“May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of His hand”. (Traditional Irish blessing).
'May the road rise up ....' means may your travels always be downhill (don’t ask), and goodness knows we all love the sun, and the wind at our back. Though I have to say that when the A20 outside Maidstone rose up to meet me a bit sharpish I didn’t feel so good, nor when it was tipping down not so softly upon our fields as we slogged along the Somme.
Cycling is very odd. It shouldn’t be that much fun, strung out in a line, sucking a wheel, force feeding on complex carbs, wiping your nose on the back of your glove, dodging potholes and traffic, fumbling with tubes, flogging up hills – but it is. In fact every single day is an adventure, packed with tales from the road. Is there any collective pursuit that is as challenging – mountaineering, sailing? More than anything I look back and realise there was an instant bond with anybody else who was prepared to do the same – raise sponsorship, give up their time, muck in, push themselves, and of course wear Lycra.
To think that a dream – or madcap idea, depending on your point of view – to raise £1million for charity, has been achieved is quite incredible, and every single person contributed. Over 250 who rode, the support team, at least fifty companies who were involved, and the thousands who either texted or donated. If Sport Relief had most of its site traffic interested in the Slam, how much of the £31m was down to us? Well of course we don’t know – but I do know we were a LOT funnier than the comedians. How delightfully understated we were – let’s trivialise the 120km today – ‘Oh, it’s 150km now? Bring it on’. I keep coming back to our leader’s explanation. ‘A rugby player’s default setting is to show contempt for pain and adversity, you have to feed off it. The opposition hate it’. So no melodrama or whinging for us then. When the going gets tough, the tough put on full make-up and pink knickers. Mind you to be fair at one point David Walliams did do a THREE hour stint on the bike. Amazing – when I told Joanna she nearly fell off hers.
They say the definition of mixed emotions is seeing your mother-in-law drive off a cliff in your new car. Let me tell you that right up there is watching your wife steam past you on the front of a ten man chain. Twice. I know my place. Thank you for all the emails about the organisation, the advice, the blog and our achievement. Well, it was all worth it – and would have been if only for the new friendships – and a particular mention for the fellow members of the core group. Not for here, but each and every one had a touch of the ‘Systeme Jacques’ about them – doing it in their own way. Chapeau.
There was never a recruiting drive, it just captured people’s imagination, and you came. Our original plan was 100 riders, but we had to stop somewhere. Dave Brailsford (UK cycling and Team SKY guru) said ‘cycling is the new golf’. Well, I know what he means – it has taken off and works on every level – a bit ‘techie’, a bit fashionable, a bit cool. Was the ride a life changing experience? For me probably not, I was hooked already – but I sense for some it might be – and if the money we have raised is life changing for the people we are trying to help then we really have achieved something together. I still remember sitting in the lobby of the hotel in Grignan watching the Debra video on Greg's laptop with tears running down my face – and of course feeling ashamed that I had even contemplated feeling sorry for myself that day, banging away into the mistral.
The Slam was a game of two halves. A long hard miserable wet cold slog from Rome to London, and then a long hard beautiful sunny cruise to Edinburgh. It was all about the weather. Either way it was hard miles - and 15% is hard in any language or weather. It was a test of endurance on and off the bike. When you play golf if you birdie the last you forget the other 17 holes of tosh. At the end, as we rode through a deserted Galloway National Park in Scotland on a new ribbon of tarmac, under a blue sky, with a golden eagle circling overhead, who could remember the Genoa one way system in rush hour?
So life goes back to normal in theory, but it is hard to get it all out of your head. I am full of admiration for everybody who came, and those who supported us practically, financially or morally. Thank you all.
Finally, remember the only cure for post-slam depression is getting back on your bike. May God hold you in the hollow of His hand – and if it gets steep may He push you a bit.
See you on the road. Andrew
Andrew Croker was part of the core team of eight riders who accompanied former England rugby union captain Lawrence Dallaglio on every leg of his epic 2,770km Cycle Slam which started on 12 February in Rome and finished in Edinburgh on March 12. In the process the core, plus 250 other riders, raised £1 million to be shared between Sport Relief and the The Dallaglio Foundation. You can find out more about the Cycle Slam at www.dallagliocycleslam.com.