If the Tour de Force is the ultimate proof that amateur riders can complete the Tour de France, then Katrine-Mari is the ultimate example that those amateur riders can be women – and that there should be no question over the ability of the pro female peloton.
The Tour de Force offer cyclists the chance to ride the full route of the Tour de France, seven days ahead of the pros – sticking to the same schedule, and fully supported. They also offer shorter trips, starting at two stages, and each rider raises money for the William Wates Memorial Trust, who help disadvantaged children get away from crime and violence.
Trips run every year, and in total twelve women have completed the entire route – but only one of them has done it twice.
A bike traveller at heart, Katrine-Mari completed the 21-day adventure twice, getting through the full route of the Tour de France in 2014 and 2015. Apparently the route in 2015 was tougher, but we reckon it must have been pretty hard the first time round, too.
"My father was dying of cancer... I read about the Tour de Force, and I signed up to put it on his bucket list – something to kind of look forward to seeing me do and achieve"
Her first attempt was not in the happiest of circumstances – she explains: “My father was dying of cancer – it took about a year and a half from when he was diagnosed to when he died, and we were very close. We started a bucket list of things for him to look forward to – our last holiday together, just silly things. I read about the Tour de Force, and I signed up to put it on his bucket list – something to kind of look forward to seeing me do and achieve."
Katrine-Mari was not entering blind - she had some cycling experience, but of a very different type to the pace required to complete 200km a day – she explains: “I had completed a 15 year bike ride around the world – but that was completely different. I rode with a tent, sleeping bag, and camping kit. I worked along the way, and it was slow, I could stop when I wanted, and the most I’d ever done was 111km in one day – so doing 200km a day [during the Tour de Force], every day, for 21 days was completely different."
How do you train for such a distance? The Norway based adventurer has tried it two ways, and explains: “The first year, as soon as I signed myself up, I was like: ‘What have I done? It’s crazy’ and I got myself a personal trainer and he put the fear of God into me. I was basically training every day, inside. It’s -30 degrees over winter here, with 2 inches of black ice, which lasts until around March and April. I was mostly on the rollers, 7 days a week, even if for just half an hour. And every Saturday and Sunday I was on the rollers for 7 hours. I figured, if I can do that, I could do anything!
“This year – my approach was very different. I was like ‘well, screw that, I’ve done it once I can do it again’. I was much more relaxed. I went training outside, on my mountain bike with studded tyres and going out in -30 and wrapping myself up, biking on 2 inches of black ice, just getting out there which was harsh, but also really good training I think."
“Then, before the tour started I did 17 days back to back, riding from England to the start in Utrecht. I did about 150km a day with tent and sleeping bag, and then took a week off before starting the Tour. It meant I was totally ready before the start this year. I’d gone through all the saddle sores, gone through all the pain – everything was all – perfect."
And which year was she the most prepared – after hours indoors or taking a more relaxed approach? “The second approach to training was more enjoyable, and more effective - I was much fitter this year," she tells me.
The rides were very different – too, 2014’s Tour being filled with worry: “The first year I took part was hard. My father died 11 days after the Tour – so the trip was filled with worry. There was a lot going on, but this year I didn’t have that hanging over me.
“He did get to see me finish, just. I think he was waiting for me. He went into a hospice one week after I started the tour, which is basically the last stop. But he held on. I got home from the tour, and literally I had about 3 days before he went into a coma for the last week."
“The second year I wasn’t nervous at all – I was like ‘nah, no problem’. That sounds really arrogant, but when you’ve done it once you know you can do it."
“The reason I did it again this year was because my experience was so sad last year - that I wanted a better experience. I wanted to drink champagne at the end, I wanted to party and be happy. I didn’t just want to go straight to my father’s death bed. I did it again in honour of him and because I wanted a better experience."
"I’d be stopping, picking berries, drinking from all the streams, taking photos, just breathing in the atmosphere. For me that was the highlight."
She certainly found a better experience in 2015 – stretching out her days to get every drop of joy: “I’d be stopping, picking berries, drinking from all the streams, taking photos, just breathing in the atmosphere. For me that was the highlight."
Hills, mountains and climbs are her favourite – but not for the challenge or the competition: “I do love mountain climbing. The longer and the steeper the better. I think it’s because I get to see everything around me, I’m really watching everything, I see details. I really enjoy that. When you go downhill it’s fast and you have to concentrate on the road and your legs and the traffic and the other riders."
Nerves did feature from time to time – but were always overcome, as she tells me: “At the beginning of the day you always feel a bit nervous – like ‘I hope I can do it’, but once you get to a certain point in the day – and have 50km left, its 4pm, you always know you can do it. And you do get fitter over the three weeks."
"Lather up – I mean lather up – every time you stop. And double up on shorts – screw it if it makes your arse look big! And as soon as you finish riding for the day, you go wash, dry yourself, and use Sudocrem. Then if you can, wear a skirt and no knickers. Air dry! Be naked!"
Twenty-one days of riding can be severely interrupted if you don’t look after your skin, but it turns out there’s a strategy for avoiding saddle sores: “As soon as you find out you’re getting a saddle sore, every time you go to the toilet you make sure you have a quick wash - then get dry. Then any time you stop, use Sudocrem. Lather up – I mean lather up – every time you stop. And thirdly double up on shorts – screw it if it makes your arse look big! And as soon as you finish riding for the day, you go wash, dry yourself, and use Sudocrem. Then if you can, wear a skirt and no knickers. Air dry! Be naked!"
So far twelve women have ridden the entire route, and Katrine-Mari has had company both years: “This year there was one other lady, last year there were two other ladies. In 2014, the three of us were very different. Caroline was a bad ass biker babe, she was just up there with the big boys every single day, just killing it, which was great. I was mentally going through a really bad time – I was really fit, but I was just waking up thinking ‘am I going to get that phone call to say he’s died?’, so it was awful and I never really got to appreciate it.
“The other lady, Renee, was really struggling a lot and we got on really well so I just said ‘I’ll stick with you’. We were getting in after dark every day, just really slow, I was really hanging back, but I really wanted to be with her – we had each other."
The women’s Tour de France is a controversial issue. The race, which began in 1984 was scrapped in 2009 and as of the last two years women have raced the one day La Course – a big step forward compared to there being no event. There have been suggestions that the female pro peloton simply can’t tackle such a distance, but the amateur who has ridden it twice says: “That’s rubbish. Anyone can do it. There’s some really bad ass biker babes out there."
"I feel like I get looked at by guys – and excuse my French – but it feels like they’re saying, 'what the f*ck are you doing on the bike. You’re a woman, you shouldn’t be here'. And I’ve experienced that."
She finds the male dominance in the sport frustrating –saying: “Unfortunately the attitude to women racers and bikers is awful. I feel like I get looked at by guys – and excuse my French – but it feels like they’re saying, 'what the f*ck are you doing on the bike. You’re a woman, you shouldn’t be here'. And I’ve experienced that. There are always exceptions, but 90% of male bikers I’ve ridden with have had that attitude. It’s going to be a tough one to change, and it has put me off riding in groups. Within bike travelling it’s much better."
She bunches those kinds of riders in with those who rely upon the Velominati Rules to dictate their handlebar tape colour and sock length – saying: “I find a lot of this snobby attitude with all this ‘Velominati rules’ – some are hilarious – and I love rule number 5 – but the rest are silly and I’ve met so many that are like that. It seems that it’s quite a universal thing, and they get so poncy, it’s a real shame."
She’s hopeful, though – exclaiming: “There are some sports in this world dominated by men – but we have to keep fighting and maybe we’ll change something."
If you’re wondering if you can do this ride, Katrine-Mari has words just for you: “I would totally recommend doing it – it’s such a great opportunity and I hope people do feel inspired to do it. And Tour de Force really do an amazing job with the money, it really does help kids in the world who have tough lives. If anyone is sitting there saying ‘can I do the whole thing?’ –anyone can do it."
You can register your interest to ride the Tour de Force now, here, to get priority booking (it sells out fast!). Tour Tasters, anything from 2 to 10 or the full 21 stages, can be booked once the official route is released here - sales open at 9am on November 11.