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Velusso Founder James Bowtell Completes The 21 Challenge

In July 2019, Velusso founder and director James Bowtell took part in his latest challenge – The 21. We caught up with James after a well deserved rest to find out how he found the event, and what’s on the horizon for his next adventure.

James and the 21

Every July, cyclists flock to France for the world’s greatest cycling spectacle, the Tour de France. This July, myself and a group of riders headed out to ride the 21 stages of the 2019 Tour de France, just one day ahead of the professionals. Riding a total of 3490km, climbing 30 mountains and with only two rest days, the challenge was not going to be easy. I set out on the ‘The 21’ Challenge to support some amazing causes, as a personal challenge, and to take part in the experience of a lifetime. Riding the same route as the professional peloton was also an opportunity to show that it’s possible for amateur riders.

The days were tough, but no more so than stage 8. Seven categorised climbs over a 200km route resulted in my heart rate averaging 160bpm for the duration of the day. With the rest of the front group having to wait for me at the top of each climb (19 in total that day) was not only physically tough but mentally challenging due to feeling behind for so long and knowing that there were still 13 more days of the event to come.

Everyone had a different battle everyday, and at the back of the second group a couple of riders were slowly but surely getting through the ordeal of the Tour. Riding with them over stage 12’s Col de Peyresourde, a 209.5km day, was awesome. With motivating music playing, and the occasional war cry, it was a reminder that it doesn’t matter how fast a cyclist you are everyone goes through the same level of hurt.

Stage 15 snuck into the Tour with a vengeance. We were anticipating stage 18 to be the one that broke us, but the 185km and four categorised climbs between Limoux and Foix Prat d’Albis snuck under the radar for most of us. The combination of the Col de Tourmalet the day before and a manifesting knee injury meant I was in deep water as we set off from Limoux. The first categorised climbs didn’t seem to cause any issues, however the 18% section of the Mur de Péguère paved way to a world of pain. For 30 minutes I had one job, to keep the pedals moving and my bike upright.

There were some truly breathtaking moments during The 21. We were 152km in to stage 18. The sun had gone down, the col was covered in low cloud, the road totally quiet. An Italian flag flapping above an old caravan, the alpine backdrop behind, was the only thing making a noise as we climbed. Summiting the Galibier was truly epic.

The funniest moment of the trip came 17km into one of the final climbs of the event. It took absolutely ages. 19.9km, early doors, stage 20. The legs were certainly feeling it by now, but the end was in sight. I had been riding with Tom in silence for two hours, probably questioning if we had it in us. We rode carefully and plugged away. 2km from the top Tom was handed a snack by our legendary photographer Trevor Mould. Thirty seconds later and all I could hear was spluttering and wheezing. Tom had just breathed in the rice crispy bar Trev had handed over to him, resulting in many profanities as he zig zagged his way up the steep gradient in 40 degree heat. I was also struggling to breathe, laughing so hard my legs stopped working.

Zero mechanical mishaps during the trip was music to my ears. The support team and mechanics were incredible and kept us moving every single day. Crashing my Pinarello Dogma in the lead up to the event was not the best preparation, but the Factor One bike I was handed the evening before my first stage was a pleasure to ride. It climbed incredibly well, even when I didn’t, and descended even better.

What’s next? The 21 was one of the most memorable cycling experiences of my life, and I’ll be heading back for 2020. The people I met and suffered with are legends, the support team could not have been better and the riding was incredible. I’d do it again in a heartbeat… just 15kg lighter next time. But first there’s the small matter of the Velusso Devil Ride at the end of August 2019. We’ll be ascending Mont Ventoux before cycling over to Alpe d’Huez and climbing it’s iconic 21 hair pins. 7000m of elevation to conquer. 

Huge congratulations to James for completing an incredible achievement. Find out more about James’ next challenge, the Devil Ride, here.