AS THE world’s top cyclists converge on the streets of Utrecht tomorrow for the Tour de France’s Grand Départ, Derry man Ciaran Doran will have already completed the first stage of the iconic race.
The Belmont Drive native set off 24 hours ahead of the official peloton with 19 other amateur cyclists, who aim to complete each of the 21 gruelling stages of the race for charity.
He will be joined along the way by banned former seven times Tour winner, Lance Armstrong and several other professional cyclists.
It will take 23 days with each stage approximately 100 miles long. So in excess of 3,300km in total, as ‘Le Tour - One Day Ahead’ riders make their way through, Netherlands, Belgium and France.
Navigating the Pyrenees and the Alps, he’ll tackle the spectacular and yet treacherous Alpe d’Huez and its 13.8km ascent, the final climb up to La Toussuire before arriving at the Champs-Élysées in Paris ahead of Chris Froome, reigning champion, Vincenzo Nibali and two time winner, Alberto Contador.
It’s no mean feat for an amateur cyclist fast approaching his 50th birthday. The ultimate goal, however, is an even bigger challenge - to find a cure for leukaemia!
Led by former England international footballer and blood cancer survivor, Geoff Thomas, Ciaran and the other 19 chosen cyclists aim to raise a total of £1 million for Cure Leukaemia.
It’s a huge target but the Tour is unforgiving and will prove a mammoth task. Ciaran’s personal target is £50,000 and he’s already some way towards that total through his own personal fundraising efforts.
A keen cyclist, Ciaran, who now lives in Guilford, England, has cycled from Land’s End to John O’Groats in five days, therefore it won’t be a totally alien experience for the Derry man.
However, it’s the ultimate test of endurance and Ciaran and the rest of the team are going to need help along the way. So they’ve enlisted the assistance of several professional riders who include none other than, seven times Tour winner, Armstrong.
Armstrong, who was infamously stripped of his seven titles and disgraced for his use of performing enhancing drugs in 2012, will ride two of the mountain stages, 13 and 14, of the race towards week two from Rodez to Mende, despite opposition from the world cycling body, UCI.
He might divide public opinion but Ciaran claims he was a huge help when they went on their two day high altitude training camp in the Rocky Mountains in Aspen, Colorado earlier this year.
And no doubt his presence on the tour will prove invaluable for Ciaran and the rest of the amateurs who will be seeking encouragement and advice along the way.
“Whatever may be said about Lance Armstrong over recent years he was a true gentleman and perfect host to the group of riders who turned up in the high altitude resort of Aspen for a training camp,” explained Ciaran.
I’ve been a fan of it since I was at school, the days that Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merckx were winning and I was on the Champs-Élysées when Stephen Roche won in 1987. I made sure I was there.Ciaran Doran
“He and his partner, Anna Hansen, opened their home to us and gave us all a warm welcome. Camera crew, photographer and press were all present to experience and talk about our goal to raise £1million for Cure Leukaemia by riding every single stage of the 2015 Tour de France.
“Personally I had to pinch myself a few times to make sure it wasn’t a dream,” he recalled. “I was on the Champs Elysees with my family for every one of Armstrong’s wins.
“Regardless of anything, Lance Armstrong gave tremendous hope to cancer sufferers worldwide - one of them being Geoff Thomas.”
It’s hoped Armstrong’s involvement won’t deflect from the outstanding work done for charity. Every aspect of the ride is planned with precision.
It will be incredibly taxing both physically and emotionally and Ciaran is hoping his effort will inspire people to get behind him and donate to Cure Leukaemia and ultimately save more lives.
World renown professor of haematology, Charlie Craddock, who heads up the charity in Birmingham believes he’s close to finding a cure for the disease at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and all monies raised will pay for nurses, clinical trials and new treatments for patients.
Ciaran explains how he was fortunate enough to get offered the chance to be part of such an exhilarating challenge.
“The reason we’re doing it is because Geoff Thomas, who played for Crystal Palace and who got them to Wembley in 1990 - at the end of his career in 2003, he got leukaemia,” said Ciaran.
“He was giving about three months to live and professor Charlie Craddock basically helped save his life.
“Since then he’s made it his life’s passion to raise money for Cure leukaemia that Charlie set up,” he added.
“He’s one of these professors who believes he can find a cure for all blood cancers because of the research that’s taken place and how things have accelerated in recent years.
“We’re trying to raise £1 million. Each rider has a target of £50,000 which is a tough challenge. It’s a tough course but it’s also a tough challenge to raise so much money.
“Because I ride a bike a lot I can get used to the challenge on the cycling front. But I’m at £15,000 at the moment and I’ve probably got another £7,000 committed to me.
“I’ve raised that money through (donations from) friends and companies I’ve worked with and promotion all by myself.
“Geoff has been very careful in his selection. It was partly by chance and partly because of what I have done in the past.
“Charlie Craddock, the professor, his wife works with my sister. So that’s how I found out about it.
“For the past 12 or 13 years I’ve been organising charity rides myself such as Lands End to John O’Groats in five days which is just under 200 miles a day.
“I’ve cycled from London to Amsterdam in 24 hours - 300 miles in 24 hours! The Lands End to John O’Groats was the biggest one and in the last 10 years that’s raised £250,000 for charity.
“Geoff wanted people on the team who he knew would find it a challenge but who were likely to finish it.
“And he wanted me on there because I knew how to lead a team and help out. I have a lot of experience in long distance endurance rides.”
As a massive fan of the Tour de France, Ciaran jumped at the chance to fulfil a ‘childhood dream’.
He’s been among the thousands of spectators who gather at the Champs-Élysées on the final day down through the years but now he’s looking forward to riding to the finish line himself on July 25th.
“I love the Tour de France,” he beamed. “It’s the toughest of all the rides. The Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España are tough, but there’s nothing like the Tour de France.
“I’ve been a fan of it since I was at school, the days that Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merckx were winning and I was on the Champs-Élysées when Stephen Roche won in 1987. I made sure I was there.
“It will be a life’s goal doing 21 stages of the Tour de France, 40,000 metres of climbing mountains and raising £50,000.
“I’m not a haematologist but where I can play a part is helping raising funds for the people who can save lives.
“Charlie Craddock is determined and he thinks it’s achievable.
“He’s in his early 50s and reckons he’s got another 20 or 25 years at working life and he believes he can achieve a cure in the next 25 years.
“It’s amazing when you start talking to people who have had leukaemia. More and more people are surviving with the right treatment.
“He’s also getting people access to drug trials that are not on the NHS and the money will pay for specialist nurses who can go out into the community.
“So the more money we can get the more drug trials and nurses he can get.”
Rigorous training regime
Ciaran, who is chief executive of Data Sat - a satellite communications company - has prepared for every eventuality on all terrain during the Tour. He’s clocked up endless miles on the specially designed Wattbike, designed by UCI British Cycling Federation and used by people like Chris Foy and Bradley Wiggins. So he’s in top condition going into today’s Grand Départ.
“There’s a thing called a Wattbike, worth £2,500 each. It’s a static training bike which the Wattbike company provide for UCI British Cycling Federation.
“It measures you very, very specifically. It makes sure you’re producing a certain amount of power in a certain time.
“A guy who trains for British Cycling, he trains guys like Foy and Wiggins, designed our 16 week training plan.
“The Pyrenees and the Alps are going to be in the mid- 30s - that’s the bit I’m not prepared for. You can’t really prepare for that.
“I’ve done some of the mountains before. Four or five years ago we went and did the Pyrenees and the Col du Tourmalet and that can be a killer in a dead heat.
“There’s a film crew making a documentary following us and there’s probably going to be some very famous cyclists accompanying us,” he concluded.
To sponsor Ciaran visit https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/ciarandoranbeforethetour
You can also keep up to date with Ciaran’s Tour on his blog at www.ChaqueEtape.com and at www.derryjournal.com