ProAV Castle2Castle Challenge. 16-17/09/2011

ProAV Castle2Castle Challenge Day 1

This is only my second event as part of the Ride2Raise support team but, as I don’t live in Dorking – the hub of the whole setup – it’s another early start for me. I’m in the shower at 5am and ready to set off before 6 for what should be a pretty straightforward two-day ride. It’s the ProAV Windsor Castle to Corfe Castle ride in aid of White Lodge Centre in Surrey.

As usual, there are no bacon sandwiches on offer at the team HQ in Dorking. This really is something I need to get sorted if I’m going to do any more of these rides. I really need bacon if I’m going to be able to perform at any worthwhile capacity at 6am. Nobody else seems to care but I’m already noting this down in the ‘things which could be improved’ section of the support team handbook.

We arrive at Windsor Castle at 08:15 to be greeted by gun-toting security guards everywhere we look. Nonchalantly we park the Ride2Raise support vehicle just outside the Queen’s front door and Jules and I stroll off to source the pre-start coffees. We don’t care about your privileged status, today is our day!

Gradually, bikes arrive on top of cars, full bike racks are emptied of their two-wheeled cargo, 12 very expensive and capable road bikes are lined up ready for the start of a two day ride to Dorset, and twelve enthusiastic riders start to come to terms with the reality of two things: The size of the task ahead of them, and what their work-mates look like in Lycra!

I say 12 expensive and capable road bikes but actually that’s an exaggeration. One of the bikes I’m checking over for tyre pressures, working gears and well adjusted brakes is a full suspension mountain bike. Now I have nothing against mountain bikes at all. In fact my cycling past used to involve a lot of mountain biking so I’m quite chuffed to see a full susser in the line-up. However, I have to say I was a little surprised. If the Windsor to Dorset route was created by drawing a straight line between the two points and crossing whatever was in the way – fields, forests, rivers, gardens and the like – a mountain bike would be a good choice of ride, but against full carbon roadies with pedals costing substantial three-figure sums, on b-roads and country lanes and on some tough and long climbs, one rider was either a serious and hardcore cyclist or perhaps something of a fool. We’ll see…

As Windsor’s tourist industry cranks into action the ProAV Ride2Raise Castle to Castle cycle challenge gets underway. Destination is Corfe Castle in Dorset by tomorrow afternoon. It’s not the toughest challenge we’ve run but it’s still around 60-65 miles per day and that’s by no means easy and is a lot more than some of the riders have ever done in their lives.

This is a slightly unusual ride for Ride2Raise because it is organised on behalf of a large company – ProAV – who are using the ride to achieve a number of things. Ray Phillpot, the driving force behind the success of ProAV, has long been a supporter of White Lodge Centre in Surrey, who provide a range of flexible and creative activities and opportunities for disabled children, young people and adults, and for their families and for carers across Surrey and the surrounding area. This ride will raise a substantial amount of money for the Centre thanks to the efforts of the 10 riders from ProAV and its associates.

In addition, the two-day ride is intended to be a strong team-building event for some of the key personnel of the company. Some are quite experienced cyclists, while some are much less so, and there is a diverse range of riders, abilities and fitness levels. We know from other Ride2Raise events that camaraderie and teamwork are very important on our challenges. They build confidence and promote achievement which may be beyond what is individually possible. Using a Ride2Raise managed cycle challenge for corporate team building is a great idea.

The third reason behind this ride is very personal. The ride is also taking place in memory of a great friend to the ProAV riders, and a much loved and respected man, Charles ‘Chas’ Chasemore, who died tragically last year. This ride means a lot, to a lot of people.

Leaving riders’ families and well wishers behind, the snake of riders and the support vehicle head off. It’s a big ride by Ride2Raise standards and co-ordination of the 10 ProAV riders and two Ride2Raise ride managers will be hard work at times, as different fitness and riding technique levels become apparent. For now though it’s a steady ride South West out of Windsor. In the support vehicle Jules and I reacquaint ourselves with the set-up in the car and I realise that we’ve never used the navigation system we’ve been given before. After a quick and manic button pressing session the navigation is sorted and we can relax into our routine which involves following the riders for some of the route, going ahead of them at times to ensure correct turns are taken, or getting into position to take (usually blurry…) photographs as the riders pass. It will also be our job to go ahead to tea and coffee stops to order drinks, liaise with the lunch stops, hotels and so on, as well as to be available should there be a mechanical or physical breakdown.

The early morning session will take us to Crowthorne for a coffee stop. It’s fairly uneventful and run at a relatively easy pace so riders can get to know each other’s style. The biggest challenge for the support team has been trying to help Stephanie and Brook from Three Men and a Suit to find the riders. They are following the ride to take video and still images to document the event for ProAV. Unfortunately nobody’s given them the route so despite photographer Brook hanging out of the back of the smallest car we’ve seen in a long time, ready to take some spectacular footage, they have been struggling to work out where we are. We guide them to the coffee stop and give them a vague ‘black pen line on an atlas’ guide to the route for the rest of the day. “Just follow us and you’ll be fine,” says Jules, seemingly forgetting that we’d taken a wrong turn 400 yards from the start of the event (which fortunately the riders didn’t follow).

The coffee stop seems very early into the ride but it’s probably 15 miles from the start and riders are grateful for the chance to rest. Crowthorne’s intrigued shoppers ask us about the influx of brightly coloured, Lycra clad bodies sitting outside Costa Coffee. It seems cyclists are something of a rarity here so we provide quite a spectacle.

Short break over and the riders set off again. All bikes are performing well so there are no repairs or adjustments for me to do at the stop. Jules and I usually take a little while to throw away rubbish, tidy up the support vehicle and settle the bill when we stop and this is no exception. After five minutes we set off in pursuit of the riders and have gone no more than a mile when we find the riders at the side of the road. It seems my mechanical skills may be needed but fortunately when we pull up alongside we can see that we are outside a cycle shop – Cyclezone of Crowthorne. A convenient place to have a bike failure!

In fact, it’s not a bike failure but a shoe failure. A cleat on one of Ray’s shoes has broken meaning he can’t clip in to the pedal on his bike. This renders the bike almost unrideable so the timing of the stop couldn’t have been better.

Cyclezone are amazing, sorting the problem quickly and refusing payment for the repair. Almost without fail the cycle shops we encounter on Ride2Raise challenges are superb. Always willing to help out and support our cause. Huge thanks to Cyclezone.

Thankfully the repair is straightforward and the ride is underway again quickly. Lunch is to be at The Mill House in North Warnborough so once we get underway Jules and I call ahead to make sure they are ready for us to arrive. The weather is good and warm this morning so we request that the riders can use an outside area to eat. We also arrange a small surprise that has been set up for the riders. Masseur Helen Butler will be available to give riders’ aching legs a short massage.

The ride from Crowthorne continues through Sandhurst past Hook and on to the lunch stop. Again it seems uneventful to Jules and I in the support vehicle although we hear of occasional punctures which are skilfully and swiftly repaired by Christian, one of the two Ride2Raise Ride Managers on the ride, the other being Ride2Raise big cheese Richard King who always seems to be just behind Christian when it comes to volunteering for puncture repair duties!

The Mill House is an excellent place for lunch. The setting is fantastic, the sandwiches are huge and tasty and the staff can’t do enough for us. Helen’s massage services are very welcome. We’re 30 miles or so into the day and some of the riders have never gone further. Legs are aching but spirits are high and it’s an enjoyable stop. Again all bikes are performing flawlessly so it’s a relatively easy one for me. Drinks bottles are refilled, energy bars restocked and the refreshed and suitably massaged riders are ready to hit the road.

Again, Jules and I hold back to rearrange the support vehicle. At a stop, riders want their bags and belongings to make phone calls, grab their own supplements for drinks bottles, maybe grab or discard a rain jacket. We then need to make sure bags are all back in the vehicle, no rubbish or personal belongings have been left behind and thank the venue for their hospitality. The Mill House couldn’t have been a better place to stop.

Once again we are five minutes or so behind the riders and by the time we catch them a little way outside Weston Corbett, again they are in a small huddle at the side of the road. My mechanic’s fingers are twitching but this is a bike problem no tools can fix. Remember the full suspension mountain bike I mentioned at the start? Remember the hardcore cyclist or something of a fool comment? Well… Danny, rider of the mountain bike, is struggling. A lot. Despite ‘road’ tyres and locking the suspension as much as possible, a serious downhill style mountain bike like this is hard work on the road. The bars are too wide and flat, the riding position is wrong and huge amounts of the effort put into riding is dumped through the suspension system. Danny’s been riding hard – probably harder than anyone – but he’s hit the wall and it’s become too much for him to continue putting in so much effort on a bike that makes it such hard work.

After a brief chat with the ride managers, Danny selflessly agrees to sit out the rest of the day. He doesn’t want to hold up the rest of the team. It’s a tough decision to make and Danny is visually deflated. He sits quietly in the back of the support vehicle as Jules and I strap his bike onto the rack on the back. He looks exhausted, and the ProAV team is a man down.

A quick meeting is held between the Ride2Raise team and we decide to see if we can call in a favour from one of our many supporters in the cycling field, or possibly from a friend of Jules as he lives near the overnight stop in Winchester. We want to get Danny back on the road tomorrow on a suitable bike and we’re going to do whatever it takes to make that happen.

As the remaining 11 riders continue on their way we make a few calls. It’s not looking great at first. Hargroves Cycles in Winchester is our first call and although they are sympathetic to our situation they have no demo or loan bikes available. We try a few of our own friends and associates with no joy so try calling Hargroves Cycles’ head office in Southampton. Manager Russ is instantly sympathetic but also says that as it is the end of the season all demo bikes and loan bikes are sold on so it is unlikely they will be able to help. However he offers to go and take a look in the warehouse and says he’ll call back.

Within five minutes Russ has come up trumps. He’s found us a Specialised Tarmac Expert with full Ultegra setup. A “full-on Bling bike” in his words. And he’s prepared to drive it from Southampton to Winchester for us to pick up at the end of the day’s ride. This is a £2,500 bike and he’s prepared to lend it to us so Danny can finish the ride tomorrow on a suitable bike. Incredible! Russ at Hargroves Cycles, we can’t thank you enough.

We get ahead of the cyclists and look for a suitable place to stop for a short break before the final push to Winchester. Alresford is a nice village so we park up and buy ice creams for the riders. It’s been a warm day and we know these will go down well. We spread the good news about the bike Danny is being lent for tomorrow and everyone is happy. I don’t know how the other riders felt when he had to call it a day but I can guess. These guys are in this together, as a team, and I’m 100% certain the disappointment would have been huge when he had to call it a day, and if Danny hadn’t been able to carry on tomorrow the whole event would have been compromised. It’s a relief for all of us and it spurs the team on for the last few miles to come. Danny’s still going to take a lot of stick at dinner but it will be light hearted, and in the knowledge that he will be back in the team, and a lot faster tomorrow.

Ice cream break over and the riders head out of Alresford. It’s about 10 miles or so to Winchester and the overnight stop. 50 miles down and the riders are tired, but already the pride and the sense of achievement we see in all Ride2Raise cycle challenges is building. One of the most satisfying things about being involved is seeing personal milestones passed. Targets are hit and new ones set – riders who have never done more than 30 miles in a day suddenly see 100 miles as a distant but realistic possibility.

Jules, Danny and I head straight to Hargroves in Winchester. It’s late in the day so Winchester’s notorious rush hour will be in full swing. When we arrive the bike is quickly handed over, paperwork is signed and we’re off to greet the riders at their overnight stop – The Hotel du Vin in Winchester. Danny’s new bike is beautiful and he’s already looking forward to riding it.

Staff at the Hotel du Vin are extremely helpful and offer us the manager’s office for overnight bike storage.

It’s been a good day for the riders. All are ready for a nice soak in the bath but everyone is happy. The hotel is very comfortable and, for most of the riders, friends and partners are waiting to greet them after a tough day. Riders head off to their rooms to relax before a fantastic dinner in the private dining room of the Hotel du Vin, hosted by Ray who pulls out all the stops to make sure his team, their guests, and the Ride2Raise crew are catered for. Thanks for a lovely dinner Ray.

It’s also a chance for Jules and I to get to know the riders a bit better as we don’t see much of them during the day.

Special thanks go to Danny for sacrificing his own ride and enjoyment today so the others could carry on. Everyone knows how tough that decision was to make.

Pictures from day one of the ProAV Castle2Castle cycle challenge are HERE.

ProAV Castle2Castle Challenge Day 2

Day 2 of the ProAV Castle2Castle cycle challenge has arrived, and it’s brought a bit of a headache with it. I blame ride manager Christian for forcing beer on me in the hotel bar while he explained his frankly ludicrous business idea to me in extensive detail last night. Obviously I listened politely, told him it would never work, and then swiftly went and registered any relevant web addresses and company names.

Headache aside, despite the forecast of heavy rain, it’s a bright and pleasant day with clear blue skies visible out of my window in the Hotel Mercure in Winchester. There weren’t enough rooms available for everyone in the Hotel du Vin so a few of us stayed in the Mercure, just down the road, overnight.

At dinner last night Ray had suggested we all meet back at the private dining room in the Hotel du Vin for breakfast to keep the strong team spirit alive. This made sense so those of us who stayed in the Mercure overnight checked out early and headed up the hill to the Hotel du Vin.

I was actually nicely refreshed after a decent night’s sleep. There were two reasons for that: The Beer can have that effect, and the fact that for possibly the first time in my life I got lucky with the room allocation and ended up in an ‘Executive’ room with large double bed, a desk for my laptop, a nice and sizeable bathroom and plenty of space. Bliss… spoiled only by the very noisy bin men outside the window at 5:30am. It’s a good job I’m an early riser.

Jules had been less lucky, with a small single room being his resting place for the night he’d found sleep difficult so he was a little less bright than me at breakfast.

At the Hotel du Vin everyone was on good form with no major aches and pains (or at least nobody was admitting to any. They’re a proud bunch, cyclists, and nobody wants to be the first to admit to a bit of pain). Danny has already been out and done a few miles on his loaned bike to get used to it. Riding a high performance road bike is a very different experience from that of a mountain bike. It feels very odd at first, as if you are sitting on top of a very unstable machine with something of a mind of its own, balancing on the skinniest tyres you’ve ever seen and likely to fall off at any moment. His only saving grace is that it is fitted with flat mountain bike pedals, which look totally out of place, as he only has training shoes to ride in, not proper cycling shoes with cleats which clip into the pedals. Most people fall off a few times when they first ride clipped in to the pedals so it’s not such a bad thing really.

Once again bike problems are virtually non-existent. Only one rider – Ashley – has reported that the shifting of his front derailleur is a little out of adjustment, causing the chain to jump between cogs from time to time.

So, excellent breakfast over, Jules and I retrieve the bikes from the manager’s office and we set about checking them over. Ashley’s bike is first for attention and gears are adjusted with the bike upside-down on a bench in the yard. Obviously a proper bike stand would have made this an easier task, and Ride2Raise have a full set of stands and tools for all bike maintenance tasks. However, a bike stand in a garage in Dorking is of no use whatsoever when working on a bike in a hotel yard in Winchester. Isn’t that right Richard..?

Derailleur adjustments done, Ashley mentions that he is getting some wrist pain when riding. We notice that, despite the fact that he has had a professional bike fit (not by us, I hasten to add), the bars seem to be rotated too high in the stem meaning that the riding position is causing too much angle for his wrists. I rotate the bars back to a more neutral position and ask Ash to keep me informed of how it feels on the ride.

All the other bikes are wiped clean, tyre pressures are checked and a careful eye is cast over them. Every time the riders stop, one of the roles of the support team is to look over the bikes in case we spot any potential problems. Things like brake blocks, gear and brake cables and tyre pressures are checked, and we always ask the riders to let us know if anything is wrong.

Riders are refreshed and fuelled, drinks bottles are filled and energy bars jammed into jersey pockets, bikes are checked and passed fit. There’s only one thing for it… day 2 of the ProAV Castle2Castle cycle challenge is go!

Riders filter out of the Hotel du Vin behind the support vehicle and in to the early morning traffic. The view outside the hotel is immediately pleasant (see right!) but the left turn at the end of the road leads to the start of a long climb out of Winchester. It’s a tough start to the day for the riders but as we ease away from Winchester the scenery is beautiful all around us. The ride, though, is really sorting out the men from the boys. At times the twelve riders are fairly spaced out, with quite a distance between the riders at the front and rear. In situations like this the two Ride2Raise ride managers really earn their keep, ensuring that riders remain safe and that the group doesn’t become too disjointed. There will always be differences between the most proficient climbers and those with less experience. Despite being very fit, and with lots of triathlon experience, Ashley readily admits that bike riding is his weakest of those three disciplines. He’s determined, and giving up is not an option, but often on the climbs he is at the back of the pack. It’s not a problem though as riders will regularly stop at the top of a climb to regroup, often motivating other riders who are finding it tough. It’s all part of the team building that Ray is keen to achieve on this ride. The down side, for any stragglers, is that when they reach the top of a climb the others are rested and immediately ready for the off again so stops are considerably shorter than for some of the others.

One thing Jules and I are noticing on this ride is that although the pace is not particularly quick, the miles seem to be relentlessly passing without much drama. Having said that, there are a few minor issues here and there and, 13 miles or so into the day’s ride, and a short distance from the morning coffee and cake stop, the riders are found at the side of the road again investigating a minor issue with Richard’s saddle, which has simply worked itself loose.

As the coffee stop is only a few minutes away we just tighten the saddle at this stage and will look at correct position and angle at the Carlo’s café in Romsey. This brief stop has allowed the riders to close up again and all arrive together at the café for drinks.

It’s another pleasant place for the riders to stop and the weather has been kind so far so benches outside the café are a good place to stretch out and rest. The saddle is properly adjusted to provide the correct reach to the bars and the correct angle and Richard’s bike is sorted. We have one other minor adjustment to make. One of the other riders is complaining of some pain behind the knee. Richard is a bit of a guru on what adjustments are needed in cases like this. Years of hip, knee and ankle problems have meant that he has to be aware of what is causing any pain he might experience on a ride, so when someone else experiences pain he knows what to do. A saddle is dropped by 3mm to ease tension on the knee ligaments, an adjustment which is proved correct as no further problems are experienced throughout the day. Ashley’s adjustments from this morning have proved successful so nothing else is needed.

Bev and Becky in Carlo’s are great. They really look after the riders and can’t do enough for us. It never fails to impress us how helpful people are everywhere we stop. On this ride there are 14 of us to feed and water and that’s quite an additional workload, particularly for a small rural café. Thanks ladies, and your cakes are great. So great that we snag a few for later in the day.

After 20 minutes or so the riders are ready to head off again. Lunch will be at The Three Tuns in Bransgore. The original plan was for a two course lunch but, realistically, the riders have all gone for a fairly simple sandwich or similar. We took the lunch orders at dinner last night so Jules and I can call the pub with the food order ahead of the riders’ arrival. We call and advise them that we are likely to arrive a little later than the 12:30 planned time. Eamonn Dean, another masseur, is also arranged to be available for the riders at the lunch stop today so we also call him to advise that we are running maybe 20 minutes late. Fortunately he hasn’t left home yet.

As usual, Jules and I leave a few minutes behind the riders after rearranging the support vehicle and thanking the staff in Carlo’s. Romsey is just a short way from the outskirts of the New Forest and the route for the riders takes them into this sometimes bleak but generally very visually appealing part of the ride.

The New Forest is something of a surprise for the riders. Roads through the forest are narrow, so careful riding is essential, but they are often very exposed. As time passes the weather is gradually, but noticeably, changing and it is now appreciably cold and windy. Although the gruelling climbs of earlier in the day are no longer a problem, the exposed roads are a new kind of challenge and pace through the New Forest is fairly slow. There are a few climbs but nothing too extreme, it’s the wind that is killing pace. One minute a headwind, then a cross wind, seemingly never a wind from behind.

This is when the Ride2Raise Ride Managers on-road experience is particularly valuable. Riders are pulled in tight and advised to ride as close together as they can and in two mini-pelotons of six riders, taking it in turns to ride both in the exposed positions and in those which are sheltered by other riders. Energy is saved and this awesome cycling machine cuts through the wind much more efficiently than the riders could individually. Comments are made later that this was the most enjoyable part of the whole ride, despite the conditions, with one rider describing technique through the New Forest as feeling a little like a Pro-cycling team.

Team spirit is strong again. Through the New Forest horses occasionally stroll listlessly across the road. Sometimes they don’t even make it all the way to the other side, simply stopping mid-way. This, obviously, adds another difficulty for the riders who simply want to put their heads down and pedal through the conditions. Motionless wildlife in the middle of the road is not what they need right now!

Pace through the New Forest remains steady and although the riders are working well together they are a little behind schedule. Whenever we get an evasive mobile phone signal in the support vehicle, we have called both the Three Tuns lunch stop and Eamonn the masseur to advise that we’ve been delayed. We’ve called in the food order in advance in an attempt to cut the time we might spend at the lunch stop but I’m sure none of the riders will want a sandwich which has been sitting on the bar for an hour awaiting their arrival. Staff at The Three Tuns are great, and very understanding.

Eventually, about an hour after the original planned lunch stop time, riders arrive at the pub. It is noticeably cold when they arrive but the decision is taken to eat outside, although some later change that decision as occasional showers, coupled with the wind, and lightweight Lycra clothing make for uncomfortable conditions.

Eamonn is much in demand. Riders have now cycled for some 90 miles or so since yesterday morning and this morning has been a real drain on muscle strength. The afternoon route includes a considerable amount of climbing, not least over the final few miles into the finish at Corfe Castle, so muscles need to be as relaxed as possible for the final push.

Lunch is excellent although a little rushed for the support crew as one or two small issues have come to light. Derek is struggling to clip into his pedals properly, and Mike is experiencing some discomfort and may need a saddle height adjustment. Derek’s shoe cleats are just a little clogged up with mud. It’s a common problem. Cycling shoes are not great to walk in and the stops through the New Forest have meant that riders will occasionally need to walk on soft boggy ground. Cleats just scoop up mud and clog them up, making clipping into the pedals sometimes impossible.

The saddle height issue is next. Again, a 3mm lowering of the saddle is diagnosed as the solution for a problem graphically described by the rider, Mike, as “Arsehole pain”. There were jokes begging to be made but we thought better of it and simply adjusted the saddle.

All the riders agree that the ride through the New Forest has been amazing. The highlight of the ride. The views are great and, despite the genuinely challenging conditions, there is a real sense of achievement and satisfaction running through the team, big thanks go out to Christian and Richard for what they have done for the team.

Pleasant lunch over, riders are set for the final 15 miles to the finish. As has become a symbol of this ride all the riders fire each other up before setting off. A ride like this morning’s can be demoralising but there is no evidence that this bunch of guys is anything but more determined than ever to push hard to the finish.

Support crew sort a few things before setting off and almost straight away we hit a road closure on the road to Christchurch. This throws us for a while but we find a way round the diversion and head off after the cyclists who, apparently, knew in advance about the road closure and had taken the necessary steps to avoid it. Thanks for the heads up guys.

In the support vehicle we are using a similar GPS navigation device to those used by the Ride Managers. We have the same routes programmed into the devices so we follow, in most cases, exactly the same route. Unlike a car navigation system we don’t want these systems to recalculate the route if we go off course. This is because the routes are carefully mapped long in advance by Jules and Richard, who choose the best roads for the cyclists, as well as the most scenic or challenging. If there is any recalculation the whole route will be lost and all the work that has gone in to choosing it will be wasted.

Because of this we make sure that the ‘recalculate route’ setting is turned off on the navigation systems. From the start of day 1 the navigation system in the support vehicle has been quite temperamental. Occasionally failing to follow the route correctly, sometimes freezing up, and generally misbehaving. On this occasion, as we detour round the road closure, it decides it is going to recalculate the route.

Now, Jules and I know it’s not supposed to do this but we are slightly preoccupied trying to find our way through the diversion so we leave it alone. It seems to have caught up with us and is pointing us in the right direction so all seems fine. To be honest, if it didn’t take 10 minutes to reboot, find the satellites and reload the correct route we’d have restarted it. But we carry on. We are under a bit of pressure at this stage as the next rendezvous point is planned to be the ferry at Sandbanks in Poole where the cyclists will cross the entrance to Poole harbour. It is about 9 miles away and we are supposed to be there ahead of the cyclists so we can be sure that we’re on the same ferry. We left The Three Tuns some time after the cyclists and the detour around the closed road has costs us more time so we step on it a bit to try and catch up.

We catch up with the riders in Bournemouth at just the right time. Almost at the second we catch them the skies erupt and literally dump gallons of water in seconds. It’s quite a downpour. The riders dart for cover under some trees and shout for waterproofs from the car. Timing couldn’t have been better. If we’d been behind the riders would have been soaked and we might not have seen them sheltering from the rain as much as they could. If we’d been ahead, trying to make it to the ferry first, they would have had to suffer the rain without any chance of getting waterproofs.

We’re about three miles from the ferry at this stage so once the riders are protected from the conditions we drive off ahead of them. It’s around 4pm and traffic in Bournemouth is building. We sit in slow moving traffic for quite some time. There’s no sign of the cyclists so, although the weather has improved, we assume they have stopped for a while in case rain falls again. Jules and I continue to follow the route as indicated by the navigation system, but something doesn’t seem right. The three miles to the ferry shouldn’t have taken this long, and Jules is adamant he doesn’t recognise the road we’re on. Jules is good at remembering routes from the time he spends with Richard mapping them in advance. They go away for several days at a time finding the best roads to take, planning where to stop for coffee, lunch and overnight. If Jules doesn’t recognise the road, something is wrong. Stupidly I tell him to continue following the navigation system but it’s soon obvious we’ve gone wrong. We’re virtually in Poole itself when the ‘phone rings. It’s Richard.

“We’ve stopped for coffee on the road that leads to the ferry” he says. There is only one road that leads to the ferry. It’s about a mile and a half long and there is no way we shouldn’t know where he means. Sheepishly I have to advise that we are elsewhere and have a bit of catching up to do. It’s unlikely we’ll be on the same ferry now. That navigation system route recalculation has just come back to bite us.

When we find our way to the ferry approach road it becomes obvious where we went wrong. The road is flanked by water on both sides and there are hundreds of kite surfers, jet skis and small boats enjoying a leisurely Saturday on the water. Fortunately the ferry isn’t busy and we arrive at the front of the queue to see the ferry slowly moving away from the quay. The cyclists are on board. We’re not. Oops!

From disembarking the ferry at the other side to the finish at Corfe Castle is around eight miles. This should be about 30-45 minutes for the cyclists. Although the ferry journey is short it is also quite slow. It’s a chain driven ferry and, after dropping cyclists, foot passengers and cars on the south side of the harbour it is refilled with passengers heading north before returning to pick us up.

It seems like most of the 30 minutes we may have to catch up is gone when we drive off the ferry at the other side. It won’t go down well if we’re not there at the Castle to greet the riders. We have the cameras in the car to record the moment, we have the champagne in the car which Ray has been making sure we have been chilling all the way through the two day ride, and we have bike stands, comfortable shoes and warm jackets, all of which will be much in demand.

We head for Corfe Castle as fast as we can, taking a different route from the one the cyclists will be taking. When we arrive at The Square below the castle we are relieved to see a decent gathering of friends and family waiting expectantly for the riders to arrive.

Our arrival is greeted with anticipation of the riders’ arrival but we can only give a vague answer when asked how long until they arrive. We have barely seen them since lunch so although we know where they were maybe 40 minutes ago we have no idea of their pace. We did notice that the approach to Corfe Castle is very hilly so expect it to be fairly slow. The riders will all want to finish together so there will be no spacing out of riders for the final few miles.

Almost without exception everyone is looking down the hill with eyes glued on the road the riders will cycle to the finish on. Five minutes pass, then five more. I walk down the hill a little way to see if I can spot them coming. A quick call from Richard tells me that they are a mile and a half away from the castle and have stopped to take a breather before the final climb. The ride from the ferry has been tough. Probably as tough as anything on the ride.

It turns out that there is a puncture almost immediately after setting off from this stop so there is another slight delay while it is repaired. Back at the castle anticipation is building and when the group of riders appear at the bottom of the hill leading to the finish there is a huge cheer from the 30 or so people waiting to greet the riders. The atmosphere is amazing and the riders are cheered with every turn of the pedals. It’s a great boost for the last few metres of the ride and huge beaming smiles are apparent on all their faces. Yesterday wasn’t easy, today had been up another level and the last few miles had been as hard as at any time since the start. The ProAV Castle2Castle challenge has been completed by everyone who started, with minimal disruption, virtually no bike problems and by a team of riders who have noticeably improved, pulled together, motivated each other and shared the pain and pleasure of long distance cycling over the two days.

It’s an emotional moment. Ray dives for the champagne with only one thing in mind and several bottles of expensive fizz are sprayed triumphantly over all of his fellow riders. Riders hug riders, families hug riders, riders hug support crew, Ride Managers hug each other, more champagne is sprayed and some is drunk and, as the exuberant celebrations die down the reality of the scale of what has been achieved begins to sink in.

This has been a ride all about inspiration.

Ray Phillpot is an inspirational man. For many years he has been the driving force behind a commitment to raise money for White Lodge Centre in Surrey. In the ProAV Castle2Castle challenge he has chosen something he enjoys as a way to raise a substantial amount for the centre, and he has chosen to include some of his most trusted staff to join him along the way. He has encouraged them every step of the way, helped them achieve their personal goals and gone out of his way to make this as enjoyable an event as is possible.

The team are in inspirational bunch. Derek Doe, Adrian Edwards, Simon Heron, Dan Phillpot, Mike Phillpot, Ray Phillpot, Danny Rogers, Ashley Rudd, and Clint Sparrey take a bow, every one of you. I’m just disappointed that the ride was only two days so I didn’t get much chance to get to know a lot of you. You have worked together as a team at every stage of the challenge and at times when it would have been easy to quit you have pushed that little bit harder. Well done to you all, and I hope we get to do another event with you in the future.

Finally, the main inspiration, and the reason nobody was ever going to quit: Charles ‘Chas’ Chasemore. Everyone we have spoken to on the way from Windsor to Corfe has spoken incredibly highly of Chas. He was clearly a dear and much respected friend and this has been a fantastic way for him to be remembered. I’m sure he has been in all of your minds throughout this event and he would be rightly proud of every one of you. I didn’t know him yet, thanks to you guys, he’s been in my thoughts all along. I’m raising a glass to Chas, and to every one of you, as I finish writing this.

Thank you to all involved. I’ve loved every minute of this event and I will remember it for a very long time.

Tim Watling

At the time of writing over £10,000 has been raised on this challenge for White Lodge Centre.

Pictures from day two of the ProAV Castle2Castle cycle challenge are HERE.