Writing this a week or so after completing the Palace For Life Foundation’s Bike to Bournemouth, it is hard to comprehend the contrast between spending one weekend outdoors cycling through the countryside to sitting inside all week working from home.
The current situation we all find ourselves in makes me that much happier that I was able to participate in the Bike to Bournemouth, both for the satisfaction of being able to complete the ride (more or less – see below!), and for the last opportunity to spend some time with like minded Palace supporters, even if there was no match to watch!
Most of all, I was glad to complete the ride so that Palace For Life was able to raise so much money for the great work they do, which is going to be needed more than ever.
As I set off from home at 7:15 on the morning of 13 March I had two thoughts. One, I wished I had a done a bit more training, and second, would we be watching any football at the end of the ride.
As a keen cyclist in my youth (sadly a long time ago now), I knew I could cope with the ride but I would have felt happier doing more than the two training rides I had done since January. The fact that it had blown a gale and poured with rain every weekend had not helped!
Having gathered in Speroni’s for the pre-ride safety briefing, porridge and bacon sandwiches it was clear everyone was a little nervous about what was in store in terms of the ride and whether the match was going ahead. In a really nice touch we were all led into the home changing room to collect our Bike to Bournemouth cycling jerseys and jackets which were all laid out like a match day. After a few photos in the changing room it was time to get on our bikes and start riding!
The first day’s ride was a challenging 87 miles to Winchester and as we found out there are no shortage of hills through the Surrey Hills (I suppose not a surprise!) and into Hampshire. As you would expect Palace For Life had organised everything very well. We self-selected into groups of fast, medium and slow (or leisurely as we kept calling ourselves!) and being the oldest rider participating I was very happy to go into the slow group. Each group had a ride leader who were very experienced cyclists used to leading similar types of rides. They were a really great bunch who made everything as easy as possible for us and kept things at a sensible pace.
After getting out of the London traffic and traffic lights, we got into the Surrey countryside just as the news started to come through the match was off. There was no debate amongst all the riders; we had started so we were going to finish and that was that!
As the traffic disappeared, the hills appeared and the cycling got much tougher. After some shifting between the different groups of cyclists, we settled into a core of five of us; Ian, Adam, Jamie, Donald and me. We had widely varying ranges of cycling experience and over time the hills began to take their toll.
Being Palace we were all very supportive of each other and no-one was going to be left behind! Over the course of the afternoon we slowed down and by the last food stop before the final 18 miles the light was going, it was getting colder and we knew the last bit would be hard work in any event having been cycling all day.
After a brief discussion we all agreed that it would be foolish to cycle in the dark on country lanes, particularly when we had an early start and 45 miles to ride the following morning. So we packed it in with some optimistic talk of making up the 18 miles the next day.
We arrived at the Holiday Inn in Winchester to good-natured applause (being the last group to arrive) and after a shower it was down for drinks, a buffet dinner and a Palace for Life pub quiz.
The next day we set off, in staggered groups to ensure we all reached Bournemouth together. Being the “leisurely “ group that meant we were the first out at 7:45! Thankfully the ride on the second day was much flatter and easier. Notwithstanding our early start we were still the last to arrive before we all cycled through Bournemouth to the Vitality. I blame my puncture towards the end for our late arrival!
It was somewhat surreal to arrive at an empty stadium but we were all still glad to be there. There were some Bournemouth security staff there and they kindly agreed to let us go into the ground with a stern warning about not setting a foot on the pitch. After some photos in the stands and by the pitch – note, by the pitch, not on it! – we changed at a nearby athletics club and had a final feast of before we got on the coach to take us back to Selhurst Park late on Saturday afternoon.
I want to thank the entire Palace for Life staff and the cycling leaders for making the whole event run like clockwork. Thanks also to all 28 cyclists who demonstrated that typical Palace camaraderie and support for each other, which made the hard work far more fun that it could have been. I would definitely do it again next year, although my wife I think would have other ideas!