You may not see a yellow jersey on the Champs-Élysées until later this year, but Big Issue supporter Jacob Hill-Gowing donned sport’s most iconic clothing to toast the end of his own Tour de France challenge today.
The novice cyclist’s 41-day, 3,500km (2,200-mile) Le Tour de Flat journey saw him pedal the distance of the world’s greatest cycle race and the mammoth challenge came to an end today three weeks ahead of schedule as he raised more than £16,000 for The Big Issue Foundation, our charitable arm.
Jacob, 28, had no experience of cycling on the road and had been using the exercise bike in his one-bedroom London flat as a clothes horse before he embarked on the challenge on March 22 – and he told The Big Issue he didn’t even know how long the Tour de France was before beginning.
He had pencilled in the date of May 22 to finally finish the challenge but Jacob’s progress has been incredible and he crossed the line three weeks ahead of schedule earlier this afternoon. His fundraising goal was also smashed too – Jacob originally targeted £5,000 but saw his total jump from £8,000 to £10,404 as he closed in on the finishing line.
“It’s mental. Just thinking 40 days ago I was doing the first 45km and now I managed to save a little bit in the locker for that sprint finish and the final run to the end,” said a jubilant Jacob after completing the challenge.
“I just want to give a big shout out to everyone who has supported me in the last 40-odd days and a big shout out to Stevie and all The Big Issue vendors and all of the people at The Big Issue and The Big Issue Foundation.
“To all The Big Issue vendors out there: don’t lose hope that no one is in your corner because people do care. We want to make sure that everyone, no matter where you are in society, no matter where you come from, gets through this virus and lockdown and gets looked after. That’s the reason behind this.
“As I’ve gone along I’ve seen the stories coming out of The Big Issue and that sentiment is extended to all of you. I’m in your corner, The Big Issue is in your corner. You haven’t been forgotten about.
“I want to help people remember that when everything else does stop, the life of the vendors does too and they need our support.”
Our vendors buy every copy of the magazine from us for £1.50 and sell it on to you for £3. Which is why we ask you to ALWAYS take your copy of the magazine. We believe in trade not aid.
The Big Issue supporter had been livestreaming his progress throughout but was joined for his final gruelling 100km journey by presenter Rob Walker, who has been running Lockdown Live throughout the pandemic. As well as describing all the action as Jacob hit the pedals at his home, Walker brought together a host of guests to join him, including BBC radio presenter Chris Stark, back garden marathon veteran James Campbell and The Big Issue Foundation’s Rhia Docherty as well as commentator Nick Heath and Rebecca Charlton from the cycling world.
The show also united Jacob with Keith Farquharson, who is also tackling the 2018 Tour while living with stage four bowel cancer from his north-east England home.
The inspiration for Le Tour de Flat came from Big Issue vendor Stevie who sells the magazine on London’s Old Street outside the building where Jake works for an ad agency. Jacob’s bond with his local vendor is a story will sound familiar to many other Big Issue readers all over the country. The money he has raised will help The Big Issue Foundation to support vendors while they are in lockdown until they can return to sell the magazine on the streets.
“I’ve been quite friendly with The Big Issue vendor Stevie outside the front of our office for the past three years,” Jacob added.
“I always have a chat with him when I go to lunch and he always catches me out when I’m late for work and lets me know about it.
I'm definitely missing Stevie at Old Street. Our chats about nothing and everything. Him telling me how late I am every morning. Just having a laugh. Stevie, I hope you and your family are safe and well. All this was for you! X #supportbigissue
— Le Tour De Flat (@letourdeflat) May 1, 2020
“He’s become quite a good mate actually. Seeing Stevie is part of your day. His livelihood is around interacting with people and seeing people every day so I can imagine that this self-isolation has been hard for him not only financially but from a social perspective too.”
Jacob is already looking forward to being reunited with Stevie after the lockdown. But Jacob’s exercise bike companion might not make it to that point.
The art director said: “The bike’s been making a weird noise so I didn’t know if it was going to finish it. I’m probably going to have to retire it now and I might have to get an actual bike to act as a clothes horse.
“The challenge has actually really helped me to maintain my mental health especially while living alone. I’ve been ticking off the miles a bit like being in prison counting down the days.”
You can still donate to Jacob’s JustGiving page here.