Having dodged the rain clouds ourselves on Day 7, but listening to the stories of those who hadn’t been so lucky, we were all to experience the hell of high water during the eighth stage into Okehampton. By the finish I was heard to say “I didn’t even notice whether or not it was raining, that is how soaked I am.”
Pushing on in the rain is not the easiest of things to do, but equally I find it tough to stop and try and get warm when I know there is so much more riding to do. Starting with a lovely descent into Bath, the hills were soon upon us but within a few miles the descent through the spectacular Cheddar Gorge was a welcome relief. I picked up quite a group from Cheddar to the first pit stop, each of us battling the headwind and looking for a wheel to follow. One of the groups I came across had Bryony Shaw, Olympic Bronze Medallist in windsurfing from Beijing, riding with them. It was such a shame the weather was so horrific because although we were able to have a brief chat on the road and then at pit stop one, everyone was just getting too cold to be hanging around for long.
The remainder of the day was quite literally a battle of will against the weather. I was fortunate to get to Okehampton inside 7 hours but the strain of the climbs made me wince, I couldn’t even imagine the pain of the rest of the bunch who would have been out in the soggy conditions for so much longer than i was.
Leaving Okehampton for the final stage was an early one, with some of the riders setting off at 5am. Barney and I rolled out around 7am so we had a longer string of riders ahead and the pain from the day before was visible on everyone’s faces. It’s been a long old week, there is no doubt that the weather conditions and headwind have made it harder and since we start in the north and head south, believe it or not the terrain gets tougher too. Although I would take the hills of Devon and Cornwall any day against the shocking road surfaces in the south of Scotland.
Riding alongside the 500 riders like we did all week was yet another humbling experience, as it was last year. The grit and determination, especially as the terrain got tougher and the hills got steeper, was unreal. It’s one thing riding and racing for a living, but quite another to be training whilst holding down a full time job, taking leave from work and completely battering yourself to get from one end of the country to another. Riding John O Groats to Lands End is something I have always wanted to do and I have been lucky enough to fulfill that challenge twice, whilst being a full time bike rider. To watch each and every one of the other riders also fulfill their ambitions was amazing and I am so proud we were sharing the same [wet] roads for the past 9 days.
Finishing in Land’s End towards the front of the field meant I also had the honour of meeting the people I had been saying “hello” to all week. The riders who at times had been hanging on to the “Storey train” for as long as possible and it was so much fun to see everyone and be able to tell them they had done an amazing job. It was brilliant when people told me which section of the route we had been riding together, once everyone takes their helmets off we all look so different!
I must thank the young lady who donated all her lovely chocolate stash to us at the finish, she’d carried it all the way down and thought it should go to a good home. No better place than with myself and the husband!
There were so many jerseys to be signed and framed, so much fantastic memorabilia and a real sense of team. Everyone had helped someone and everyone had been helped by someone else. That was the great part, listening to the stories of how people had done things together along the route.
Talking of teams, there were two other teams out on the road with us. The real unsung hero’s of the ride. They were first out and last in every day and they were the people that made it happen for all of us.
Firstly there were the motorbikes and support cars, both the medic bikes and cars and the escort bikes. Each of these guys, led by Graham Harper as the lead motorbike were just superb. They always appeared when you needed them and there was always a smile and some encouragement to be had. Riding in the wet and wind, safely guiding us all, attending to the needs of the riders who’d had tumbles and quite how they coped with the zero visibility on Shap, I will never know. We all got over safely under their expert guidance. Without those guys the event could not have happened and I know I speak for everyone when I say how glad we were to see them everyday.
Secondly there were the chaperones, the team of riders led by Andy Cook. These guys are the knights in shining armour of many a late finisher or suffering rider. Out on the road until the last rider finishes, with no additional rest or special modes of transport, the chaperones would simply ride alongside those who needed their help, keeping them safe and sane right the way through every painful mile. Seeing these guys finish in Lands End was superb, they all crossed the line together after everyone else had finished, the final team on the road and feeling every pedal stroke we had all ridden. Such a brilliant group of people and like the bikes and medic cars, the other team we couldn’t have done without. Barney and I had the honour of visiting the Chaperones at their club dinner in Chippenham earlier this year and we had a ball. I hope they all know how amazing they were for us riders and I also hope they are enjoying a well deserved rest!
Finally there are the title sponsors, the event organisers and the rest of the crew to thank. Everyone on the event worked so hard and in many ways it is almost as hard doing the work on an event like this as it is doing the riding. Up before everyone and in bed after everyone, the crew on the event allowed it to run like clockwork and it was awesome to hear everyone talk about how well done the whole event had been done. Riding as the Deloitte Sports Ambassador for London 2012, was great fun and attending the Deloitte evenings on base camp was brilliant.
I have been representing Paralympics GB for 20 years now and so to be involved in such a huge fundraiser like this [Deloitte's target is £1 million over four years for Paralympics GB] for the second year in a row has been an inspiring experience. I don’t know many other sports where training for your chance to win a Paralympic Gold Medal, can mix in so well with meeting so many fundraisers and participating alongside them too. I hope that when I am hopefully on the start line in London next year, all the people I have ridden with will know they were a part of that training and all the support crew will know I couldn’t have done this big block of work without them.
So for now the feet are up and the process of absorbing the work i have done starts. It’s the National Road Race next week, so a few days worth of speed work and recovery and I’ll be heading off to see how things go in Northumbria!
Thanks to everyone on the Deloitte Ride Across Britian, enjoy a well earned rest if you can!
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