Pedal to Paris

October 3, 2013

You’ll love it, they said, and it’s for a good cause, they said, and think how fit you’ll be at the end of it, they said. “They” were some solicitor friends at Barlow Robbins and “it” was the P2P – a 450km bike ride from London to Paris in support of the Royal British Legion: the Pedal to Paris.

So the fabulous summer of 2013 involved many training cycle rides around the wilds of Wimbledon, across the North Downs and joining the growing army of MAMILs (Middle Aged Men In Lycra) who are required to attend Richmond Park every Sunday morning and frighten the deer. At the same time, I was dreadfully concerned that an ageing body would not be quite up to the P2P challenge and I was wondering how many times it was reasonable to approach friends and family for sponsorship no matter how good the cause!

Almost in spite of the sunny summer training days, the ride started in the murky mists of Blackheath and provided a brief opportunity to meet some of the other 190 mildly unhinged individuals. We would get to know one another much better over the coming days in snippets of conversations as we cycled along and over more leisurely evening meals.

Over the four days, we cycled through Kent, across the Channel and the Pas de Calais, through the Somme valley and onto the French capital – some beautiful countryside which mercifully once over the Channel involved far fewer hills than the Kent Weald.

The cycling was made easy – as was so much of this trip – by the organisational talent of the Royal British Legion. Three groups, or peletons, of riders were led each day over distances from 100-125km to meet the abilities and fitness of the various riders taking on the challenge. No maps were involved and as each peleton was accompanied by motorcycle outriders who cleared the road ahead and blocked traffic we were able to shoot red lights with impunity and concentrate on keeping the pedals turning.

The organisation was not only logistical, but extended to a group of physiotherapists to help sort out all those body parts which were failing, and mechanics following each peloton to sort out the bicycle parts when they were failing. The mechanics had much the higher success rate despite the best efforts of the physios (the raw material just wasn’t there)!

Each day started with a reminder of why we were raising the money with a ceremony of remembrance for the members of the armed forces who have lost their lives. There were several forces members and ex-members on the ride and a number of Royal British Legion employees who explained how the money being raised would be spent. This information and the poignancy of cycling across the Somme battlefields enhanced the sense of doing something worthwhile – and on the last night, we were told we had collectively raised over £400,000 which will definitely help the cause.

And as a finale to our ride we cycled the Champs Elysees – which had been closed to all traffic to allow our procession – to the Arc de Triomphe and the final remembrance ceremony of our trip.  It was a fabulous end to a very memorable trip and I am happy to say “they “ were right – I did love it, it is a hugely worthwhile cause and I am much fitter!

Simon Marsh