220 Miles, One Day

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The day before Manchester to London was marked by the nervous rustle of sign on sheets at the Rapha Cycle Club in Manchester. Riders received their special edition musette containing a M2L cap, brevet card, rider number, waterproof map and luggage tags, all colour coded according to their allegiance – red for the north, blue for the south.
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After a hearty dinner of pasta, Rapha founder Simon Mottram made a speech about the true purpose of the event, which is to raise money for Ambitious about Autism. He spoke emotionally about the day-to-day challenges of being a parent to a child with autism and the difference that charity-funded institutions like Treehouse School and Ambitious College have made to the life of his family.
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At the velodrome for 5am on Sunday morning, riders competed over who had the worst night’s sleep. After months of build up, the nerves were visible as the reality of what lay ahead finally sank in.
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As the riders lined up on the start line, dawn began to lift the blanket of darkness around the velodrome, revealing the first of an unbroken line of arrows which stretched half the length of England, to London.
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Immediately after leaving the Manchester suburbs, the riders faced the first real challenge on the route: the hilly Peak District.
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The repeated climbs and descents of the first part of the day were made easier by the breathtaking scenery of the north, and the serene, empty country roads.
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At the first feed stop the sun emerged from the mist and stayed shining for the remainder of the day. Riders enjoyed not only a rare north-westerly tailwind, gently pushing them towards the south, but also a temperate climate perfect for a long haul ride. To have such conditions for the second year running was truly lucky.
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At the first feed stop, riders had the first opportunity to properly refuel. The food on offer included sausage rolls, flapjacks and pocket-sized packets of jelly babies for the road.
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Leaving the Peak District, the route entered more rolling terrain, snaking down sun-dappled lanes into the East Midlands.
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Spirits were high at the second feed stop, Bosworth Hall, as the much-anticipated pies lived up to expectations and were swiftly consumed on the steps.
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The gap between feed station two and three was the largest at 60 miles. During this stretch, the red arrow signs of the north turned into the blue arrow signs of the south, marking the halfway point and providing a much-needed mental boost.
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By this point in the day groups of similar abilities had formed, and teamwork ensured that the pace was set at a sustainable level for everyone.
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At the third stop in Castle Ashby, riders could access their wet bags to change into fresh clothes for the final leg of the ride if they so wished. Even a clean pair of socks could provide a mental boost this far in.
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Riders also received their third brevet card stamp at the Castle Ashby feed stop. One more to go.
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Leaving the third feed stop at mile 142, most of the participants were now riding into the unknown in terms of distance travelled on a bike, and for many, this was where the challenge truly began. Simon Mottram’s words from the night before, “this isn’t supposed to be a nice day out – it’s hard, because living with autism is hard” will have rung true to many at this point.
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The final feed stop provided a much needed respite after the hills of Hertfordshire and the last chance to refuel before the route left country lanes and entered the grey sprawl of Greater London.
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A hero’s welcome awaited the finishers as they crossed the line at Lee Valley Velopark on Sunday evening. Valiant supporters had waited for hours in the cold to congratulate friends, family and partners who completed the ride.
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Elation outweighed exhaustion as the scale of the achievement became real and tales from the road were retold. Tired but happy, riders slowly filtered out of the velodrome after a day on the bike that they will never forget.