Briton cycles 1951 Tour de France route for charity in father’s memory

Tom Neal said he was ‘proud and relieved to make it in one piece’ after finishing the gruelling 4,800-km route

Tom Neal celebrating finishing his own Tour de France
Published Last updated

An amateur cyclist rode the entire 1951 Tour de France route to raise money for the Prostate Cancer UK charity

Tom Neal, 40, undertook the gruelling challenge in memory of his father – born in 1951 – who died of prostate cancer around a decade ago.

Starting on June 1, he cycled 4,872 km around the entirety of France – much of the time completely by himself – before arriving at the finish line in Paris on June 26.

His feat has so far raised almost £8,000 for the charity.

It comes with this year’s Tour de France set to begin in Bilbao on Saturday (July 1).

“I have never done anything like this before,” he told The Connexion after completing the feat. “But I’m proud.”

‘My father loved France… especially the cheese and wine!’

Tom’s decision to follow the 1951 route – and his choice of charity – was inspired by his father, who died of prostate cancer around 10 years ago.

He cycled in support of Prostate Cancer UK, a charity that helps individuals who are diagnosed with prostate cancer and raises awareness of the illness.

In turn, he wanted to raise awareness of the charity and their work by undertaking the challenge – one that would forge a link between the charity, his father, and himself.

He wanted to honour his father, a man “who loved France… especially the cheese and wine!” by combining a passion of his own – cycling – with that of his father.

Tom lived with his father and the rest of his family in Brive-la-Gaillarde, Corrèze, as a youngster, before moving back to England. He returned to France as an adult and spent a few years in the country before returning once again to the UK.

Some stages of the race – including an overnight stop at Brive-la-Gaillarde – were “a trip down memory lane”, for Tom.

Route not the easiest

A keen amateur cyclist for a little over ten years, Tom said nothing could prepare him for how difficult the experience of replicating the route was.

Although he loves cycling and had done some smaller endurance cycling in the past, “nothing could prepare” him for the level of work going facing him.

After finalising plans to undertake the challenge, Tom “did as much training as I could – about five months’ worth” in order to tackle the mammoth task.

On top of the training required, the 1951 route did not provide any help to Tom.

“It’s actually one of the tougher routes,” he told us, “as it changed the course to go through not only the Pyrénées and the Alps, but also the Massif Central.”

This means more uphill cycling than usual, and only around half of the original cadre of 1951 cyclists managed to finish the race – the route was soon changed to feature fewer hilly stages.

Credit: Wiki Commons

Tom followed the original route exactly and even replicated when the 1951 cyclists paused for a rest. He had only two days off. Some of the days saw more than 200km of cycling.

The gruelling route was even harder for Tom, who had to carry his own equipment with him – “a passage that would take the professionals five hours would take me ten”, because of being bogged down with everything, he said.

Some small niggling injuries also plagued Tom at the beginning of the route, but his willpower helped him pull through.

He even managed to avoid any damage to his bike – until the final day, when he got a puncture less than 50km from the finish line.

Read more: Wheels on fire: experience France’s passion for the bicycle

Loneliness was difficult

One challenge for Tom – perhaps even more difficult than the physical one – was the mental difficulty of spending so much time alone.

“Being alone for so much time is something you can’t prepare for,” he said.

Although friends joined him for some parts of the route, much of the days he spent cycling completely alone.

“The days after friends left were the toughest… I was aware of being completely by myself.”

Tom also left behind his family – his wife Carrie, and two young children – for the month.

“I really missed my kids, but at the same time knowing I would see them when I finished gave me the motivation to push through.”

When we spoke to Tom (June 29), he was relaxing with his family in Normandy for a few days before heading back to the UK.

Tom with his wife after completing the final stage. Credit: Tom Neal

“There’s no doubt I’ll be back in the saddle soon,” he said, hinting that he wanted to do more endurance events “but only over a long weekend… not an entire month.”

Finally, we asked if he planned to watch the upcoming Tour de France.

“I’ll definitely be watching it… but from the comfort of my sofa!” laughed Tom.

You can find Tom’s donation page here.

Related articles

What is in the €2bn plan to promote cycling and bike lanes in France?

Paris 2024: Olympic flame’s route through France is revealed