As my last blog concluded, my companions and I had narrowly made it on the Dieppe ferry, keeping the Paris to London 24-hour cycle challenge alive… barely. In this, my third and final blog detailing the challenge, we tackle the UK leg of the journey, discover whether we made it within the 24-hours and offer some advice for any brave cyclists who fancy taking on this ride themselves.
To say that my nights sleep on the Dieppe ferry was restless would be something of an understatement. Ferry’s do not make for great sleep anyway but with no cabins, limited leg room, and a bizarre draft ripping through the seating area, it was a very, very long crossing. For me, the pressure to rest didn’t help. I knew that if I didn’t catch a few hours sleep on the ferry, I’d be feeling it on arrival to the UK.
Nonetheless, we were able to refuel, load up the drinks bottles, and catch a little rest before the ferry arrived in Newhaven as the sun rose on Sunday morning. The challenge ahead was simple. 80-odd miles to Buckingham Palace, our chosen endpoint. My feelings as I mounted my bike on the ferry deck will be familiar with any cyclist. My saddle felt like it had been lined with needles and my legs were tight. We were held on the ferry for a solid 40 minutes, and that delay meant the feeling of time pressure began to creep back in. We had to be in central London by 11am to be successful.
Whilst it felt great to back on home soil, the UK leg of this route undoubtedly poses some different challenges to the French part. We were frequently frustrated by the sudden change in the surface of the cycle paths. At one point, a national cycle route decided to become a sandy path – replete with punctures and a couple of falls as our road tyres struggled to cope.
The indirect nature of British cycle paths, compared to the French ones that are often extremely well situated, was frustrating. For example, having left Newhaven, we were sent on a mazy ride along to Brighton before working our way North. The benefit to this, however, was that we were able to work our way around some of the tougher climbs in the South Downs that will be familiar to anyone who has done the London to Brighton cycle ride, like Ditchling Beacon.
Once out of Brighton, however, the roads improved and we finally began to eat up large sections of our route. At this point, managing fatigue was as important as anything else. Nutrition became vital, although at our first fuel stop at a petrol station in Brighton it was all about getting food in, rather than eating the right food. Although it provided the carb and energy boost to get going again.
At this point of a long cycle challenge, I would advise that you listen to your body – eat often and maintain fluids. When you are tired, that sense of physical exhaustion feels even more crippling. Another key difference on day 2 was to topography. As we hit Surrey, we hit rolling hills. After over 150 miles on the saddle, each moderate climb began to feel like a category 1! Compared to the gentle gradient of the French part of the challenge, this definitely added an extra element of challenge.
For any readers who are seriously considering giving this challenge a go, one piece of advice that I cannot stress enough is to be flexible with your routes. Due to our delayed start on day 2 because of being held at the ferry port, some difficult and slow patches on poor quality cycle lanes, and general fatigue, we were under enormous time pressure to get to the finish by our target of 11am UK time.
After struggling on the cycle paths for some time, we made a big decision to switch to A roads to go directly into the centre of London. It saved us. We were able to make rapid progress on these direct, but very traffic-heavy roads. Sure, it might not have been as relaxing as winding your way into London via dedicated cycle routes. But this challenge is about speed and completion, so we had to make that call. If we had stuck to the original route, we would not have got there within the 24-hours.
One other common frustration for cyclists that struck on the final leg was technical issues. Having been fairly clean in France, we had a slow trickle of punctures in the UK. This definitely takes momentum away. One of our riders finished the event with a snapped seat post and a bust tire, miraculous indeed!
London itself is something of a haze. We knew we had minutes to spare, so we pushed a hard pace through the city centre. It’s a far from relaxing place to ride, but by now we could sniff success. Recognising place names only added to the excitement. I have a very clear memory of turning a corner and suddenly, we were outside the Houses of Parliament! At this point, it was a victory procession up the Mall to our gathered friends and family. The time? 10: 56.
Comfortable with 4 minutes to spare!
I want to finish by saying a massive thanks to our sponsors, who helped us raise over £6000 for Prostate Cancer, our significant others who put up with our training, and of course my Dad, Dave Smith, for inspiring us.
To any riders considering whether this challenge is for you, get out there and do it!
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