On Sunday 4th September, 169 cyclists rode Manchester to London, a yearly ride from the north to the south of England. Organised by Rapha to raise funds for the British charity Ambitious about Autism, M2L is a 220-mile long day in the saddle characterised by camaraderie on the road, and a long, rewarding route through England’s green heart.
An ambitious undertaking
“There was no point doing something too easy and achievable,” said Rapha founder Simon Mottram at the event sign-on the previous evening. “Ambitious about Autism is a well-chosen name because we have to be ambitious about helping people with this condition. 220 miles [350km] is not an easy ride, but it’s entirely appropriate that it will stretch you and be tough.”
Pedals at dawn
A rainy 6am roll-out was a sobering start for the riders, but there were still smiles before the miles ahead. It must have been that heady combination of nerves, bravado and fear. In the shadows of the Manchester velodrome, wet bags were handed in, breakfast wolfed down and instructions issued – it was time to get on the road.
Keep on keeping on
How to approach a ride of this length? Simon Mottram had issued everyone with his own advice the previous evening: “1.) Ride slowly – start slowly, and stay slow. 2.) Eat all the time. 3.) Don’t ride on your own – a minute alone is a minute harder than it should be. 4.) Keep on keeping on – the perfect motto for when we feel broken and need to remind ourselves why we’re here.”
Over a third of the participants of M2L were members of the Rapha Cycling Club. Some, such as the Belgian Bert Van Lent (pictured above, left), had travelled from afar to take part. “I have a friend with an autistic child and she has a really tough time so the cause is important to me,” said Bert, who raised over £3,000. The club spirit was strong today.
By far the hardest part of the ride, in terms of weather and terrain, was the Peak District. As the early morning rain hammered down, and amid the gloomy mist of the long rolling hills, those first 50 miles saw many question what torture they had signed themselves up for. With so far to go, every effort uphill seemed another burnt match in a box that hopefully wouldn’t empty before London.
Checkpoint No. 1
Leaving the Peaks after 48 miles, the riders found the first checkpoint at Carsington Water. Rapha H-Van Pedro served up warming coffee and blankets were available to the shivering riders. A sense of fear hung in the air, but the collective regrouping was a mental boost. This was also the first chance to eat proper food, and the sausage rolls and pies – handmade by a gentleman who completed the ride in 2014 and 2015 – were a sensation.
With the rain easing and the hills behind them, riders put their heads down for a late morning stretch towards lunch at Bosworth Hall. With many slowed down by the weather, a good average speed was required here to avoid missing the time-cut at the next checkpoint.
With the grit of the off-road Monsal Trail section in their rear derailleurs, and cups of coffee in their bladders, these three riders appreciated a squirt of de-greaser and chain lube, and the chance for some light relief by the roadside.
A stately home for aching bones
After 86 miles, the regal Bosworth Hall offered up its finest carpets and drawing rooms for the riders to stretch out in. It was something to take the mind off the endless tarmac trudgery. Others opted for a quick bite and a moment’s reflection on the steps before riding off again.
A green and pleasant ride
Manchester to London is a quintessentially English ride, a journey from industrial north to metropolitan south through the patchwork green in the middle. Riders from the north wore red caps, and riders from the south blue ones. The signs along the route also changed colour from red to blue halfway along, a moment that elicited cheers from every passing group. We can do this!
Support is a blessed companion on long rides like this. Families who live close to the route came out to cheer on riders, while other supporters left handmade signs offering encouragement. “Seeing those signs made us feel like the world was on our side,” said one rider afterwards.
As darkness fell, and the participants spread out along the route, the final stretch into London beckoned. Turning bike lights back on was another cornerstone of the day: the lack of daylight was a challenge, and riders needed greater energy and focus to concentrate at a time they had never been so tired. At the same time, the first red buses to pass by signalled a reassuring beginning of the end.
After the pain, champagne
This tale between two cities ended with a velodrome finish and swigs of celebratory recovery drink. Friends and family cheered in every rider, who had earned their applause 220 times over. With more than £130,000 raised so far, and donations still incoming, Manchester to London provides a big help to Ambitious about Autism’s ongoing work. Congratulations to all of the riders for their strong legs and sterling fundraising.
Finish line images by Jesse Wild.
Below we present the full list of finishing times for this year’s Manchester to London ride. Results in red are riders from the north, and results in blue are riders from the south. The average times of each side are as follows:
Congratulations once again to the south, although the north is closing the gap…
|181||15:08:14||Bert Van Lent|
|10||DNF||Bela Batorfi dr|
* These riders did not complete the full distance and so their times were not included in the average calculations.