Monday 21 October 2013

Three days as a professional cyclist

About eight weeks ago I got an offer I really, really couldn't refuse.

"Would you like to spend three days riding your bike? Working days? Paid working days?"

Um... yeah... What's the catch?

"100 miles a day for three days!"

Well, sure. That's not too much of a stretch.

"Fully supported, catered, good hotels, transport back from the finish?"

I said yes didn't I?

"In October. It'll almost certainly be terrible conditions. Wind, rain, fog, cold."


"Free jersey!"


"And you can use it as a way of raising money for your favourite charity and publicising the very excellent JustTextGiving service!"

Double yay! (I apologise at this point for the use of "yay" in what's generally a vaguely intelligent blog. However I feel that it's justified this time to represent how excited I was by this opportunity.)

Some background. The company I work for supports a service that allows small charities and members of the public to take donations in the form of a text message from a mobile phone. So if you want to raise money for say, Air Ambulance, and you're doing a bike ride from Newbury to Manchester you can set up a personal code that will allow people to donate to your cause simply by sending a text - with the donation being paid via their mobile phone bill or prepaid account.

Like this.

UK Mobiles Only 
For the past two years we've been encouraged to set up a personal JustGiving page and ask people to use the text donation service - with the incentive of a company donation of £100 if we manage to raise £100 through text donations. Last year people did all kind of crazy things but there wasn't much organised to help people who couldn't really think of anything to do.

This year, some bright spark came up with the idea of the Big Bike Challenge - a company organised ride with options for all abilities - 30 miles, 100 miles or 300 miles. It would take in five company locations: Newbury, Bracknell, Newark, Stoke and Manchester. Three hundred people signed up to the challenge, including me.

I may have been first to sign up. Top 5 at least.

There were training plans published, encouraging emails, chatter on the internal forum and a general frisson of excitement leading up to last Wednesday. For me, and about 80 others, we had 300 miles ahead. For more normal people, a single ride of 30ish miles or 100 miles. Our office was buzzing with riders resplendent in their new (free) jerseys, slightly petrified at the apocalyptic weather conditions that had appeared that morning. However, we were distracted from our fear by the addition of Formula 1 driver Jenson Button.

Jenson was meant to be riding but a slight hand injury meant he could only wave us off. Quite frankly if he'd sacked off due to the weather we wouldn't have minded, it being mid-season and everything.

Gilets, arm-warmers and jackets were pulled on, Buffs buffed and we set off, with us 300 milers getting the honour of leading the ride out. The usual sportive activities took place, with most people pretending that they weren't trying to get to the front and some sizing up of everyone around. The first section, 30 miles to Bracknell, was mainly memorable for my inner turmoil regarding whether I should put on my rain jacket.

I hate rain jackets. It has to be really, really, really wet for me to put one on. I'll suffer in a gilet and arm-warmers for a long time before submitting. By that time I'll normally be so cold that I'll struggle to get it on and will spend the rest of the ride cursing my idiocy.

Thankfully it was only really, really wet.

We whizzed through the first feed station at Bracknell, stopping only for a flapjack and a whizz, and cracked on. Our little group was close to the front - there were only two people ahead - and we set a perfect pace to stay exactly under the worst of the rain. Exiting Marlow we spotted the ex-leading pair fixing a puncture and after pausing momentarily to check they weren't seriously in trouble we chugged up the only climb worthy of the name that day.

We were now down to three, and I just about hung on to the other two. Time passed. Legs burnt. Lungs exploded. Cycling in the rain isn't very exciting to write about.

The finish! We were greeted by the ever cheerful support team and were directed to the showers, coffee and cake that were provided. Sod that. There was a bar.

Guinness is a recovery drink
Others rolled in, with tales of suffering and daring-do. As is often the case with these events it was much tougher for the more casual riders - some were out 9-10 hours and had really done their sponsors proud. Punctures everywhere, bruised bums, aching knees and the odd minor crash.

Bus, hotel, showers, all you can eat buffet and a couple of pints. Two days to go.

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