Day 1 – Henley-on-Thames to Cheltenham
This is the big one!
In 2011 Ride2Raise managed an incredible, and emotional, ride for professional audio-visual providers proAV. It was memorable in many ways and will remain as one of our favourite challenges. It was a fantastic experience – as well as a hugely successful fundraising event on behalf of White Lodge Centre – for the 11 riders from proAV and some of their closest friends.
We were fortunate to be asked by proAV chairman Ray Phillpot to manage an even better ride for 2012, this time with 21 riders and a huge fundraising target, again for proAV’s chosen charity, White Lodge Centre.
As a corporate event things are a little different from our usual charity challenges. It’s as much about team-building as it is a ride to raise money for the charity, and Ray has cut no corners in making sure this is as good an event as it is possible to arrange. Everything about it has to be top class. Riders and support team will stay in the top class Hotel du Vin, both at the start/finish point in Henley-on-Thames and for the overnight stay in Cheltenham. Meals, at every stage, will be gourmet quality and masseurs have been arranged for the riders on both days of the ride. There will also be a Gala Dinner at the end of day 2.
However, none of this will have any impact on the money raised for the charity. Ray is an immensely generous man and he will be covering the cost of all of this to ensure the maximum amount of money will be donated to White Lodge Centre at the end of the ride. It’s a cause which means a lot to him and he’s done everything he can to maximise donations, and the riders will vouch for how much he has encouraged them to generate as much money as possible from friends, family and corporate sponsors.
No pressure then! This will be our biggest event to date. There’s been a lot to plan and organise and everything has to go perfectly. I don’t mind admitting that I’m more than a little nervous and I’m sure the rest of the Ride2Raise team are too.
Because of the number of riders we will run in two groups throughout the ride. Each will have its own Ride2Raise Ride Managers and support vehicle which will allow us to ensure a high level of safety and support, and an enjoyable experience for everyone involved. In the week leading up to the event, we’ve applied suitable graphics to the second vehicle and added a bike rack to carry a second spare bike. Both vehicles will carry a full set of spares, plenty of energy gels, snacks for the riders, water to top up bottles whenever needed and everything else we need to be ready for anything which might happen along the way.
The Ride2Raise support team of Ride Managers and Support Crew meet at HQ in Dorking at 6am, and with an hour’s drive to Dorking that means waking at 4:30 for me. I’m used to early starts on our challenges but I’m more used to getting home from a long night out at this time of day! No problem though, when I arrive both support vehicles are loaded up with everything needed and we just need to strap the spare bikes on to the back of both vehicles and head off for the start at Henley-on Thames, an hour away.
For the first time this year I’m reunited with Support Team driver and all-round good guy, Jules. I’m looking forward to revisiting our usual chats about life, love and relationships as we follow the riders around the country. The first thing we chat about on the way to the start is that the second support car’s not a patch on the regular Land Rover Discovery we’re more used to. Our car is a Land Rover Freelander, so by no means a bad car, but I think we’ve been spoilt by the larger Discovery. The car’s not perfect but it’s more than adequate for the job.
At the Hotel du Vin in Henley we’re greeted by a massive group of riders and their bikes. It’s nice to catch up with the guys who were on last year’s Castle to Castle ride but time is tight so I set up the mechanic’s bike stand and check over all the bikes before the start. Several bikes are tweaked, coffee and croissants are enjoyed, Ride Managers brief their teams and all the riders and support crew sign the huge signing in sheet we’ve had made as a memento of the event.
The preparations go by in a bit of a blur and soon, once goodbyes are said to the large gathering of friends and families, we’re ready to go.
Group 1 leaves the start point to start the proAV Cotswolds 2012. We’ve arranged the riders into two groups which we feel will consist of the faster riders in the second group and the slightly slower in the first group – starting 30 minutes earlier – in the hope that we will arrive at various points in the ride together.
Jules and I are with the second group and as usual, once we’ve left the start point it takes us a little while to find the route on the Garmin 800 navigation system. After a quick unplanned detour round the one-way system we’re soon behind the riders and on our way.
The ride groups are large by our standards, consisting of 12 riders including Ride Managers, and with all proAV riders wearing their beautifully designed and very eyecatching jerseys they are an impressive and unmissable sight on the road.
With so many riders we expect to have to deal with a few things throughout the day, particularly near the start, and there’s a good chance we’ll have to deal with punctures from time to time. Sure enough, within the first 10 miles we experience the first puncture of our group. It’s quickly repaired and coincidentally, Richard, who is driving the support car for the first group, calls us to let us know that Jonathan in his group has also experienced a puncture in the first few miles.
While we repair the puncture we learn that Mike, one of the riders, is suffering some calf pains as he rides. Now, we don’t want to embarrass Mike by explaining why he’s on a new bike which he’s not used to riding (although you may want to ask him about roof-mounted bike racks and low hanging entry restrictions…) but we make some minor adjustments to his riding position before we set off again.
All of the bikes on this ride are high spec and, hopefully, well serviced and reliable but the one thing we have no control over is punctures. Not long after the first punctures of the ride Jules and I pull in behind group 2 who are stopped at the side of the road to repair another. This time it’s Simon Heron – Creative Director of proAV’s design and website partner, 3 Men & a Suit – who needs some assistance.
All cyclists get used to repairing punctures or replacing tubes but it would be fair to say we make a bit of a mess of this one! Initially the tube is replaced without problem but as we pump up the tyre, having removed the stone from the tyre which caused the problem, we notice that the hole it has created is quite large and the new tube can be seen through the hole. We decide that this is likely to cause more issues so we remove the tyre and tube again and fit a new tyre.
We re-fit the wheel but it immediately becomes obvious that we’ve trapped the tube between the rim and the tightly fitting new tyre and punctured it. Time to remove the wheel again and fit another new tube. This time we take even more care than usual.
We’ve all done it, I’m sure, but I’m annoyed with myself. I make no secret of the fact that I hate repairing punctures but I’ve done so many on my own bikes and as a Ride2Raise support team member that this should have gone a lot better. However, one new tyre, two new tubes and two attempts at refitting the wheel later we’re back on the road and finally all is well. I hope!
It’s important we get a move on. A lot of planning has gone in to the timings throughout this ride to make sure the two sets of riders meet up at various points along the way. However we don’t know how well matched riders are in each group and it soon becomes clear that we may need to switch a couple of them between groups to ensure everyone is happy at the pace they are riding. Our group is intended to be the faster of the two but we hear from Richard in the other support car that his guys are making very good progress. So far, we’re not.
We make a couple of stops during the morning to top up water bottles and supply riders with snacks to keep them going. At each stop we make minor adjustments, usually to saddle height, to help riders achieve the most suitable riding position. It’s something we’re used to doing on our challenges. Often riders who are not used to the distances or climbs involved in a long distance ride – day 1 will be around 80 miles with some tough climbing – find that a small adjustment makes a huge difference to their riding comfort, and we always keep a close eye on riders to see if we think they could benefit from such changes. We can tell a lot by following riders on the road and sometimes we spot things which can cause major problems.
Once our initial puncture issues are resolved pace picks up for group two although we’re still some way behind the first group. In fact they are almost at the first scheduled coffee stop at the Appleford Kitchen and Bar in Abingdon.
We’ve heard from Richard that his group has some riders who may be better suited to the faster second group and we know we have a couple who would certainly work better in the first group so as we get within 5 miles of the coffee stop Jules and I head off to the Appleford Kitchen and Bar ahead of the riders to discuss strategy with Richard.
When we arrive, Group 1 have been there for some time and are almost ready to leave. By now our group should only be 10 minutes or so away but we decide to leave things as they are for now to avoid complicating things.
Group 1 have been riding extremely well so far. They all look like they’re having a great time and they’re keen to keep up the good spirit which is growing among them.
I also sense there’s a slight element of competitiveness starting to show when they decide they can’t wait for our group any longer and file back on to the road, almost in formation. Ray has a big smile on his face. I think after months of organisation, and the stress of making sure everything comes together to make this a successful event, he’s a little relieved that all of that is over and the proAV Cotswolds 2012 is actually underway. He’s in Group 1 today but he’s planning to alternate between the groups so he can spend some time riding with everyone involved.
Jules and I wait for Group 2 to arrive. We didn’t get time at the start in Henley to grab any breakfast and things have been quite manic so far this morning so we’re both starving. We order a sneaky bacon sandwich. We know we probably won’t get time to eat it before the riders arrive and it will be cold by the time we get a chance but the coffee and biscuits which we have lined up for the riders just won’t cut it for us at this stage.
Bacon sandwiches arrive and we stand looking down the road for our group as we eat them. Surprisingly there’s still no sign of our riders when we finish them and we are a little concerned that something may have happened. We consider jumping back in the car and re-tracing the route but finally the train of proAV jerseys appears in the distance with Ride Manager Dave ‘the sheep’ Townson at the head.
Another puncture and some variation in pace within the group are the reasons for the delay but as riders relax with their coffee and biscuits we notice that the nerves which had been noticeable in the early stages of the ride have settled and everyone seems to be having a good time.
With a few miles under their wheels riders are becoming aware of any problems with their bike setup and we make a few more tweaks to saddle heights. We also need to sort out some cleats which had been ‘set up’ by a well known bike shope before the ride… The adjsutments should improve slight aches and pains but we’re a little baffled about what to do about rider Aury Sacre’s graphically described “arse pain”.
He’d mentioned it earlier in the day and we’d lowered his saddle slightly but watching him ride from behind we honestly felt that his saddle shouldn’t go down any lower without causing other problems so we tell him we’ll, errm… keep an eye on his arse!
Soon Group 2 are ready to set off again but the delay before the stop and the work we’ve had to do to bikes and riders means Group 1 is now some way ahead and riding well. The plan was for the respective pace of each group to allow them to arrive at the lunch stop pretty much together, but with the obvious competitiveness of Group 1 and some problems for Group 2 in maintaining a higher overall speed that now seems unlikely.
No matter though. Back on the road we advise Aury that his hips are rocking from side to side as he rides. This is often a sign that the saddle is too high but as already noted we don’t think that’s the case here. However, the constant friction will be causing the pain he’s mentioned so hopefully he can modify his riding style a little to suit.
The scenery is superb in this part of the country, the weather is good and the ride is enjoyable. We’re on quiet lanes and country roads as much as possible – as always on a Ride2Raise challenge – and this allows us to ride in a kind of self-contained bubble free from outside distractions. Pace is better but every climb spreads the faster riders out from those who may be better suited to the first group a little. The riders at the back don’t want to hold up the rest of the group, and the faster riders are keen to maintain a decent pace, but until we can decide what changes to make to the groups, and find a good time to do it, things will remain the same.
Fortunately we haven’t encountered any really tough climbs yet although we know there are a few to come later in the day. For now we wind our way through the western outskirts of rural Oxford, eating up the miles on quiet and narrow ribbons of tarmac which bisect unbroken views of arable fields. We pass through desirable and only lightly developed areas which are sometimes spoiled, in my opinion, by huge gated and walled dwellings, through tiny settlement-like villages such as Filchampstead, and quaint rural oddities such as Swinford Bridge, which charges the grand sum of five pence for a car to pass over it. We hand over the cash gladly.
By now Group 2 are around 10 miles from the lunch stop and riding well. Everyone has accepted that the riders aren’t perfectly matched and it’s a much more organised group which is finishing the morning compared to the earlier part of the day.
Richard and I have been in contact by ‘phone pretty much constantly for the past hour trying to co-ordinate the riders arriving for lunch together but it’s not going to happen. We’re still well over half an hour away from The Old Swan and Minster Mill in Minster Lovell when Group 1 arrives there for lunch. They have ridden well and at decent pace and are all feeling good about themselves. There’s a lovely lunch laid on for everyone to enjoy and the setting is fabulous. As part of the de Savaray family portfolio, and with history going back almost 600 years The Old Swan and Minster Mill is superb in every way and shows Ray’s commitment to making sure everything about this challenge is enjoyable for the riders.
On top of that there’s a nice surprise lined up for everyone at the lunch stop. Two ladies who seem lovely on the surface have been employed to cause pain and discomfort for the riders!
Caroline Middleton and Lisa Clark from Caroline Middleton Sports Massage and LC Sports Massage Therapy respectively have their massage tables laid out in the garden and riders from Group 1 take turns to enjoy the work of these two lovely ladies. I’m told it’s great for easing the aches and pains of a tough day on the bike but from the moans, groans and cries of pain I hear when Jules and I arrive some way ahead of our group, as each rider goes through the paces, I wonder if this is more the kind of treatment Max Mosley might be used to…
Group 1 have been here some time by now and Group 2 are still a little way behind so unfortunately we won’t have a chance to swap riders between the groups here either. We decide to leave them as they are for the rest of today and make the changes for tomorrow.
This does give us a chance to catch up with any news and we discover that although Richard is very impressed with his group, and they have ridden really well and actually faster than the second group for most of the day, Ride Manager Christian has had to be quite strict with them on a couple of occasions to keep them riding tightly together. Christian’s such a likeable guy that he can get away with this and his ‘bollockings’ have gained him a good level of respect from the riders. It’s good Ride Managing as it’s important that all the riders know who’s boss, and also, point made, he and the others can happily laugh and joke about it.
Richard is concerned that one of his riders, Steve Giardina, who has been struggling in the build-up to the lunch stop, may have to call it a day and ride at least some of the afternoon in the support car. In fact he’s cleared some space in the car already, that’s how sure he is.
However, kneaded, prodded, stretched and twisted into shape by the masseurs, Steve is actually very keen to keep going. He’s fully refreshed and raring to go by the time Group 2 arrive for lunch just as Group 1 are preparing to leave. Once Tony Roseman has finished his pint that is.
Riders quickly exchange snippets of their morning’s ride as the groups swap places. Group 1 heading back out onto the road and Group 2 heading into the torture chamber otherwise known as the garden of the Old Swan and Minster Mill. Gradually the screams and the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from our riders are echoing round the garden again, causing some concern to other customers, but in reality everyone is enjoying the massage and the pains endured now should actually make the ride easier for the rest of the day, once knotted and tight muscles are relieved and relaxed.
I flip a handlebar stem to improve riding position on one bike but other than that there’s not much more to do than check tyre pressures. It’s a lengthy lunch stop with so many riders to work on and Caroline and Lisa have worked incredibly hard to massage 25 riders in a couple of hours. We can’t thank them enough and we wave them goodbye as Group 2 gathers bikes and riders together and hits the road.
We’re around 45 minutes behind Group 1 and my own competitive nature is keen for Group 2 to step up the pace to try and catch up by the end of the day. Realistically that’s unlikely. Everything is against us.
We had planned to start 30 minutes behind the first group, not 45, and we have a group of riders of differing speeds and abilities and a very tough and hilly 30 miles or so to the finish in Cheltenham. Also, Group 1 have ridden very well together so far, helped I’m sure by the fact that they have two strong Ride Managers in Christian and Adrian. Group 2 have struggled to gel as well on the road, although things are improving noticeably and Dave is starting to get the best out of his riders. Short of a miracle, catching them is not going to happen but we’ll continue to motivate and encourage them as much as we can.
Back on the road we’re having fun and everyone is riding well. The true beauty of the Cotswolds is all around us and the views are stunning. In the support car I always enjoy the wonderful scenery of the English countryside on Ride2Raise challenges. It’s a Friday afternoon and the difference between most of the working population of England preparing for their rush hour traffic-clogged journey home from the office and the remainder of our day is immense.
As we pass some impressive houses Jules and I speculate who might live in them. It’s a very desirable part of the country. However, our enjoyment of this part of the day is in contrast to the experience of the riders.
It’s getting quite hilly now. The hills aren’t long but they are certainly challenging. Lots of short but steep climbs mean our group are often fragmented. Aury and Dan in particular are struggling to keep up with the rest of the riders. We knew this was likely to happen and team spirit within the group is good. The quicker guys and the more proficient climbers are happy to wait for the riders to regroup but, again, it means that Group 2 can’t make up time on the first group as planned.
Having said that, Richard ‘phones to let us know that in his group, Jonathan – who had suffered a puncture in the morning – has had another puncture which also needed a new tyre and then, shortly after his puncture repair, he’d also had a light fall from his bike.
It wasn’t bad, a low speed fall which was caused by rubbing wheels with the bike in front. It’s more embarrassing than anything, but it’s never nice to fall off.
He’d actually fallen right in front of the car of two people who I haven’t mentioned yet but who are very much part of the Cotswolds 2012, Steph and Brook from 3 Men & a Suit. They are following the whole ride in a tiny VW to record the ride in professional quality video and photographs. Steph is driving the car and Brook is usually precariously hanging out of the tailgate or hiding in the grass somewhere capturing some fantastic footage of the event. They have a tough job to do and Steph is a little shaken by what’s happened, however Jonathan is fine and it’s quickly forgotten and they are soon back on their way.
Jonathan’s fall means we may have made up a little time on the first group but the terrain hasn’t changed, in fact it’s getting tougher as we get closer to Cheltenham and tiredness starts to show as riders close in on the finish.
We had planned a final stop for coffee and, possibly, ice creams around 10 miles from the finish but it’s getting a bit chilly and windy and there is rain in the air. Riders in Group 2 are still getting separated by the climbs so we stop for a quick top-up of water bottles and energy gels and decide that it’s best to push on to Cheltenham. We turn in to a road called, oddly, ‘All Alone’. I’m sure on the tougher climbs some of the riders feel that they are exactly that. They’re not, of course, and team spirit in our group is great, but I’m sure they would rather get to the comfort of the Hotel du Vin in Cheltenham than eat ice cream in the rain.
The ride through Yanworth and Withington, with streams and rivers alongside the road, is pretty but still tough with some of the climbs almost bringing the slower riders to a standstill. Within the group Clint has been an absolute superstar. He’s light and a very strong all-round rider. In particular he’s a very good climber and he’s been hanging back and helping the struggling riders by pushing them up the climbs with his spare hand! Dave has been strong and supportive of the faster riders in the group and Clint has helped a lot to make sure everyone makes it through the day. It’s a sign of the genuine camaraderie which is developing between the riders.
With less than 10 miles to the finish and riders topped up with drinks and snacks Jules and I know that we’ll soon need to get ahead of the group and head off to the hotel to get them all checked in to their rooms. We always like to get riders’ belongings into their rooms before they arrive so they can relax at the end of a tough day of riding.
However we are on narrow country roads with some tough climbs and passing the riders is difficult so we’re stuck behind them. It’s not a bad thing to stay with them to make sure everything is OK but when we finally get the chance we pass them and, having heard from Richard that Cheltenham is very busy, sprint off to the finish of day 1 at the Hotel du Vin in Cheltenham.
When we arrive Group 1 are in great spirits outside the hotel. They have really enjoyed the day and are already re-living it among themselves. One story of note is that Steve, who Richard was sure would be joining him in the car when we spoke at lunch, is a changed man. He’s been riding much better in the afternoon and is now something of the star of the group. It’s good to hear of the transformation.
It’s a nice gesture that instead of heading off to their comfortable rooms to relax and prepare for dinner everyone is hanging around outside the hotel waiting for Group 2 to arrive. It’s quite a wait. Although Jules and I had left them with only a few miles to go to the finish some of the riders had been tiring for a while and the terrain wasn’t getting any easier.
Once again Jules and I wondered if we needed to get back in the support car and re-trace the route to see if we can find them, but eventually the unmistakable sight of the lime green and black train of riders looms into view.
There’s a huge cheer from Group 1, probably because it means they can finally hit the bar, and all 21 proAV riders, the Ride2Raise Ride Managers and support crew and the friends and family who have come to greet them are reunited for the first time today. It’s been a good day for most of them, although the final 30 miles have been really tough.
The support team ferry 26 bikes into the secure room supplied by the hotel while riders head off to their rooms to enjoy their For Goodness Shakes recovery drinks, and relax before dinner. The bike room – following the hotel’s policy of naming rooms rather than giving them numbers – is actually called the ‘Sinner’s Enclosure’. It looks more like an expensive bike shop, or even an unusual art installation, with all the bikes neatly lined up.
I’m made aware of a few minor bike issues which will need looking at before the start of tomorrow but for now thoughts are of a shower and change of clothes before dinner. It’s been a tiring and occasionally stressful day for the support crew too so dinner and a beer or two are calling.
It’s an excellent dinner – Ray’s pulled out all the stops again – and a good opportunity to chat with people from the other group to see how things went. It’s also a chance for us to properly catch up with some of the riders we met on last year’s event.
Jules is much in demand from rider Danny Rogers. Or, perhaps more accurately, from his other half, Jane! We’d met Danny on the previous ride and he’d found Jules to be massively helpful. He’d raved to Jane about this and Jules has somehow become revered by her because of it. It’s rumoured that she even has a picture of him as her laptop desktop wallpaper even though they’ve never met prior to today. Jules laps up the attention and Danny continues to over-enthusiastically sing his praises, with Richard throwing in the odd joke as he’s know Jules for many years. There’s real man-on-man bonding going on at the end of the table and Jane wonders whether to leave her two heroes to it and just hang out with Richard.
Chatting to various riders I learn that Christian has maintained his strict regime all day. The early bollocking wasn’t the only one he dished out. He’s had to crack the whip from time to time, to stop riders from spreading all over the road or from leaving big gaps between themselves and the rider in front, but it’s helped keep Group 1 as a tight-knit unit and nobody’s complaining, in fact they’ve enjoyed it.
Another nice story comes from Danny who tells me that while Group 1 were having a puncture repaired early in the day he’d been chatting to some elderly ladies who were waiting at a nearby bus-stop. They had been unable to miss the large group of lime and black-clad riders, obviously, and asked Danny what the ride was in aid of. When they found out they all scrabbled around in their purses for some loose change and Danny came away with £1.50 to add to the pot for White Lodge Centre. Sweet!
Most of the riders are tired and ready for an early night. By 9:30 some are heading off to their rooms although at least one, Tony, is planning where to head for a nightcap.
Jules tries in vain to buy me a drink. It’s not like me to turn down a pint at the end of a long day but there’s a long list of bike adjustments to be made before bed so I’m off to the Sinner’s Enclosure to work before some much needed sleep. It’s been a long but hugely enjoyable day.
As always, the excitement of the event, and the number of things running through my, and – I’m sure – the other support team members’ and riders’ minds, means we’re up early and pacing around outside the restaurant ahead of its opening for breakfast.
Fortunately all the bikes which needed attention had been worked on last night so no mechanical work is required. Simon’s bike has a new rear tyre and his gears have been checked and adjusted slightly, Mark and Danny’s saddle positions have been tweaked slightly and Adrian also has a new rear tyre. We’ll just need to do the usual tyre pressure checks before riders set off.
At breakfast there’s a real buzz of excitement. We’ve decided to swap a couple of riders between groups to even things up a bit. Dan and Aury will join the first group and Richard will leave the comfort of the Land Rover Discovery and join Christian as a Ride Manager with them too. Adrian will come from Ride Managing with Christian to join Dave with the second group. This has stirred up a bit of the competitiveness which was hovering yesterday between the groups and everyone seems to be looking forward to the day.
Everyone except The Main Man, Ray, that is. He’s looking, and feeling, decidedly pale and unwell this morning, having been up most of the night err… let’s just say ‘being ill’.
This is a disappointment, both to Ray and to the rest of the riders. He’s feeling slightly better than he had a couple of hours earlier but it’s not looking too good, and because he’s reluctant to eat anything much at breakfast this will have a real effect on his strength and stamina for the rest of the day.
Ray’s determination, and his commitment to the ride, to White Lodge Centre and to the memory of his, and many of the other riders, good friend Chas Chasemore, who the ride is also in memory of, mean that he’s determined to at least start the day in the saddle, but we all expect him to finish it in the support car, through no lack of effort or ability on his part.
Another rider who is perhaps not at 100% just yet is Tony Roseman. I’m not sure if he did actually go out for more drinks after dinner last night, as he suggested he might, but when he arrives – last of the group – for breakfast, on his backside in a heap at the bottom of the spiral staircase leading to the restaurant, it seems like he might have only just crawled out of a club.
He’s blaming the fact that he’s wearing his cycling shoes and that the stairs are slippery but I, and the other 20-odd people from the group who are now cheering and making jokes at his expense are not totally convinced.
After breakfast the support vehicles are loaded up with riders’ bags, the Garmin 800s are fired up and all of the bikes are extracted from the Sinner’s Enclosure – quite a task in itself. Again the plan is for the first group to set off around 30 minutes ahead of the second, and the changes we’ve made to the groups should mean that we can achieve what we’d planned yesterday; for riders to arrive at the planned stops almost together.
Ray has decided to stay with the first group as it will be slightly slower than the second. He’ll see how he gets on as the day progresses and we all hope he can ride the whole day. It’s a little disappointing as he had intended to ride with both groups at some point, and I had been looking forward to spending some time with him on the event, but it’s entirely understandable given how fragile he’s feeling today.
With Richard now riding with the first group on the road, Jules and I are separated so Jules will be support for group 1, in the Freelander, and I’ll be support for group 2 in the Discovery. A win for me, although I’ll miss the banter with Jules. The switch of vehicles causes a small issue as riders from the first group stock up with snacks, drinks and supplies from the Discovery, which had been their support vehicle yesterday, before they set off, leaving almost nothing in the box of energy gels and snack bars for the riders in the second group. I’ll need to find a way to raid the supplies from the Freelander as soon as Jules and I can arrange it.
Group 1 say their goodbyes to friends, family and other riders and head off onto the roads of Cheltenham while the rest of us wait outside the hotel for around half an hour to give them a decent head start.
As is often the case in a built-up area our Garmins haven’t picked up the route yet so Ride Manager Dave goes for a short ride ahead of the start to kickstart the navigation system. While he’s away I realise that in the vehicle confusion at the start I’ve got both of the track pumps in the Discovery, something which will need to be rectified as soon as possible in case the first group get an early puncture.
Dave soon returns and confirms the initial direction we’ll be going and after a few more goodbyes the full quota of proAV riders are back on the road. Straight away I’m on the ‘phone to Jules to try to arrange a rendezvous so we can even up the supplies in the vehicles and also return the missing track pump, but it’s not easy. Almost immediately the route takes in some very challenging climbs and it’s essential that we stay with our groups in case of problems. Jules can’t afford to stop and wait for me to catch up and I can’t leave my group, but as ever Jules is on the ball and gives Steph and Brook in the 3 Men car everything I need and sends them back down the road to find our group and pick up the pump. Good thinking Jules.
For the riders it’s been quite a start to the day. With 80 miles ahead of them a gentle start would have been ideal. Instead the early climbs have been difficult and some of them – in both groups – have been really challenged. It’s nice to get into the rhythm of a ride before being faced with a steep climb but today there’s been no choice. This was never meant to be an easy ride but I’m not sure everyone was ready for the hills just outside Cheltenham.
Around an hour in the riders in my group stop for a breather. It’s also the chance for everyone to load up with the energy bars and gels they couldn’t get at the start of the day. If the first hour is anything to go by they’re going to need them.
Simon’s not very happy. He’d asked me to take a look at the gears on his bike last night as they were a bit noisy at times. On the workstand I’d found little or no evidence of this so had made just a minor tweak to the cable tension. Back on the road and under the extra power put through the drivetrain by a climbing rider, the noise is still there.
He explains that it only happens on the largest cog which tells me what I need to know. Ride Manger Dave and I quickly adjust the limit stop on the rear derailleur. It’s obviously been set just a little too near to the spokes and the noise Simon’s getting is the light brushing of the spokes as they pass the mechanism when it’s in the lowest gear.
Back on the road there’s more tough climbing as we head towards our first planned stop of the day at Bourton-on-the-Water but I get a big thumbs-up from Simon the first time I pass the riders. Clearly the noise has gone and he’s happy again.
The early part of the route may be tough for the riders but it’s also showing The Cotswolds at their finest. We pass through tiny villages joined by quiet roads framed by green fields and bordered by low flint walls. Also, as we pass through the lovely surroundings of Hawling, the evidence that the tough early climbs are coming to an end spreads out ahead of us. We’re looking down into sheep-filled valleys and can see tree-lined lanes snaking into the distance.
It’s a relief for the riders and I’m enjoying the sights and sounds of the quiet surroundings. We’re at the tail end of summer and it’s noticeable that the bright green and yellow canvas of the warmer months of the year is changing. Greens are becoming darker, yellows have turned to orange and the deep reds and purples more obvious in autumn are beginning to show in the foliage around us. It’s beautiful.
Suddenly I’m jolted from my poetic daydreams.
I’ve been hanging back from the cyclists and allowing them to get some distance ahead while I stop occasionally to take in the scenery, so I’m alone on the road as I round a blind corner and come across a mum with her bike and her two kids with scooters sitting almost in the middle of the road having a rest from their ride.
It’s baffling why they chose such a dangerous spot to stop. Maybe traffic is so rare in these parts that it’s a common occurrence but it’s left me a little shaken to think that I could have wiped out two generations in an instant.
Back on the road I soon catch up with the riders in my group and pass them so I can get ahead and guide them into the morning coffee stop at the Dial House Hotel just off the high street in Bourton-on-the-Water, a lovely village with a stream running alongside the high street and plenty for the large number of visitors to the area to see and do on a pleasant Saturday such as today.
When we arrive the first group are enjoying coffee and biscuits and relaxing in the deck chairs in the pleasant gardens. The changes we made to the groups at the start of the day have worked and both groups are riding well.
We learn that some of the riders in the first group had walked parts of the tougher climbs early in the day. It’s no surprise and nothing to be ashamed of but my group feel good about the fact that they’d all managed the climbs on their wheels rather than their feet. I sense the competitiveness of the riders showing itself again.
It’s a chance for the riders to catch up and talk about the first part of the day. Ray still doesn’t feel great but he’s doing better than any of us thought at breakfast. I know that he won’t quit unless he really has no choice and he’s ridden through the worst of it. This ride means a lot to him and his determination is an inspiration.
The Dial House Hotel is a nice peaceful place to stop for coffee. With the sun shining – as it has been all morning – and plenty of banter between riders it’s quite difficult to entice the first group away from the secluded garden and back on to the road. As they head off down the road, the impressive lime green and black train generates a lot of interest from the tourists and sightseers on the busy high street.
My group are now enjoying the coffee and biscuits and it’s clear that they are enjoying the day very much. I’ve been hugely impressed at the way they’ve been riding this morning. Bringing Adrian in to the group to help Dave has made a big difference. Between them they’ve managed to keep the group riding close together on the road with no stragglers and everyone has worked well together and pushed themselves individually. There’s a sense of pride and achievement which perhaps was missing yesterday.
As we leave the Dial House I set the car sat-nav for our lunch destination. It shows some nice twisty, winding roads through Little Rissington just ahead and all the way to Buckland Marsh, around 20 miles away, where the two groups will meet up for lunch. The sun is shining, it’s warm, the roads are quiet and it looks like it will continue to be a fantastic morning. I love this job!
Most of the time, life in the support car is relaxing. We drive slowly through quaint villages and on quiet roads away from life’s stresses. It’s a time to ponder life, to think through ideas, to enjoy and appreciate the English countryside. The rest of this morning is exactly like that. All the bikes are running well, riders have everything they need and I’m enjoying the moment.
Typical rural weekend life is going on all around me. Hedges and gardens are being trimmed, people chat over low garden fences and wave at our groups as we cycle by. As I follow a gorgeous vintage Bentley convertible through the twisting lanes and look across at the tall grass growing in the fields I allow myself that poetic daydream once again. I visualise the beautiful heroine of many romantic novels and films strolling through the grass in a white dress with a smile on her face picking flowers in the sun. I never do that when I spend the day in the office!
Back to reality, it’s been uneventful in group two since the morning coffee stop. They’ve continued with the impressive teamwork and efficient riding of the earlier part of the day and I have very little to do, just the occasional top up of a water bottle or handing over a snack to a rider in need of an energy boost.
Over in group one things are a little different. They are also riding well, and working together as a team thanks to some strict control from Christian and Richard but shortly after the coffee stop Ray had a fall from his bike. Fortunately it’s a light fall and he’s fine but it might be a sign that he’s not been 100% all day.
Then, a while later, Aury in group one got a bit too close to the edge of the road and got flipped into a hedge. Again, fortunately there’s damage only to his pride and he takes some stick from the other riders. Falls are rare on a Ride2Raise challenge although it shows how easily a pleasant ride can change.
We’re closing in on lunch time now. It will be at the Trout Inn at Tadpole Bridge, a locally well known and historic destination in a peaceful setting on the Thames Path.
Richard has warned Jules and myself in the support cars that he’s aware of a detour from the planned route due to some major road and bridge repair works just before the pub. The cyclists will be able to go through the road works to reach the lunch stop but the cars will need to take a fairly lengthy detour of around 10 miles as it’s in such an isolated spot.
Steph and Brook from 3 Men and a Suit have been following my group for a while to get some great footage of them. Although I’ve told them about the road works, they don’t have any idea of the detour route which I’ve programmed in to the car’s sat nav system. It’s not a problem, they can simply follow me around the lengthy loop to get back on the correct road. However, with Brook in the back of the tiny car with all his camera equipment they can’t quite travel at the speed I’m trying to maintain to arrive at The Trout around the same time as the riders. I find myself watching the little VW shrinking to a tiny dot in my rear view mirror every time I accelerate away from them as we take another turn, then waiting for them as I find the next turning we need to take. The narrow roads are bumpy and Steph’s doing her best to make sure Brook isn’t thrown around too much in the back of the car.
When we arrive at The Trout both groups have been there a while and are already tucking in to the excellent lunch and taking it in turns to ‘enjoy’ another massage from Caroline Middleton Sports Massage outside in the sunshine. Today she’s teamed up with her colleague Andy to help ease riders’ aches and pains and the moans and groans from the riders are echoing around the large garden again.
Lunch will have to wait for me. Rider Mark has a few issues with his bike. Gears are not changing smoothly, a brake is rubbing and he’s not very comfortable on it so I have quite a bit to do. Sure enough pretty much everything on the bike needs some attention and I’m surprised he’s got this far without the need for some work on the bike. Gears and brakes are adjusted and should now work perfectly and the handlebars are rotated from the odd position they’d been in to what will certainly be a more comfortable position. The rest of the ride should be much more pleasant for him.
By the time I’ve finished working on Mark’s bike and making minor adjustments to a couple of others the first group are ready to head off again. Ride Managers, Jules and I have a quick chat about plans for the rest of the ride. There will be another coffee stop mid-way through the afternoon then, as we approach the finish, we will need to bring both groups together to cycle the final few miles as one huge and impressive group.
Today has worked perfectly, with groups meeting up at each scheduled stop, so this should work out well. Also the groups certainly attract a lot of attention as they make their way along the roads so with all of them on the road as one large group it should be quite a sight as they wind their way in to Henley-on-Thames at the end of the day.
That’s still some 40 miles away though. After some jokey banter between riders group one are back on the road – once Tony’s finished his pint of course – and group two are motivating each other to try and catch them earlier than planned.
I grab a quick bite of lunch, although I miss out on the chocolate cake which is “to die for” according to some, then water bottles are topped up, snacks dished out and we set off after the first group.
Again my riders quickly establish themselves as an impressive group on the road. Riding two abreast and close together they’re like a single unit as they eat up the miles. The ‘snake’ I can see every time they take a turning ahead of me looks great. In fact in the early afternoon miles these guys are riding as well as I’ve seen, motivating each other and chatting and joking like only a group of workmates can.
I can’t single anyone out. Every member of my team have been exceptional and I’m actually proud to be part of the group. As we make our way through West and East Hanney, Steventon and on towards the afternoon coffee stop in Wallingford it’s as if everyone is part of a well-oiled machine. Every now and again we stop to quickly top up with water or for a quick breather but every time there’s just a quick regroup to check everything’s OK, a glug of water and a 30 second stop then we’re off again. They’re enjoying it and I’m sure thoughts and anticipation of chasing down group 1 later in the day are present too.
Group one are also going well. Some of the riders who had struggled yesterday have really turned things around. Steve, who had been almost a certainty to finish day 1 in the support car, has been amazing today. Something has changed in him and Ray has already made him ‘bravest rider of the event’ and promised him the Honeymoon Suite at the hotel tonight, earning him the nickname ‘Honeymoon Steve’. He’s so proud of this that it fires him up even more and Richard has to rein him in a little as he’s been riding too fast at the front for the rest of the group.
Richard Brookes was another who had found yesterday particularly tough and looked a possibility to finish the day in the car but he’s also surprised everyone, including himself, today.
We’re soon approaching the Market Place in Wallingford for the afternoon coffee stop. Group one have been there for a short while when we arrive so, again, the staggered start time at lunch has worked perfectly.
We spread ourselves out in the square outside the coffee shop so riders can stretch, relax and enjoy the sunshine and the attention of the shoppers in this busy market town. With two heavily signwritten support cars, 21 proAV riders all dressed identically and six Ride2Raise uniformed staff in the square we’re a hard bunch to miss.
Almost everyone is getting tired. In my poetic ramblings I’ve overlooked the fact that the ride has been pretty tough today. All through the day there have been plenty of climbs to conquer. Some have been short and sharp, others longer and less steep but all sap the energy of the riders and as we’re now around 15 miles from the finish, 65 miles have already been ridden since this morning.
Despite the tiredness we need to keep the stop short and get back on the road. There will be a large welcoming party at the finish and we don’t want them to have to wait around for too long before we get there. We gather the Ride2Raise Ride Managers and support team together to arrange a rendezvous point. We agree on Greys Green, around 10 miles away and five miles from the finish, for the groups to merge for the spectacular final 25-bike push to Henley-on-Thames.
Group one leave as group two are finishing coffees and biscuits. Water bottles are filled for possibly the last time today and we’re ready to go, just 10 minutes behind the first group this time as we need to catch them in around 10 miles. This has really fired up my riders and we set of at great pace after the others, still riding as well as ever.
I’m picturing an easy finish to the ride so I’m very surprised when, just five miles after the coffee stop, we round a right-hand bend and hit Berins Hill, the toughest climb of the entire two-day event.
Ernest Hemigway said that it’s by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. This seems a good example of that. I hadn’t remembered Berins Hill but the riders had recalled coasting down it at high speed near the start of the first day so knew they’d be sweating up it today.
It’s a brutal half-mile climb on a poor and gravel-strewn road surface. As I follow the riders at the back of my group at walking pace, and some actually walking, I notice that not all of the riders who are walking the hill are from my group. When I spot Jules at the side of the road in the Freelander it’s clear that in just five miles we’ve caught the first group. It’s no surprise really, this climb has brought them almost to a standstill and allowed my group to rapidly make up the ground.
The stronger riders from both groups help to get everyone to the top of Berins Hill. It’s no surprise that almost everyone had to walk some of it. Not the Ride2Raise Ride Mangers though. Described as ‘Thoroughbreds’ by Ray earlier in the day they have their own moment of satisfaction as they each conquer the hill.
At the top riders spend some time recovering. The remainder of the route will be reasonably straightforward so the decision is taken to merge the two groups together early and ride the final 10 miles as one huge group.
The sight and sound of the 25-rider group is incredible and eye-catching. Heads turn all the way to the finish as we ride past. Within the group emotions vary. For most there’s a huge sense of achievement. Almost to a man these aren’t the same riders who left Henley-on-Thames yesterday morning. They’ve learned a lot together in two days. About each other, about their own weaknesses and abilities and about how they deal with them.
For two men in particular it’s become very emotional. The ride has at its core a man I never met. Chas Chasemore. He was one of Ray’s greatest friends and brother of Richard Chasemore, one of the stronger riders on the proAV Cotswolds 2012. Sadly Chas was killed in 2010. He would have been 40 this year and he would probably have been on this ride too. Instead it’s as much a memorial for Chas as it is a fundraising event for White Lodge Centre, and a team building event for proAV.
Ray has been amazing today. From fragility at breakfast he’s kept pushing all day and ridden through whatever bug he had overnight. Now, just a few miles from the finish, he appears as strong as he’s been all through the event. He is encouraging and congratulating everyone and, despite the obvious emotion, really enjoying the moment.
We pass through Greys Green – our originally planned rendezvous point. The final segment of the ride should be simple. However, having ridden almost without problems for most of the day the group experiences two punctures in the final five miles. It’s frustrating with the end so close but does nothing to dampen the spirits of the riders. They can relax a little as the finish is almost in sight. Ride Manager Christian deals with both the punctures in the same way he’s dealt with everything on this ride. No nonsense. He jumps off his bike, grabs the crippled bike from its rider, whips the wheel from the frame and the tube from the tyre, almost in one movement, and before anyone has had the chance to catch their breath he’s ushering the large group back on to the road again.
There’s a lot of traffic as 50 aching but adrenaline fuelled legs ride into Henley. The late punctures and the sheer size of the chain of riders on the road have meant that I haven’t been able to get ahead of them and sprint off to the finish to advise the well-wishers of their imminent arrival, and to set myself up to take some photographs. As it’s such a big group the Ride Managers make sure the group isn’t split up at traffic lights and junctions and we turn into New Street and then the courtyard of the Hotel du Vin as one large group with me at the head to the cheers of the large crowd of supporters, friends and families.
After 160 largely gruelling miles, the proAV Costswolds 2012 is finished and in the hotel courtyard emotions are running high. Expensive bikes are abandoned, there are hugs and quite a lot of tears – of happiness, satisfaction, relief and of sadness – and then there’s the champagne, laughter, cheering and congratulation which is fully and genuinely deserved by everyone who has taken part in this ride.
In the support cars it’s easy to overlook how much effort and determination is needed to complete a ride such as this. Fitness alone isn’t enough. We’ve seen evidence of that over the two days. Fit, lightweight, young riders have found this just as hard at times as those with a few more years, and a few more pounds, under their belts. They’ve worked together, encouraged one another, joked, laughed, suffered and succeeded as a group, not just as individuals.
Some have stood out as leaders, or grafters, or problem solvers, there are motivators and great team players. Nobody has just come along for the ride and as a corporate exercise Ray surely couldn’t have asked for more from his team.
In a typically generous gesture he has laid on a large Gala dinner at the hotel, and rooms for everyone to stay overnight. Wives and partners have joined us and as we gradually congregate in the bar after showering and changing it’s hard to recognise some of the people from the group. Glad rags are on and the lycra is forgotten, for a while at least.
It’s a fantastic way to end such a great event. On the road with these guys has been a huge amount of fun but it’s hard to really chat, and get to know them properly so this is a good opportunity to do just that.
The Hotel du Vin food is superb and the drink is flowing. Exhaustion is replaced by celebration of achievement and Ray, who has, over the course of the day, returned to his usual ebullient self, makes a speech to convey that sentiment. He singles out a few for special mention – King of the Mountains, Gary Sacre; riders Steve Giardina and Richard Brookes who had both looked spent at times; Simon Eade, an excellent and strong rider who joined the ride late on Friday after a difficult morning commitment elsewhere and, of course, Richard Chasemore, a relative latecomer to cycling but instantly strong and proficient and a huge part of what made this event such a success.
And what a success! At the time of the gala dinner £27,196 had been raised by the group for White Lodge Centre (see note below). It’s a massive amount and has exceeded expectations by some margin. Ray puts a massive amount of personal effort into the fundraising and has done for several years. It’s a genuine philanthropic commitment to a cause which means a huge amount to him. Congratulating everyone for playing their part in making this possible his emotions are obvious again so he hands over to Richard Brookes to say a few words.
Richard’s story embraces what participation in events like this are all about. He tells us how, as a ‘not very sporting’ man he’d been encouraged to get back on a bike – 33 years after he last rode one – by Simon Eade, with taking part in this ride as his aim. He didn’t think he could do it, and even having made it as far as the start he considered giving up at times, yet by the time we reached the final 20 miles he was overtaking other riders on the toughest of climbs.
The final speech is from Ride2Raise MD who sums up the event with a few pertinent statistics:
New Tyres: 3
Bollockings From Christian: 4
Falls Into Hedge: 1
Double Espressos: 37
Malt Loaves: 64
Energy Gels: 57
Recovery Shakes: 42
Upset Stomachs: 3
“Road Kill”s: 17
Female Masseurs Propsitioned Inappropriately: 3
Male Masseurs Propsitioned Inappropriately: 0
Rekindled Love Affairs Between Short Support Team Members and Ageing ex-Footballers: 1
That seems to sum up the event as well as anything.
This has been our second ride with proAV. We feel we’ve been warmly welcomed into a friendly environment and we’re proud and fortunate to have been part of what everyone agrees has been a memorable, enjoyable and life-changing event, and not only for the disabled children, young people and adults at White Lodge Centre who will benefit from the massive fundraising effort. Our thanks go to every single person who has been part of it.
NOTE: By the time of the presentation of the cheque to White Lodge Centre an incredible £30,158 had been raised!
proAV Cotswolds 2012 riders
Team Leader: Ray Phillpot
proAV Cotswolds 2012 Ride2Raise support team
proAV Cotswolds Ride Diary and Photographs
You can find all of our photographs of the proAV Cotswolds 2012 HERE.