Another early start for me as this weekend sees the Ride2Raise Olympic Ring ride for Dreams Come True start from Richmond Park on Saturday morning. I’m up at 5am and heading off to Ride2Raise HQ in Dorking by 6 to meet some of the other support team members.
This will be a large ride by Ride2Raise standards, with 15 riders plus two Ride2Raise Ride Managers. We’ll be running two groups of riders on the road, each with separate support teams in separate vehicles. This is partly the reason for the early start as we have some branding and supporter logos to add to the main support car and some magnetic graphics to promote the charity to apply to car no. 2. In addition we need to prepare a loan bike for a special guest who will be present at the start of the ride to see the riders off, and to generate some media interest in the ride.
At HQ I’m greeted by fellow support team members Richard and Jules. I’m looking forward to being back on the road with Jules, we did a couple of the rides together last year and we get on, and work, well together. Richard will head the other support crew with Christian, who arrives a little later.
My first job is to swap over the pedals on our loan bike. We need to put some basic platform pedals on it for our guest rider. It’s not a difficult job but Richard and Jules have decided to leave it for me to do. More precisely they have tried, failed, and given up! To be fair they were very tight and although it didn’t take me long to swap them over I have to admit a little of my blood was spilled on the floor. A little tip which I should have heeded, put the chain onto the big chain ring when doing this so you don’t catch your arm and knuckles on the teeth of the chainring!
A couple more pre-event jobs are done, bikes are strapped on to the back of the vehicles and we’re off to the start in Richmond Park.
Richmond Park is massively popular with cyclists and as we drive through the gates on a gloriously sunny and warm Saturday morning the number of riders of all ages and abilities already in the park is astonishing. There are fun riders, children, ‘all the gear and no idea’ posers and serious racers jostling for position with the numerous cars on the park’s fairly narrow road. It’s claustrophobic, crowded and, frankly, quite dangerous at times. Jules and I in support car 2 agree that we can’t understand the appeal of this as a desirable cycling venue when it’s like this.
We soon see that our charity, Dreams Come True, have erected two huge banners and commandeered a corner of the café to set up and greet their riders so we park the two support cars and set up our table for riders to sign in, collect energy bars, gels, sun cream and so on from or well stocked box. At this stage I would normally check over bikes as the riders arrive looking for low tyre pressures, brakes which need adjusting etc. Today, however, I have something else to sort out so I leave Christian and Aidan to check bikes as they arrive and I go off in search of our guest rider who I have just seen arrive.
The guest rider is none other than that famous name in the cycling world… Kerry Katona, the former pop star, jungle resident, tabloid press favourite, and now a Dreams Come True ambassador. It’s my job to make sure the bike we’ve brought along fits her, and to generally control the riders and Kerry to make sure everyone gets some good pictures. Dreams Come True’s PR company P-PR have arranged for some press photographers to be at the start and a press release will be sent to the media soon after the ride has started.
An article actually appeared in the Mail Online. See HERE.
Kerry is lovely and can’t do enough to help. She has brought her daughter Molly along too so a bike is sourced from the bike hire hut so Molly can be in the photographs as well. Everything goes smoothly and we are soon ready for the real start.
The first group of riders are setting off as I say thanks and goodbye to Kerry. By the time I get into the second support car to rejoin Jules and head off behind the second group I realise I don’t know any of our group’s names and don’t know what they look like. It’s a good job Jules is driving the car as there are hundreds of cyclists around us as we leave the park.
The plan for the two-day ride is for the first, slower, group to set off half an hour ahead of the second, faster, group. We should then reach the lunch stop at a similar time. After the lunch stop we’ll do a similar thing and hopefully finish the day at similar times again.
Once we’re out of the park there are a lot fewer cyclists around but traffic is quite heavy so it’s difficult to keep pace with the riders. By the time we reach Bushey Park Jules and I still haven’t seen our group of riders so they are obviously making good pace. We lose more ground on them here as the park is closed to cars, although the bikes can cycle through. Both support vehicles need to take a detour around the park and then rejoin the route on the other side. We carry the same Garmin navigation system as the riders so we can easily find the route again.
Timing for the first puncture of the ride couldn’t have been worse as in the middle of Bushey Park Simon, one of the riders in first group, gets a puncture and unfortunately nobody in the group is carrying a spare tube. It’s a silly oversight as we usually make sure that riders are carrying spares. Hey, we all make mistakes and we won’t make this one again!
Christian and Richard in the first support car have to retrace the detour and head into the park to supply an inner tube.
After Bushey park the riders head through Hampton Court, Walton, Weybridge and on towards Dorking and the Surrey hills. Along the way the second group have caught and passed the first and two riders, Gary and Adrian, from the first group have now joined the second as they are both very strong riders and riding well. The pace of the second group is much more suitable for their riding style.
Our second group is riding well and at good pace. We have opened up quite a gap over the first group so we take the opportunity for a quick stop as one of the riders needs to take a look at one of his cleats. We are maybe 10 miles from the first climb of Box Hill so it makes sense to sort it out first. It turns out to be just a small stone causing the problem but an ice cream van pulled into the layby at exactly the same time as the riders so we decide to stop for a while and relieve him of a few ’99s.
The group head off at speed just as the first group reach the same spot so this has worked well at closing the groups up again. No ice creams for the second group though as they carry on without stopping.
Jules and I chase after our group and they are making great progress again. It’s clear that there is still some difference in pace between Gary and Adrian and the others and they are encouraging Ride Manager Aidan to up the pace even more. At times this means the group gets a little spaced out so we stay at the back of the group to make sure there are no problems with those at the back. We stop after a few miles to regroup before tackling Box Hill, our lunch stop.
Box Hill is well known among cyclists in this part of the country but the riders on this challenge are not local so it will be a new experience for them. It’s not the toughest climb of this ride but it is challenging and everyone is pleased to make it to our lunch stop by the viewing platform at the top. Jules and I fetch the lunch from the car and we spread ourselves out on the grass for a pleasant lunch with a spectacular view.
The first group soon join us at the top for lunch and everyone has good reason to feel happy with a good morning’s ride and a successful climb up Box Hill. It’s my first chance to meet a lot of the riders as I hadn’t seen them at the start of the day.
With lunch over we top up riders’ water bottles, hand out energy gels and set off again. The afternoon will be around 35 miles and it’s a hot day so energy and fluids will be very important. After only a few miles we stop again to top up a water bottle which is a bit of a surprise but it turns out that a pothole has caused one of the riders to lose his water bottle which was then run over by a car so it needs refilling. At this point we decide to split our group a little. Jules and I will lead Gary and Adrian around the route at the pace they want to ride and Aidan will stay with the rest of the group so we don’t get too spread out. This works well and Gary and Adrian are impressive to watch as they pound away behind us at 20mph! They don’t know the route so we are making sure they spot when we take a turning and follow us round.
This works well until a slight glitch means that we take a slightly wrong turn and lead them off on an extra few miles. I’m not sure they are too happy with the extra miles but once we are back on course it works out OK and we rejoin the rest of our group, who got ahead of us when we took our unplanned detour.
The group continue together for a few miles with Gary and Adrian sticking with them so, as we’re only a few miles from the overnight stop in Dorking and our group are all back together, Jules and I decide to head off to check the riders into their hotels for the night.
The last few miles will be tough for the riders. Leith Hill in particular is long and steep. It’s one of those climbs where even the act of breathing hard because you are getting tired tires you out even more. We’re fairly confident that our group will be fine but some off the less strong riders in Richard and Christian’s group may well struggle.
The route to the overnight stops in Dorking takes us past the site of Coldharbour village fête which is very busy and the number of parked cars around the area makes safe passage through the area quite tricky. There is a slight irony in the huge number of cars lining the road to visit a fête raising money to oppose a planning application to explore for oil or gas in the Surrey Hills but that aside, our riders will need to take care through this section.
Jules and I check the riders bags into their rooms in the two hotels we are using for the overnight stop, The Mercure White Horse in Dorking high street and the Mercure Burford Bridge near the base of Box Hill. Both excellent hotels and highly recommended by the Ride2Raise team.
As we finish this task we get a call from Aidan to tell us that Gary and Adrian have broken away from the group and he doesn’t know where they are. This is a slight concern and we consider driving back towards Leith Hill to track them down but we needn’t have worried as they are soon tracked down to the bar in the White Horse enjoying a well-earned drink. It’s been a tough day in the saddle.
The other riders arrive back at their hotels and begin to unwind before dinner. Already we can sense that everyone has enjoyed the day and we learn that both groups made it up Leith Hill – the second highest point in south east England. It’s a great effort, it’s a hill that really tests cyclists and some of ours are quite inexperienced at long distance riding.
Over dinner we get a chance to get to know the groups a bit better and conversation covers cars, football, music… almost anything other than another tough day of cycling to come tomorrow. We do learn that half of the riders will be undertaking a number of fundraising events in the near future with the aim of raising £100,000 for various charities, including Dreams Come True, in the coming months. Read more about Project 100K HERE.
Day 2 – Sunday May 27 2012
After an excellent breakfast in each of the hotels spirits are high among the riders and everyone is enthusiastic about the day. After a couple of minor adjustments and tyre pressure checks the bikes are retrieved from the secure rooms provided by the hotels and we congregate outside the Burford Bridge ready for the off.
The first group do the same at the White Horse and they set off around half an hour ahead of our group again. For the morning Christian, who has been in the support vehicle with Richard, has collected his bike and has joined the ride so the group has an extra Ride Manager to help the riders. The route takes riders past Ride2Raise MD Richard’s house so Richard’s wife Anna and his children enthusiastically cheer riders on as the pass the end of the road. It’s a funny and unexpected boost for the riders.
Our group collects Gary and Adrian as we pass the White Horse a little later. Because their pace has been considerably higher than the other riders we have loaded the route files onto their Garmin so they can ride at the pace they prefer without needing the support car to lead them.
We learn that Richard has been pulled over by the police close to the start of the ride. It is a very busy day in the Surrey Hills for cyclists and there are a number of organised events taking place on the day. He is advised by the police not to tail the riders as this may cause unnecessary delays for other road users. While this is fair and understandable the riders had only just pulled away from a stop and he wasn’t actually tailing them at the time but we all know it’s best to ‘bite your tongue’ when talking to the police so Richard tries not to argue too much. We don’t want our support car drivers arrested!
Early in the morning we come across a very high speed event with outriders and officials stopping traffic to allow the event to pass. It’s an awesome sight as a hundred or so competitive cyclists hammer past our car at full pelt.
Jules and I continue after our group of riders. We haven’t seen them since the start although we know they are not far ahead. However it soon becomes apparent that we have a slight issue with the support car and it is overheating. We stop for a while to let it cool and call Richard to advise him that he will need to monitor both groups for a while. We decide that it’s best to take our vehicle straight to the lunch stop and wait for the riders to arrive there. It gives us time to make sure that everything is in place for a relaxing lunch stop.
Unfortunately this means it is difficult to report on how the ride goes in the morning but we are in constant contact with the other support car and we soon learn that there has been a slight incident. Two of the riders, Gulnaar and Bart, have made contact. Bart has ended up in a hedge and Gulnaar has a scraped elbow which requires minor first aid. Richard is proud of the fact that he has been able to call his St John Ambulance first aid training into practice. Fortunately it is very minor and after a brief stop everyone is able to carry on, with Gulnaar now sporting a plaster to legitimise her battle scar.
The rest of the morning’s ride passes without further incident. It’s a pleasant loop around Surrey’s picturesque lanes with a few tough climbs to challenge the riders but everyone is coping well and enjoying the ride. Jules and I have a nice area set aside for lunch which will be back at the Burford Bridge hotel. We can’t thank the hotel enough for really looking after us on this ride. It’s probably their busiest weekend of the year but nothing has been to much trouble and they have prepared packed lunches for all the riders to enjoy.
Gary and Adrian arrive some way ahead of the rest. Adrian has a slight injury from one of those embarrassing low speed falls when manoeuvring a bike and losing balance but it’s minor and needs no further treatment. The others arrive a little later and it’s a good chance for everyone to relax and enjoy lunch in the sun before the final push to the finish in the afternoon.
We decide to put all of the support team into one vehicle for the remainder of the challenge so luggage and supplies are loaded up and we’re soon off again for the final 35 miles to the finish back at Richmond Park. The route takes riders back up Box Hill again early in the ride and everyone makes it up again without the trepidation of yesterday. It’s never easy but this time the riders know what to expect and there are no problems. Some of this group of riders have very little long distance riding experience so it’s impressive to see them taking on the Surrey Hills and parts of the Olympic route with little concern.
Having said that, it is clear that the heat – it’s the hottest weekend of the year and the sun has been beating down on the riders constantly – is really sapping energy. Each time we stop we remind the riders that there are only a few miles to go. With 20 miles to go maybe that’s not very fair but as we count down, 15… 10… 7… 5… it helps riders to focus on the finish and their achievement. There is no question that 150 miles in two days, taking in some of the toughest hills in south east England, is a huge achievement even for experienced riders so for some of this group it’s massive.
It’s huge testament to all of the riders that the rest of the afternoon passes with such ease. Riders are enjoying each other’s company and encouraging anyone who seems to be flagging. Each time we stop to replenish water bottles or distribute energy gels the camaraderie is evident and good to experience. It’s clearly getting tough but nobody is going to give up now, we’re nearly there!
After one final stop to regroup the riders a few miles from the finish we head off in the support car to prepare for the finish. The roads leading to the finish are clogged with traffic and Richmond Park is massively busy again but we find a suitable area to set up the Dreams Come True banner and soon the first group arrive to our huge congratulations with the second group not far behind.
The Dreams Come True Olympic Ring challenge is over and every single one of the riders has come through this testing challenge with flying colours. Everyone involved, from Kerry Katona at the start to every single one of the riders, has made this a very special event.
It can be difficult to receive sponsorship from friends and colleagues for taking on a challenge like this but we can’t overestimate how tough eight hours in the saddle, for two days, on some of Surrey’s toughest hills, really is. It’s something for every one of the riders to feel very proud of. The champagne celebration at the finish is well deserved. I didn’t get to know the riders very well, it’s difficult with such a big group, but I do know that they all deserve respect for their efforts.
You can view all of our photographs of the Dreams Come True Olmpic Ring ride HERE.