Four Czechs, a Finn and a Dutchman have dispensed with pedals and plan to use only leg-power and a pair of wheels to get them through the Tour de France.
They hope to complete the gruelling three-week cycle race on scooters.
The men have been training furiously on their footbikes – scooters with a standard-size bicycle wheel up front and a smaller one at the rear –ahead of the late June kick-off of the 100th edition of the world’s most famous cycling race.
“This will be the first-ever attempt to cover the Tour de France on a footbike and also the greatest sports challenge of our lives,” said Vaclav Liska, a theatre actor and the project’s mastermind.
The stunt is the latest in a series of wacky and bizarre episodes to strike the race over the years, including a death by jellyfish in 1910 and punctured tyres in 1905 when 125 kilogrammes (275 pounds) of nails were tossed onto the road.
This June prisoners from France’s southern island of Corsica, the starting line of this year’s race, will be allowed out of jail to cycle a stage – with guards – ahead of the professionals.
Meanwhile the footbikers hope to start each stage of the three-week race 24 hours before the likes of Alberto Contador, Mark Cavendish or Chris Froome – and to cover the distance in the same number of days as the cycling greats.
They first struck upon the idea in 2005 while watching television coverage of fellow Czech Josef Zimovcak, now 56, who rode a penny-farthing bicycle the entire way, persisting even after he crashed and injured his rib, arm bone and head.
“Losers give up when they’re tired. Winners stop only after they’ve won,” Liska told AFP.
– ‘Our 21 days of fun(?)’ –
Since 2011, they have been training systematically to make their dream come true and survive the almost 3 500 kilometres (2 200 miles) from Porto-Vecchio on the Mediterranean island of Corsica to the avenue Champs-Elysees in Paris.
This year’s edition of the race comprises 21 stages ranging from 25 to 242 kilometres, of which six are mountain stretches and four have summit finishes.
It will be no easy feat for the pedal-challenged, who jokingly describe the endeavour as “our 21 days of fun(?)” on their website.
“For the cyclists, each stage means five or six, maybe seven hours on a bike,” said team member Jan Vlasek, a lawyer who trains every evening after shedding his suit and tie.
“We will definitely be much slower, meaning that we will spend up to 17 hours a day on the decks of our footbikes. That’s our primary cause for concern: a lack of sleep and a lack of time to recover.”
The footbikers will benefit from two free days planned for the peloton on July 8 and 15, as well as three time-trial stages throughout the month.
“The cyclists will have to pedal at full speed while for us those will be nice rides lasting an hour or 90 minutes. After that, we can rest,” Vlasek said.
On the other hand, mountains will be a hard nut to crack for the team.
“We are not afraid of any stage, but there are definitely some that command more respect,” Vlasek said, citing the longest stage between Givors and Mont Ventoux, whose 242 kilometres the cyclists will cover on July 14.
Pivotal for the men is to use ideal riding technique, which requires one to alternate which foot stands on the deck and which kicks the ground.
The footbikers hope the adventure will promote their sport, which is still little known despite gaining traction through events like the Footbike Eurocup, held annually since 2001.
“Footbiking is an easy-going sport – there’s little money in it and there’s no stress. People do it because they want to,” Vlasek said.
The footbike dates to 1994 when Finnish athlete Hannu Vierikko launched his Kickbike company with the glorified scooter design, allowing riders to race faster.
Team member Jaromir Odvarka has been known to kick down a hill at 98 kilometres, but the men say the Tour average will be more along the lines of 18-20 kilometres to not burn out.
Vlasek said that if they manage to get as far as the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, they will throw a big party, and then start pondering new challenges.
“It would be interesting also to cover the routes of the other two great cycling races when they turn 100,” he said.
“The 100th edition of the Giro d’Italia will take place in 2017, but we can see a slight problem with the Vuelta which has had 67 editions to date. We will be in our sixties when the moment comes,” he said, laughing.