Our conditions have forced us to temper our expectations, but my friend and I won’t let them stop us pursuing what we love
Liz O’Riordan takes on the Maratona.
Photograph: Courtesy Christine O’Connell
A breakaway is a cycling term that refers to an individual or a small group of cyclists who have successfully opened a gap ahead of the peloton, the main group of cyclists. On 21 July, two of us are plotting a breakaway from the disease that hangs over our daily lives by tackling one of the most challenging amateur cycling events.
The Etape du Tour, which has been running since 1993, is a chance for amateur cyclists to test their mettle on a stage of the Tour de France, riding on the same routes and under the same conditions as the professionals.
The 2019 edition will feature stage 20 of the race, Albertville to Val Thorens, covering a distance of 130km, with 4,450 metres of climbing. After three categorised climbs, participants will finish in Europe’s highest ski resort, which sits at 2,465 metres.
It is a considerable challenge for any cyclist. There are 16,000 participants, of which only 7% are women. But we will face an even greater challenge in reaching the final summit: both of us have or have had breast cancer.
Liz, 44, is a retired consultant breast surgeon and was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. She suffered a local recurrence last year, and her subsequent treatment left her with disabling side-effects. She says cycling helps keep her sane, and she rode the Maratona dles Dolomites three weeks after her surgery last year. She completed the Maratona dles Dolomites again this July, but this will be her first Etape.
I am a 46-year-old business consultant. I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. In February last year, a discovery of a brain tumour led to a diagnosis of incurable but treatable stage 4, or advanced, breast cancer. I am currently on a new form of targeted therapy, which, while easier to manage than chemotherapy, still causes considerable side-effects. I completed the Etape in July 2018, albeit very slowly, just six months after surgery to remove a brain tumour and radiotherapy. For me, cycling is my escape from cancer, an opportunity to gauge myself by something other than scan results or blood tests. The one thing I’m not when I’m on the bike is a cancer patient.