I missed the send-off. Inevitable when buying 100 Tesco Meal Deals (100 sandwiches / wraps / pasta dishes, 100 drinks and 100 snacks! Food of champions). I didn’t get to see the Official team photo, the Tour de France-style chalked pavement, the cheering, flag waving kids giving their parents a Geweldige Start (Dutch for Grand depart. Destination London to Amsterdam. Not Paris).
Next up was the relaxed coffee / lunch break in the Hare & Hounds just around the corner from the school. The strict 24-hour challenge schedule meant that the Geweldige Start was more of a prologue as our riders headed straight to the pub.
For everyone but me that is. I had those last-minute things that always need to be ferried to and from the support vans before they headed off across London. Lunch was a hastily made honey sandwich, wolfed down so that I didn’t miss my crew’s rollout. I hoped it was going to be enough to fuel me to Harwich. I hoped my stress levels were going to subside before Harwich too.
No chance. From East Sheen to Harwich via 30 kilometres of Inner London. Through Clapham, past haunts of our distant youth. We all missed those days. We missed more than 1 green light as we cut east, south of the river, battling through Friday gridlock, London is far from a fluid cycling city. We were mostly seeing red.
Looking back now, it was tough, maybe the toughest bit of the ride. We didn’t miss London once we’d successfully traversed it, from Putney, through Elephant and Castle and out past the Olympic Village.
Chigwell onwards we felt free, released from our urban shackles. Next stop Chelmsford. It was hot. Some of my group were feeling the pace. The afternoon break couldn’t come soon enough. A Tesco Meal Deal was never so tempting. Of course, we missed the designated stop.
Then my Crankset fell out of the Bottom Bracket. During a humiliating dressing down at Evanscycles Chelmsford, I was told I was missing spacers (I took it humbly and thankfully – the Evanscycles boys kept me in the ride). Key Learning Point: don’t ride without testing new kit first. A new Ultegra di2 groupset is a good thing, when it’s had a few KMs to bed in.
I never did get my afternoon meal deal. Instead, being last man on the road and a lowly Support Rider (abandoned by my Ride Director), I had to chase back hard for 30km. Like a lone breakaway (just at the back). I didn’t miss the Ferry but many of the front group had missed the memo about heading for dinner at the passenger ferry terminal and were enjoying post ride refreshments in the old port district of Harwich. Off I went to collect.
I didn’t miss out on a mild hangover the next morning having missed the opportunity for an early night. If you look after the guys on the road they’ll look after you in the bar. I had to rely on electrolytes and hard riding, my sure fire cure for my post ride excesses the night before. I did miss our very own BMC Missile, he’d got the train home the night before. It meant that I had to move up to the front group. I’d did my best to hold their rear wheel and offer ‘support’ from back of the group. Besides they seemed content enough to do the hard work.
The Dutch side of the route was all segregated cycle path. Surprisingly difficult to follow through the towns. Cycling on the road is the Dutch equivalent of a faux pas. We did our best to abide the rules of the cycle path even when the cycle paths became unruly, cutting through the coastal sand dunes, rolling and pitching like the waves to our left. I’d missed this, a 50km bike park entirely dedicated to the cyclist.
Thank God I missed the bollard that appeared from behind the rear wheel of the bike in front. How I don’t know. It would’ve been nasty. I thanked mountain biking for honing my bike handling. (Later Stevo wasn’t so lucky. He didn’t miss the kerb, he hit it square on. Snapping his bike in half. There’s not much worse than can happen to a Support Rider. He jumped on a spare bike and gave chase in his torn and ripped Lycra. Catching up just in time for the photos).
With the clock ticking down, ever closer to the 24 deadline the decision was taken to crack on without the missing back-markers. Controversial. As long as it wasn’t the Support Riders decision, we just did what we were told, just went with the flow, put the hard work in at the front or dropped back and brought the stragglers back up to the main group. It’s hard graft this support riding lark.
The run in to Amsterdam was pan flat (as you’d expect), tracking the canals into central Amsterdam. Progress slowed as we got closer to the Central Station, delicately negotiating the traditional Dutch bikes hogging the cycle paths.
Thompson House had done it. In 24 hours. The champagne flowed and cameras clicked. All that was left was to load the vans. Our stay in Amsterdam would total 30 minutes, we’d miss the celebrations on the roof top bar and the boat cruise. With Stevo’s bike folded in half and forced into the small gap remaining in 1 of the vans we were heading for home. What could possibly go wrong now? Job done.
What about missing 3 bikes? That will be it. We spotted them in the rear view mirror just as we pulled away. They were loaded somewhat more carefully than Stevo’s and with only a ferry left to miss we battled out of Amsterdam, hit the Autoroute hard and hurtled towards Calais.
Why the rush? It was Father’s Day the next day and I didn’t want to miss that.
Congratulations to Thompson House School. Their dedication to training, riding and fundraising was exemplary. Hoed (chapeau in Dutch).