What makes EPIC? Is it distance, is it climbing, or is it a state of mind? As I buckled up my helmet sitting atop Greenwich Observatory my mind turned to the challenge ahead; London to Paris in 24 hours with Sophie Radcliffe, aka @ChallengeSophie. After my recent crash this was to be my first long ride of the year, I’d just spent a few days in Dorset with the good folks at OntheRivet cycle retreats (review to come soon!) so I knew I was good for 80k of riding, but this was to be closer to 300km, and whilst I’d normally have despatched a ride of this distance with a a chipper smile, I was unfit and still struggling from a broken collarbone - so whilst it wasn’t necessarily a trip into the unknown, I was certainly a little apprehensive about the ride ahead.
With 75 riders ready to set off the atmosphere was one of excitement and nerves, many of the riders apprehensive at the coming day, having never ridden anywhere close to this distance. One thing that really stood out from the typical sportive type event was the gender mix, Sophie had managed to get a 60/40 split of male/female, and this mix really showed during the ride, less testosterone (but it was still there), more chat and generally a sociable mood - I must say how pleasant it was to ride with this mix, less competition, more companionship.
The weather decided to play its usual games with us, and by an hour outside of London it was starting to rain, this delightful state of affairs carried on until about 20 miles outside of Paris, thankfully it was never particularly cold (No such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing etc).
Anyway, back to EPIC! By the time we had covered the first 100km down to Newhaven we had ridden over the North and South Downs, got pretty soaked, and had descended into darkness as the night beckoned (I've got to give a hearty Holla out to LED Lenser who provided some particularly awesome front lights (the XEO19R) - 2 beams, both adjustable, multiple patterns, great battery - brilliant bit of kit for sure!!). There were some very tired faces as we attacked the menus of the local Beefeater, tired faces, sorry bones and weary smiles.
Already at this stage this was the longest ride ever for some of the participants, thankfully for me it was a nice leg-stretcher and I felt I could have cycled across the Channel at the time, not so some others. Cake-walk thought I, massacre felt they.
The ferry brought a few hours away from the rain, chance to get changed into warm and dry and grab 40 winks, well it would if you remembered to bring your bag, as it was mine was still in the support van and I spent the crossing rueing that foolishness!
Disembarkation brought with it the promise of dawn and after a feed and Powerbar grab, we set off again, once more into the rain, but this time it was French rain, and <insert casual Xenophobic comment in this bit about surrender and/or mustard> that meant there was a tinge of EPIC to it as we were no longer heading to the coast but to Paris.
Whilst the route to Newhaven ensures you can’t escape hills, riding Dieppe to Paris I was pleasantly surprised to find only 2 (proper) hills along the 200km route, they both arrived as we neared the capital, sucker-punching those who had forgotten about them. Instead of hills you are treated to meandering French roads, ancient villages, wind-swept scenery and dwellings carved out of white cliffs (for the life of me I’ve no idea where this was, it was however flipping cool!).
Sophie did a great job putting the sportive together, with excellent signposting and well-placed and stocked food stops throughout the whole 300km route. At the first stop in France, Kati (my travelling companion) left about 5 minutes before me as I was busy fettling - so I rode on in the hope that I might catch her, as it turns out I didn’t, and she later arrived in Paris a full 70 minutes ahead of me (Kati did the Bryan Chapman Memorial t'other weekend, so I was schooled AND chicked at the same time).
But ride on I did, completing the next 70 miles pretty much by myself. This was good, easy miles of solitude and riding, listening to my body as it did it’s longest ride since my fall, going past Troglodyte caves and Monet scenery without a care in the world. There was wind (rule 5) and there was rain (rule 9), but as the day wore on, these left and sunshine arrived (as did my one puncture) as the outskirts of Paris arrived.
Due to the stop-start nature of the Paris ‘burbs I joined up with a couple of other riders and we cruised in together, all searching the horizon and the opening vistas for a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. Check out the Rapha overshoes of one of the riders, the fluro pink was visible from a jolly long way away, bobbing up and down, brighter than the lights on the bike!
So, Paris is big, like London big, and despite the possibility of getting lost the route was still brilliantly signposted which meant that as a rider all I had to do was follow the arrows right up to the tower itself, from a rider point this was perfect, totally minimising the ‘thinking’ i needed to do, allowing us to just enjoy the ride and the experience of riding the distance.
Whether your body and mind views 300km as EPIC or not, as the Eiffel tower looms ever closers there’s that feeling of glee that fills your mind - objective achieved. For those that had nursed achey knees or sore posteriors those feelings left to be replaced by euphoria at the realisation that their challenge had been completed, all those months of winter riding had been for a reason after all.
Photo’s were taken, families were called, pictures were tweeted and ‘grammed. Now to eat, to drink, and to be merry!
(except for this one fool, he took his bike into his hotel shower, gave it a good clean, put on some fresh kit and went for a ride around Paris, just because!)
Many thanks, and bloody well done, to ChallengeSophie for a top event!
Photo credits (the good ones anyway) to Dean Alexander