Manchester to London 2015

I really enjoyed seeing people’s Strava and Instagram posts about this event in 2014. Leo and Claire both rode it amongst many others and seemed to have a great time. It looked like a really amazing day out and my interest was piqued by starting to think about longer Audax rides.

So in Jan 2015 I thought sod it and put down the money for the event. Looking back I feel slightly ashamed that I was interested in doing it because I wanted an amazing ride and that the charity aspect was really a secondary thought for me. I also have/had a slight problem with riding a cycling event for charity having quoted the below on my post on the Dunwich Dynamo in 2014.

In England they ask: “Is it for charity?”

In France, Spain, Italy or Flanders they murmur: “What beautiful madness.”

I was also slightly conscious of people saying to me

…but you love cycling, why should I sponsor you?

So in that respect it had to be a challenge and something out of the ordinary.

Two things changed my perspective on this. The first was this thread on the centre of road cycling negativity and hatred on the internet – road.cc. The second was attending an event at the Rapha Cycle Club in London. I thought it would be fairly light hearted but I came away far better informed about autism and with damp eyes after hearing two fathers explain the highs and lows of supporting their profoundly autistic children. One such anecdote was the thrill someone had where his 11 year old son was able to drink through a straw for the first time – things that we all take for granted of course.

In hearing all of this it was amazing to hear about the charity founded to assist them, Ambitious About Autism. It was started by five mothers who were unable to get the care they needed for their children and decided to do something about it. That in itself is quite an incredible feat. Having heard about a series of young individuals who require constant care 24/7 and struggle with the most basic of things, I was inspired to start fundraising properly. I started banging on about it on social media and annoying the shit out of anyone I could. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.. even LinkedIn wasn’t safe. I emailed everyone I could think of. Friends, colleagues, consultants I’d worked with etc. So many so that I got a load of bounce backs from people I hadn’t spoke to in many many years (everyone’s Hotmail was dead). So what. I wasn’t ashamed about this and was totally behind this cause. When was the last time I raised money for a charity? Well I absailed down the civic offices, very quickly in 2001, in Portsmouth. I raised £50. I sponsored others, I have monthly direct debits to a series of charities but I’d never done a big push like this and somehow felt slightly ashamed of this.

To my pleasure and surprise everyone was incredibly generous and I hit my target of £750 pretty quickly. This managed to get me a free entry into the Ride 100 event courtesy of Ambitious About Autism. That really was a great but incredibly intense ride!

Anyway, fundraising continued and the date drew nearer. The question looming over me from those I’d pestered…

How’s the training going?

Good I guess. One of the things I said when I started raising money was that this would be the longest ride I had ever done. I kind of killed that narrative by riding Dunwich and back with Will (400km). I couldn’t quite resist the temptation of this big ride but did feel a pang of guilt, like I’d cheated people. Without this longest, hardest, fastest type mentality I felt like I’d lost some of the reasons for doing it. Would people care? I guess not really but I decided that it was still a serious challenge and that actually it was still well worth fundraising for. I focused on the 4000m or so of climbing, and changed tack slightly to push the ‘largest climbing narrative’ and carried on fundraising.

So the event drew nearer and I had a slight sense of arrogance about me. I’d ridden a 300k audax at pace, Dunwich and back, Ride 100 at a very fast pace (for me), so this would just be another ride right? I tried to shake this before the ride an give it the sense of respect it deserved. Having a week sat on my arse by a pool in Morocco eating and drinking all week did a lot of damage to this idea of just another ride. I lost so much fitness and aborted the first ride I tried when I got back. Coupled with that work was getting busier and finding time to go riding was reducing at a rapid rate. I managed a chain gang or two the weeks before and a ride round Richmond Park but didn’t feel super prepared for it all.

Sure enough the time came and it was time to pack everything up and get on the train to Manchester. We’d booked first class tickets months in advance which seemed like a luxury at the time but it was amazing do have all that space and a silly little meal served to you. We’d even had the pleasure of the first class lounge at Euston where we met a bunch of others heading up for the event. Again, more free stuff!

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When we got to Manchester it was a short walk to the hotel and no expense spared on a Premier Inn. All we needed was somewhere clean and quiet. We also weren’t too concerned about the view which was fortunate as it wasn’t up to much really.

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There was an event on at the Manchester Rapha Cycle Club in the evening but registration was open all afternoon. We headed over from our hotel and I was amazed by the beautiful range of buildings on display, generally not the new ones but the tall warehouses and former banks and trading halls. There were some really quite amazing buildings on display. Some streets almost felt like New York with their tall masonry clad buildings. Anyway, I also really liked this car park which reminded me of the Tricorn Centre in Portsmouth which is now sadly demolished. Later on I was told that people race down this on skateboards.

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The Manchester version of the Rapha Cycle Club seems so much nicer than the London one. The atmosphere is better and benefits from being arranged over a number of floors. The first floor cafe with the big picture window overlooking the street is amazing. So much nicer than the one in London which somehow manages to feel quite intimidating.

There were plenty of familiar faces at the club including Marta, Andrew, Dean, Kat, Lindsey and others. We signed on and got our ‘stupid little bags’ which also included a ‘stupid little hat’. Emma’s words as to my growing collection of musettes and cycling caps.

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We came back later to have a final pep talk from the organisers. At this point they’d praised so many people for the extent of their fundraising. One person had raised over £8,000. Surely he works in finance or something but good on him. Sadly it also seemed like some people hadn’t raised anything at all and were just doing it for the ride which seemed to miss the point entirely. They were also down on the amount they raised last year.

After this we headed back to the hotel to sort out some final prep and then get some sleep. Fussing, fretting, checking, re-checking and finally just laying everything out for the morning so that we could get up and out with the minimum of fuss.

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Lights off and go to sleep. Whoah, not so fast. My brain is suddenly racing and full of all sorts of useless thoughts. All I want to do is sleep but for some reason my body wants to keep me awake. Then all the drunks start banging around in the corridor. And boom, then it’s time to get up. It’s 5.15am.

As usual when you’re up at that time in the morning you’re sharing the streets with drunks and a surprising amount of dog walkers bizarrely. Then a left turn into the National Cycling Centre and the bright lights of more cyclists equally dazed at being up so early in the morning. A quick last minute check of a few things and then we lurch towards the start. At this point I can’t see any point in hanging around and really just want to get going and start turning the pedals and getting my legs going.

There’s a bit of a queue at the start and we’re set off in groups at regular intervals. Off over a little bridge and then out into the Manchester streets. Nerves still jangling we get going. There’s a few groups haring past and the temptation to surge and sit on their tail comes and then goes. Then we pass that group after having a puncture. Then the Garmin bleeps… OFF COURSE. Eh, we’ve only just started? Some people carry on but I’m suspicious and rightfully so. It’s the official route in the Garmin and someone has clearly removed the first marker. We follow the Garmin and go against the tide which gets us back on track although I do wonder how long those other people went on for before turning around?

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A few seemingly odd little turns through some backstreets and then we’re on a big hill up heading out of Manchester. There’s plenty of this to come as we’re meant to get most of the climbing out of the way over the peaks. It does seem to really keep going up and up and then we get to the Peaks. Then the sun rises. Oh my.

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The funky colours are the by product of some out of date film but even with an iPhone it was pretty stunning.

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It was hard to not stop and just admire the view and sit there for 30 minutes. I took a few shots but didn’t even unclip the left pedal as I didn’t want to linger too long. Somehow it didn’t seem right to keep stopping and taking pictures. There also seemed to be a fair bit of momentum and didn’t want to get left behind the main group as we’d got a good start.

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We pushed on as the sun continued to rise and burned off the mist as the day warmed up. Jackets, arm warmers and so on were removed and the warm sun was welcome after a positively chilly start. James and I seemed to be doing an ok pace and ended up with another guy who was a local MTB racer and knew the roads well. After a while our pace differed and he pushed ahead. The climbing has eased slightly and it was good to see the first food stop. The H Van was there as well as a great deal of food, drink and some amazing volunteers. A quick food top up, Instagram check and we were back on our way. Again more lanes followed although we didn’t really have much of an idea of where we were. We were using a GPS tracker device to let our friends and family know where we were en-route and it was great to see their comments and encouragement being posted on the page.

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The time seemed to pass and James and I kept tapping it out. Keeping a comfortable pace and enjoying the scenery and trying not to stop for too many photo / Instagram breaks. At the back of my mind was the desire to do a good time or keep up a good pace and prove something to the people sponsoring me, again coming back to this idea of it not just being another ride I could easily do. We occasionally got overtaken by someone on some fancy carbon thing with that woosh of carbon rims with well inflated tyres but by and large we were on our own and sometimes overtaking others. We weren’t racing but it was reassuring to see that we weren’t trailing anyone.

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One thing I was really looking forward to was the monsall trail, a 8.5 mile former railway line which is now a shared use path which goes through two incredible tunnels. This partly informed my choice of bike for the day, opting for the Pilgrims with 28mm tyres. By this point we were well warmed up and ended up tanking along the gravel at 40kph due to it being so flat and a gentle tailwind. I really enjoyed speeding past those same carbon wheeled riders with 23mm tyres on my relatively inexpensive bike! Smug indeed. Sadly this came to an end although we still had plenty of beautiful lanes to ride.

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Following this we were heading toward food stop number two which included a stretch of busy two lane A road which was clearly unavoidable. The route had been so well planned that everything was on incredible country lanes and also with very few traffic lights which kept the flow of it all. Whilst on the A road I switched into my usual ‘get me the fuck off this thing‘ mode and started ramping up the pace. Again a nice tailwind and a sense of self preservation took us up to 45-50kph along this which felt great although I still wanted to get off the thing. I was glad when it was over and we were back on the country lanes heading to a beautiful country house. A few kms before James’ Dad had headed out to join us and ride with us to this one which was great.

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The venue was incredible. A stately home with an amazing spread of local food along with fresh oranges, water, coke and loads of other bits and bobs. You couldn’t possibly want for anything here in terms of food and there was also a mechanic on hand for any issues you might be having. We probably stopped too long here just enjoying the food and sunshine and seeing others arrive.

One guy had tagged along with our group and asked if he could join us again. Of course, no problem but then when it was time to go I spent 15 minutes trying to find him before giving up and going anyway. We later found out he’d gone ahead.

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Back on the bike, turning the pedals and trying not to think of what was left to ride. I kept breaking it down into 50km chunks to make it more manageable. To make it worse I’d reset my Garmin every now and then to avoid corrupting the file over 200km but had completely lost track of where I was in terms of what was left to do.

At some point the person we had waited for joined on our group again after presumably being dropped by another bunch ahead. We also managed to attract a fair few others who wanted to sit in our slipstream but not take a turn on the front. Occasionally people took a turn only to blow up and go straight to the back again or drop off completely. Fair enough if you’re not strong enough but at least be polite enough to ask if it’s ok to just sit there. Earlier in the day we had helped another out who was struggling and encouraged him to grab a ride for over 60km until he felt a bit more rested, but to just join the group, not do any work and not say a word is just shitty in my book.

The riding continued and yet there’s nothing really special to say about it. We kept a decent speed, kept turning the pedals, we enjoyed the scenery and the weather was kind to us. One moment that did stand out though was when the signs changed from red to blue indicating that we were half way and that we’d broken the back of it in terms of distance and that the majority of the climbing was done. That was a damn good feeling. The signage was superb throughout and I barely needed the turn by turn on the Garmin for it.

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We were still working for others though in that we had a guy in our group or simply refused to do any time at all on the front. By the end I calculated that he had done 120km sat on mine and James’ wheel. Not a single turn on the front. Fucking madness. Sure he was nice enough but he was strong enough to do it judging by the way he surged off every now and then to then just return to the back. I tried not to think about it but as I became more and more tired it wound me up even more.

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The only other amusing anecdote I can remember from the day is James getting a puncture and then saying, “…I wish that support van was around“. No sooner had he said it than the support van came round the corner, pulled in, whipped out a track pump and a new tube to replace the one he was using and helped repair it in record time. You couldn’t make it up! They were two lovely guys also and keen to discuss how we were getting on, what we were riding and so on.

The support throughout the day was amazing and even included a motorcycle paramedic who one person referred to as the grim reaper! When you think of it like that he didn’t seem to friendly. He was going up and down the route looking for anyone in difficulty obviously but I was very glad not to need his services, especially after this nickname had been firmly planted in my mind.

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Getting to feed stop 3 was amazing. We were shown into this incredible private walled garden in a country house and welcomed with more food and drinks. Mr Mottram himself was there to greet us all individually. I got my brevet card stamped by him and Jess and made a joke about whether it was being run under official audax UK regulations? No. Silence. Missed the mark on that one. Ahh well, never mind.

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The musette bags had been driven forward for us from our drop off in the morning. I found my musette bag from the pile and gladly wiped my face with baby wipes before putting on my box fresh socks for the final leg. God that felt good. A can of coke, some cheesy chips and a banana later I was good to go. I took my gilet and some arm warmers out thinking that the jacket wasn’t really necessary on a day like today, so left it. Surely it wouldn’t be long now and it was a glorious day in late summer.

Off we went ready for our last leg with one more feed stop to go. We still had our man sitting with us refusing to go on the front. Again James and I shared the work on the front although I still found it difficult to let him do the work. I’d got myself in the mindset that I was going to help him out a bit and that we were going to finish together and that I was going to do more work on the front. James suggested he wasn’t as strong as he’d been studying but I wasn’t entirely convinced at times. In hindsight I should have taken more time to recover.

As the sun set we got to our final food stop before the finish. Coaches awaited those who weren’t going to make it, more grim reapers (medics) and an army of helpers, mechanics and people serving food. James had a slow puncture and it was swiftly taken care of for him whilst we went inside for some food. We didn’t even have to fill our water bottles up as someone was there and kind enough to do it for us.

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We probably stayed here too long in hindsight and by the time we had got outside the temperature had dropped considerably. On the way out we met someone who’s electronic shifting had failed meaning they were down to just two or three gears! Having ridden this last section the week before I refrained from mentioning how hilly it was.

We rode out with Kat and Grace and a few others who had formed a loose group determined to get this ride done. I was struggling with the cold and flagging. I’d eaten enough but wasn’t feeling it. The Hertfordshire lanes were dark, really really dark. The trees grow over the lanes creating this enclosed pitch black space. I had a decent light on the front but it’s not like the Dun Run where the lanes are open and the moon helps you out. Being tired, a bit grumpy and cold as well as needing to concentrate heavily was really not much fun. Trying not to crash on the pot hole and branch strewn lanes was my primary concern.

In addition to this was one person, and there’s always one, who insists on screaming LEFT, RIGHT, WE’RE GOING RIGHTNEXT RIGHT and so on. You know over indicating. The Garmin is telling me it’s right, the sign tells me it’s right, someone is indicting with their arm it’s right and I really don’t need you screaming RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT. One of the pleasures of riding is the peace and quiet of the countryside until some asshole comes along and shouts out every fucking hole, divet and turn. Cycling can be so beautiful but this way of moving through the landscape is seriously ugly. Blood sugar low, anger levels high.

And then the scenery changes, we’re out of the lanes and into the suburbs, past that weird garden centre we stopped at the weekend before and into Sat night traffic in London. Oh god. More concentration. More people sat behind me. Flick the right arm. Flick again. Ok, LET ME KNOW IF ANY OF YOU WANT TO TAKE A FUCKING TURN ON THE FRONT. I really have had enough by this point.

Do your fucking turn or piss off. Please.

Sure enough someone comes through and then the group surges and drops me. Ahhh for fucks sake. Never mind. None of the people I know.

More riding through traffic and left turn and we’re into slightly less busy traffic. Then a guy in commuting gear and a hybrid takes us. He’s no idea how many kms we have in our legs. Well done though! We’re then through an industrial estate, under a bridge and then there’s a man pointing us to the velodrome. Suddenly I find enough energy to sprint to the finish and race James to the line. Pathetic of course but there’s people watching. We both shoot past the line and then look kind of confused before turning around and seeing Emma, Stuart and Patrick who’d come to meet us.

Done. The end. That’s it. Utterly, utterly ruined.

Someone hands me a beer, Mr Mottram again shakes our hand and says thanks and then we kind of chat to a few people and let the adrenaline drain from our tired bodies.

And then the 1000 yard stare.

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and a slightly better picture of us both with smiles this time!

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No ride would be complete without stats. We covered 355.7km at an average pace of 28kph, sat on a saddle for 12hrs & 48mins, managed 3995m of climbing and used 8,590 calories with an ‘epic’ suffer score according to Strava.

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The more important stats are on the Just Giving page. After finishing I saw a flood of donations which was incredible. People have all been incredibly generous and I’ve ended up with £2,657.79 and £532.94 in gift aid. To me that makes it all worth while. Thank you to everyone who donated!