow anyway. I followed and I did not regret it! I ended up riding 68km with an average speed of 30km/h, which seemed completely beyond me! Of course I had stuck behind the group, which made it incredibly easier than if I had had to ride on the front, but in the end I had done what I had thought impossible just two hours before. That first ride was on 1st November and, since then I've ridden with them practically every Sunday.

This on-going adventure has led to me believe that I can do more. To realise I can always do more than I expect. It has reinforced my conviction that I will indeed be able to ride the Ventoux, my ultimate goal for 2016. It has also led me to challenge myself even more, looking for some new adventures and new challenges along the way.