This time last year, I had just completed my longest bike ride – London to Brighton – which was 55 miles. I enjoyed it so much I signed up to the London to Paris ride. A big step up at 300 miles over four days of riding!
2016 flew by and 14 September was fast approaching! My training in earnest began in May and I managed to get out on the bike three or four times a week and began to really enjoy it. I continued to ride about 60 miles a week and put in one long ride from Oxford to Bath – I felt ready!
Day 1. London to Dover/Calais
I stayed at the Crystal Palace Youth Hostel the night before we set off – not the best night’s sleep ever! We were in the middle of a September heatwave and the forecast suggested a very warm ride to Dover ahead! At 95 miles, this was the longest ride of the four days – and don’t believe anyone if they say it is flat!
There were about 70 cyclists participating in the ride and after a safety briefing we set off at 0700. Cycling through London early in the morning is a great experience but I was happy to hit the countryside. I was long overdue a puncture and was duly rewarded with one on mile 10! Hopefully not a sign of things to come.
The organisation by Skyline Events was superb and our first experience of this was the drinks stop at 25 miles – jelly babies, drinks, snacks and everything you need. A mechanic was also always on hand. The day was heating up but we were making a steady pace and after an incredible, hearty lunch, we continued to eat up the miles. One further drinks stop and Dover was approaching. Our meeting point was a pub in town and I made it in good time, allowing for some relaxation (and beer) before boarding the ferry.
Once in Calais, we had a hairy night ride in convoy to our hotel for the night – my head hadn’t even hit the pillow before I was asleep!
Day 2. Calais to Abbeville
Another early start after a superb breakfast and about 75 miles to Abbeville. My legs felt a little stiff but as soon as I was back on the bike, they were fine. I met three riding companions on Day 1 and continued to ride with them for the rest of the trip – the miles flew by and the banter was top notch. The weather was kind, sunny but not too hot with light winds.
Suddenly we were in Abbeville as the rain began to fall. There were lots of hills but Day 2 really flew by. The whole group of 70 was really beginning to gel and the atmosphere was incredible. The age range was from about 20–70 and there were people riding in teams and as individuals for a multitude of great causes.
After a few more beers and a huge meal, I slept like a log.
Day 3. Abbeville to Beauvais
Some amazing countryside, but this was the toughest day of the lot with a strong headwind and miles and miles of farmland with no hedgerows. The legs were fine but today was all about pushing each other along (and racing the rain!).
We arrived into Beauvais just as the rain began again – we were timing it well. No incidents for me but one rider was knocked off his bike today – by an Alsatian dog! Quite a nasty fall but the support vehicle was there in seconds to help – a testament to the support we received throughout. The rider was bruised and battered but in good spirits.
Day 4. Beauvais to Paris
We were nearly there and you could feel it in the air! The spirits of everyone were so high today and it was great to be part of it. A much shorter ride today and much of it downhill! At the first drinks stop, the smiles were everywhere after a long, fast downhill run. After a relatively short ride through the outskirts of Paris, we stopped for lunch on the banks of the Seine and were briefed on the final approach into Paris.
After lunch, we all convened about 2 miles from the Eiffel Tower, put on our ride t-shirts and began the ride to the finish. We had a van at the front, a van at the back and slowly began negotiating the Paris traffic. As the Arc de Triomphe came into view, the reality of what we had done began to hit people and tears were flowing. The vans stopped the traffic on the roundabout and there was the Tower! Tears, crowds cheering, horns blaring – I cannot describe the feeling of elation that we felt as we reached the finish, it was something I will never forget.
After many photos, hugs and champagne, we set off on a short ride to our hotel for the night. We had a fantastic evening and enjoyed a superb celebration dinner. The next day, we spent a leisurely day exploring Paris (on foot) and enjoyed a long lunch at Sacre Coeur before heading to the Gare du Nord for our Eurostar back to London. Our bikes had gone on ahead and we would be reunited in London.
The whole experience was one of the best things I have ever done – I recommend it to anyone and everyone. There were people of all ages and all walks of life and everyone completed the ride. The support throughout was incredible with superb food, drinks stops, mechanical assistance and motivation.
It is not an easy ride but with some training it was utterly enjoyable rather than painful. I have made friends for life, I have raised money for an incredible cause, I got fit and loved every second of the adventure.