Paris to London 24-hour Cycle Challenge: Part 2

Part two of Vivi Nation’s Paris to London 24-hour Cycle Challenge.

You may remember my last blog ended on a cliffhanger. Our group, 120 miles into a 200 mile Paris to London 24-hour challenge, were madly dashing for the ferry in Dieppe. The success of the challenge hangs in the balance. The thing is, it should never have been so close. In this, my second of three blogs on the challenge, I’m going to take you back to the beginning of the first day to show you how things got so hairy.

Before we had even left Paris, things had started to go wrong. In fact, before we had even started cycling, things had gone wrong. We arrived at the Paris train station around 11am, with our start time at 12, to collect our bikes, only to find that overnight the Eurostar had sent two of the bikes back to England in error. Thankfully, someone in London had spotted the mistake and promptly loaded them back on to the next train for Paris. Regardless, this led to a chaotic start that saw the group immediately split, with four of us leaving to start on time from the Eiffel Tower, and two remaining in wait for the bikes and hoping to join up during the day.

It’s fair to say that the first few hours of the challenge were fairly painful. Paris is not a cyclists city. It’s busy, the driving is distinctly European and, as a foreigner, it is not easy to navigate. After taking the obligatory pre-challenge photo with the Eiffel Tower in the background, we made slow progress fighting our way out the city. So slow that Jonny and Sam, who we’d left behind earlier, were able to catch us not far outside Paris by avoiding the Eiffel Tower area (miraculously their bikes arrived not long after we had split). This slow start was one factor in creating the pressure at the end of the day.

Once clear of Paris however, we began to make real progress. This was proper peloton cycling, with everyone working together to eat up the miles. We rolled through the flat French countryside and soon had taken a real chunk out of the distance. The challenge on a long ride like this is to stay hydrated, fueled and to share the workload.

Having made serene progress, around mile 60 the pace of the cycling, the heat and need to make up time began to take their toll. Jonny clipped a kerb and took a fall – nothing too serious thankfully. Fatigue was clearly setting in. Something that really interested me about this challenge was how each rider had highs and lows over the course of the two days. At points, each person looked finished as others took the lead. It had to be a proper team effort as these peaks and troughs rarely matched up.

70 miles in, we stopped and ate a pizza. I can’t recommend pizza as a mid-cycle fuel. The break was desperately needed, however. We knew we had a tough stretch of rolling hills before hitting a 30 mile flat finale along a disused railway line into Dieppe. We probably took too long for this break, letting time drift. Getting back on the saddle was really tough. For me, we were now entering uncharted territory. This was now the furthest I had ever cycled in a day. The rolling hills were tough.

Hitting the Avenue Verte for the final 30 was a massive relief. This delightful, flat and straight route, traffic free, allows for a rapid approach to Dieppe. Time was tight, but this was an opportunity to claw some back. Strangely, however, we didn’t seem to be progressing that well. I think tiredness was definitely a factor. And then, that most feared of occurrences – a puncture.

At this point, we were very close to the safety of the ferry and a chance to rest before tackling the English part of the challenge. Darkness was approaching rapidly so the lights came out and it soon became clear that we were losing our margin for error. Having ridden together for about 100 miles, we were split again as myself, my brother Chris and Sam stopped to fix the puncture on Sam’s bike, allowing the remaining three riders to push on to the ferry. Only by a herculean effort were we able to reunite the group with about 5k to go before the ferry port.

Which brings us to that cliffhanger. I’m pleased to say we made the ferry, though I doubt anyone has ever cycled faster through Dieppe in doing so. I have never been so relieved to see a ferry in my life. It represented a rest, food but more importantly a continuation of the challenge.

For anyone who is considering taking on this challenge, here are my reflections on day one. Roll with the punches. The Eurostar nearly ruined the challenge before it was started for two of our team but we improvised and all 6 of us made it to Dieppe. Secondly, have a navigation system. Google maps was invaluable in helping us stay on course and manage our pace. Finally, anticipate lost time. Cities are slow, and you need to stop to refuel on this challenge, particularly as this long day in the saddle will be followed by another.

Next week, my finally blog will begin as we disembark in the UK and race for London. Amongst other things, you’ll find out how I got on cycling my road bike on a sandy path – and of course, whether we actually made it to London within the 24 hours!

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