Pre-departure interview with Tony Wheeler

Most people know Tony Wheeler is the founder of Lonely Planet, but fewer know he’s the driving force behind our Tour d’Afrique team.

On Thursday he’s flying from London to Dar Es Salaam, from where he’ll drive to Iringa in southern Tanzania to ride the Malawi Gin section of the Tour. Stretching from Iringa through rolling hills to the Malawi border, it then tours one of Africa’s most beautiful countries and comes to a halt, for this stage at least in Lilongwe. Malawi is the 6th country on the Tour, and from here the route starts to turn south-west through Zambia to the Victoria Falls I caught up with Tony to talk about about his expectations of the ride, what’s he’s looking forward to and any training tips he’d like to share.

Wheeler with Wheeler bike

Wheeler with Wheeler bike

What are your impressions of how the tour is going?

Firstly, I’m really looking forward to it – it’s going to be really interesting to get out there. I’ve been intrigued by how some of our riders have done so well – winning stages and competing day after day. I wonder if that’s because they’re fresh and are up against people who’ve been riding for months.

Both the travel you’re best known for and Lonely Planet in general is independent travel – how do you think you’ll get on riding in a group and following a planned route?

Well it is about getting from a to b, but we don’t know where a is and where b is! The Tour is an adventure and I really admire people who are doing the whole four months. We’re just getting a taste, they’re the guys who are really pushing themselves.

Why Tanzania and Malawi?

Maureen and I did the Plymouth to Banjul car rally a few years ago and it was great fun, which was the last time in Africa, but it’s pretty different to where I’m headed. While I wanted to give other LP riders first choice on stages they wanted, and I’d have been happy to do any stage but this one appealed as I hadn’t been to Malawi before. I looked at the route and thought that if it’s along Lake Malawi it’ll be pretty flat and then I was told there were all these steep hills. I don’t like hills – that’s a bit of a worry!

What sort of training have you been doing and where?

I hired a bike in Laos and have done some rides to Richmond Common in London this week, but I live in Melbourne and most of my riding is around there. One of the regular rides I’ve been doing takes me on gentle hills through Melbourne’s suburbs, but it’s basically a flat city.

Any nerves or concerns?

What I’m nervous about is whether I’ve done enough training. I was riding regularly through January but since then I’ve been filming (in Laos for Lonely Planet’s Roads Less Travelled series) so I’ve been off my bike for all of February.  Staying healthy is also a concern. Lots of riders seem to get sick – touch wood, I don’t get sick while travelling. I’d like to be one of those EFI riders – you don’t want to be riding in the truck.

You can keep up with Tony’s experiences of the Tour at this page and via his own blog.

~ Tom Hall


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