On the Road Again For The Palace For Life Foundation

After just over two years the Palace For Life fundraising cycle was back. Interestingly, the Palace For Life Bike to Bournemouth in March 2020 and the Bike to Southampton in April 2022 bookended the pandemic we have dealt with for the past two years. At least I hope we are talking about the end of a pandemic as the national health emergency it has been!

In March 2020 we were cycling into uncertainty; would the match we were cycling 120 miles to go ahead, how bad was this coronavirus thing and how risky was it cycling in a group of 28 people with an overnight hotel stop on the way?

We know the answers to these questions now: no the match did not go ahead, yes this coronavirus thing was very bad and as far as I am aware we were all fine post ride, other than some sore legs. In contrast, for the 31 hardy souls who cycled from Selhurst Park to Southampton on Friday 29 April, we knew the match was going ahead and that the concerns re Covid-19 were firmly in the rear view mirror (and I very much hope they stay that way!).

In terms of organisation and the experience, the Palace For Life crew has very sensibly stuck with the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” motto. It was an early start for a 7:30am arrival into Selhurst Park. After some bacon sandwiches and porridge it was a quick trip to the home changing room to collect our snazzy yellow Palace For Life-Bike to Southampton cycling jerseys and water bottles, go through the briefing for the day and then hit the road!

We did have 88 miles to cycle after all. Once again we self selected ourselves into different cycling paces. Basically fast, medium and slow. Despite having done a bit more training this time, I was planning on opting for the slow group again. However, I allowed myself to get talked into the medium paced group with mixed results. The good news is that we were really covering the miles – by lunch we were over half way there. The bad news was that I was struggling with the pace and with the worst hills towards the end of the ride I did really fear I would not be able to finish the day.

Thankfully, the professional ride leaders, who were pretty much the same crew as the Bike to Bournemouth, were excellent and were very flexible about letting the riders adjust their pace and groups as they went along. Even better my fellow riders Ian (who rode with me on the Bike to Bournemouth) and John (an old friend who I talked into doing the ride) were kind enough to slow down with me even though they were keeping the pace up no problem.

After a simple but very tasty pesto pasta lunch we were back on the bikes for the final 40 miles or so. The pace was much more comfortable now and I spent most of the afternoon saying how happy I was to be in the “slow” group. Sure enough the biggest hills of the day were after lunch and having negotiated those (some walking up may have been involved!) it was mostly flat or downhill for the last 15 miles or so.

Our overnight stay was in the Meon Valley a mere 11 miles from St Mary’s so there was very much the feeling we had now “done” the ride. We had a relaxed evening with a couple of beers, some food (and then some more food!) and an excellent Palace For Life/ Palace quiz.

As we had such a short ride the next day, we had a relatively leisurely start time of 10:30am on the match day and after an hour’s cruise (well there was one hill to climb) we were at St Mary’s. After the medals and photos we were then looked after by the Saints Foundation (Southampton’s equivalent to Palace For Life) who did an excellent job of getting us over to a local gym for a shower and a change into match day attire. The Saints Foundation also looked after our bags and bikes and provided us with food vouchers pre-match. Full credit to them for being so friendly and helpful both pre and post match. Especially post match as it turned out!

I will not go into the match itself but suffice to say the result and the manner of the victory was the crowning glory of what had been a brilliant two days. It made a real contrast with the coach journey home from the Bike to Bournemouth where everyone was just tired now were just as tired but also elated by having watched an exciting Palace away victory.

As ever, whether it is the Marathon March or one of the cycle rides, one of the real highlights is the camaraderie of the participants and the Palace For Life staff. Regardless of the cycling ability everyone is looking out for each other and everyone gets on even though in most cases we have never met each other. Huge credit has to go to everyone involved from Palace For Life for organising the event so well and making sure that everyone was so well looked after. Although I was pretty tired at the end I am looking forward to next year already!

It is not too late to make a donation to the Bike to Southampton and the link is HERE!

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