Contributed by Ben Goddard
On a breezy Thursday morning in South London 365 cyclists lined up to take the start of the 2011 London-Paris. The 365 riders were split into five ability categories ranging from riders in group five that aim to complete the course to group one who were more a racing group competing for race jerseys over organised race sections.
A carnival atmosphere was set up for the start with a loud speaker system to help organise the groups. Each group had around 80 riders all given bike numbers and race numbers alongside timing chips to give the event a real professional edge. We set off through the suburbs of south London scooting through the work traffic - thanks goes to the NEG outriders who helped to close the roads off.
The organisation of the event really helps to give it the professional touch, with a lead car which helps to separate the groups and each group is followed by a Mavic service car with spare wheels just in case of any punctures or bike problems arise.
Within a few kilometres we were out of the London suburbs and into the quiet country lanes flying through the English countryside. Energy food, gels and water were provided at several points throughout the ride by SIS. Before you knew what had happened 80KM had flown by and the group hit the first race section where the group were given a chance to move from riding as one pack to a mini race situation which was timed. This was really some experience with the police outriders whizzing past controlling the traffic. After a short race section the lead car then helped to re-group the pack before lunch.
Lunch was really well organised with all the groups coming into the section at different times and a plate of pasta enjoyed by all riders and musettes given out which could be accessed at lunch carrying extra clothes and any other food while the suitcases were travelling in trucks going to Dover.
After refuelling riders rejoined again and set off like the morning. The afternoon seemed to fly by - even a short rain storm didnt dampen spirits and we started to catch earlier groups, which had set off. Such was the organisation they pulled over and let the faster travelling group through.
Another race section for riders to use any energy they had left was on a hill climb. After that a short descent into Dover brought a relieved end to the day as all the riders boarded the boat on their bikes for the short crossing to Calais. When the ship docked all 365 rode as one group into France, which was really some sight with all telling a different tale of the days events from the different groups.
A short ride brought us to the bike store where our suitcases were handed back to us and buses to transport us to different hotels for the night where an evening meal was waiting.
After a well deserved night's sleep, buses again transported us to the start of the second stage which was the same distance as the first day. All groups were set off at different times and massage tables were set up at the start for those with tired legs.
We set off from an overcast Calais and within a few kilometres we were in the more rolling French countryside with French outrider motorbikes again stopping all the traffic, so no halting at junctions for the bunch. A much harder race section came after 40KM with a really steep hill led by Tour De France winner Stephen Roche who seemed to just float up the steep climb, which provided some really stunning views of the French countryside.
The group again re-grouped at the top, and then rolled on to the second race section, which again wound its way through the countryside for those that wanted to stretch their legs a little bit further. We regrouped again for a convenience break to top up the water bottles before the ride in to lunch.
Locals from the French villages were coming out to support the riders and a school full of children cheering made every rider feel like a professional. A well deserved lunch break at 110KM was again well organised, and riders who found the pace a little bit too hard were given the chance to move into a lower group. The afternoon again brought more rolling hills and scenic villages before a descent into the finish at Amiens and bikes were again left at bike storage and suitcases picked up with riders transported to the hotels for the night.
At the hotel the size of the event really hit home to me when I looked across the table and saw ex-professional Footballer Lee Dixon having his evening meal. A good night's sleep was again had in preparation for the third and final stage of the event. The final day was greeted with a great sense of optimism with Paris only 168KM away.
The morning was run on much flatter roads, which meant riders could take in the idyllic countryside. The race section was run off at a high tempo on a windy open section which reminded me of Belgium. An accident behind meant that everyone regrouped and paramedics were on hand at the back of every group to get riders back on the road to Paris.
All of the 365 riders grouped together after lunch for the 50KM ride from the countryside into the suburbs of Paris. With the stronger riders helping the weaker ones up the harder sections there was a real sense of achievement.
Once in the suburbs traffic was once again halted as it had for the whole event to let the huge peloton through the usually busy roads. Once in the centre of Paris the peloton rode across the famous Champs-Elysees, which was an experience which I will remember forever. We then rode around the Arc De Triumphe on the cobbled street which is much bumpier than it seems when watch the Tour De France.
he next day I got to take in the sights of Paris before catching the Eurostar back with the bikes already waiting in the car park in London for our return.
This is a very special event and one that has to be experienced. It is organised to perfection with everything riders want catered for and at hand.
The London-Paris 2011 runs from June 23rd - 26th, but places are fully subscribed so prepare to enter for 2012!
The Alpine Challenge 2011, based in Annecy is held from 7th - 11th September. Entry is now open and bookings can be made online.