'Shut up legs'. Those three words had been going through my mind over and again for the last ten minutes, and now there they were on a huge sign towards the top of Caerphilly Mountain. Jen's Voigt's famous three words had been driving me as I pushed to complete Velothon Wales as quickly as possible.
Before starting the race I had set myself a goal of six hours, based on how my training had been going, average speeds from previous training rides and how I was feeling on the day. Six hour for 140km and over 1800m of ascent would be a fairly decent time, and as I set off from Cardiff I made a few quick calculations in my head. I knew what average speed I would need to clock, around 22km/h to achieve this goal, and I also knew that I would need to put in some hard work early on to get ahead of my target as the Tumble and Caerphilly Mountain would bring that average down. I knew the opening hour would be fast, and then after that things would settle down a little, only they didn't. Two hours in and I was well ahead of schedule, thanks to riding in a strong group of riders all willing to share the workload and push the tempo.
As I cycled I maintained the self-talk inside of my head, daring to dream and tell myself that 25km/h was possible if I kept pushing and made sure I didn't lose too much time on the climbs. With almost 80km on the clock I was approaching the foot of the Tumble, a climb I had done four times already this year. The only difference now being that there were about a thousand other riders all making their way up the climb. Constant cries of 'on your right' ensured I was able to keep a solid tempo as slower riders ceded their position and allowed myself and another rider to push on.
The Tumble wasn't easy, but having ridden it before and knowing exactly where the hardest parts were enabled me to stay focused and control my efforts accordingly. Once up the worst of it I was able to accelerate for a few hundred metres before the final push to the summit, after which it was onto the easy part, the descent.
As I raced down the other side and gradually neared 100km ridden I did another set of calculations, suddenly I realised that if I kept my current rate up I could get close to five hours, which wasn't even in my thinking at the start of the race. With only one real climb to go I dared to dream, and with that belief came a new wave of energy as I pushed on, only with the extra effort came the first real pain in my legs. That's when Jens Voigt's famous words came into my head, 'shut up legs'.
With 115km gone I was now looking at a sub-five hour time, based on my average speed, but that didn't take into account Caerphilly Mountain, surely that would slow me down. And slow me down it did. What the climb lacks in length it more than makes up for in gradient as cyclists all around me began to look like they were going backwards. I was up out of the saddle and pushing towards my limit when I looked up and saw the sign, 'Shut Up Legs'. Those words looped through my head as I looked back down and ground out every pedal stroke until finally the final corner gave way to the summit.
If I was going to make sub-five hours there was no time to ease off, and instead, with legs and lungs burning as I crested the climb I was soon moving through the gears and upping my pace once more. They say it's all down hill from the top of Caerphilly, which in essence it is, bar a few little stretches of uphill. However, when your legs are starting to ramp every metre of uphill is felt. And yet driving me on was the voice inside my head that kept saying 'you can do this'.
It was only with 4km to go that I truly felt I could break the five hour mark, and with that came a huge sense of achievement. I hadn't done it yet, but the thought of knowing I would enabled me to block out the pain and enjoy the last stretch of the ride, along the banks of Roath Lake, where I had lived in years gone by, and onwards towards the city centre.
Then came the moment, the final bend and onto the finishing straight where suddenly in my head I was leading the bunch sprint on the Champs-Élysées, all set to take the stage win in the Tour de France. Head down and legs pumping it was the beep of my timing chip that signalled I had crossed the line, and no sooner had I heard it than my eyes looked at the time. 4hrs 54mins 37secs.
The pain melted away as a sense of elation and excitement washed over me, I had not only beaten my goal time, I had smashed it and beaten my new adjusted goal time of five hours. It might not have been the final stage of the Tour de France, but I felt like I had won the Tour de France after that effort.