“It’s a wonderful way to see the country. Riding through small villages in Leicestershire where the world is just getting going, and along country roads with watercress beds alongside you. One village in Derbyshire had heard what we were doing and came out to applaud us as we passed through. It was hard, yes, but it was wonderful.”
– Martyn Craddock, 2014 Manchester to London ride participant.
The Rapha Manchester to London Challenge is quintessentially English. It is a journey from industrial North to metropolitan South, through the patchwork green heart in the middle. Commencing with pedals at dawn over the Peak District before heading down into the Midlands and the Chiltern hills, participants enter the sprawling capital in darkness at the end of a very long day. While riders wear caps representing their heritage across the great divide – blue for those riding home and red for those riding away from it – there is togetherness wrought on the road by the challenge’s difficulty.
The afore-quoted Martyn Craddock [above], a parent of a child with autism, rode last year and enjoyed it so much that he will do so again in September: “It [the ride] is something that anybody can do. 220 miles might seem an awful long way but it is mind over matter. And riding through the English countryside is the best way to take your mind off the pain in your legs,” he says.
With seven weeks to go, there is still more than enough time to enter and prepare. Martyn is testament to this, considering himself not much more than an everyday cyclist. “I’m a London commuter! I didn’t train particularly hard for the ride last year, although I did do some days over 100 miles. I’m not your thin whippet cyclist and I just get on with it and grind the miles out. That’s all you need to do,” he says.
The ride has four food stops, which provide some homely respite. Locally sourced food is served by volunteers in the grounds of a civil parish and in the forecourt of a 17th century mansion, complete with soothing cups of tea and homemade pies. There is a delight to be taken from the town hall tweeness of it all.
Many participants of last year’s ride spoke of doubting their reason for riding, and ability to continue, at some point during the day. Whether they could, and should, pedal on was answered by the hundreds of thousands of pounds that the event raises for the charity Ambitious about Autism (AaA). Martyn is a parent trustee of TreeHouse, a special school for young children with autism, which AaA runs. He understands the importance of their work:
“TreeHouse gets remarkable results. Since attending, my son has come on so much. He wasn’t given much expectation of attaining anything really: he couldn’t read, was tube fed and wouldn’t engage socially. If you look at him now… he can read words, he can type, eat food from a spoon. He can look after himself. It’s incredible, and it helps us as parents so much,” he said.
“AaA simply has to continue their work. The number of autistic children who have these severe and complex needs is growing, whilst the amount of support that is available to them in today’s society is diminishing. AaA is one of the few charities who seem to make a huge difference and the Manchester to London ride is a great way of supporting their work.”
A difficult challenge? Yes. A worthwhile cause? Absolutely. With these seven weeks of training in your legs, and a British stiff upper lip during the latter stages, you’ll make it to the end of one of the most demanding and rewarding events of the year, and rediscover England’s green heart in the process.