On Wednesday 18th September 37 cyclists set off on their London to Paris cycle challenge as part of the Royal Navy & Royal Marines charity and BAE System's inaugural Heroes Challenge 2019 in honour of the 75th Anniversary of D-Day.
The challenge set off from London and concluded four days later in the iconic city of Paris. Passing through picturesque English countryside, the cycle crossed the Channel at Portsmouth and continued through the small villages and medieval market towns of Northern France, while stopping to take in some of the Normandy landing beaches.
Other highlights included visits to D-Day landing points Juno Beach and the Gold Beach, plus a trip to the historic Pegasus Bridge where the first house to be liberated from the Nazis in 1944 still stands.
One of our cyclists and RNRMC staff member, Sam, has given us a day by day on this amazing challenge.
Wednesday, 18 September:
This morning our Heroes Challenge 2019 cyclists set off on the first leg of their London To Paris cycle challenge.
The early cycle through the busy suburbs of London, weaving through Traffic was fun before the first stop for snacks/bananas. The roads seemed to be rather treacherous with about a quarter of the riders getting punctures. Lunchtime included a veggie lasagne and cake before setting off for a really tough 30-mile stint with multiple hills ending with the third water break at The Bat and Ball. Although the end was in sight, we had our hardest hill yet riding up Portchester Lane near Portsmouth before a stunning ride across Portsdown hill taking in the views of Portsmouth before the steep decline into Portsmouth ending at HMS Excellent where we were greeted by the Royal Marines School of Music band playing and cheers from our family, friends and RNRMC staff.
Thursday, 19 September
This was the best day. Arriving at Caen in the dark, setting off along the coast stopping off at Gold Beach for a detailed history of the landings and erection of Mulberry Harbour, elements of which still stand today. After this short stop off we headed towards a cemetery in the countryside for our first water stop taking in some of the stories and reading about some of the lives that were lost during the war.
After this there was another 30-mile stint which was tough into the headwinds of the French countryside. The lunch stop was at Pegasus bridge for the second of the briefings about the significance of this location during the Normandy Landings. I was struck by the bravery of those that served landing at 90mph in a wafer thin glider, which they trained religiously for day and night for every scenario to make this the success it was. I think what stayed with me was not just this outrageous plan and execution that was a success, it was that this was just another mission to these people. They took the bridge, handed it over to other Allied forces and moved on to the next battle.
By this point I had minimal sleep on the ferry, having depressive thoughts about how I was actually going to finish this, but then just before the water stop a huge hill. Something I’d not trained for and a smaller comparable hill in South Harting I’d got off and walked. However, Greg the tour leader waited at the bottom screamed “this was the biggest hill, once you’ve done this there’s water at the top” I have absolutely no idea how but I managed to get to the top without getting off and to the water stop for a well-earned break. After the break, I had a huge shot of dopamine that just carried me to the end. There were two additional hills to go through but neither could stop us at this point. Not even the cobbled streets of Lisieux. We finally arrived and I hadn’t slept so well in a very long time!
We had started to hear about the trouble pending in Paris upon our arrival during the briefing at dinner. We found out the Effiel tower route was removed, the meal at the end gone. So at this point we had no idea what route we were taking on Day 4 but we had another day in between that!
Friday, 20 September
Coming down the hill we climbed the day before, the morning was absolutely freezing. The day was focused on cycling but by this point I had found my new favourite thing. Dew Drops! A cup of those, a banana, a tracker bar and a cup of tea became the staple of every water stop.
So a new place was found! The afternoon was reasonable; it was “all downhill” as somebody said... It didn’t quite feel like that! Another day with a brutal headwind in the open farm areas of the countryside. A 30-mile stint which really hurt at the water stop. When we finally made it to Évreux my grandparents were waiting, but because of the adjusted route, they were in another location and had to cycle up the hill to meet me at the hotel!
That evening was the first time that everybody could see what we were close to achieving but had really suffered during the three days. It called for a beer or two before Dinner.
Saturday, 21 September
Smiles everywhere knowing the day would end in Paris. It was much warmer but there was still 69 miles to complete during the day. Long stretches of road with increasing traffic as we got closer to Paris. After Lunch, we cobbled together as a group and set off for Paris passing the monuments of Versailles along the way.
The large amount of traffic meant we had to work in teams looking out for each other to ensure everyone got through safely. If the Hill on the first day and the headwinds of the second and third day were daunting this was on another level. We could sense being close to Paris, riding through parks and beginning to see some of the famous sights.
We made it into Paris for the last stint, we all joined up as a group, changed into our Heroes jerseys for the final 2km. This was the fun part. Discover Adventure turned into a team of guards, stopping the traffic by any means necessary to allow the peloton through.
Finally, we turned into the hotel with family and friends waiting to cheer the group in, almost like they’d transported from HMS Excellent to Paris with the noise just as loud!