And they’re off!

So, Ride24 has started. Weather warnings aside, Pascal and Martin are riding and only have 315 miles to go (though hopefully a lot less by the time you read this). They look pretty fresh-faced on the starting line, even (dare I say it?) a bit relaxed.

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In case the distance isn’t scary enough, there are quite a few hilly bits between Newcastle and London. This picture shows just how tough the first leg is and sadly also the penultimate leg too (just when you think it’s over…). At an ideal average pace of a little over 13 mph (allowing for some time at rest stops), they should be tackling the last hilly bit between 2am and 6am. It’ll be dark, possibly wet and they’ll certainly be very very tired. Night riding in the rain didn’t feature much in their training program.

The ascents on the route

I’m hoping for updates from Pascal at the rest stops and will post them when they come. If you want to send comments back to him, feel free to post them in the comments and I’ll send on anything that might raise a smile and help him stick two fingers up to the less-than-friendly elements (headwind, heavy rain and possible hail to name a few).

09:00 – Set off full of the breakfast of champions. The sky is cloudy but not yet actively chucking it down and Pascal is “still nervous as hell”!

Breakfast of champions

10:06 – Approaching Brasside, south of Chester-Le-Street. About 13 miles in. (Pascal is the purple dot.)

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11:07 – Approaching Sedgefield. 29 miles in. (This is getting repetitive already.) The first rest stop is at Darlington in 16 miles. By the time they get there they’ll have compete 560m of climb so I think they’ll be ready for it!

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12:25 – They’ve arrived at their first rest stop and clearly had an eventful first leg. Sadly the weather forecast was right for once and the predicted headwind is making them feel like they’re riding uphill the whole time. Grim.

So far they’ve witnessed and helped one person who had a really bad fall (“I thought she’d broken her back but thankfully she’s walking again.”), saw two participants on a tandem and another one on a “fix-y” – no gears, no brakes. Yikes! In Pascal’s words, “serious credit to that guy”!

They’ve both remembered to phone home to update me and Viv though “batteries are running out faster than expected” so my updates might need to spread out a bit more to ease the consumption. They’re refuelling now – sausage rolls and sandwiches at this one and hot food at the next stop in another 52 miles and 3 hours(ish).

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15:10 – 78 miles in and getting close to York. Rest stop 2 (the one with hot meals and pudding) will be on the other side. Quite a long way on the other side – it’s at 97 miles. So they “simply” have to pedal through the historic walled city centre of beautiful York on a Saturday afternoon during the school holidays. No problem.

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16:10 – The centre of York is in their virtual rear view mirror now and they’re coming to the next rest stop. Looking forward to another update and the Tourist Tally (dodged versus hit).

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Pascal’s mum (The Cycling Granny mentioned on his radio interview) rang to check his progress. She’s cycling from Birmingham to Lancaster rather than sitting at home and worrying about him so can’t easily check this blog. Her reaction to the mention of a fix-y cyclist was “Bloody lunatic – why would anyone want to make it harder?!”. She should know, she’s done some pretty crazy rides in her day.

16:45 – “This is the least enjoyable ride of our lives” say Pascal and Martin. They’re both soaked to the skin and still pedalling into a headwind so strong that they need to brace themselves whenever they stop. Thanks again to everyone who has sponsored him so far. If you’re feeling tempted to add to the pot, please do here or here. Pascal’s recent words were that his sponsors “have already had their money’s worth”! He’s off to grab some hot food at rest stop number 2 and then they’ll be going again.

For anyone wondering if he’ll make it in under 24 hours, I’m not too sure. The headwind and rain are clearly slowing him down and morale is taking a hit too. Ride24 is predicting their next rest stop at around 8pm but the next bit is “only” 38 miles and fairly flat so they may choose to pick up the pace after their tasty meal and rest. Having said that, he’s just texted me saying no chance for 8pm as he’d “have to have left by now” and he’s enjoying food and relaxing for a bit.

I’ll be thrilled for him to simply finish the distance, given the adverse conditions, but I know he’s always aiming much higher.

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18:30 – Pascal and Martin set off again over an hour ago and have got as far as Wressle which is another 22 miles since their rest stop. 109 miles done so far which means they’ve completed a third of it and the cycling equivalent of running a marathon (see earlier blog post). They’ve also moved up the rankings of cyclists from 471 at the first stop to 191 at the second. 750 cyclists set off. Clearly it doesn’t reflect live updates between stops but it looks pretty impressive to me.

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20:45 – Scunthorpe – hooray! – and rest stop 3. I’ve just spoken to both the boys and it is tougher than any of us could have imagined. They are having to pedal just to go downhill or the wind would blow them backwards. No freewheeling respite. Pascal called it a “War of attrition” whilst Martin said the wind has had the effect of adding 10-15 miles on each 40-50 mile stage. Martin thinks he’s got one stage left (having wanted to stop for the last 60 miles) and Pascal thinks he might have two in him.

Their next rest stop is at 2ish but it’s all in the dark for the next 8 or so hours and the wind will still be there. They sounded like broken men but they are digging deep and using every ounce of grit to keep on going. Both are worried about letting people down, but after 12 hours in their saddles and with a record distance for each of them of 135 miles, I’d say they’ve done bloody well and there’s no need for any head-hanging.

Here are the broken men and I’m hoping they can hold it together as long as they can but there’s no shame in quitting when they reach their limit. Viv and I have already told them we’re proud of them regardless and I’m sure we’re not the only ones.

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23:05 – Pascal and Martin are officially over half way! Woohoo!! After the phone call 2 hours ago, I was having grave doubts that this point would be reached. The general concensus from GULP HQ is that they have done more than anyone expected and “been more Simon” than necessary. Above and beyond, and all that.

Half way is amazing! Great stuff, boys. Seriously. Now listen to your bodies and do what they say.

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01:10 – Still moving and still heading south. Ride24 reckoned they’d hit the next marker just before 2 so I’m staying up for the call to see how they’re both doing. Viv has an alarm set for the same reason. We (GULP) are all thinking of you.

01:20 – They’ve hit the next rest stop (not literally) about 40 minutes ahead of Ride24’s estimate. Is this a good sign? I hope so. Having heard stories of nighttime bike rides where people followed “the bike light in front” and it turned out to be a porch light *crash*, I’m hoping that our boys don’t fall foul of these tricks of the brain. Waiting to hear from them directly for another update.

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01:40 – A quick update from Pascal and Martin. Pascal has had a massage as his “shoulders are killing” him and Martin is “a bit cold” but going to see if a change of clothes will help. Martin wants to have “a bash at the next stage”. Pascal said he’ll text me at Peterborough (next stop) “if” he makes it.

They’re at rest stop 4 which is 181 miles in. I get the impression that 200 miles is a psychological milestone for them both and the next stop is at 222 which is quite a way further when you’re as “bolloxed” as they both sound.

Thanks for the comments on this post. I have passed them on to the pair – whether or not they heed the words of collective wisdom is another matter entirely. Pascal says he will read the blog when it’s all over so I’ll stop trying to persuade them on here to do anything.

02:00 – Final update from Pascal and Martin at rest stop 4: “With apologies to everyone reading my blog, the wind and rain have driven us to the brink of exhaustion and despair – so we’ll set off into the jaws of the gale one last time, and call it a day at Peterborough. That way we’ll have ridden 225 miles in extremely adverse conditions (more than two back to back marathons), and we’ll be far from the first to bail.”

And just to put it into perspective, this is what they’ve done already, with a blue blob showing their position at Sleaford. They have kept on going. In the strong head-on winds. In the hammering rain. In the darkest of rural dark. On bikes with pedals that they have to keep … on … pushing. If they stop, they stop.

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06:30 – Martin and Pascal have made it to rest stop 5 where they have both withdrawn from the Ride. They have cycled 222 miles and spent 21 hours in their saddles (Ouch!). That’s a heck of an achievement for anyone.

Pascal is waiting to find out if they can get his bike to Buntingford so that he can cycle the last 40 miles, cross the finish line on his bike and so earn his medal. Vans are in short supply so he thinks this is unlikely to happen.

In the meantime, we sit and wait and try to get a bit more sleep.

09:00 – 24 hours ago Pascal and Martin set off from Newcastle on their bikes hoping to cross the finish line together around about now. The reality is that the extreme weather has broken them and whilst Martin has pushed himself to extremes and recognised that he needs to stop, Pascal’s “sheer bloody mindedness” (his words, not mine) means that he wants to do more.

They took the coach from Sleaford to Buntingford which is the last rest stop. Pascal is surrounded by cyclists in various states of zombie-like exhaustion all waiting for their bikes to appear. Some stopped many stages earlier and probably won’t see their bikes again here as the bike vans travel faster than the coaches. Pascal is optimistic that he will get his back and can pedal the last 40 miles to the finish. He sounded pretty good on the phone (despite the apparently cross face which is actually his exhausted face) – it’s amazing what a 3 hour break can do for body and soul!

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Unfortunately, during the night a car hit a cyclist head on. The driver was caught but the cyclist went to hospital in the air ambulance with a suspected broken back. It really brings home to you the innate risks of any kind of road cycling, though I hope that is the only serious injury out of the 750 that started.

Pascal said that he could never have got this far without Martin as his teammate. When Martin wanted to quit 100 miles ago and more, Pascal coaxed him on with the old “we’ll just get to the next village” and was “breaking the wind” for Martin when Martin reached peak exhaustion. The flip side was that on the last leg, Pascal could sense that Martin had more energy than him and could have gone faster but stuck with him and kept him going all the way to Sleaford. Neither of them could have got this far alone, but together they have been outstanding.

09:40 – Pascal has his bike back and is off! 40 miles to the finish. Hopefully he’ll finish somewhere between 12 and 1pm today and then come home for lots of hugs, a tasty meal and a long hot bath. It’s not over yet!

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If any of our “gang” from Ware are reading this and want to cheer Pascal on, he will now be coming down the high street at a much more civilised time of soon after 10:30 ish. His Hoddesdon leg will be around 10:50ish along the A1170. Just in case you’re out there anyway, I’m sure a supportive shout would go down amazingly well.

11:30 – Pascal is over half way on the final leg. He’s 26 miles down with less than 14 to go. The end of the biggest endurance challenge he’s ever taken on is, finally, in sight.

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He’s just sent a message saying “I can see London.” and this stunning photo which surely should be on the next London Tourist Board brochure.

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What’s not to love?

11:50 – Pascal just called. He’s less than 10 miles from the finish and is feeling very emotional. He muttered something about it “being silly to be emotional now, so close to the end” but I can’t think of anything more normal. His body and mind have been pushed to their limits and the impending relief of completion must be running round and round in his mind. Headology* is the only thing keeping him going right now.

*With thanks to Terry Pratchett and Granny Weatherwax

12:15 – This is what he’s aiming for.

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Meanwhile, Martin is celebrating not having to ride his bike any more.

Martin beer

20 minutes (ish) to go…

12:30 – The crack camera crew is poised at the finish line (Fred) and the professional cheerers are poised at the pub opposite (Viv, Martin and family). I wish I could be there too but posting here will have to do. I suspect that “very emotional” will be an understatement when he crosses that line at last.

He’s now in his old neck of the woods, passing the road where his Dalston flat was and will soon pass his office. He’s basically on his old cycle commuting route to work but I bet it never felt like this.

4 miles to go.

12:35 – 3 miles to go

12:45 – 1.5 miles to go after a little wibble. I don’t know if Ride24 changed the route or if Pascal missed a turn as he’s on his own and doing exhausted navigating in London traffic. He’s back on track anyway.

12:55 – Pascal has finished. If proof is needed, here it is.

Pascal finishes 3 Pascal finishes

Here are the champions together, sporting their fabulous medals.

GULP team finish

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12 Responses to And they’re off!

  1. Lionel says:

    Good start guys. Got the first bit of climbing out of the way. Well done

  2. Lionel says:

    Well done gents. Your arrival in Yorkshire has inspired Leeds Utd to their first win of the season.

  3. Simon and Emily Maynard says:

    Great work guys, really impressive stuff. Keep going!

  4. Steve Christie says:

    Guys, The elements are not being kind, so should there come a point when enough is enough then consider that you have already “been more Simon” than the rest of us put together. We are all in awe of your achievement. Even Simon knew when to call it a day. Respect!

  5. Liliane Binnie says:

    That is truly fan-tas-tic! Keep it up! Well done!

  6. Lionel says:

    Absolutely fantastic effort gents. You really are having to battle the elements. Well done.

  7. Frederik says:

    Every now and then a family member will fly from Australia to visit me. Waiting for them, I always find it difficult to imagine that they will spend a full 24 hours in a small uncomfortable seat. When I have breakfast, they will be flying. When I head to work, they’re flying. Lunchtime – still flying. I go out for the evening – they’re still flying. I go to bed and get up in the morning – and they’re still flying.

    That feeling is nothing compared to the trepidation I’ve felt reading the updates here. To think Pascal and Martin have been pushing themselves forward, mile after arduous mile for such a duration is incredible. This is an utterly amazing achievement, exhausting just to witness.

    Well done – now get home safely!

  8. Liliane Binnie says:

    Well done Pascal and Martin! What an amazing achievement! You are my heroes. My sister Is sending a donation to your charities.
    So proud of you two.

  9. Lionel says:

    Absolutely outstanding effort gents. Only 42% of starters have so far managed to finish. Great admiration for you achievements.

  10. Simon and Emily Maynard says:

    Bloody brilliant! Well done both of you!

  11. Liliane Binnie says:

    Phew! All finished and you’ve got the medals. Well worth it!
    Congratulations x

  12. Lynne Moffat says:

    Wow well done Pascal. We are all very impressed with your tenacity. Great blog Sarah. Would be lovely to catch up – it’s been a while Lynne, Paul and Oliver xxx

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