At the beginning of the year we decided to dedicate some time and energy to raising money for charity. After all it’s no good always thinking you’re too busy. Guaranteed to be too busy whether helping others or not! So as soon as Sanofi Inspires tweeted an invitation for external participants in their H2O Challenge Cycle we jumped at the chance. Or rather I was pushed to the front since I cycle to work daily. The course was to be 67 miles from Sanofi’s offices in Harlow to Oxford. A hilly route taking in the Chilterns toward the end. It wasn’t until I’d committed to the event that Kaye our MD informed me with a smirk that it would be fancy dress.
The first milestone was to take up Sanofi’s invitation to ‘pimp our bike’. We decided on a full respray for my 2004 Look road bike, expertly carried out in the nick of time by Altamura concepts in Camberley. These guys mostly paint racing motorcycles but I’d noticed they do custom paint jobs for the pro cyclists equipped by local custom carbon frame builder Wydymilla in Seale. Wyndymilla equip the GB national youth team with individually tailored one-off carbon frames, so we figured they’d have an expert paint finish supplier. We opted for a simple Drum livery, red with a very subtle Xirallic sparkle thrown in – a little self promotion and why not?
Painting the bike took longer than expected and in the end the frame was delivered the day before the race event – leaving only 24 hours to build it back up again, attend to late storyboard amends from Havas Life Medicom, oh and create some sort of fish suit.
The bike was finally reassembled in the small hours on the morning of race day (oh wait, not a race, not a race) after two mystery slow flats. Fish suit was created, after a fashion, one and a quarter hours sleep was had. I headed to Guildford to meet the coach and the Sanofi Guildford charity fundraisers. A friendly bunch, most of whom looked fairly well prepared, They mostly smirked at my day’s supply of bananas, and of course none of them were in fancy dress. I started to wonder whether Kaye had played a prank on me with the fish on a bicycle idea – only time would tell.
I needn’t have worried, arriving at Sanofi’s Harlow offices I greeted by an excitable frog in the shape of Ian O’hare, who had worked tirelessly to organise the whole event. His blog posts on Sanofi Inspires had been an essential source of information and encouragement as the event drew closer. Sanofi provided an excellent breakfast and there was a charity cake stand as well, from experience I know it’s best to fuel up before a long journey by bike so I joined the serried ranks of conspicuously un-fancy dressed Sanofi folk for a decent breakfast.
The event mechanic had his first job when my rear tube blew out as I pumped it up on the start line. A complimentary inner tube and some expertly applied rim tape later and I was rolling. Some sharp metal inside the wheel rim was probably the cause, and of the two time-sapping flats early that morning.
Group photos on the start line. I had optimistically put myself in the ‘elite’ category on the entry form, and was inevitably starting to regret it particularly as I was the only ‘elite’ in fancy dress and suffered the indignity of being mistaken for a dragon by a vocal and clearly blind photographer. A lot of gaffer tape, spray paint and midnight oil went into that fish suit, it looked nothing like a dragon.
As our group set off last, we had a chance to introduce ourselves. One of them looked like a triathlete and was doing stretches, friendly enough to the Fish interloper. As soon as we started two of the group tore off into the distance at high speed. I opted to keep my powder dry and see what the others were made of. I tucked in behind a couple of club riders and offered a turn at the front now and then.
They were fast but navigationally challenged and so after an unforced detour and another nearly missed signpost I decided to head off alone and try to catch the two in front. The route was mostly picturesque lanes and Sanofi had laid on two food stops along the way featuring hot pies, pasties and all kinds of energy food and drinks. At the first I was addressed as “Bananaman”, the effrontery! It’s a fish suit, come on. A few miles down the road I realised they must have been referring to the bananas poking out of my back pocket rather than Eric’s eponymous alter ego.
At the next food stop about thirty miles later I was tucking into a pasty when I saw a couple of the elites whiz past, they either hadn’t seen the stop or were trying to catch the lead group. I gave chase and caught them a few miles later – I figured if they were clever they would draft my wheel until striking distance of the line, and perhaps I could catch a draft from them too, but they couldn’t live with the Drum bike’s blistering pace and were soon dropped on a climb.
The last third of the course was a challenging brush with the Chilterns, repeated short hard climbs in quick succession. The waves of drizzle breaking up the generally warm and muggy day were welcome refreshment. I pushed quite hard through the hills because I’d worked out I must be third behind the two elites who broke away at the very beginning. I’d been riding solo for forty miles or so without the luxury of a wheel to draft, so figured any group of two or three behind me would easily have the energy to chase me down before the finish. I scoffed my bananas and hoped I could stay out ahead.
Finally the line was in sight, pretty sure of a third place podium finish I was surprised to find out I was second! The first of the hares having dropped the second early on and who must have dropped back unnoticed, probably when I was doing my early detour.
I was greeted across the line with possibly the best cold lager I’ve ever tasted by my teammates from Drum; Kaye Moors, Stu Fowler and Roy Robertson from Milkmen Productions. All in all the course took me 4.22 hours and I rode 69.2 miles with two pie stops and a detour.
Sanofi laid on an amazing barbecue at the Belfry Hotel, Oxford and it was good to meet a few of the other competitors as they began trickling in several hours later. Had a few words with the first placed rider who finished way ahead of me, clearly genetically superior. The girls from the Teenage Cancer Trust were in attendance and excitedly informed me I had won the prize for most money raised by an individual – a pair of Robbie Williams tickets w00t!
All in all it was a great day and extremely well organised by Ian O’hare and Sanofi Inspires. I’d have liked to have seen a few more costumed avengers of course – apart from Ian there was one polystyrene shark’s fin, but I saw it in pieces in the road about three miles into the surprisingly challenging route – unceremoniously jettisoned. Very glad to have been able to do our bit for the Teenage Cancer Trust and meet a great bunch of people. I would certainly be in line to get involved with another Sanofi Inspires challenge.