Adrenaline still pumping, RTK chairman Franco Azzopardi stood in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower and held his bicycle up high as he became the first Maltese to complete the London to Paris 24 cycling challenge.
He was the first past the line from 150 cyclists who attempted the gruelling 500-kilometre, 24-hour ride against the clock, leaving from Blackheath in the UK at 8.15 a.m. on Friday and arriving at the Eiffel Tower at 8 a.m. yesterday with 15 minutes to spare.
Apart from his personal achievement, the satisfaction was greater because the challenge helped raise funds for RTK 4 Charity, in aid of the children’s home, Dar Sagra Familja in Żabbar.
The project involves finding and engaging the services of a full-time child psychologist in a bid to narrow the gap these children face and help empower them.
Dubbed the “Maltese falcon who drives hard”, Mr Azzopardi, 48, felt he should do his bit to support the charity while at thesame time setting himself fresh challenges.
Always the sporty type, Mr Azzopardi’s original discipline was karate, but after he developed knee problems four years ago, his friend encouraged him to try cycling.
The first 20-minute attempt left him breathless, but he enjoyed it so much he went on to employ the services of professional English coach Dave Lloyd, who trained him for cycling marathons that tested his endurance.
He has come a long way since and in the past three months he has been notching up 25 hours a week of training in the run-up to yesterday’s challenge.
During the 24-hour ride he burnt 20,000 calories, which he had to replenish with carbohydrates, energy bars, nuts and electrolytes at nine stops along the way. The ride was smooth, except for the numerous traffic lights in France that delayed their progress and the 3 a.m. dip in energy and enthusiasm, which threatened to take over his morale.
“It was a depressive crisis of tiredness, where you start questioning what you’re doing cycling at 3 a.m. But after 30 minutes it all passed as the sun started rising,” he told The Sunday Times, just an hour after completing the ride in Paris.
A man who is constantly in search for more, Mr Azzopardi is back on the “torture instrument” – the bicycle seat – on Friday when he embarks on a 720-kilometre challenge in Switzerland, which he hopes to complete in 28 hours.
But in the meantime, he is working on reviving his energy levels that have just taken a beating. Seeking a massage for his weary muscles and a bath were his immediate priorities.