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Mark Cavendish launches Right To Play's 2012 Bike Ride from Liege to London

Watch the TDF Prologue, then cycle through Flanders and Kent to the Olympic Park - via Box Hill, if you're up for it...

Right To Play, the charity that uses play and sport to help transform the lives of disadvantaged children around the world, yesterday launched its fourth annual bike ride with the help of brand ambassador, Mark Cavendish. The 300-mile ride starts in Liege the day after the Tour de France prologue is held there on Saturday 30 June, and finishes in London’s Olympic Park three days later.

Along the way, there are 300 miles of riding through Flanders and Kent, with overnight stops in Ghent and Calais, and there’s also an option for the keenest riders to extend their journey by 40 miles on the final day with a detour to Box Hill, less than a month before it hosts the London 2012 road race in which Cavendish hopes to win the first gold medal on offer at London 2012.

Entries are open from now until 15 June next year, with a deposit of £150 securing you a place, and each rider commits to a minimum sponsorship of £1,000, or £850 for those involved on last year’s ride.

Three night’s accommodation is provided, including Saturday night in Liege after participants have watched the Tour Prologue, as is breakfast, lunch and dinner on each day and full mechanical support.

Supported by Specialized, which hosted the launch of the ride at its flagship store in London’s Covent Garden yesterday, you can find full details of the ride on the Right To Play website.

Speaking to people from Right To Play at the launch, it’s clear that unlike some spokesmen for whom charity endorsements are simply another part of sport’s PR machine, Cavendish, himself due to become a father in the new year, is a committed and passionate supporter of the cause. Moreover, his support dates back to long before he won the Tour de France green jersey and world championship.

“I’ve been a Right To Play Athlete Ambassador for a number of years,” Cavendish explained, “and I still get excited about the work they do and events they run to fund this work. Right To Play’s 2012 Bike Ride is no exception to this and I was happy to help launch the ride. If you are looking for a challenge in 2012 this ride is for everyone – sign up today to Right To Play’s ride and support this great charity.”

In a question and answer session compered by BBC TV presenter John Inverdale, Cavendish revealed the background to his involvement with the charity. "Everything I say is from the heart, everything I believe in is from the heart, I don’t just do things for attention or commercial gain or whatever.

"I first met Right To Play when T-Mobile changed to High Road, I bought into Right To Play straight away with what they do. It wasn’t just about them working with the team and I started working on a personal level, I wanted to know more and I’ve always been a massive supporter since.

"It’s so easy sometimes to look at a charity and you don’t know you can’t really relate to it," he continued. "You can give money but one, you don’t know where the money goes or two, it’s for something you don’t know anything about, say if it’s to supply medical things. Okay it’s doing something good, but I can’t relate to that. But with Right To Play, I could, it’s helping underprivileged children through sport, so it’s something I can do."

To illustrate his point, Cavendish gave an example of how the charity had helped change one youngster's life.

"The story I heard, I think it was in Sierra Leone, there was a little girl, her parents had both been killed and she hadn’t talked for a year. Someone went and just rolled a ball to this girl. She looked at the ball, looked up, and pushed the ball back. Then he pushed it back again, she looked up, pushed it back. It kept going for a while, and it wasn’t just after that one thing, but in time she was talking and she just integrated back into life.

"With things like that, you can actually see what it’s doing, you can see that things can be helped through sport, and that’s why, I didn’t buy into it, I’ve just seen the benefits of it, I’ve seen the positive influence it has, and I’ve been a massive supporter since, on a personal level and not just through my team.

This year's Right To Play Bike Ride headed from London towards the Grand Depart of the Tour de France in the Vendée, with HTC-Highroad riders Leigh Howard and Chloe Hosking joining for the final day.

Afterwards, Hosking said that the 120-mile ride was the longest she'd done in a single day, and Cavendish was asked in light of that, how people taking part in next year's ride could find the motivation to keep going. His answer drew on another story, this time from his own experience of his early days of racing at the very highest level.

“When I'd just turned professional in 2007, obviously the distances were so much bigger. I got selected for the Tour de France that year when it started in London and I’d never ridden a Grand Tour. I’d ridden the races earlier in the year but I’d never ridden a Grand Tour, let alone the Tour de France.

"I was alright the first week, had a few crashes and that, but then we got to the Alps and I remember I was dropped on the first climb, boom, and there were four climbs that day.

"I’d only got about 35 kilometres into the stage and it was about a 200 kilometre stage, I had about 170 left, and I was thinking to myself, ‘I can’t do that, there’s so long to go,’ and I retired by the side of the road. There’s only been three times in my career I’ve ever retired during a stage where I’ve got off and got in a team car, and that’s one of them.

"And since then, I’ve said to myself, ‘How can you retire when everyone else has got to do it, it will end’ and since then I’ve always said to myself, when I’ve been dropped, which is quite a lot, ‘it’ll end.'

"You just keep going. The more you do, the less there is to do. I’m not going to lie to you, there is going to be at least one point on it that you think, ‘I can’t do it.’ Everyone can do it. You’re on a bike, you can do it, just keep going. It sounds like bad encouragement but… it will end!”

Nick Smith, UK National Director of Right To Play, added: “Mark’s success on the road this year matches his contribution to Right To Play; his support for our bike rides and our work has been invaluable, and has helped us to raise essential funds for our programmes. We hope that 2012 will be the best year yet for both Mark and Right to Play.

We’ll be bringing you more of Cavendish's thoughts on a range of wider issues including London 2012, the benefits to a road rider of a track background and whether you should listen to music while you train later today.

Simon has been news editor at since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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