London to Paris in 24 hours – by bike

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Monday 8th July 2013

IMG_2031Two little children were jumping up and down on the kerb, excitedly clutching homemade banners emblazoned with the words “you can do it.”

I half wished I’d brought a banner along myself – just to cheer my husband and teenage son on their way.

It was noon on Saturday and while most sensible people I know were looking forward to a weekend of Wimbledon or soaking up the sunshine my whole family was quaking in its boots. Why? Because a few months back my son talked my husband into doing the London to Paris 24 cycling event together.

He’d spotted the gruelling 280-mile bike ride online and was so excited he’d signed up on the spot – then convinced his dad to do it too. They each had to raise £1, 200 in sponsorship for the charity Scope and train like hell.

If I’d read a web page like this I would have run a mile but they thought it would be terrific. This is what it said:

“Blackheath, London. Saturday 6th July 2013. Three hundred excited riders start out on a journey through the night they won’t forget. An opening 90-mile dash to Dover – the ferry won’t wait! Darkness falls as we reach France; lights on, heads up, the pelotons speed through the night on wide, quiet roads. Fuelled by determination, stamina and much welcomed pit stops, dawn breaks. Legs are now weary but soon the morning haze lifts. Spirits rise as the French capital nears – at last that finish line is nearly in sight, though the ever present clock continues to quietly tick down…”

So this weekend, our intrepid duo strapped their trusty road bikes to the roof of the car and we set off for Blackheath in the blazing heat. It was hard to believe that anyone else would possibly want to take on this challenge but when we got there we found hundreds of Lycra-clad cyclists, all clutching their race numbers and raring to go.

When the crowd counted down to 12 the riders (one dressed in a city suit) were off like a rocket. I heard a couple of young mums telling their children “Daddy’s off on his big bike ride” and thought they probably should have stick the word “mad” in there somewhere.

I spent the next 24 hours worrying about how my son (the youngest in the event) and my husband (one of the oldest) were getting on. At seven pm they rang from Dover and panicked me even more by saying they’d both seen the doctor. My husband’s feet were in agony (they’d swollen like balloons in the heat) and my son’s back was giving him trouble. It was so sweltering that my son had got a touch of heat exhaustion while my husband was having to force himself to eat. He’ll never be able to face a flapjack again.

Back in Oxford by now, my daughter and I poured ourselves large glasses of wine and tried not to think about anything to do with bikes. But after a sleepless night (mine, I mean) my son rang at dawn to say they were 60 miles from Paris and were doing fine. “What was it like cycling in the dark?” I asked. “Weird,” he said.

After that I didn’t hear anything for hours but finally the phone rang. They’d made it to Eiffel Tower in the 24 hours and were feeling on top of the world. The only problem was that they were so exhausted, sleep-deprived and aching that neither of them made much sense. With two hours to go till they could check into their hotel they staggered into a nearby café and ordered an orange juice and a Coke. They didn’t get to take a single sip. By the time the waiter plonked their drinks on the table they were both fast asleep, bolt upright and still wearing their black and white cycling gear…

PS. A huge thank you to everyone who so generously sponsored them. And, of course, well done to all those amazing cyclists.

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