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On the 5-6 July 2014, Ian Chant joined 280 other cyclists to take on the challenge of cycling 280 miles from London to Paris in just 24 hours. Here is his story detailing how his team faced heavy rain, strong winds and the freezing cold to reach the Eiffel Tower.
We arrived at Blackheath to a windy reception along with 280 pensive looking cyclists. The first leg out of London was 49 miles on our way to Dover. This seemed to go well despite losing Paul (one of my team mates) a couple of times.
We then proceeded to Dover to be met by a surprisingly big hill on the outskirts - so much for a nice ride down to the coast. But we got to the White Cliffs in time for a quick feed before on to the ferry. The channel crossing gave me an opportunity to get a bit of rest. After consuming 3 bottles of Lucozade in a matter of minutes it did at least get me ready for the challenge ahead. That was 100g of sugar in minutes. You can kiss goodbye to any balanced diet on these events. Burning 16,000 calories allows you to indulge at least a bit! As we waited to embark, it was now that the rain clouds moved in.
As darkness fell we arrived to a wet Calais. Lights on, high vis wet weather gear on and we got set to start again. So now just the 170 miles to the capital. The rain continued as we ticked by the miles. The French seemed keen to join in with us, with car horns encouraging us to keep going.
It was a long stretch of time for plenty of soul searching. The streets became eerily quiet but we still had the rain for company. After about 3 hours and around 2am in the morning, I was joined by 20mph headwinds. However not to be beaten we worked as a group and collected others en-route who had been cut adrift. We refuelled at the checkpoints, having lasagne and carrot cake for breakfast at 6am. An interesting food choice!
There was one stretch where the wind was so brutal that despite our efforts, I made the mistake of looking at the Garmin to see we were only going at 10mph! I thought I could almost run it quicker! But we persisted. Against all the odds we were making progress, often passing others that sat at the roadside waiting for the sweeper bus to rescue them. The 24 hour target had long since gone and it was now just about completing it.
We reached the penultimate checkpoint. This had been a tortuous 45 miles into a headwind affair. Then misfortune stuck. We were told we could skip the next checkpoint by hitching a ride on the coach of doom to the final checkpoint. Or we had to leave now to reach it by bike!
At this stage the heavens opened. It would have been fitting if Noah’s ark had sailed passed us - and it would have probably gone much quicker! Paul had done well until the wet weather caused the front to slip, calamity as the bike went down with a thud, his helmet cracking as it took the impact.
Now picture the scene - torrential rain, soaking wet, now freezing cold, in the middle of nowhere. We were about 4 hours behind schedule with the sweeper bus closing in on us. Amazingly post the shock Paul continued. However to no fault of his own a mile later his bike gave way and the gearing literally fell off. We stood on a quiet street, the remaining 5 of us; Myself, Jono, Tony, Paul and Zara (our other team mates). Dan had gone solo at this point. We reached the decision. We could not leave Paul stranded, so with a heavy heart and a unified team we called the event helpline.
We were collected and driven the remaining 15 miles of that stage to the final stop. Paul was out of the event, his bike was doomed. Tony was too cold to continue and joined the other 70 or so victims to the weather, many snuggling to their foil blankets. Jono and myself were to continue to do the final 32 miles into Paris.
I felt a sense of completion as we reached urban areas of Paris, and now the rain even began to reduce in severity. We cruised into Paris in a very fragmented fashion with red traffic lights curtailing our pace. Eventually the Arc de triomphe and the Eiffel tower became visible as did our battle with the French drivers. I crossed the line about 28 and a bit hours after the start, punctuated by a ferry crossing and a few feed stops, to be greeted by my supporting wife cheering enthusiastically.
In reflection, a truly unforgettable soul searching challenge. I did 260 miles - did I succeed or fail? I’m not yet sure. Will I be joining the “unfinished business” team for next year? Who knows! But knowing Scope raised over £300,000 from the event, I know I feel proud!
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