London to Paris Challengers Story!
Challenger, Steve Smith took on our London to Paris – Tour de France Cycle Challenge this summer, raising vital funds for the Down’s Syndrome Association and Cotswold Down Syndrome Group. Cycling for four days in the heat of the summer, arriving in Paris in time to watch the finale of the Tour de France! Here is his account of his cycling adventure!
“Well it’s just about time to set off for the latest Global Adventure Challenge and I feel more nervous about this one than I can remember from the last two. My nerves will settle more once we’re underway at 07.00 tomorrow morning with the 86 mile ride to Dover. It looks as though we’re going to be riding through some extreme weather in France and into Paris. Temperatures in the mid 30’s are forecast and then possibly rain for the ride into Paris on Saturday.
The amount of money that has been donated and pledged has been incredible, somewhere around £5000 at present. This does add to the pressure but I’m up to the challenge and will get to Paris! Thanks to all of you that have contributed.
I’ve got my passport, I’ve packed the chamois cream, okay it’s time to go!”
“Registration with Global Adventure Challenges (GAC) was quick and painless and we were on the road at 07.00, heading through the rush hour traffic. The Down’s Syndrome Association had a team of 4 riders but there were 150 riders in total taking part in the event, most raising money for a cause. The weather was stunning as we set off and soon we’d cleared the suburban sprawl and followed the route along quiet country lanes of Kent.
By late morning the temperature was rising and the terrain was surprisingly hilly. GAC provided a water or lunch stop every 20 miles or so, which worked out well for me as my old bike only had one water bottle carrier. On reaching the mid-afternoon stop we were told that we were falling behind schedule and there was a very real chance of missing the ferry, so we might have to put the bikes in the van to reach Dover on time!
As you can imagine this caused quite a panic in the team, none of us wanted to take the easy option and we thought we’d be going pretty well. Of course, the last 20 miles or so to Dover proved to be the hilliest of the day and by this time the temperature was in the mid 30’s, it became clear at this point that the ride to Paris was going to be a challenge and not just a pleasant pedal through the countryside!
Dover was bustling with cyclists, groups arriving from all directions and there must have been 500 bicycles leant against the walls of the car deck on our ferry. This made for quite a spectacle!
By the time the ferry docked in Calais it was dark and the 7-mile ride to the hotel was great fun, the heat of the day giving way to a cool evening. What a sight the peleton of 500 bicycles with flashing lights made as we rode through the streets, groups of cyclists spurring off to their hotels. We arrived at our hotel at 11.30 local time and after a 20-hour day and 91 miles I was tired and hungry but relieved that the “hardest” day had been completed."
“After the very long first day I slept well and woke up with a few aches but ready for another day on the road, hopefully a bit easier and a more relaxed ride to Arras. The breakfast at the hotel was superb and filled the hole left by the lack of an evening meal.
We had a few mechanical issues to sort out on the bikes and so it was 9 o’clock when we hit the road, but even at that time of day it felt hot. The first few miles were flat out of Calais before we turned off the main road into rolling countryside and on to the drink stop.
As we rolled through a small town the display on the chemist shop told us that the time was 12.30 and the temperature was 39c. I had very little drink left and what I did have was just coming to the boil, the taste of hot isotonic drink will stick with me for some time, it’s disgusting but you had to drink whatever was available."
"Although my head was pounding and my tongue was welded to the roof of my mouth, my legs were still strong and eventually we spotted the lunch stop, praying that it wasn’t a mirage in the heat haze! It was the real thing and most importantly it had water and shade. It took a good 20 minutes and 4 litres of water before I began to feel human again.
None of us were in any hurry to leave the shade of the lunch stop but the organisers promised us that the second half of the day would be easier and even promised us some shade. I hadn’t noticed before lunch but my rear wheel had developed quite a buckle in it and when I checked I found that one of the spokes had broken. The Global Adventure Challenges crew included 3 or 4 excellent mechanics and at the last water stop I asked if they’d be able to fix the wheel.
Because I was on such an “antiquated” bike it required a special tool which he didn’t have, but messages were sent to the other guys and it was likely that it could be fixed at the hotel. The final mile was particularly cruel as it took us over the cobbled squares in the heart of Arras, the last thing you need after 2 long days in the saddle. In the meantime, the rest of the Team DSA had reached the hotel and we all felt very proud that we had made it through this toughest of days."
“Setting off from Arras we were soon riding through some wonderful countryside in hot and sunny weather. It was hard to believe that we were cycling through the Somme valley that I always envisaged as cold, wet and grey. The amount of war grave cemeteries that we passed really brought home the magnitude of the conflict and the waste of young lives of the soldiers from both sides.
By the time we reached the lunch stop the temperature was up to 39c again and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. I got separated from the rest of the group and rather than stop in the sun decided to continue on my own. The roads were long and straight passing through fields that had just been harvested, at one point the heat was so intense that the tar had melted on the road which made the going even harder.
As much as I wanted to wait for the rest of the group there was no way I could hang around in that heat so I set off again for the last 20 miles of the day into Compiegne. Soon I rode into the first bit of shade that I’d seen in hours. I climbed through the woods enjoying the protection from the sun and then there was a fantastic descent down which really lifted my spirits as well as cooling me down.
By the time I reached the hotel I was done, 77 miles in that heat had been hard work. After checking in I popped to the bar and had a refreshing cold beer whilst watching the Tour de France on a giant TV, now those guys really are heroes!"
"After 2 days of incredibly high temperatures the night skies lit up with a fantastic lightning display accompanied by thunder and the first rain we’d had in a long time. We were up early as Team DSA had decided to have a 6am start for our last days cycling so that we could cycle into Paris as a group, Stuart and Marko had a train to catch mid-afternoon so that they could take part in Ride London the following day.
Setting off so early was fantastic and for the first time on the ride there was a slight chill in the air. Our group of 6 rode through the forests surrounding Compiegne and then through some beautiful countryside without seeing a soul. Soon we’d completed 20 miles and rode past the place where the drink station would later be set up, in the old town of Crepy-en-Valois. In the town centre we found a boulangerie that served good strong coffee as well as croissants and pain au raisin, it was the perfect breakfast eaten al fresco.
The miles racked up pretty quickly that day, the countryside was rolling but more interesting than the previous days and the temperature was high 20c’s rather than high 30c’s. By late morning we were on the outskirts of Paris riding through concrete suburbs, we’d covered 60 miles in no time at all so the hot weather training was paying dividends.
Soon we were riding alongside the River Seine and followed this into the centre of Paris where we headed for the Arc de Triumph for a few photos and then on to the Eiffel Tower.
After 320 miles without a single puncture in our group Alexa had a flat tyre within 500 metres of the finish! She pushed the last bit so that we could have some team DSA photos taken before bidding farewell to the 2 crazy guys that were heading off to London for more cycling."
"Because we’d left early we were ahead of the others from Global Adventure Challenges and so we had plenty of time to fix Lex’s puncture and rendezvous with the other 100+ riders for a ride up and down the Champs Elysees and around the Arc de Triumph.
As we finished again at the Eiffel Tower, this time being greeted by the GAC staff with a glass of bubbly and a rather superb finishers medal, also waiting to greet me under the Eiffel tower were my friends Frank and Isabelle who’d travelled up from the south of Paris to make sure that I made it to the finish!
We’d ridden for 76 miles on the last day and it had flown by, it was the first day which could be described as a pleasant cycle, capped by the excitement of riding around Paris and arriving at the finish under the Eiffel Tower. After a wash and tidy up at the hotel we enjoyed a few beers in the bar watching Geraint Thomas retain the winners Yellow Jersey, which he would wear into Paris on the following day."
"After 4 days of tough, tough riding it was a pleasure to watch the peloton arrive in Paris and particularly to applaud Geraint Thomas as he rode to victory.
I did it!! 36 year old bike, 48 year old body, riding more than 320 miles in ridiculous temperatures. Thanks to all of you that make these challenges worthwhile, something like £5000 raised for the Down's Syndrome Association and Cotswold Downs Group makes all (most of) the pain worthwhile."
“So, why do I put myself through the pleasure and pain of these challenges to raise money for Down’s Syndrome charities? Raising a child with Down’s syndrome is both a challenge and a pleasure. With help from local and national charities the future is more positive than ever before, but there is a constant need to support, inform and educate people about the condition. Please don’t feel sorry for families of people with Down’s syndrome, we actually consider ourselves to be “the lucky few”. The world would be a far worse and sadder place without people with Down’s syndrome in it! #wouldntchangeathing.
Amongst the many services that the Down’s Syndrome Association provide, 2 of my favourites are the workfit programme that helps to find employment opportunities and DSActive which promotes sports activities and healthy living. Both of these schemes help people with Down’s syndrome to be included in day to day modern living.”
Steve’s Fundraising Page can be found here: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/SteveSmith52
Are you feeling inspired by Steve's story? Register onto our London to Paris (Tour de France Finale) Cycle Challenge HERE.