Traveling to watch their team play at the World Cup took a little longer than usual for two French fans.
Mehdi Balamissa and Gabriel Martin decided the best way to travel from France to Qatar was on two wheels.
The friends spent three months traveling 7,000 kilometers (roughly 4,350 miles) by bicycle to reach Qatar 2022 and watch their beloved France defend its title.
“It was a crazy idea, but we’re the kind of people that have big ideas and don’t want to have any regrets,” Balamissa said, as both spoke to CNN Sport a day after arriving in the country.
“So, since we are both self-employed, we decided to block off three months of our time and come to Qatar.”
The pair started their mammoth journey at the Stade de France in Paris, home of the French national team, and finished at the stunning Lusail Stadium, the venue that will host the final at Qatar 2022.
They would travel on average 115 kilometers per day, taking appropriate rest days when needed.
The idea came about after cycling from France to Italy to watch their country play in the UEFA Nations League last year and they wanted to test themselves with a much longer trip.
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 eventually arrive home.
But first the pair plan on enjoying their time in Doha. After all, they’ve worked hard for it.
Battling deserts, woods and everything in between
Since arriving, the French Football Federation (FFF) has invited the pair to meet the team and provided tickets for all three of its group games.
France manager Didier Deschamps also presented each of them with a national jersey signed by the players.
“Everything here is revolving around the World Cup. We’re very excited to keep discovering the country,” Balamissa added.
“Many French people are super nice with us here and are proposing to take us places: to restaurants to visit different things.”
The pair are surprisingly energetic when speaking to CNN, considering the exhausting task they completed just 24 hours before.
Their eyes light up when talking excitedly about the trip which took them through a total of 13 different countries.
The two cyclists encountered many problems along the way, including dozens of flat tires, but relied on their infectiously positive attitude to get them through.
The pair laugh as they recall the time they had to travel 15 hours to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in order to find a bike repair shop before traveling 15 hours back to the exact point that they had stopped.
“We had many troubles, but we fixed them as we went,” Martin told CNN.
“In this kind of trip, you have to be really flexible. In fact, the main part of the trip is to be flexible and to just adapt to every situation the best you can. I think we did well, actually.”
Much of the trip was spent alone, cycling through multiple terrains with just each other and the open road for company. Occasionally, though, they would share a meal or two with the locals and immerse themselves in that particular country’s culture.
They battled through the heat of the desert in Saudi Arabia as well as flooded woodland areas in Hungary as they made their winding way to Qatar, stopping off at campsites, lodges and hotels to sleep.
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 going mentally.
“There were so many best moments, for instance, when we finished crossing Europe. It was absolutely fabulous. We crossed from the European part of Istanbul [Turkey] to the Asian side across 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 just followed us to protect us on the bridge.
“People along the way were so generous and kind.”
‘Special’ end to ‘crazy’ trip
The pair agreed cycling through Jerusalem was another highlight of a trip that ended in spectacular fashion.
As they neared their final destination, the pair were joined by around 20 French and Qatari cyclists 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 around so many people having spent the last three months in relative solitude.
“It was very special when we got to Qatar because it meant it was the end of this crazy trip and this lifestyle that we actually enjoyed a lot,” Balamissa said.
Their plan now is to stay in Qatar for as long as France stays in the competition before flying back home.
Both are hopeful they won’t be back in France for a while.
“We’re staying until the final because France is going to win, of course,” Martin jokes. “We wouldn’t have come on our bikes otherwise.”
France won its opening match 4-1 against Australia and faces Denmark in its next Group D match on Saturday.