Words by #TeamRutland member Allen Norris
It's not about how hard you hit, it's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward
Avid followers of Rutland Cycling on social media may remember a portly bloke from Stamford getting on a bike from London to Madrid, in aid of Thorpe Hall Hospice, part of Sue Ryder. It's been nearly 6 weeks since I completed the ride and the reason it's taken me so long to do a write up was due to a post ride chest infection, mumps and some kind of puking problem (sorry)... It was a really hard ride!
I came into this ride after completing 7 years' worth of challenges for various charities, all of which meant something to me. I have completed a London to Rome, 2x Land's End to John O'Groats, London to Paris (twice in under 24hours) all unsupported, all self-funded and all using some kind of tent en-route. However while training for a ride in 2017, I found myself in hospital struggling with sepsis and a kidney packing 2 litres of fluid, which ended up being removed! I know people go through much worse and do bigger rides, but I thought it was a good time to qualify why I am a lot slower (and fatter) now before we move on!
Two weeks before the off I was sat at home after a meaty session in the gym, and I was watching my team Tottenham play in the Champions League Semi-Final. I was putting my last few touches to my route (originally to Finland) and in case you don't know football (or more likely you hate Spurs) somehow Tottenham won. I sat there questioning if this is real and thought to myself I can't miss this, it's definitely a once in a life time opportunity - I had to head to Madrid to see the Champions League final. I had a quick look on Google Maps to see if it was possible....and well, that was all the planning I did!
So on the 25th of May after the ritual of a lift to Peterborough train station from the old man I set off to get to Portsmouth that night on a Ferry to France. Now this is the key part for all you cycle fans of a sensible nature, invest in a bike computer. I stupidly relied on my phone, something I told myself never to do again when I ended up on the Autobahn en-route to Rome, or the Rue de la Grand Armee in Paris.
Flying out of the new Tottenham stadium in glorious sunshine I had Wembley behind me and I meandered down the river to Runnymede in good time. I had a few hours left to get to Portsmouth so I decided to ease off a bit as it was a long day and I was carrying a heavy bag...
Just as I rode into the business end of Hampshire the aforementioned over-packed bag, my 17.5 stone physique and pothole all decided to meet in a cacophony of BANG! I think I was outside of Alton somewhere but thank god for a very sweaty guy called Jeff who gave me both a hand and an inner tube, I found myself somewhere near Winchester for the night, already with epic cycling tan lines. Not a great start, but this is what it's all about, right?
Thankfully as an old Southampton Solent university student I knew my way around Hampshire, it gave me an extra day to spend a bit of time having a look around my old haunts, even though the place has changed a lot and I even got to 'enjoy' the heavy unscheduled rain shower somewhere near Portsmouth.
If you have ever had the joys of getting the Ferry to France with a bike you will know it's a complicated affair and you have an incredible amount of anxiety leaving your bike attached to a bit of rope in the hull of some dodgy old boat! Anyway, 2 days in and only a hundred miles down I was about to embark on one of my favourite past times... Sleeping in Lycra on a ferry surrounded by loud people. Last time I did this I had the joys of sleeping next to a Beatles themed pinball machine. To this day I can't stand the song Yellow Submarine...
On these rides I have been through France so many times and it is incredible place, road users are... well just that. People on the road are treated as equal, you get plenty of space, plenty of respect and a lot of 'bonjours'. If you haven't tried cycling there but you basically have to! Paris is a nightmare to get into but it is so cool saying to people 'I've cycled to another country'.
The days pass in France so quickly the cities pop up Le mons, La Rochelle, Rochefort all the way down to Bordeaux where I took my first rest day. However I was in for the real treat of the French part of the ride, following the Bay of Biscay down from Bordeaux to San Sebastian was by far the best ride of my life. 163 miles, 3,471 feet, 11 hours and 28 degrees for most of it. I had to shave my hair off after this ride as I couldn't cope with the heat! What I am missing out from this is the fact that I went up and over the Pyrenes in one day as well. After the ride I got in the Hotel shaking, my body had not been able to cope with these climbs very well. I am from a fairly flat part of the UK but I've done the Swiss Alps, Peak District etc but nothing can compare to the Pyrenes in that heat. A new found respect for our friends in Le Tour who do that at quadruple the speed.
Spain is a funny country, one minute it feels like you're in the Wild West and the next minute everything is a lush landscape. You have to be careful in Spain though if you're ever going to cycle there as there's not really any decent B roads going into towns like Pamplona. It's predominantly motorways or broken potholed roads. I had similar issues cycling out of Switzerland into Italy. The contrast is mad. When you are exhausted your decision making is all over the place, especially when it's now pushing 35 degrees, the amount of times I'd go left coming up to a roundabout or just aimlessly cycling without checking the map was worrying. To me these are signs of exhaustion and heat stress as well as losing well over a stone in weight but I ploughed on.
When I hit Pamplona (almost literally) it was the final of the Champions League so the best thing I could do was to do a half day, get the bike checked out and get a beer before watching the mighty Spurs win their first Champions League title. Both of these things ended up badly. Spurs basically didn't show up and the delightful bike shop in Pamplona decided to service my bike by actually stealing parts! That was a fun morning. I managed to limp on to Tudela using various spares I had to get there. Once I was in Tudela a very nice shop decided to repair the bike as best as they could.
Did I mention how mountainous Spain is? I found myself in Guadalajara about 40miles from the Bernabeu for the last day. I was exhausted. On these rides my legs usually ache, knees feel like they're about to explode, and my hands normally numb and - but there is one reason I didn't feel bad. The bike.
It never missed a gear change, it withstood my weight, it was comfy, it was fast and in a Jeremy Clarkson Esque voice it quite simply was 'the best bike in the world�. Even with parts stolen from Ruby (yes I named the bike this) it still managed to limp home, we pulled into one of Madrid's many horrendously busy boulevards and saw the hideous Bernabeu stadium for the first time. It was full of tourists as you'd expect, and thankfully at that moment the makeshift thru-axle decided to collapse - which was handy as I followed it! A Japanese tourist asked me in surprisingly good English 'Are you OK?' (I think the Rutland cycling jersey was a bit of giveaway of my nationality) I explained where I had come from, she said I was 'mad'... and bought me a beer.
Thanks to David and Tom at Rutland Cycling, as well as Paul and the mechanics at Whitwell.
Thanks to Marc Stan at Impact Boxing Fitness for getting me in shape prior to the ride.
Thanks to Joely at Sue Ryder for all her encouragement and instructions which usually were 'get yourself a beer'!
Lastly I am eternally grateful to all my friends and family for the support, especially Mum and Dad who put up with my moaning!
I have already made some tentative steps to get training for Kings Cliffe to Helsinki this April which will be the 8th charity ride of 10, so if anyone wants a ride out then come down to Rutland Cycling Whitwell!View the Specialized Roubaix range See Allen's bike of choice here!
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