When David Walliams and his team of celebrities arrived at Land’s End at ten to seven yesterday evening a little under 82 hours after setting off from John O’Groats, you could have forgiven them for jumping into the nearest bath to soak their battered and in some cases bruised bodies, then find a bed for some much-needed shuteye.
With the riders – besides Walliams, the team comprised Fearne Cotton, Davina McCall, Miranda Hart, Patrick Kielty, Jimmy Carr and Russell Howard – greeted by friends and family plus a sizeable press contingent, however, there was little prospect of their being able to slip away unobserved, especially with their arrival coinciding with the news that they had hit their target of raising £1 million for Sport Relief.
Team leader Walliams, whose fiancée Lara Stone was waiting at the finish line, said: "It has been an amazing challenge, so much harder and more gruelling than any of us thought it would be. To have raised a million pounds in four days is a fantastic thing - thanks so much for everyone who sponsored us, it kept us going."
In the spirit of the captain leading from the front, Walliams had undertaken the 1,000-mile journey’s toughest climb, the Kirkstone Pass, alone and in the middle of the night amid sub-zero temperatures, the one in four gradient taking its toll with the Little Britain star crashing to ground as he ran out of strength to turn the cranks. Undaunted, he got back on and completed the climb.
Meanwhile, on her blog, Big Brother presenter Davina McCall described being emotionally reunited with her family as they passed her in a car while she was riding her final solo leg of the trip.
“I hear a car honking its horn and someone shouting ‘Davina’ at the top of their voice,” said McCall. “I look across and it was Matthew [her husband] and a bunch of my friends in a car! I can tell you that it is really hard to cycle and blub at the same time. Simply the best feeling ever, I had no idea he was coming and it was just a great moment.”
But there was more to come. “Suddenly there was more beeping and another car this time with all my children in it shouting ‘Mummy’. Suddenly I was a Tour De France cyclist going at 90mph to get back to the bus to give them a hug. I arrived and we all melted into each other’s arms.”
The weather in Devon and Cornwall yesterday was in sharp contrast to the first leg of the four-day ride, which had seen blizzards and temperatures plummeting to 15 below zero as the team rode through the Scottish Highlands, and one of the experienced escort riders accompanying the celebrities had to abandon after he started showing signs of hypothermia.
The team’s trainer, Professor Greg Whyte, who competed in two Olympic Games as a modern pentathlete, said: "Riding in that kind of temperature at night poses serious risks - it's potentially deadly. No one would have batted an eyelid if they'd have said, let's call this off. But they didn't and I'm amazed at how absolutely no-one wants to let the team down."
Although the £1,000,000 fundraising target has been reached, including £250,000 through BT’s Chat for Change Day, £100,000 raised by Peter Jones from Dragons’ Den and £330,000 from Radio 1 listeners, the team have urged the public to keep donating, and you can do so by visiting their page on the Sports Relief website.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.