One local man earned the trip of a lifetime when last month he traveled to France to escort a VIP on the route of the Tour de France.
Robin's Bikes and Fitness owner Robin Wilkes was approached by a client with whom he has become friends a while back who asked if he would be interested in riding with a man and his son along the path of the Tour de France, one week before the storied race was set to begin.
"I didn't give him an answer at that time, but he came back into town and asked again," said Wilkes.
This time, Wilkes agreed to the challenge.
Although the trip was an all-expenses-paid excursion, Wilkes would be working. He, along with other cyclists recruited for the adventure, were expected to accompany a VIP on his cycling trip along the route of the Tour de France. This would entail cycling 100 miles a day on often mountainous terrain.
"The client wanted to do 15 stages of the Tour de France route and he chose some of the more difficult and mountainous stages," said Wilkes.
Wilkes and nine other cyclists arrived in France 10 days prior to the VIP's arrival to prepare. Their mission was to not only accompany the client, but to also take care of his every need.
The client, who Wilkes declines to name out of respect for the man's privacy, arrived later with his two adult sons, his pilot, and support vehicles, which carried their luggage.
"This client has taken part in this for several years and is a very private person," said Wilkes. "He is a high-profile person and our job was to assist in helping him achieve his goal."
The client has enjoyed experiencing this challenge in stages for several years and is working his way up, said Wilkes.
"The stages he chose were extreme and I was in awe," said Wilkes.
The route included going over part of the Pyrenees Mountains.
The group set out a week prior to the actual Tour de France, tracing its course, starting in the South of France and heading north. As a team, they biked almost every day 100 miles back to back.
The villages the riders passed through had already been decorated in anticipation of the actual race.
"It was awesome," said Wilkes. "To be on the actual course was amazing and breathtaking. The villages were decorated and the villagers smiled and clapped as we rode through their towns. All the food and accommodations were first-class four star or castles, all set up for this client. It was the trip of a lifetime to go and see France from a bike."
Wilkes said it was physically taxing, but it was the job he was hired to do.
"I normally bike 25 to 50 miles a day and I often compete in bike races, but I had never ridden 100 miles a day back to back like that before," he said.
The tour ended up having to be cut short at completing 10 stages because the client had a death in the family. In all, Wilkes was there three weeks.
He doesn't know if he will get to do this again, as it is by invitation only and up to the client.
"I hope to go back," he said.
This was Wilkes's first trip to Europe.
"I had always dreamed of going," he said.
Two weeks after returning home, he left for Colorado to train for a mountain bike race there. He won't say if he has won races or how many.
"I'm not that guy. I bike for the healthy lifestyle," is all he says.
Wilkes has biked for three decades, but is not in a bike club.
"I have a business to run," he said.
The Santa Rosa Beach resident opened Robin's Bikes and Fitness in 2000. The shop is located at 11166 Emerald Coast Parkway in Miramar Beach.