This weekend’s ride is unusual. Ride2Raise challenges are well known for having a good, strong support team in place to support the riders. There is always a Ride Manager – to guide and lead the riders and carry the navigation system loaded with the route – and at least one Support Team member in the support vehicle, carrying luggage, spares, refreshments and first-aid equipment as well as taking pictures and making notes along the way.
This ride will be a little different. The four riders are good friends and strong riders who are used to cycling together. In a fine gesture they have requested that the costs involved in providing a Ride Manager are donated to their fundraising efforts, and one of them will take over that role. It’s not how we like to work but in this instance we are happy to agree.
The ride is raising funds for Brigitte Trust, an independent charity. based in Surrey, offering emotional support and practical help for families facing cancer, Motor Neurone Disease and other life-threatening illnesses
Because of the lack of a formal Ride2Raise Ride Manager I am therefore the only Ride2Raise representative on the ride. I’ll be covering all the Support Team duties on my own and I don’t mind admitting I’m a little nervous.
The ride will start in Sheffield on Friday. I, and all four of the riders are based in the south of England so we will meet in the hotel on Thursday evening.
The four bikes have been delivered by the riders to Ride2Raise HQ in Dorking so when I collect the support vehicle I can give them a quick check over and load them onto the bike rack. This will make the journey to the Holiday Inn in Barnsley much easier for the riders who will be travelling up after a day at work so can do without the hassle of lugging their bikes up on the train.
Three of the bikes look great. Fairly new, well looked after modern road bikes. The fourth is somewhat different. It’s a steel framed Raleigh, 30+ years old and looks like it’s hardly been cleaned or serviced since the day it left the factory. It’s actually a very nice bike, possibly a Raleigh Team from around 1980, is fitted with very good components for its day, and I like it. However I also like well maintained bikes and a quick check shows some play in the headset and a dry chain.
The chain is lubricated easily enough but when I try to tighten the headset a common problem shows itself. It’s called ‘indexed’ steering and is caused by the lubricant in the headset breaking down and causing the bearings to wear small dents in the surface of the cup which fits in the frame. This gives the impression of steering locking into position when the bearings line up with the dents. It’s not good and can be unnerving so I make a note that I’ll probably need to replace the headset when I can find one in a suitable bike shop. We don’t carry many 30-year-old spares in the support car!
The plan is to meet the riders at the hotel at around 7pm so I load up the bikes, luggage and supplies and set off for Barnsley.
At the hotel I check in and unload the bikes into the room I’ve been allocated for bike storage. It’s a nice hotel, as all the Holiday Inn hotels we’ve so far used on Ride2Raise events have been, and I learn that Bernard, one of the riders, is already here so we arrange to meet in the bar to wait for the others.
Tim and Charlie arrive after a while but Mike, the final rider won’t be there until very late so we enjoy some pasta in the bar and discuss the route for the next three days. They’re a fun bunch and are soon discussing who knows where the best pubs are on the way back to Box Hill in Surrey, the Sunday afternoon finishing point. It’s a fun evening, which gives me a chance to get to know the riders, and to learn that Mike – the owner of the steel bike with the headset problem – is “a bit of a character”. I guess I’ll find out in the morning.
Day 1 – Sheffield to Leicester
In the morning I get to meet Mike. He’s also great fun and it’s clear the four riders are going to be good guys to spend the next few days with. Banter and mickey taking make for good atmosphere on our rides and there’s plenty of that over breakfast.
I talk to him about his headset and suggest that I replace it at the earliest opportunity. His light-hearted response… as the bike hasn’t been serviced for 20 years why should we start now? Fair enough!
We assemble outside the hotel and present Ann Kelly – Duty Manageress of the Barnsley Holiday Inn – with our Charity Hero award as thanks for helping us out on the ride. Now, usually the riders would set off at this point and the challenge would begin but this ride is a bit different.
When we mapped the routes for this Ride2Raise challenges we had no idea who the riders would be. Because of that we needed to keep the route to around 70 miles for the first day so our starting point is Renishaw Hall, almost 30 miles from the hotel. This means a slightly odd situation of driving to the start with the riders in the back of the support car and the bikes on the bike rack.
Had we known the strength of the riders on this challenge we’d have done things differently but no matter, it gives me a chance to enjoy some more of the banter between the riders.
Topics discussed in the Support Car on the way to the start include Rush’s new album and the upcoming gigs, Punk Rock, beer, boybands and Westfield shopping centre! I learn that real ale needs to be left to breathe in the same way that red wine does, and Charlie and I continue to convince Bernard that his bike is fitted with girl’s tyres – a joke we’d started earlier this morning.
Renishaw Hall is a beautiful setting to start the ride. Despite the fact that it’s not yet open we have been provided with coffee before the start, which goes down well, but the riders are keen to get going and after a few bike checks, at 9:30 the Brigitte Trust Seven Hills to Surrey Hills cycle challenge is finally underway.
Within the first half hour we hit a snag. It’s not major, in fact it’s quite amusing, but we seem to be sharing our timetable with that of the Olympic torch which is passing through the Bolsover area this morning. It’s fun to ride through streets lined with flag waving crowds who seem to think we’re part of the Olympic celebrations but we soon come across some closed roads and uncompromising police who won’t let our cyclists through. We detour round the village and regroup to work out how to get back on the pre-planned route.
We’re soon back on track and the rest of the morning is fairly uneventful. There are a couple of ‘comfort’ stops and the route is not one of our best but I know we’ll soon be out of the built-up high streets and industrial areas and into the countryside.
At a quick stop to top up water bottles we decide to keep going from now to lunch in around 90 minutes with no more stops. I’ll need to go ahead at some point to find a suitable place to stop for lunch and I also decide to look out for a bike shop to buy a headset in case I can convince Mike to let me change his tonight.
I stay close but go ahead for a while and find a very helpful bike shop – Pro Bikes in Hucknall – who provide a suitable headset at a discounted price. Thanks guys!
I’m sure the riders will pass me while I’m sorting out the headset and expect to then need to quickly find a suitable lunch stop but as I’m coming out of the shop I get a call from Ride Manager Tim to say the riders have stopped for a coffee and cake stop. So much for keeping going until lunch…
No big deal. I’m not sure exactly where the riders are for the first (and by no means the last) time but we’re following the same route so I set myself up outside what looks a good place to stop for lunch and wait for them.
After a while I spot the blur of blue and white Brigitte Trust jerseys approaching and position myself at the side of the road to flag them down but they pass me at speed saying they’re not ready for lunch yet. I’m starving at this point as I haven’t had the coffee and cake stop so I grab a Soreen bar from the supplies box and decide to follow the riders and let them dictate when they want to stop for lunch. It’s usually part of the Support Team’s job to decide where coffee and lunch stops will be but I’m learning this ride will be a little different from our usual rides.
We’re still riding through built-up towns but I can see from behind that this is a good group of riders. They ride close together at very good speed, almost machine like in the way they work together. I’m quite impressed.
At the lunch stop we discuss the route and I reassure the riders that we’ll soon be out of the built-up city streets and into the scenic countryside that we think are important on Ride2Raise challenges. Sure enough, just a few miles after the afternoon ride starts we take a left turn at Sawley Marina and the scenery changes instantly. Suddenly we’re on quiet country roads with minimal traffic. I know the riders will enjoy the rest of this day.
The afternoon ride is great and the Brigitte Trust riders are really enjoying it. Most of it is ridden into a headwind so it’s quite tough but every time I see the group they are riding really well and any time I stop to take photographs it’s been a struggle to catch them up again, so pace has been really good too. The Blue and White machine looks impressive on the road.
Despite the slightly disjointed start to the day the riders arrive at the Holiday Inn in Leicester bang on schedule at 4:30pm after an enjoyable afternoon.
Dinner is fun, with more of the banter and poor jokes which are becoming a feature of this challenge. From what I remember there were Abba jokes, jokes which shouldn’t be repeated here, and cheese discussions which included Bernard’s bold claim that “Wensleydale is the Feta of the north”! The reason I say “from what I remember” is because rather more red wine than is advisable on a long distance cycle challenge was consumed around the dinner table that evening. Tim, the Seemingly Sensible Ride Manager, began the evening suggesting some prudence should be shown by the four riders as they had a long day and a lot of miles ahead of them tomorrow. However by the end of dinner Tim was leading the suggestions for another bottle.
For possibly the first time in history I baled out early. Mike had confirmed that he didn’t need his headset changed but there’s always a bit of admin and preparation for the Support Team to do at the end of a day so I headed off to my room, leaving behind the riders and a fourth bottle of wine, wondering how they’d feel in the morning.
Day 2 – Leicester to Milton Keynes
Breakfast is subdued, understandably, but as we all want to watch Andy Murray playing at Wimbledon later today we set off ahead of schedule into the light rain. Getting out of Leicester is a little confusing but once we’ve found the correct route on our Garmin 800s we’re back on some fabulously scenic and very quiet country roads and lanes again.
The guys have recovered remarkably well from last night’s mild excess and again the blue and white Brigitte Trust cycling machine is hammering through the many quiet lanes and sleepy villages on the route. Bernard is perhaps the least accomplished climber so will normally be at the back when it gets a bit hilly, but not by much, and they soon regroup after every climb. Tim is driving things from the front, Mike – in his slightly unusual riding position – is unfazed by any terrain changes and is usually behind him with Charlie hovering just behind.
At a morning comfort break stop near Swinford we discuss a coffee stop and I suggest Crick, a regular stopping point on our rides through this part of the country, which is not far away. The riders decide they would like to go a bit further before stopping so once we’re back on our way I go ahead to find a suitable place for coffee and cake.
A few miles past Crick I get a ‘phone call from Tim. The riders have stopped at the Red Lion in, you guessed it… Crick, for tea and toast. It’s exactly where I had in mind for the stop. Bah, They’ve done me again!
The rest of the morning is quite hard for the riders. Although the total amount climbed during today is virtually the same as yesterday there are some brutally steep hills and for the first time the Brigitte Trust team are showing signs that it’s getting tough.
We stop at Little Brington to top up water bottles and for the first time since the start of the challenge even Mike is taking some refuelling on board. He’s stubbornly refused water all through the ride, to much surprise and concern, but even he feels the need for a Soreen bar at this stage of the ride. It must be getting tough.
Shortly after we set off I encounter what passes around here as a major traffic jam. I wait for some time as a large group of horse riders head slowly towards me on a narrow single-track road. I take the opportunity to make a few notes and phone calls while I wait patiently at the side of the road. After waiting for around five minutes I accidentally catch the horn button just as the riders take the turning just ahead of where I am waiting, leaving the road clear for me. It was completely unintentional but I got a few dirty looks from the riders. Sorry!
Around two-thirds of the way through the day’s total distance and after more pleasant and scenic lanes and tree-covered roads we stop for lunch at the Royal Oak in Blisworth, another regular Ride2Raise stop. Whenever we’ve stopped here in the past it’s been quiet and we’ve been very well looked after but it’s a very busy Saturday this time and our lunch stop is longer than we’d have liked. The food is as good as ever but with rain starting to fall as we wait the riders are getting a little impatient.
After lunch the ride follows its regular pattern. This is a really good group of riders and they take it in turns at the back of the group, enjoying the shelter from the wind, and at the front to help shelter the others. Although to be fair to Tim he spends most of the afternoon at the very front taking the brunt of the conditions while the others swap places behind him.
As we travel through some of the higher points of this afternoon’s route I notice that there is a lot of resistance to existing and proposed wind farms in the area, with many banners and posters protesting about the number of bird strike deaths. My understanding is that this is much less of a problem than some would have us believe, and that wind farms are a good thing. Am I wrong?
Thanks to the early start this morning the riders have eaten up the miles today. Only around two hours after the lunch stop, day 2 of the Brigitte Trust Seven Hills to Surrey Hills cycle challenge finishes nice and early at the stunning Horwood House Hotel in Little Horwood.
We’ve stayed overnight here on a few Ride2Raise events now and we’re always well looked after. It’s a lovely place to stay although finding our rooms is always entertaining thanks to the sprawling nature of the venue.
Today’s dinner topics for discussion include superstition, and the phrases we were told to use as children on seeing a Magpie. “Hello Mr Magpie” or “Hello Captain”, embellished with a salute, come out on top although I’d never heard either. I’m not sure I learned anything useful from this evening but it was funny. That is, until I compared – negatively – the environmental impact of dogs against cars. Who knew the Brigitte Trust riders are all dog lovers?
There is considerably less wine consumed this evening. Andy Murray’s rain interrupted match goes on too late for the riders who all take the opportunity to have a fairly early night as the Wimbledon roof is deployed.
Day 3 – Milton Keynes to Box Hill
I’m up very early to check the bikes over before breakfast. I also have a sneaky plan to clean Mike’s bike. In fact I clean all four bikes as yesterday’s weather had left them not looking at their best. Chains get a clean and a coating of lubricant and gears and brakes are checked over and adjusted as necessary.
The riders are keen again this morning, despite some aches and pains. Yesterday had been quite a tough day but the enthusiasm is as high as at any point in the ride and we set off bang on schedule for today’s long 83 miles to the finish at the top of Box Hill in Surrey.
A few miles in to the day Tim’s chain drops off on a gear shift. He’d been having some shifting problems yesterday and it looks like my adjustment this morning has gone a little too far the other way. He’s got good mechanical sympathy though so it’s quickly put back on and he’s happy to continue until lunch without adjustment.
Once back underway the riders again look impressive on the road. I know they are getting tired, and we stop from time to time to catch breath after another tough climb, but there are some lovely long stretches of straight and uncluttered roads and some beautiful tree covered country lanes so at least the ride is visually enjoyable. I’ve been impressed by this group of riders from the start on Friday and they have continued to impress with their determination and good humour throughout.
20 miles into the final day we get the first puncture of the ride. We’re on the Ridgeway Path near Tring and, being a Sunday, the narrow road is packed with hikers, horse riders and cyclists so I’m a little way ahead looking for a good spot to take a photograph of the riders when I get a call from Tim. I double back and find them at the side of the road. The puncture is quickly repaired and we’re soon back on the road.
After a quick detour to fill up the support car with diesel I’m back on the route but a little confused that I can’t find the riders where I expect them to be. I’ve been having mobile reception problems for most of the day so I’m concerned that they may have had a problem and been unable to contact me so I turn back and retrace the route to Aldbury but still no sign of the riders.
It’s rare for us to completely lose track of the riders on a Ride2Raise challenge but it does happen occasionally. With no phone reception I feel quite helpless at this point, especially as I retrace then double back once more trying to find them with no success. Eventually I spot them in the distance and when we stop to top up water, Qimmiq energy gels and Soreen bars it turns out that they’d stopped for coffee a little off the route we’d planned near Ashley Green.
Tim had, in fact, called me and left a message but with no phone reception I hadn’t received it. I’ve probably driven past them three times. I briefly wonder – not entirely seriously – if they’re doing this to me on purpose for a laugh! I don’t mind admitting that I’ve felt quite a weight of responsibility as the only Ride2Raise representative on this ride and I’d worried that I might be letting the riders down.
The roads and villages in this part of England are lovely. The next 20 miles consists of tough climbs with several refreshment stops for Qimmiq Energy Gels, Soreen bars and water. There is plenty of gorgeous scenery through Amersham and Beaconsfield and some fantastic looking places to live. At least I assume they are fantastic places to live. I can’t see most of the houses as they’re hidden behind high fences and imposing, solid security gates. It seems such a shame to live in a beautiful house in some of the most scenic countryside in England and to then hide it away like a prison.
We’re together on the road when it’s agreed that I should look for a place to stop for lunch very soon. I manage to find somewhere to pick up some still-warm pastries to go with the hotel supplied packed lunch, which goes down well with the riders who eat at the side of the road. Spirits still high, jokes still coming thick and fast, but they are certainly beginning to feel their efforts today. Total mileage is almost 20 more than each of the previous two days and it’s been a seriously challenging route so far.
Lunch is quick. We know time is tight and I’m liaising with the welcoming party of Brigitte trust representatives and riders’ families who will meet the riders at the finish. I give Tim’s gears another quick tweak in the hope of curing the chain issues and we’re off again with around 35 miles to go to the finish.
After lunch the scenery is still very appealing but riders enjoy the fact that, for a while at least, it’s a little less hilly. That’s not to say that there aren’t still a few tough sections to catch them out but as we pass to the west of London, and through the built up areas of Eton and Windsor and the impressive Windsor Great Park, scenery and gradients have definitely changed. It’s always a bit of a shame, after many miles of empty country roads, rolling hills, thatched roofed villages and wind farms in the distance, to hit heavily populated areas again.
The traffic and the one way system through Windsor catch me out and I find myself off the route for a few miles. I find the riders again at Chertsey, only around 15 miles from the finish in Box Hill.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Box Hill is an iconic cycling destination, the major part of the 2012 Olympic Road Race route and one of the most picturesque parts of the Surrey Hills. It also has a very well known long, tough and twisty climb to our finishing point. Many cyclists see this climb as a ‘must do’ and are elated to complete it. The Brigitte Trust riders know it well, they all live fairly close, so the ‘must do’ has already been done. At the end of almost 85 miles of cycling today it seems almost sadistic to expect them to take on the climb.
A final refreshment stop, words of encouragement are offered and the final hour of the ride gets underway. After half an hour I’m as confident as I can be that everything will be fine for the rest of the day and I head off to prepare myself for the riders’ arrival at the finish. With Olympic preparations ongoing I don’t know how easy it will be to park the car at Box Hill on a busy Sunday and I need to let the welcoming party know they are close and to be ready to take photographs of the team.
It’s just a short wait at the top of Box Hill with the impressive welcoming party before the riders come round the final bend. It’s been a tiring day in the saddle with a very tough final climb but the four riders are full of smiles at the finish. Hugs and congratulations from children and wives as well as hearty congratulations from Vanessa and the team from Brigitte Trust mean the pains of the day are briefly forgotten. The champagne helps too!
What a great few days it’s been. On behalf of Brigitte Trust and Ride2Raise thanks to the four riders for all your efforts, your fundraising and your promotion of the charity.
From me, thanks to the four riders for being such great fun to spend time with. It’s been a huge laugh and an absolute pleasure to be part of your team.
You can find all of the photographs from the Brigitte Trust Seven Hills to Surrey Hills ride HERE.
Tim Vincent (Ride Manager)