London to Monte Carlo Bike Ride

On Friday 16th September over 20 riders geared up to take part in the ultimate challenge, cycling from London to Monte Carlo. The epic journey will see the riders cycle 850 miles in 8.5 days whilst raising money for Wooden Spoon, the children’s charity of rugby, who fund life-changing projects that help children and young people with a disability or facing disadvantage.

With the ride starting from the home of English rugby, Twickenham Stadium, the challenge will take riders from the flat lands of Northern France down through the stunning Loire Valley and then over the iconic French Alps. This will provide a truly spectacular yet demanding route, with climbs of over 30 miles long.

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Friday 16th September

That’s day one done and all 20 riders have completed the 78 mile ride from Twickenham to Portsmouth. The weather forecast lived up to expectations and 20 slightly nervous riders made their way to Twickenham Stadium in the pouring rain, thunder and lightening this morning for registration and briefing before starting out on their intrepid journey.

The morning was eventful to say the least, with six punctures (three of these being Mark Whiteside!), one blow out and two falls.

The rain eased off after morning break stop and after a refuel for lunch, it was a fairly uneventful afternoon, except for a few expletives when climbing the hills to Portsmouth. After washing bikes, showering and eating, riders made their way to the overnight ferry for the Portsmouth to Caen crossing ready for day two. . .

A few thank you’s for day one go to; Tim and team from the RFU for sorting our registration room at Twickenham Stadium, The Fox Pub at Fox Corner for allowing us to pitch up in their car park and for sorting hot drinks out for wet riders, The White Horse, Haslemere for providing a fabulous lunch and the team at Premier Marinas for allowing riders to use the showering facilities at Port Solent

Saturday 17th September

An early start aboard Mont St Michel! The 4.45am wake up call was a little painful all round after not many hours sleep on the ferry. It was slightly quiet at breakfast as riders adjusted to reality that they would be cycling 98 miles from Caen to Nogent Le Rotrou. Once disembarked, everyone regrouped in the car park to get their bikes off the vans and prepare for the day ahead (which included putting shorts on the correct way round if you go by the name of Pilling!).

The first quick stop was for a photo opportunity at the humbling Pegasus Bridge and it was then onto first break. Definitely a more pleasing morning ride than the previous day for riders with blue sky, sunshine and mainly flat French roads.

The 28 mile ride from break to lunch separated the groups and a 10 mile gap appeared between the front and the back groups. With an average of over 25mph, the ‘fast boys’ arrived for an early lunch and an even earlier afternoon break at 1.30pm. Sleep deprivation began to shown for some riders at afternoon break. . .Mark W, always check your shirt before claiming to lose your sunnies (mild panic ahead of leaving break stop with all riders helping to search only to find they were on his shirt!).

Unfortunately the weather forecast didn’t live up to expectations and the grey skies only gave temperatures of 15 degrees. All riders powered on through in the afternoon and everyone made it to the hotel in Nogent Le Rotrou by 5pm, a good result all round. A great days riding ending with group dinner in the town square.

Bring on day three. . .

Sunday 18th September

The 6am alarms this morning were not welcomed by riders and the reality of day three kicked in! Everyone managed to arrive at breakfast on time though and made it onto the road just after 8am, having gathered together the ‘faffers’.

Before leaving, the daily ‘Shower Cap of Shame’ was awarded to a certain Mr Pilling for his attire on the morning we arrived in France. . .wearing bib shorts inside out which was pointed out to him by crew member Simon.

The group rolled out with a gentle 10k neutral zone, headed up by Rehan, however it didn’t take the ‘fast boys’ long to make their way to the front, believed to be just after the first hill!

At the morning break stop, riders enjoyed a warming tea/coffee (no sign of sunshine as yet!), some homemade coconut and honey rice crispy bites with a side of skittles and a pot of jelly.

The first group sped away from morning break and averaged over 30mph to lunch with the help of a northerly wind and the appearance of sunshine. Lunch was a picturesque affair, set next to the church in the village of Maves and riders were even invited to the village party by a kind local.

The crew struggled to get riders to leave afternoon break stop, not down to their hospitality, but the appeal of a chair, hot drink and Soreen was more appealing than the 30 miles left to the hotel.

Being the longest day of the ride at 111 miles, the afternoon proved to be tough and the sore legs really kicked in. Back at the hotel, most riders gave their bike a quick clean down before taking more pain killers, eating some post ride carbohydrates and showering before dinner. There were not many bike issues this evening, just a handful of riders being seen by the physio.

The longest day done, well done all!

Monday 19th September

Day four and the day with the day started with the usual male banter over breakfast, everyone slightly more chirpy after the previous evenings carb loading meal and a good sleep.

Just after 8am (the ‘faffers’ are getting better!), riders gathered for the morning briefing (lecture!) in which good form for group riding was highlighted after a couple of near falls. Whilst adrenaline, good humour and patience was wearing thin being day four, Nigel offered some motivation to riders and reminded them that they had more to give. The weather started out cool but dry as the riders started out at a steady pace.

Sadly, one rider had to succumb to the pain of his knees and had to be forced to retire for the day. Instead, he experienced a day in the life of the crew.

The group cycled into Bourges and visited the magnificent cathedral as well as a pit stop at a cafe. This is except for James G, who made a break for it at this point, he headed to first break, quickly reloaded and got ahead of the fast boys and onto lunch. Once at lunch, James once again quickly refilled and headed out to beat the fast boys to afternoon break, only to be caught up within 700m, brave riding indeed!!

A mention to Paul Stickland as he made a big effort today and moved to the middle group and rode well. Another mention to Rehan for slightly overdoing it on the baguettes at lunch (the crew must have done a good job with the Brie and cranberry today!) and slipping to the back but  accompanied by the broom wagon, he made good progress and finished around 4.30pm. Meanwhile the fast boys polished off the day with a super fast stint to the end!

Once in Moulins, there was an ever increasing line of washing being hung out in the crew vans with the sunshine making a quick appearance. Our physio, who is becoming busier by the day as riders start to show signs of wear and tear, worked his magic on a few limbs before everyone headed out to dinner. For some, this was the Grand Cafe in Moulins and for others, this was a McDonald’s!

A good day all round. So onwards and southwards we go. . .

Tuesday 20th September

Day five and we woke to a misty cool morning in Moulins. After a good breakfast in the ibis hotel, riders prepared themselves for morning briefing and awards from the previous day. Gold medal awards were introduced today and awarded to James Gregory; for his outstanding effort in trying to beat the peloton and to Rehan Noronha; for consistently making his way slowly but surely through the day at the back of the field on his own. However, Mr Noronha was also awarded a Shower Cap of Shame for his lunchtime enthusiasm of the baguettes that were on offer, eating three in total, which left him feeling a little bloated!

After 20 minutes on the road, the mist cleared and sunshine came out to reveal a beautiful day. The riders are beginning to enjoy the 10k neutral zone as set by the crew, which allows riders to all ride together.

First break stop was in the pretty village of Trezelles and riders tucked into their daily spread of tea and cakes, except for Mr Denney who was working tirelessly between the office and the miles he had ahead of him. This worked in the favour of Mark Whiteside who caught up with Denney and enjoyed a speedy ride to lunch whilst passing through some lovely villages.

Between break and lunch, riders started to experience their first long climb as the route  skirted around the grand central massif.

Quiche Lorraine was a favourite on the lunchtime menu today and helped to refuel riders before they set off again and experienced a long two mile climb up to their afternoon tea.

What goes up must come down and the route to the hotel was an exciting two mile descent before a flat run in Montbrison.

All riders completed the day very successfully by 4.45pm. The waiting room for the physio grew larger with a list forming and the sunshine and gentle wind made for perfect clothes drying conditions.

Well done to all riders as today took everyone over the halfway mileage mark. Tomorrow, we work our way slowly to the Alps. . .

Wednesday 22nd September

Day six and riders began to arrive to breakfast at an ever earlier time, whether this be from excitement or delirium, we’re not quite sure! It was a cold start to the morning and everyone layered up before heading out to morning briefing. Two awards were presented today; firstly a gold medal to Paul Stickland for being a loyal and caring fellow rider and staying at the back to help those struggling with injuries push on through, a well deserved medal. The second award went to Daniel Hackett for not keeping up with his banking (highly frowned upon within a group of fellow Barclays banking colleagues) and paying his £25 for a tub of Assos cream that had been auctioned off by James Gregory. This award was deserving of the pink bike tassels that had to be worn to first break stop.

As the sunshine appeared from behind the mountains in the distance, riders set out for their first real day of climbing! This became apparent when the lead group of 15 split down into two smaller a groups as the hills began.
The climb to break stop gave riders their first opportunity to see some stunning landscapes, with the morning mist still settled on the mountains. This gave for a cold morning break stop and the sleeping bags even made an appearance.
From the break stop, riders enjoyed some spectacular downhills, some lasting over three miles. It was over the Loire before heading to lunch.
Lunch saw the arrival of two new riders (yes, they have received a lot of stick already for arriving on day six!), having successfully arrived from Lyon airport to a random layby in the middle of France. Riders were treated to strawberries and cream as a lunchtime dessert to reward their morning efforts. Four riders went a little astray before lunch but after mild panic, realised that they were still en route and made it to lunch shortly after the fast boys had departed.
The afternoon ride saw riders tackle a few 800m long climbs, which came with some enjoyable downhills before reaching afternoon break stop at 72 miles.
One of the crews received a phone call from Rehan Noronha saying he was passed too closely by a lorry which made him fall from his bike to the road, however a kind French motorist stopped and helped him to his feet. When the crew arrived, although Rehan was a little shook up, he thankfully only came away with minor grazes and a few bruises. Rehan’s bike had received some damage but has now been fully repaired and ready for the morning.
From afternoon break to the hotel, the roads became busier as we headed for Grenoble, an inevitability. A long 30 mile stretch to the hotel but worth it for a dip in the pool to help ease those stiff and painful limbs!
As usual, our physio was busy attending to mildly ‘broken’ riders but everyone is in good spirits and looking forward to tomorrow…..maybe!
Thursday 22nd September
Today has been the longest day in the saddle for all riders, a gruelling 12 hours for some.

The day started with Dan Pilling and Mark Denney leaving slightly earlier at 7am with hope of reaching the summit of Alp d’Huez for 10am, in time for a conference call! For the rest of the riders, there was excitement and apprehension at breakfast as the day ahead would see riders hit the Alps, with climbs extending to 17 miles long and gradients of up to 6.5%.

Just before first break, one rider was forced to resign to the van after suffering with excruciating knee pain, however the remaining riders made their way to the 28 mile stop. At this point, Mark and Dan informed us that they’d taken their conference call half way up Alp d’Huez and were now at the summit.

All but two riders decided to climb the option Alp d’Huez, the most famous Tour de France climb. This extended the day considerable and some didn’t get off the summit until 2.45pm, before having another 20 miles of climbing to do before reaching the lunch stop at 48.6 miles (excluding Alp d’Huez mileage).

Lunch was a welcome sight for everyone as they turned a corner for another steep climb, only to realise the lunch stop was there on the left. First to lunch were Dan and Mark, who didn’t stay long before heading off. This was closely followed by Phil and then Rehan who both paced around eating their lunch before getting going again, 10 minutes apart. Everyone that arrived to lunch, looked a little worse for wear and gave a sigh of relief at being able to enjoy a baguette and fresh water from a mountain spring.

The climb from lunch to the summit of Col du Lautaret, another classic of the Tour de France, was a painful 7 miles. At this point, several crazy riders decided to take on Col du Galibier before returning back onto the main route for a 12 mile decent.

It was a long slog back to the hotel but first arrivals were around 6.15pm and the last rider made it back to the hotel, accompanied by the crew, at 8.30pm. A fantastic effort by everyone today, although some riders did look like they were going to fall asleep in their dinner.

Day 8 tomorrow and more from the Alps. . .

Friday 23rd September

An achy and tiring start for riders today following the climbs of the previous day. Riders wearily made their way from breakfast to prepare their bikes and listen to the morning briefing. It was gold medals all round following the amazing efforts by all in conquering the day seven mountains and our very first shower ‘cape’ of shame was awarded to Rehan Noronha for clumsily falling off his chair shortly before departing.

Morning break at 26 miles provided the most idyllic stop with stunning panoramic vistas of La Salve du Lac. The super smooth sweeping s-bends led riders on fabulous downhill from break before reaching Barcalonette and committing themselves to one of the prettiest climbs in the French Alps, Col d’Allos. This is an unforgiving 10 mile 1,108m ascent which took three hours for some to reach the summit.

Once at the summit, riders enjoyed a warming lunch of hot dogs and omelettes, prepared by the crew and were wrapped in sleeping bags to shelter them from the cool temperatures. Once refuelled, riders began their descent and what a descent it is, almost 24 miles of sweeping roads with hairpin bends and amazing views, passing through ski resorts as they go.

The fast boys arrived into Saint Andres Les Alpes early and enjoyed a well deserved long cold beer and all riders were in by 6pm.

Tomorrow. . .Monte Carlo!


The final day! It didn’t feel like the riders would be arriving in Monaco today with the temperature at a cool eight degrees as the sun started to rise. As riders set off, there was much excitement amongst the group and a sense of relief at the thought of not having to get up and cycle the following day.

The morning ride was a picturesque yet fairly sharp climb out of the Alps, however riders were awarded with the mouth dropping downhill that followed; roads sweeping down and round the mountains, hairpin bends and breathtaking views! Everyone regrouped once they had completed the descent for a quick coffee before carrying on for the remaining 10 miles to first break stop.

The group pushed on from break to the lunch stop, just outside of Nice, however unlike the last eight days, there was not a baguette in sight as it was at McDonald’s (making James Gregory very happy!). From here, riders made their way to Nice, along the promenade, stopping to show their respects and lay flowers at the Nice terror attack memorial. After this, the group climbed out towards Villefranche before gathering together ahead of their final journey into Monte Carlo.

For the last three miles, the riders rode together as a group, down past the harbour following the famous F1 route. At around 3pm, a sea of red London to Monte Carlo cycle jerseys appeared and the group arrived in Grand Casino Square!! The elated riders congratulated each other before a quick photo outside the Casino and then rode down to the Fairmont ready for the evening celebrations!!

Once at the Fairmont, riders had the chance to relax and enjoy a few drinks before the celebration dinner and prize giving, where the grand fundraising total was announced; an amazing £53,000 raised for Wooden Spoon and still counting!

850 miles and 8.5 days later, they did it, the London to Monte Carlo Cycle Challenge 2016! A huge congratulations to every single rider, an amazing achievement for everyone, for which they should be incredibly proud!

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