Cadel Evans I'm not, but as I raced to the finish line of at Banteay Srey Temple in Cambodia legs pumping, brow dripping I could have been forgiven for thinking I was competing in the Tour de France.
While there were no steep hill climbs, nasty roadside pile-ups nor crowds to cheer us on, as our eight-person all women cycling team rode through the entrance gate of the temple (fittingly known as the "citadel of the women"), some 38km outside Siem Reap, we felt just as exuberant as if we'd taken out first line honours.
Until this day I never imagined I'd ever take part in a cycling tour let alone complete a 10-day, 300km charity bike ride that took me from the heart of Cambodia's chaotic capital, Phnom Penh, to beautiful Siem Reap. I hadn't been cycling in years and didn't even own a bike before signing up for this tour. Yet here I was a relatively unfit, virgin cycle tourist triumphantly crossing the finish line comparing myself to cycling greats.
For rookie riders like me, the good news is you don't need to be Cadel Evans to go on a cycling tour. From mountain biking tours of the Canadian Rockies to leisurely rides through the Winelands of the Barossa Valley in Australia, seeing the world by bicycle is a fantastic way to explore a country. The best part is that you can have a really good time without it costing an arm and a leg and you won't pollute the environment. What's more, you'll get fit in the process.
So after completing my cycling tour, here are my top five suggestions for other first time cycle tourists:
Join a group
Unless you're an experienced cyclist or know the region you're travelling through intimately, I'd recommend that for your first cycling adventure you join up with a tour company. This way you won't need to worry about planning your route or organising luggage transfers and accommodation along the way. Guided tours also usually include a knowledgeable tour leader and a support van, which follows the group for the duration of the journey to distribute refreshments or pick up anyone who needs a lift.
Do your research
There are numerous types of bike trips and tours available that are suitable for riders of every fitness level even those of us with very little biking experience. So like any other trip you undertake you'll need to do some research to make sure you choose a reputable company and the right tour to suit your needs and fitness level.
Know what you're getting into
The best way then to decide which tour to take is to consider what you are getting yourself into. How long is the trip? How much cycling will you do each day? What type of terrain will you be covering? Will you be cycling on sealed or unsealed roads? Remember you need to be realistic about your own limits. Can you really pedal 120km a day?
Practise makes perfect
The best way to prepare for sitting in the saddle all day is to get on your bike and start training. If you don't, you may wind up injured or too exhausted to complete your tour. You should be doing at least two road cycling sessions (as opposed to stationary bike training) a week starting around three months prior to your trip. Find out what the greatest distance is you'll cycle in one day and work yourself up to that point. You should also try to include a session or two of other types of cardio vascular exercise, such as jogging, into your training program each week to help built up your stamina.
Most tour companies supply well-maintained bikes which are suited to the terrain you will cover, so you won't need to bring your own bike. Some cyclists though do choose to bring their own saddles for comfort. Depending on the tour operator, you may also need to bring your own helmet. Beyond that, you'll want to bring clothes suited for cycling, riding gloves, sunglasses and a water bottle or camel pack as well as energy bars and drink mixes. If you do choose to go it alone, just remember anything you pack will add extra weight to your bike, so pack as lightly as possible.
In the end remember the fitter you are, the more enjoyable your experience will be.
Have you cycled an exotic destination as part of a tour? Any recommendations? Leave your comments below.