"There were points last year when I rode myself into an emotional hole - my tank started to go into the red and the pack started to pull away from me and I thought 'Oh my God, is this bike ride ever going to end?'
"Both times, a complete stranger pulled up alongside me, started to talk to me about the Dash, and about Duchenne, and before I realised it, I'd made it to the next food stop and everything was OK. That's what the ride is like: a wave of well-wishers, helping to turn the tide on a most devastating disease, with muscle, sweat, love and Lycra."
Rousing words from BBC Radio 2 and BBC 6 Music newreader Clare Runacres on 6 June, at the start of last month's Duchenne Dash cycle ride in aid of Duchenne UK. Runacres is patron of the charity, which has raised £13 million over seven years to fund 60 projects researching cures for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD).
"This is a brilliantly organised ride," she said. "Even really experienced riders love it, because everything is on hand: more food and drink than you could ever want, great support and such brilliant camraderie. That's what sets this bike ride apart."
A few minutes later, 160 riders set off from London's Herne Hill Velodrome, aiming to reach Paris 24 hours later. And they made it, through rainy English lanes, a gale-lashed ferry crossing and an eventful trawl across France. Mike Axon, director of ride sponsor and transport consultancy Vectos, invited Velocity publisher Toby Fox to join the expedition.
"The conditions were difficult but the spirit was extraordinary," Axon said. "When you're riding with the mum or dad of a boy who has a terminal illness, and the money being raised is paying for a possible cure, it very quickly puts a bit of cramp, or damp, in perspective. You can't do enough to help."
The route wound through Kent and East Sussex to Newhaven, 90km later, where the peloton were fed and boarded a ferry at about 11pm. "I put my name down for this every year," said one of the UK motorcycle escorts as they departed. "It’s my favourite event of the year, by far. It’s got easily the best atmosphere. I’ve worked with kids with Duchenne and the amount of money you raise is incredible."
After little sleep (one rider had tried to book a cabin by telephone, and was told: "Oh, that ferry is cancelled." "No it's not - there are 160 people getting on it in a bit," they replied. "Well, in that, case, they'll be on the roughest crossing ever."), we were roused by a tannoy announcement: "The ships stabilisers are being withdrawn and we'll be docking shortly." That was with stabilisers?
Dieppe looked lovely, even in the rain at 6am, and the peloton headed off in groups to Paris, 211km away. At the first rest stop we were met by a rider with an incredible story: she had arrived at Newhaven with her daughter's passport. A friend picked up her passport from home and drove it to Newhaven, arriving five minutes after the ferry had sailed. Many might have given up, close to midnight, in the rain, after a day of wet riding. But her friend's son's life was at stake - they drove on to Folkestone, caught a Shuttle, and made their way across northern France to the first rest stop, arriving just as the peloton rolled in.
And that's not all. She refused to wear her finisher's medal until, about a fortnight after the event, she had hopped back on her bike and ridden 36km, equivalent to the stage she had missed.
"This just shows amazing commitment and dedication to the families affected by this devastating disease," said Duchenne Dash event director Emily Waring.
The ride raised a phenomenal £1.1 million this year. Ninety per cent of the money goes directly into treatments. "In a world first, Duchenne UK has brought rival drug companies around the table, to work together, to speed up the development of drugs," said Emily Crossley, Duchenne UK co-founder. "It hired doctors and nurses and clinical space for trials across England. Duchenne UK has already changed the future for everyone with DMD. But it has much further to go. There is still no real treatment. It is tantalisingly close, with scientists making real and exciting strides forward. But for those watching their children day by day losing their ability to walk, watching their muscles fail, it is terrifyingly far away."
Inspirational stuff. It certainly inspired Krishnan Guru-Murthy, the Channel 4 newsreader who created the Duchenne Dash. This year he rode an electric bike, in recognition of a recently diagnosed heart condition. Unfortunately the battery ran out on day one, forcing him to ride seven lumpy miles on an 18kg bike.
Everyone riding was aware that the Duchenne Dash saves lives, but no one expected it to prevent a potential suicide. Yet as the peloton rode under a high bridge in France, a woman was spotted tottering on the brink above. “We were all hanging about waiting for the police,” said one rider. “Apparently she didn’t jump because she didn’t want to land on us.”
Finally, around 5pm, the peloton was inching through the Paris suburbs in blazing sunshine. A sudden downpour struck just as the bikes hit the famous cobbles of the Champs d'Elysee and barrelled around the Arc de Triomphe, roads closed to traffic by the motorcycle escort. But the finishing celebrations and the evening's gala dinner took place under a blazing sun, flashing off the nearby Eiffel Tower and the finishers' medals.
The next morning, 16 of the riders woke early, got back on their bikes, and rode to Biarritz. But that's another story...