On Sunday 17 September 2017, two very different bike rides took place. Under grey skies, the London to Monaco ride set off at from Somerset House, launched by Blue Marine Foundation ambassador Poppy Delevingne. Meanwhile, over 4,000 miles south, in the middle of the Atlantic, a small party of cyclists embarked on the Ascension Island ride. Neither cycle ride was without its mishaps. In fact, this Tale of Two Rides is being written with only one hand. But more on that later.
BLUE ambassador Poppy Delevingne cuts the ribbon
The London to Monaco ride is in its second year. Last year the ride raised £280,000 to support two of Blue Marine Foundation’s key projects, one of which was to further ocean conservation in the waters around the isolated UK overseas territory of Ascension Island. Ascension’s unique ecosystem boasts extraordinary marine biodiversity and endemic species. A background to BLUE’s work in Ascension and how the London to Monaco ride helps may be found here.
The Ascension Island team at the start line
Mike and Rachel, One Boat on Ascension Island
This year, sixty riders pedalled out of London for Folkestone, accompanying a core group who are currently cycling the whole 1500km from London to Monaco. The riders will be greeted by ocean conservationist and Blue Marine Yacht Club patron Prince Albert II of Monaco at his palace. On Ascension Island the riders would be met by their children at the village of Two Boats.
The London to Folkestone riders massed shivering in the cold dawn, fired up by delicious Climpson and Sons coffee, cleated shoes clacking on the ancient flagstones of Somerset House. BLUE founder George Duffield (who has already raised over £80,000 for the ride) was looking well-trained and eager with a squad of Sussex cycling peers. Trustee Tom Appleby, favouring public house training in the nights preceding, rode on a green vintage frame. After a speech by Charles Clover the ribbon was neatly cut at 8.15am and the riders poured south across Waterloo bridge, soon separating by ability, fitness and general confusion.
The BLUE team warm up, photo by David Churchill
Fifteen minutes earlier, in the tropical Atlantic, four riders set off, the temperature rapidly rising to 33 degrees. Mike, Jim and Rachel somehow lost the fourth cyclist, Worm, but met up with him later along the route. They knew he couldn’t be too badly lost; Worm has lived on Ascension for over 40 years and is 62 years old.
Back in London, just half an hour into the ride, I pressed the wrong brake, went over the handlebars and connected with the road in entirely the wrong way. I gritted my teeth and carried on, my left arm increasingly painful. A visit to A&E the following day confirmed a hairline fracture in my radial head. But mine was not the only casualty. At lunch I learned that another rider had encountered a curb and lost a large chunk of knee. There were several more tumbles in the course of the day, although luckily none as serious as mine.
The riders face rising temperatures on Ascension Island
Back on Ascension with conditions becoming increasingly hot and windy, the riders pressed on, covering a distance of 80km in the morning, with just under 2000m climbing. Mike described the events of the day: ‘We took a break for lunch and despite a valiant effort against the heat, Rachel decided to hang up her cleats for the day. Worm stopped for a prolonged coffee and cigarette break (!) at this point and suggested that Jim and I go on ahead, so we cracked on. We had two laps of the island and around 600 metres of climbing to go. About an hour later, Worm had set off again and we met him on the other side of the island coming the opposite direction.’
The UK team’s navigation was nearly as vague as Worm’s; small bands of cyclists criss-crossed the Weald of Kent, as they attempted to find the route. My group was guided by the organiser of the ride, BLUE’s Head of Partnerships SJ Skinner, and made several mammoth detours due to an errant Garmin (or perhaps user error).
Photo by David Churchill
At last it turned into a fine day of riding, with beautiful sunshine across the rolling hills. The pain in my left arm diminished as the whole body became one giant ache. Many miles later, fragmented groups of riders poured into Folkestone to whoops and beers. It was an emotional farewell to the smaller group who were setting off across northern France the next morning for the huge ten day ride.
The BLUE team celebrate their ride! Photo David Churchill
At around the same time, the Ascension team were completing their ride. Mike writes: ‘Jim and I finished the 115km at around 4pm in Two Boats greeted by our children. Worm completed his ride by pedalling into the Two Boats bar to our cheers at around 6pm.’
A heroic finish for Worm
The whole team at BLUE would like to say a huge thank-you to all day one riders and their efforts to raise funds for ocean conservation. Congratulations also to the Ascension Island riders for their valiant ride in the sweltering tropical heat.
You can follow the live progress of the ten day riders on Facebook and Twitter. Donations from the ride will this year support four projects (BLUE’s work in Ascension, the Solent Oyster Restoration Project, the Maldives and plastic clean up in the Mediterranean). More information can be found here. Your support makes a huge difference, please consider donating.