At the slightest hint of a hill, Asda chairman Andy Bond is out of the saddle. It's clear from his riding style that the 45-year-old supermarket boss is one seriously driven individual.
We’re out on a ‘short’ 45-mile training loop from Bond’s home in Harrogate to Bolton Abbey, passing through Ilkley and some classically hilly Yorkshire backroads.
In a matter of days, Bond and his riding buddy, Asda colleague Matt Harrison, will be joined by the chain’s senior meat buyer Jim Viggars and marketing exec Lara Wantenaar. Together, they'll ride 1,150 miles from Lands End to John O’Groats.
With 10 days and 1160 miles ahead of them , it’s no wonder today’s ride is such a doddle for the pair.Our halfway stop is at a café near the picturesque Bolton Abbey, where we break for coffee and cake.
Until now, the pair have easily dropped me on every climb; Andy out of the saddle with naked aggression, Matt sitting and spinning. There’s no question about their level of preparation
“I think we’ll be fine,” says Andy. “We’ve done enough training, and after last year, we know the challenge. Having done it once is both an asset and a risk, though. The first time, you have the adrenalin rush of doing something new and unknown. But in the second year you know what‘s needed and have the pressure to repeat it.”
“We’ve been getting in the miles, and I’ve already had my ‘one big fall' of the season," he continues. "In February, my front wheel collapsed when I hit a pothole at 30mph. Luckily, I escaped with bad scrapes and bruises on my shoulder and hip.”
In 2009, Bond, Harrison and Viggars raised £1.6 million for grass roots cycling charities. This year, the team are aiming higher. They want to make £2 million for Asda's Tickled Pink charity, which supports Breast Cancer Care and the Breast Cancer Campaign.
“Last year was tough, but there were no real low points,” Andy explains. “We had great organisation and support, good nutrition and a massage every evening. We’ll be getting that again this year."
"It’s a massive help that others are sorting out our accommodation and food, as we can just concentrate on the cycling," he goes on. "It gives you all the more respect for self-supported round-the-world cyclists such as James Bowthorpe and Mark Beaumont.”
I ask whether they had any injuries in 2009. “No, just sore knees," Andy says. "The pace was pretty steady really, and we weren’t exactly racing.”
Matt is listening in and laughs. “Okay, we were racing. But Matt’s fitter this year, which should up the pace,” Andy jokes.
“The food poisoning from a dodgy curry two days before the start didn’t help,” says Matt.
“Nor did the 10 pints of Stella.” jibes Andy.
Will Bond be riding LEJOG again next year? “I like to think so – I’d really like to build up the momentum from year to year and keep challenging myself. I really admire the way James Cracknell has dedicated his life to promoting physical wellbeing and personal achievement.
“I genuinely believe there’s a virtuous circle between being physically fit and being on top of your game mentally. Fit of body, fit of mind, as they say. I love the feeling of being fit too – that’s the main reason I ride. And the escapism.”
There is a downside to cycling, and that’s the time commitment it demands. “It’s the only bad thing about the sport,” says Andy. “It’s a big family sacrifice to take 10 days away.”
“Last year, I rode the Etape du Dales sportive and enjoyed it. It was only due to family commitments that I didn’t ride this year’s. I’d love to have ridden the Etape or the Marmotte too, but they didn’t fit in with our LEJOG training.”
Asda’s parent company Walmart is, of course, US-based, so I jokingly wonder about that other famous coast-to-coast ride, Race Across America.
“Actually, in a fit of excitement just after the last LEJOG, we talked about doing the RAAM," Matt laughs. "It was one of those post-event pub chats and we were on a post-challenge high. ‘That wasn’t too bad; what’s next?’ We even considered going one way on bikes and running back.”
Andy was a competitive runner and rugby player in his youth, representing his county on the track. Watching the way he attacks the climbs, I wonder if he’s ever been tempted to race.
“I’d rather not,” he says. “I know how competitive I can be, and at the moment, cycling is pure enjoyment and escapism. If I start racing, all that might change.”
Can he see the same problem rearing up if youngsters like Matt start dropping him on climbs?
“Well, I like to keep pushing myself,” he says, in what seems to be a gross understatement. “I don’t like people who don’t. I’ve got no anxiety about others being better than me, and nothing but respect for fitter, faster and more talented cyclists. If Matt was better than me, I’d be fine. He’d be fired, but I’d be fine.”
Andy Bond and his colleagues will set out from Lands End on 27 July, finishing in John O’Groats 10 days later and visiting 20 Asda stores on the way. For more information on their adventure and the Tickled Pink initiative, see the Pedal Power Blog at pedalpowerblog.asda.com