Qatar 2022: Cycling from Paris to Doha to watch the World Cup


Doha, Qatar
CNN

Travel to see your team play at the World Cup it took a bit longer than usual for two French fans.

Mehdi Balamissa and Gabriel Martin decided the best way to travel from France to Qatar I was on two wheels.

The friends spent three months traveling 7,000 kilometers (approximately 4,350 miles) by bike to reach Qatar 2022 and watch their beloved France defend their title.

“It was a crazy idea, but we are the type of people who have great ideas and don’t want to regret it,” Balamissa said, as the two spoke with each other. CNN Sport one day after arriving in the country.

“So, since we are both self-employed, we decided to block three months of our time and come to Qatar.”

The pair began their gigantic journey at the Stade de France in Paris, home of the French national team, and ended at the impressive Lusail Stadium, the venue for the final at Qatar 2022.

They would travel an average of 115 kilometers per day, taking appropriate rest days when necessary.

The idea came after cycling from France to Italy to watch their country play in the UEFA Nations League last year and wanted to prove themselves with a much longer journey.

They hoped their trip would promote the benefits of sustainable travel and said they plan to offer cycling workshops to children from disadvantaged backgrounds when they finally get home.

But first, the couple plans to enjoy their time in Doha. After all, they have worked hard for it.

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The couple praised the friendliness of the strangers during the trip.

Since their arrival, the French Football Federation (FFF) has invited the couple to meet the team and provided them with tickets to all three group stage matches.

France coach Didier Deschamps also presented each of them with a national jersey signed by the players.

“Everything here revolves around the World Cup. We are very excited to continue discovering the country”, added Balamissa.

“Many French people are super nice to us here and offer to take us to places: to restaurants to visit different things”.

The couple is surprisingly energetic when speaking to CNN, considering the grueling task they completed just 24 hours earlier.

Their eyes light up when they talk excitedly about the trip that took them through a total of 13 different countries.

The two riders encountered many problems along the way, including dozens of punctures, but relied on their infectiously positive attitude to get them through.

The couple laugh as they recall the time it took to travel 15 hours to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to find a bike repair shop before traveling 15 hours back to the exact point where they stopped.

“We had a lot of problems, but we fixed them as we went along,” Martin told CNN.

“In these types of trips, you have to be very flexible. In fact, the main part of the trip is to be flexible and adapt to each situation as best as you can. I think we did good, actually.”

Much of the ride was spent alone, pedaling through multiple terrain with only one another and the open road for company. However, from time to time they would share a meal or two with the locals and immerse themselves in the culture of that particular country.

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They battled desert heat in Saudi Arabia and flooded forested areas in Hungary as they meandered toward Qatar, stopping at camps, lodges and hotels for the night.

Physically, they say, the challenge wasn’t too bad after their legs got used to the demands, but they relied on the kindness of others to keep them going mentally.

“There were so many best moments, for example, when we finished crossing Europe. It was absolutely fabulous. We crossed from the European part of Istanbul. [Turkey] to the Asian side through the bridge,” Balamissa said.

Martin explained: “Usually that’s forbidden. [by bicycle]but we negotiated with the local police for hours and hours and they only followed us to protect us on the bridge.

“The people along the way were very generous and kind.”

Balamissa and Martin will not return home by bicycle, but will opt for a return flight.

The couple agreed that biking through Jerusalem was another highlight of a trip that ended in spectacular fashion.

As they neared their final destination, around 20 French and Qatari cyclists joined the pair for the final stretch. They were then greeted by some of the world’s media and members of the French community living in Qatar.

Both said it was quite a shock to be surrounded by so many people after spending the last three months in relative solitude.

“It was very special when we arrived in Qatar because it meant that it was the end of this crazy journey and this lifestyle that we enjoy so much,” said Balamissa.

His plan now is to stay in Qatar for as long as France remains in the competition before flying back home.

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Both hope not to return to France for a while.

“We stay until the final because France is going to win, of course,” jokes Martin. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t have come on our bikes.”

France won their opener 4-1 against Australia and face Denmark in their next Group D game on Saturday.