How long have you been a cyclist, Micky?
“I got my first bike when I was seven or eight. I rode it down a bin chute in a tower block and I came off and smashed my face in. I didn’t go to school for a couple of weeks because of the way I looked. I’d probably have been called Frankenstein for the rest of my schooldays.”
What bikes did you own after that?
“I made my own bike when I was 10 – sorry, I don’t mean to go all Monty Python ‘Oh we used to dream of living in a corridor’ on you. I bought the frame one week, then the wheels, put all the bits together and painted it. It had those buffalo handlebars – you know, with the bits of ribbon. I’d already bought quite a good bike before this ride, like most middle-aged men, but Sky got us both professionally fitted with a couple of really nice bikes.”
Was the trip quite gruelling in terms of training and mileage?
“Noel was fit already, as he’s a member of the Dulwich Cycle Club and goes out cycling every weekend, but I wasn’t really going out on my new bike much before the ride. Part of the honesty of this show is that we didn’t do the amount of cycling that’s maybe been done in other cycling travelogues. I would be lying if I said it was a test of my stamina. We were careful to make sure we didn’t do anything that jeopardised our health.”
Where would you choose for your next cycling trip?
“I’d choose the flattest place in Europe – maybe the Netherlands, although it’s windy. But as long as the wind is behind us… ‘Where are we going today?’ ‘Wherever the wind is blowing!'”
Has Britain got the cycling bug now?
“Cyclists were seen as a bit odd in the 1960s and 1970s. People immediately assumed you couldn’t afford a car. But there’s been a revolution in cycling and it’s no longer just the eccentric bloke in your neighbourhood with his bicycle clips and big sturdy shoes.
“For a lot of men and women cycling is something that totally gets you away from everything. You’re free for a few hours and you can do it with people or on your own. When I go out riding with Noel, down towards Biggin Hill in Kent from where we live in East Dulwich in south London, it sets me up for the weekend.”
How do you get on with the French?
“Like most people whose experience of France has been a couple of weekends in Paris, I had a built-in suspicion of the French. It’s almost par for the course – we don’t trust the French completely, and we don’t understand them completely either. Do they dislike us as much as we think they do? Are all these myths true, such as the French don’t wash?
“When we got off at Calais the first person I walked past really smelt of BO. I thought this is either a portent or just a coincidence. So I have to smell them all before I judge. I don’t think they were any more pungent than any other race. In any case, we like garlic now.”
Did you avail yourselves of fine French cuisine and wine en route?
“We did very well in terms of food and drink on our trip, and made a point of finding the best restaurants, wineries and so on, as it’s what they do well in France. I was hugely impressed, even in a basic restaurant, by their ability to give you a decent meal and a nice bottle of wine. If we can learn one thing from the French. it’s that cheap doesn’t have to equal bad, whereas you’re taking your chances in London if you go below a certain price bracket.
“When Noel rode up Mt Ventoux in episode two, I went to the cafe at the bottom and they did a blinding omelette. I nearly couldn’t eat all the chips and I was so full I couldn’t even get in the car and had to lie on the side of the road.”
Did you feel self-conscious wearing all that Lycra?
“Once you put on all the proper cycling kit, you look in the mirror and think: ‘Now I have to go cycling; even though I look like an egg on legs, I need to get on this bike. There’s nowhere to hide – people will look at you and say: ‘My God, what have you don’t to yourself?’ It’s all part of the encouragement.”