Following on from my blog post for Velocity Mag in February, where I mentioned that I had agreed to take part in the Brussels to Brighton Charity Cycle with the Brighton and Hove Property Consortium, here’s what happened next.
Four months of cycling around London on my new hybrid had brought into sharp focus that me on that bike just wouldn’t cut it over three days of cycling in Europe, maybe a fitter, smaller me, but not the current me. So Chris, our MD, kindly presented me with his precious Bianchi, an indefinite loan until I had settled on my own road bike (I’ve got my choice down to two already, doubled my budget, when does this cycling lark become economical?). So off I go, back to the outdoor track at the Velodrome in Stratford to learn how to ride a road bike, complete with cleats. The difference is instant, and despite my protestations I agree that I should leave the hybrid at home, and take the Bianchi. Cleats terrify me; I have the bruises to prove it. As part of the preparation for the Brussels cycle, I book myself onto the South Downs Sportive, choosing the middle distance. I’m so glad I did this, it was a real sharp lesson in hydrating properly, and eating throughout a long ride. Dehydration meant I suffered terrible leg cramps about a third of the way into the day, which were horrible, although amusing for the farmer whose gate I chose to stretch out the cramps on, I suppose.
I’d met a few of the B2B team beforehand, at the launch and then one training day. A mixture of mostly Brighton-based property professionals, every single one of them a joy to spend time with, so there was nothing left but to pack and head off.
We start our first day at 6.15am with a photocall, and a world record breaking Mile In The Sky around the i360, at 450 ft high, even making the South East News, before heading off through Brighton on the Brighton Hire Bikes, and taking the Eurostar to Brussels ready to start our cycle the next morning.
I was nervous to start, but quickly realised this wasn’t going to be a race, and the group of 40 quite happily settled into three or four groups throughout the first morning, all arriving at the dreaded Koppenberg Hill together, a 600m cobbled hill that reaches 22% gradient in parts, it was brutal, but so much fun. We all got to the top, one way or another, with a small group of us getting there without stopping, and Will managing the hill in 2 minutes 36 seconds!
We left the Koppenberg elated, and arrived together in plenty of time to enjoy lunch at the Flanders Cycling Museum, Centrum Ronde Van Vlaanderen in Oudenaarde.
Belgium is perfect for cycling, top quality infrastructure, with cars legally having to give way to cyclists, separated cycle lanes, and not one angry or impatient motorist. What a treat!
We left Oudenaarde and headed to Bruges for the night, apart from a few stretches of bone shaking cobbles, the roads and cycle paths were great. Cycling is very much a part of the culture out there, with young families in evidence as much as the lycra-clad club cyclists.
Looking at Strava that night it was pleasant surprise to see just how far we’d cycled in one day (118km), and at speeds I had never cycled before, and I felt great, really great. I think it’s the cycling with people of all abilities, it carries you along, even in that afternoon headwind along the canal.
Early into the second day saw one of the lady cyclists enter mechanical hell, with a broken derailleur and a back wheel that just refused to move. In stepped Luke and Oliver, two of the better cyclists in the group, who together virtually took the bike apart and made it ridable until we could get to a nearby bike shop. Letting the rest of the group go ahead, I stayed with Lauren as Luke and Oliver arranged for the derailleur replacement. This did set us back for the lunch stop in Ypres by over an hour, but with their gentle encouragement we got there in good time. It was an absolute privilege to cycle with just experienced and fit cyclists, and not feel overwhelmed or disheartened. I am forever grateful, and so is my new Strava speed record.
An emotional post-lunch walk around Ypres, including the Welsh cemetery, and the Menin Gate, where I caught a glimpse of my maternal Great Great Grandad’s regiment, and knowing he was on that wall as one of the fallen, I had to walk away. It’s a very powerful tribute to the missing Commonwealth nationals who died in WW1.
Ypres to Lille saw some hilarious navigation, but we all got there in one piece, and celebrated our last night as a group with dinner and an interesting/hilarious night club in Lille.
Our last day of cycling on the trip wasn’t my finest hour, needless to say; a few of us got lost, became shell-shocked at the appalling attitudes by other road users, and cried. But we’ll just gloss over that, because in the party at the end, celebrating the end of the cycle, I looked around and saw a huge number of people I hope will be in my life for a very long time. I am pining to do it again. I really, really miss everyone, and I can’t wait for the weekend to get back out on my bike again.
Thank you to all who made this possible, including Symmetrys for not laughing when I asked if I could do it - it’s been life-changing. And this cycle journey will continue, I have many plans. Watch this space.