The last day of the Deloitte Ride Across Britain was always going to be emotional – with everything from waking at 5.00 am for the last time to crossing that Land’s End finishing line. We set off at seven intending to ride as a group but the start was as crowded as on day one and Rory, Andre (we had met a couple of days before – Andre rides for the Ukraine as a master and is a strong rider) started to make our way through riders to the front. The first few miles were on very narrow roads with a few steep drags.
James Cracknell had warned us that the route would be as tough as the previous day – it was a set up and a good one as the route settled down on good roads with a few small hills along the way. The first pit stop was only 22 miles in. I stopped but Andre and Rory kept on saying “you’ll catch up” Not a chance. As I was half way through a ham roll two of our opposition, David and Chris, came roaring through the pit stop without stopping and I decided I better get off in pursuit. I saw them in the distance but stayed behind them for the rest of the ride. I was then on my own for the next 33 miles to the last pitstop. This was the first time I had cycled on my own since day one and it gave me time to reflect.
When I was going through chemo, reading my Lance books, I had no real ambition other than to keep on going, not knowing what the future would bring. I am one of the lucky ones – not only have I fully recovered thanks to great treatment from the NHS but I discovered cycling which has given me so much over the last two years and especially in this last week. Not everyone has been so lucky. Last night we heard from Team Gambatti from Glasgow, a team of two which should have been a team of three. The boyhood friends were intending to ride with their lifelong mate Kenny Lyons who had been diagnosed with cancer some considerable time ago. Kenny was a keen cyclist and his doctors decided that the ride would be good for him. Very sadly, a few weeks before Deloitte RAB, Kenny caught an infection and died. Despite initial reservations, his friends continued with Deloitte RAB in his memory. The oration given by his team was deeply touching and while it focussed on the nature of friendship and never taking it for granted. It was also, as they were from Glasgow, laden with humour.
The explanation of the provenance of their team name Gambatti, seemed to capture the spirit of Deloitte RAB. It is apparently a Japanese collective noun with no literal translation in English. It is a word used when others need encouragement and so is used to say “go for it”, “do your best”, “keep pushing”. There were only two difficult plus 15% climbs on the final route and half way up someone had put signs up – you guessed it. – “Gambatti”. The signs at once gave me fuel to keep pushing and to remind me how lucky I was.
At the last pitstop I was enjoying a can of Coke when a flash of red came hurtling into the pitstop. It was Les at a hundred miles per hour. I said “fancy a quick pitstop Les” – “yes” he said, and cycled straight out without dropping a single kph. I jumped on the bike and careered after him. Les was on a mission. We stayed together for about 15 miles which gave my legs at least a good break. With about 30 miles to go we started to meet climbs on the north Cornwall coast and Les dropped back as he doesn’t like climbing. The scenery was breathtaking and as I cycled towards St Ives, I saw more and more surfers parking in beach side car parks and taking their boards down to the water. The sun was blazing by this time and I really wished I could swap places.
The route turned south towards Penzance past St Michaels Mount. This most spectacular castle built on an island separated from land by a one mile causeway offered a superb photo opportunity but cycling and cameras don’t mix well and on returning home I discovered I had take a photo of several walls as I cycled by. Nice.
Getting out of Penzance, Deloitte RAB had one final sting in the tail. A 16%, one mile long hill. Aarrgghhh. The legs were on fire at this point. Up and over it, signs began to count the mileage down to Land’s End. 10 miles, then 4, then 2, where is it? Then round a bend and half a mile ahead was the finish. Flags fluttered, the giant blue finish arch was there surrounded by banks of families and friends cheering riders in. My inner child took over and I sprinted the last quarter of a mile. It felt like the D’sBs. Then it was over.
I met Rory and we had our pictures taken in front of the famous sign post and I collected my medal from Rebecca Romero. Rory had had a great last day and had beaten JC’s time by over two minutes. What a ride. As we packed our bike bags, Dave and Chris rolled in and the Deloitte RAB bus took us back to the base camp for showers, beers for the lads and a lovely apple juice for me (I really do have to start drinking again soon). The team were all there as Big G and Chris joined us, only Les was missing.
What a week it has been. Over 1,000 miles in 9 days. A real test of endurance for ordinary (and elderly I hear Chris say) riders like me. An opportunity to take on a once in a life time challenge, see beautiful parts of our country which I would never otherwise have seen, and make friendships out of a shared love of our sport. And all with the most fantastic support.
I would like to thank Cycling Plus for giving me the opportunity, Threshold Sports for creating a fantastic challenge, the girls at Pitch in helping me with my blog, Halfords for my Boardman and great rider support every day and all the catering, physio and support staff who made the ride effortless. But most of all I would like to thank my wife Lindsey and our family, Clare, Guy, Katie and Jamie, without whose patience I wouldn’t be able to ride.
Footnote: If you haven’t entered for Deloitte RAB 2011 I do it quick – the word is out! Nigel was the winner of our Deloitte Ride Across Britain competition, winning a place on the ride and a Boardman bike. For more information on the Deloitte Ride Across Britain, please visit: www.rideacrossbritain.com <http://www.rideacrossbritain.com/> ..