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‘Four de France’ pedal power to Paris for charity

PUBLISHED: 16:58 20 September 2018 | UPDATED: 16:58 20 September 2018

Colleen Loader, Denise Russell, Debs Kennedy and Deb Harding at the end of their 294-mile charity cycle ride from London to Paris. Picture: supplied

Colleen Loader, Denise Russell, Debs Kennedy and Deb Harding at the end of their 294-mile charity cycle ride from London to Paris. Picture: supplied

supplied

Motoring editor Andy Russell is back from an exhausting 294-mile, four-day cycle ride from London to Paris. And he was just driving a van to support his wife who was one of the ‘Four de France’ charity riders.

Months of planning and training for London to Paris in four days... by bike. Not my idea of a holiday but, fortunately, my wife and three girl friends did all the hard work on the charity challenge while we husbands did the easy bit as the support crew.

The appropriately-named ‘Four de France’ team of riders set off on Saturday from Trafalgar Square in London for Calais, only stopping for the quick and easy Channel Tunnel crossing, thanks to Eurotunnel Le Shuttle, to minimise time loss. Sunday took them on to Arras, Monday to the beautiful forest village of St Jean-aux-Bois, near Compiegne, before their ‘short’ 55-mile ‘joy ride’ on Tuesday into Paris itself and up the Champs Elysees from Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe before finishing at the Eiffel Tower.

And they were triumphant champs, covering 294.4 miles and raising around £8,000 in total for their chosen charities – the Alzheimer’s Society, British Heart Foundation and Multiple Sclerosis Society – with money still coming in.

We husbands spend four days in the comfort of a practical seven-seater Peugeot 5008 SUV and the cavernous convenience of a Citroen Relay van – kindly loaned by the manufacturers – one doubling up as crew bus, the other secure bike store and holdall for luggage, spare bikes, tools, parts, enough healthy snacks to keep this pedal-pumping peloton of cyclists on the pace and, somewhere along the route, four very smelly strings of garlic!

Given the garlic aroma, thank goodness the van’s vast load bay didn’t have to double up as mobile workshop. The weather was perfect with two five-minute showers over four days and despite all the preparations, or maybe because of them, no punctures or mechanical issues apart from a chain coming off... just after it had been oiled. Typical.

Meanwhile, the back-up team motored nearly twice the riders’ distance, making sure our wives had all the support and encouragement they needed, carrying out recces for rest and meal stops. Sticking to minor D roads, it was sometimes difficult to find signs of live in some villages, let alone sustenance, not ideal when trying to celebrate one of the girls’ birthdays. After stocking up with cakes from a nearby patisserie, we had a birthday party on a grassy verge complete with a candle brought with us. The few French motorists who passed either found we English amusing or just mad!

We discovered some beautiful countryside but, in the French capital, realised just how scary driving a big van is with traffic, spotting the smallest gap, buzzing by and going for it. We parked the Citroen and Peugeot and set out on foot for the last mile or so to the Eiffel Tower. By pure chance, a six-seater electric golf buggy tour dropped passengers beside us so we commandeered it and headed for the Place de la Concorde for an emotional rendezvous. What a surprise for our wives as we led them through the traffic and round the Arc de Triomphe to the Eiffel Tower. The end of an adventure that was exciting, exhilarating, entertaining and exhausting... our wives took it all in their stride after months of training but all that driving takes its toll on the arms and ankles. Honest!

My wife, Denise, was riding for the Alzheimer’s Society in memory of two friends’ parents. If you would like to support her, log on to www.justgiving.com/fundraising/deniserusselllondontoparis2018

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