Well wasn’t that fun?
No? You were probably one of the riders, then.
410 miles, plenty of long distances and any number of hills (when does a hill become a mountain was a question I pondered on more than one occasion as I followed the Group 1 riders around over the five days).
Having been part of the advance party which mapped the route – Andrew Hutchings, Mark Lambert, Jason Ratcliffe, Mike Bell, Matt Maynard riding at various stages; Ali Prosser, Alex Rogers and I supporting – I knew roughly what was in store. It seemed an interminably long way to me, and I was in a car. I take my hat off to all of the riders who actually cycled the full five days. You’re far, far braver than I could ever be.
My job on Big Bike Ride 2 (‘BBR2’ for short) was to try to look at all the health and safety logistics, assessing risks, and generally making sure that everyone got from A to E (if we count each letter as a day’s riding) safely. I was also charged with working closely with Group 1 (which generally consisted of Andy Coope, Alan Fordham, James Harris, Andrew Hutchings, Guy Lavender, Stuart Meaker, Jaik Mickleburgh, Charlie Mulraine, Graham Napier, Tim Parker, Jason Steele, Charles Tavener and Ian ‘Wales’ Williams). We had started with a few more but the inevitable post first day shenanigans prevailed, with riders swapping about more than a game of musical chairs as they begun to appreciate the pace and composition of each group. Supporting our group were Tracey Hutchings, who was I/C mechanical issues, Jo Kain (BBR2’s masseuse), and Alex Rogers, map-reader and chocolate raisin guzzler extraordinaire.
The early starts weren’t easy – for anyone – and I certainly didn’t appreciate the concentration required when driving long distances at such low speeds (‘speed’ being potentially the most inappropriate word for what we were actually doing). Thank goodness for an automatic car, even if it was already a clapped-out wreck going into the week. Days spent looking at lycra-clad backsides wasn’t perhaps my uppermost impression of what would dominate my week when I agreed to Ratters’s request to become more involved. That I now recognize Messrs Fordham, Napier and others as well from behind as from the front just about says it all.
The camaraderie is like little I’ve experienced before. Although split into three groups, for necessity’s sake – and each group was fiercely proud of its own component parts and its overall identity – the whole mass that was BBR2 came together superbly for the two causes, ours and the PCA Benevolent charity. There were 70+ riders, along with three mechanics’ vehicles and five more support vehicles.
Out front were Andy Mitchell, our kit supremo and resident photographer, in his Owzat Cricket-logod-up van, with the PCA’s Ali Prosser, the brains behind the planning. Knowing what I know now through my own experiences of this particular ride, I do wonder how on earth she managed to deliver BBR1 in 2013. The woman’s an organizational marvel. When one hotel denied all knowledge of being asked to provide cooked breakfasts at dawn the following morning, citing a lack of an appropriate email confirmation, Ali simply smiled, went up to her room, collected said confirmation, came down and handed it over. “It will be very inconvenient for us to have to bus a chef in 15 miles, and ask the night team to stay on for an hour,” was the hotel retort. “Yes, or no?” asked the boss. “Yes,” came the reply, to which our hero politely thanked them and moved off. You don’t mess with that level of efficiency. My last question to her every night was that of when I was required the following morning, generally delivered with an accompanying grimace of expectation. Irrespective of what time it was I was asked to be downstairs and ready – normally 6am – there is no way you let Ali Prosser down. She’s the heartbeat of this particular event, for sure.
In Group 3 we had Mike Bell, Matt Maynard and Ratters leading and sweeping the self-confessed waifs and strays. Apart from day one, when Rats was actually nominated for the ‘Dick of the Day’ yellow jersey for letting standards slip, they did a magnificent job. There was a pile up over, how can I best put this, some cow poo, where a few of the riders came a cropper and Ian Thomas’s bike was wrecked. Followed by an altercation with a local farmer who, after denying all responsibility or acknowledging that there was any kind of issue in the first place, then proceeded to tell everyone he had better clear it up as he didn’t want his cows slipping on it.
There were a number of other falls. Geraint Jones was another whose bike took the brunt, James Harris, David Wigley and Jason Chipchase also falling, along with Matt Coles, Colesy eventually being forced out of the final day’s ride after sustaining what can best be described as – ahem – a ‘non-cycling injury’. His stamina all week was a wonder to behold. Really.
Holding them together was the irrepressible Richie Green, in his Abbey Glass support vehicle. He loves Group 3, does Rich, and wouldn’t want to be working anywhere else on the bike rides. Clearly he enjoys a challenge. On the final day, as he gathered his charges in to sign his BBR2 jacket, not even the drawing of a gentleman’s private parts on his head with a permanent marker by a certain Graeme Fowler could dampen his spirits. Thankfully Ian Thomas, who spent sections of the ride clinging on to Richie’s vehicle as it went uphill, was able to remove the artwork before arrival at the Kia Oval.
After a tough first few days they lifted themselves magnificently for the final stretch into London. They were well ahead of time all day, despite concerns that they might battle a bit. I don’t know where they generated that effort but their fifth day was a triumph. Sarah Bell’s tweet of the Tom Maynard Trust wristband at breakfast in Hove was a sign that there would be a real determination within the group. In fact they were the least of our troubles.
Group 2 was led by Mark Lambert and swept by Matt Wood. Mark’s address to his riders each morning ended with a group de-flinting. It must have been quite a sight to the guests at the hotels we started out from, looking down from their rooms to see 25 lycra-clad riders all spinning their bicycle wheels round in unison to try to get rid of excess grit and dirt on their tyres (or at least I think that was the reason). Mark did a super job all week and as far as Woody is concerned, I doubt you will come across a more naturally positive character. Nothing was too much bother. Nothing was a problem. “All good” was the phrase du jour. He also, incidentally, would have been close to the world record for the number of tuna sandwiches consumed in a week.
Group 2 were followed by the PCA’s CEO, Angus Porter, who achieved the distinction of managing to pick up a speeding ticket despite spending much of the week in second gear. Jamie Thorpe, Somerset’s Head Physio, was our lead medic for the week, based with Group 2. We had the England team doctor, Nick Peirce, in Group 3, and Surrey’s physio, Alex Tysoe, in Group 2, for the full ride, but we tried to avoid haranguing them as they were focused on the ride itself. Jamie was a star. When he brought crutches with him I laughed at him. How wrong I could be… When Matt Maynard told me he would be willing to help I met him and assured him the role was a doddle, not too much work at all. I’m not sure he will ever believe anything I tell him ever again. I don’t think he had a lot of time to himself.
The riders were also blessed with the equivalent of Mr Bump – Tammy Beaumont – who was nominated for day two’s ‘Dick of the Day’ for falling off her bike so often. She and her England colleagues, Lydia Greenway and Heather Knight, added much to the whole ride on the first three days (and, in Tammy’s case, again on the final drag into London). They were joined in Group 2 by Marcus Trescothick, the highly competitive (and almost irrepressibly downbeat) Rob Key, the larger-than-life Darren Gough and, for the last couple of days, Jodie Kidd, who made it all look ridiculously easy. The ‘Real Group One’, they styled themselves. Not that there were any competitive people on this ride, you understand.
Group 1 contained its own characters. My admiration for Graham Napier grew as the week went on. Battling in comparison to some of his Group 1 colleagues, he refused at any stage to get off his bike and although some of the queues behind us going up a couple of the hills stretched back as far as the eye could see, he – and therefore we – were determined to see him get to the top. Which he did. Every time. And there were competitive riders here, too. Holding back Stuart Meaker each day as he set out to catch and overtake any group who had the temerity to be asked to start in front of us must have been quite a challenge for Andrew Hutchings. As was our vehicle trying to shepherd Charlie Mulraine, our sweeper, and a couple of the riders he’d come back to help when we were in Bodmin. We eventually found our way back to the correct route after a degree of to-ing and fro-ing. Mainly down to the fact that Alex could read a map.
Along the way we were made to feel incredibly welcome at the various stops. There were official functions in Truro, Instow and Hove (and the patience of the top table team of Trescothick, Jones, Maynard, Fowler and Ratcliffe, who attended every one of them, and Gareth Batty, along with Key and Gough for the time they were there, was impressive – would you want to be out at a Q&A and a formal dinner having ridden a bike up hill and down dale all day? Nah. Me neither). And the various cricket clubs we stopped at were just magnificent, with loads of people gathering and breakfasts and lunches we couldn’t have expected. The reception we had at each of our official stops was equally impressive, with North Devon Cricket Club, Somerset, Hampshire, Sussex and Surrey going out of their way at each day’s end to make us all feel welcome.
One stop didn’t go according to plan, though, as Ali, along with Paul Bolton, who was looking after all the PR and communications, and Graeme Fowler, our ‘stage stopper’, were confronted by a wall of rudeness at the designated pub stop in East Dean. ‘Warm welcome’? Nope. They made it very clear we weren’t wanted. They, along with the farmer whose livestock caused the day three crash for the Group 3 riders, were actually nominated for ‘Dick of the Day’ for day three, but Matt Coles’s indefatigability was always going to edge them out. “Services to nocturnal cycling” was, I believe, the phrase in the citation.
Day two’s bib – in fact two bibs (we carried a Medium and an XL in order to cater for shape variations) – went to the Group 1 duo of Charles Tavener and Jason Steele. The routes having been circulated, there was a suggestion that perhaps the second day might include a little more of Exmoor. So the route was changed. (Yes, I know there were roadworking issues on the original route but that would fundamentally spoil a good yarn, so disregard that). A number of (stiff) climbs later and the two were target market for the rest of the riders. ‘As if it wasn’t f****** hard enough’ seemed to be the general tenor of the reaction. So we had a joint Yellow Jersey award that day. But the satisfaction of everyone having successfully completed the challenge probably means that with the benefit of rose-coloured hindsight, the two can take a degree of satisfaction from knowing that the riders all came through.
Pete Ford – whose spectacular tyre blow out in the Sussex ground car park just before the departure on day five sounded like a sniper had taken someone out, such was the noise – helped me by putting on a quiz halfway through the week, just to mix things up a bit so that it wasn’t just crack of dawn/ride/food/quick drink/bed (for most). The winning team was the Porter family – Angus, Kate and Jack – with the added intellectual oomph of Gavin Hamilton and Sarah Bell. The picture round, with old snaps of Graeme ‘Foxy’ Fowler and Jason Ratcliffe in their playing heyday raised a few giggles. And Richard Green was mistaken for, respectively, Matt Damon and Humpty Dumpty.
Foxy’s was a welcome presence all week. As someone who values the work that the PCA does, and being a close friend of Matt Maynard’s, he offered his services way back and very quickly settled into a routine, accompanying Bolters as the advance party, putting up the PCA flag and shepherding each group in to each stop. It got to the stage towards the end of the week where I started to worry that I wouldn’t be able to find the car park at work without a PCA flag and bearded man jumping up and down manically as I drove in.
This whole ride, in fact, is something very special. It unites current and former players, international cricketers and club cricketers, fans and county members, drawing on county chairmen, county chief executives, coaches, captains, administrators, physios, medics, ECB staff and general supporters of the game and the two charities like nothing else I have come across in any other sport, certainly not cricket. In two years’ time the PCA is 50. I suspect there will indeed be a Big Bike Ride 3. And I suspect there will be a great many who rode in this one who, sore bodies, broken bikes and bones, gripes, whinges, injuries, sweat and tears notwithstanding, will be signing up as soon as the gates are officially open. And good on them.
Roll calls, cooked breakfasts, gels, lycra, bananas, water bottles, overtaking, being overtaken, powders, bumpy roads, cranking low gears, Garmin, more lycra, dirt, baggage drops, cow shit, maps, steep hills, angry pub landladies, autograph hunters at the local clubs, tuna sandwiches, herding sheep, punctures, yet more lycra, lost phone signals, lost support vehicles, massages, angry motorists, energy bars, sat nav, even more lycra, traffic queues, receptions, routes, bin bags of rubbish, crashes, lost hotel key cards, crutches, lay-bys, broken chains, scheduled toilet stops, unscheduled toilet stops, strappings, endless tweeting, a bit more lycra, lack of sleep, cleats, day bags, Strava, de-flinting, changing group personnel, van passengers, x-rays, beers, laughs…. what a great week.
There are so many folk who made this ride but one really notable factor for me was just how many outstandingly and infuriatingly nice people there were as part of the overall group. Genuinely. The spirit was amazing and the support for one another throughout has been exceptional. And the fundraising effort – the purpose behind the week, after all – has been colossal. Both charities will benefit hugely from the efforts of the group. Please do continue to donate (you can do so by visiting https://mydonate.bt.com/events/bbr2pcabftmt/193332).
A huge thank you to everyone who has donated, ridden, supported, sponsored, provided services and tangible equipment or food and drink, and to all the venues, clubs and stops along the way. Without whom, etc…
Ali Prosser deserves a medal for the way she held things together, ably supported in the lead-up by Alex Rogers. The level of detail which went into the organization and arrangements was colossal. Andrew Hutchings of Cotswold Cycles deserves a medal for planning a route like that, too. Rats and Matt, too, deserve praise for being the continuing energy behind the whole thing. So BBR2 may be barely finished. But we’re already looking at BBR3. Bring it on.
Photos to follow.