I wouldn’t normally be walking the streets of London at 5.30 but this morning is different.
I’d entered one of those competitions that you have to enter, because the prize is so unique: BikeRadar, Halfords and Boardman Bikes had offered the opportunity to ride with Chris Boardman, on a Boardman Bike. The prize winner was to start the bike leg of DHL First Nation Home, which looked a fairly unique event, perfect to generate funds and awareness for Sport Relief. Being a keen cyclist and runner, an admirer of Chris Boardman’s work, both as a pro cyclist and his bike range, what could be better than a chance to briefly share the road?
I had entered with the up to 100 words of ‘why I would like…’ I cannot remember what I wrote, but It was something about the enjoyment of cycling and exercise being a good antidote to the rest of life, it was sent in and forgotten about, a couple of months later, an email was sent via BikeRadar, I’d won!
No alarm needed for 4.30. Awake, organised and early, I was not going to worry any of the organisers by being late. An assortment of run kit, bike kit stuffed into my bag, I’m ready. I’m the only one in sports kit navigating the capital’s dark streets, scattered with street cleaners and clubbers.
Entering Trafalgar Square it is still dark, I walk up the steps of the National Portrait Gallery. The previous week John Bishop had completed his Sports Relief Challenge ‘Bishop's Week of Hell’ by running up the great flight of steps after running, rowing, and cycling to exhaustion. What a finish! Turning to see Big Ben illuminating the sky, I was early - 20 minutes early, but it was getting lighter and there would not be long to wait.
Chris Boardman and Betsy Bebbington ready to go
As dawn evolves we start to meet up, representatives from Halfords, DHL and their photographers. We sit on a bench in the chill, then a message arrives, Team England are on the bus! As the light improves the activity increases, team cars with Boardman bikes on the roof, and army personnel who bustle around with quiet efficiency, logistics being provided by them and DHL. The participants arrive, introductions made and discussions as to which direction The Mall is in.
My bike for the morning is lifted down from a team car roof, a Boardman Team. It looks great and lots smaller than all the guys’ bikes; the seat is adjusted, pictures taken and Tweets sent. It’s nearly 7.00 we have to be ready to start. Wales, Scotland and Ireland will have their teams ready to start in their capitals too. One of the support crew is circulating with a clipboard, logistics for coffee is important as well.
We collect under the start banner, and counting down begins with support crew attempting to coordinate the pelican crossing lights. It’s GO! We’re off, a mass sprint start, directly over many lanes of inner London traffic, within 100 metres the athletic reality settles, Richard Stannard, Rob Edmond and Josh Lewsey disappearing fast, Chris Boardman and Phil Spencer following at a good pace, and me, trundling along at the back with my minder Joe, I manage not to let the gap increase. We run to the team cars which are parked one mile from the start and now it is the bike leg relay. With a quick modification of kit, and helmets applied we’re off.
With two pedal strokes, the bike feels different, responsive and neat. Very quickly I settle, with my seat a tiny bit high, Chris Boardman and I on two Boardman bikes head into the London traffic.
With a team car to follow, navigating is easy - like a Sunday ride really - except I’m chatting to Olympic gold medallist and World Champion cyclist Chris Boardman, he is very sociable and goes at my pace. I aim to keep safe and vow to practise how to ‘stand still’ (not track standing) for traffic lights, we make good progress.
The time on the road goes very quickly, we manage to squeeze a few more miles over the planned five, but sooner than I wish, and with a dual carriageway ahead the point for the return is reached. The bike relay is continued by other Team England riders. Our bikes are secured to the car roof carriers, it is time for me to return to the start, I am returning so the team can continue their progress, a rendezvous at Reading roundabout, then on to Cardiff by afternoon.
What a morning, having the chance to ride with a sportsman I admire, on a bike I think is great with the unique opportunity of contributing to Sports Relief event, what a memorable experience.
The one thing that made me speechless was when I was given the opportunity to keep the wonderful Boardman bike. Unexpected and unanticipated, I was delighted and stunned. I plan to do many, many miles, and after our memorable start, I know it will be great!