The postponement of the Knight Frank Cycle to MIPIM on Sunday 1 March left well over 100 property industry cyclists in a spin, after months of winter training, expense on kit and with generous sponsorships to fulfil. Here's one rider's account of what followed.
Everyone booked on to the Knight Frank Cycle to MIPIM will remember where they were when they got the email from organiser Club Peloton last Monday: the rides were off, writes Sinéad Conneely, co-founder and structural engineer at Simple Works. I was at a seminar in Central London, only 16 hours from leaving for Spain. I would start riding from Valencia to Cannes on Wednesday. Straight away, the 45 cycling Whatsapp groups I am part of started pinging: the disappointment and frustration were palpable but, immediately, a sense of togetherness became apparent. The cycling, and the fundraising, would go on.
Day 1 - Wednesday 4th March - Valencia to Castellon (Regents Park Laps: 43km, 147m ascent)
The first group of riders to start cycling to Cannes would have set off from Valencia on Wednesday afternoon with a short 92km after lunch. I headed to Regents Park for 7am to find solace in my fellow not-cycling-to-Mipim riders and had a very pleasant time moaning about coronavirus and plotting escapes from our all-of-a-sudden busy work calendars. I felt much better about the whole thing when I left the Regents Park Cafe, with a few options and ideas for rides and drumming up fundraising support over the coming days.
Day 2 - Thursday 5th March - Castellon to Altafulla (Hackney Downs to Crystal Palace, and somewhere very wet in Kent: 65km, 772m ascent)
After failing to justify the business benefit of spending two days cycling to Bristol and back with lots of other structural engineers, I opted for the Lockton ride down to Kent with Neo Combarro and his team. This was the morning the London riders would have been setting off for Folkestone so they might not have been feeling so put off by the awful weather. But all I could think about was the 24 degree heat I could have been basking in, down in Spain. This would have been our biggest day, covering 250km. Instead I left my flat in east London and met the others in Crystal Palace for coffee, where I made some new cycling friends: networking goal complete, before the ride even began.
We headed out into the Kent countryside and made about 30km into torrential rain, biting wind and general misery before someone made the sensible call to turn us around and shorten the ride. Back to Crystal Palace for more coffee and more ride planning before disbanding and heading home to do some work for the afternoon.
Day 3 - Friday 6th March - Altafulla to Girona (Hackney Downs to Hackney Wick return: 10km)
The sun came out on Friday, a kick in the teeth for those of us who had foolishly chosen to cycle only on Thursday, in the rain. Webb Yates' Andy Yates, Anna Beckett and friends were on their way back from Bristol. Terry Crawford of Forcia organised a ride to Rye and Brighton via some flooded roads and questionable bike tracks. The Spain riders would have had another big day, with 200km to cover before meeting up with another group in Girona. I made do with a sunny commute to Hackney Wick for a meeting, and back home to get as much work done as possible to facilitate as much cycling as possible over the next four days.
Day 4 - Saturday 7th March - Girona to Perpignan (Regents Park Relay: 85km, 216m ascent)
Veteran Club Peloton ride captain Christian Spencer-Davies came up with the very ambitious plan to simulate the journey to Cannes by riding 1,500km around Regents Park in a relay, passing a baton between each cyclist along with a bike computer to record the effort. I volunteered for an evening shift on Saturday night so, after a morning of taking up carpets in my flat (something I would not have had to do if I'd been cycling to Cannes), I headed over to Regents Park to relieve Anna Beckett of the baton. I arrived to see a haggard looking Velocity publisher Toby Fox coming around the bend towards Regents Park Zoo. After a two-and-a-half hour shift, he had jumped back into the relay when Anna suffered a puncture.
We completed the handover. Christian and I managed to draft behind some very nice strangers for a while, until he went home to get ready to supervise the night shift. I then had a very enjoyable 90 minutes of solitary riding, through the sunset and into the pitch black night, until I spotted Tate Harmer's Jerry Tate standing at the zoo gates at 18:45. He jumped on the front for a few very fast laps and we completed another baton handover. I stuck with Jerry and his blistering pace, missing by a whisker two pedestrians who wandered into the completely unlit road, until Club Peloton's Chris Clarke arrived to keep him company. I peeled off to head home and rest up for some big days ahead.
Day 5 - Sunday 8th March - Perpignan to La Grande Motte (Hackney Downs to Regents Park to Witney: 152km, 1,189m ascent)
Throughout my training for the ride to MIPIM I have had the pleasure of meeting some lovely people. But I must admit that most of my favourites have been of the female variety. So, naturally, we organised to cycle together on International Women's Day, 8 March. For one of the Cycle to MIPIM teams, Vectos, ride captains Toby and Mike Axon had planned two rides in the Cotswolds for Monday and Tuesday. We decided to cycle to meet them on Sunday evening, after an hour of the Regents Park Relay, which was still going strong.
We started the cycle in gorgeous sunny weather and, after battling the traffic on Edgware Road, finally made it out into some beautiful Buckinghamshire countryside. Then there was rain, and homemade cakes, and a "lunch" of crisps and pints of coke in a pub and, in the end, there were six brilliant women who all cycled about 150km. The men drove to Witney. (Some of the men even had a spa day!)
Day 6 - La Grande Motte to Greoux Les Bains (Witney to Witney: 175km, 2,700m ascent)
Toby and Mike had decided they would bring the spirit of Cycle to MIPIM to these replacement rides by enforcing a 5:45am meeting time for a 6am rollout. Shona Virden of Elliott Wood and I dressed, downed porridge pots and hot drinks and made our way out of the Premier Inn to a parking lot filling with people. Some had arrived late the night before, some early that morning, and one had camped in the car park. An impressive turnout of 20 Team Vectos riders and friends.
We set off shortly after 6am and covered 100km in the sunshine, without incident, before stopping for lunch at the very gorgeous Broadway Tower. We were allowed the luxury of a sit-down meal before rolling back out an hour later for the last 75km, in worsening weather. The hills kept coming and the rain kept getting heavier, but the towns we passed through were beautiful and the atmosphere in the group was positive and jovial.
With 20km to go we had one rider mis-time a bunnyhop into a pothole and with a very loud hissing sound his wheel deflated in seconds. The Liv AWOL support car produced a spare wheel and we were moving again in minutes - this was a pretty slick operation, for something cobbled together in a few days! We rolled back into Witney a bit battered and very cold but, after hot showers and lots of pizza, we were back in bed setting our alarms for a very civilised 6am wake up.
Day 7 - Greoux Les Bains (Swindon to Swindon: 95km, 1,500m ascent)
The last day of Cycle to MIPIM, the last day of the Regents Park Relay, and the last day (for a while) we could spend cycling on a weekday. After shedding some riders overnight we were down to nine "ultras" and had agreed to drive to Swindon to experience another, even more beautiful, part of the Cotswolds. It was still raining though, and the first 10km were tough: my quads were like rocks, my head hurt from not drinking enough water and I started to seriously question my life choices.
But by 11km I was fine and just happy to be on my bike. There was a lot of chat about where we could have been right now, cycling through the south of France in shorts and fingerless gloves, about to descend to the streets of Cannes. We rode a short, sharp 95km with some brutal climbs and finished with a very welcome lunch just outside Swindon. Mike and Toby had organised a brilliant few days and did very well to bring people together. Shona, ACG's Emily Pallot and I rode a last 5km to the train station to get back to London, and back to the real world, but not before a quick look in to Christian's relay completion celebrations at the Club Peloton office.
When the Cycle to MIPIM was cancelled I was disappointed: I wanted to ride my bike, I was annoyed I might miss out on key networking opportunities, and I was worried that Club Peloton and the main beneficiary of the ride's fundraising - Coram - would suffer because of something completely outside of their control: Coronoavirus. But I got to ride my bike, I got to know some brilliant people a bit better and, judging by the way people banded together to protect the spirit of the Cycle to MIPIM, I think and hope that the charities will come out relatively unscathed as long as people continue to rally around. Chapeau!
The fundraising hasn't stopped! You can sponsor any of the Cycle to MIPIM riders here: https://www.justgiving.com/clubpeloton
With special thanks to all the riders who took photos! Happy to credit if you let us know which ones are yours.