An elated team of 16 cyclists pedalled their way to an amazing achievement over the weekend: 353 miles and £57,000 for local hospice care.
Team FORGE (Friends of Rennie Grove Enthusiasts) - comprising senior business people from Herts and Bucks - battled injuries, sickness, falls and punctures to complete the gruelling route from St Albans to the Isle of Wight and back again. Covering between 75 and 100 miles a day, the cyclists set off from Grove House at 8am on Thursday September 17 and began the 10-hour slog to the ferry terminal at Southampton.
All went smoothly until the team hit the Hampshire countryside. By this time the cyclists had spread out and split up into separate groups. The support team – comprising a BMW 2 Series from Specialist Cars and a 17-seater minibus courtesy of St Albans Van Hire – began receiving calls along the lines of: “Are we meant to be cycling through a field?” Having redirected the speedier cyclists – who had inadvertently ventured along a dirt track and past a ‘private land’ sign – and rescued 67-year-old Brian Robson from his unknown location “in the middle of nowhere…about 4 miles from Basingstoke” – the support team were then called to the aid of Andrew Williamson, of St Albans-based WMT Chartered Accountants. Although Andrew escaped unscathed, his bike was now in need of serious repair following two incidents.
En route to the ferry, star fundraiser Alasdair McMillin - Rennie Grove Vice-President and Managing Partner of Sherrards Solicitors LLP - topped up his £9,000 total with a cheque for £25 from a curious passer-by with experience of hospice care and the utmost respect for the lycra-clad crew.
With another 10 miles to make before tea, the team were keen to hit dry land again. As the ferry pulled out of Southampton docks, those on board looked back to see five bedraggled FORGE members waving forlornly. Determined to complete every mile, the five finally pulled into the holiday park in Rookley at around 9:20pm.
Colin Ivey, Partnership Fundraising Manager for Rennie Grove, said: “It was quite an emotional reunion. We had all showered and finished our meal by the time they reached us. They hobbled in, soaking wet but grinning with relief, to a massive round of applause and some pre-ordered pizzas.”
Rennie Grove Lifetime Vice-President Lawrence Levy, who was already nursing a knee injury, summed up day one: “It rained. It was painful. I was counting the pedals the whole time.” His knee was clearly causing him pain during the massive ascents on day two’s route round the Isle of Wight circuit. With climbs of over 5,000 feet, the team agreed that the 75 miles around the island made for a far tougher ride than the first day’s 107 miles. Lawrence displayed dogged determination despite his pain: “My friend died at 49 last year and whenever I’m really struggling I think of him and I can’t stop,” he said.
Day three dawned sunny and bright, which matched the cyclists’ moods as they set off for the early morning ferry from Yarmouth to Lymington. A relatively uneventful day’s cycling saw just two disasters befall the team: no coffee for the lead group, who were clocking up average speeds of 20mph in anticipation of their mid-morning caffeine injection, and a puncture on the tandem. The latter was fixed temporarily by the mechanic en-route, with a more permanent repair at the port. However, there was no such easy fix for the former incident and the cyclists had to power through without coffee.
Back on the mainland, the cyclists had another 150 miles to travel. With Swindon in their sights at the close of day three, that left just 82 miles remaining for the fourth and final day. In order to arrive at the finishing line together, the cyclists agreed on a staggered start. Colin added: “Unfortunately this meant less rest for the slower cyclists, but they were determined and set off on the final leg at about 8:45am, followed by the faster group at 10am. The timing proved almost perfect, with both groups reaching the lunch stop just five minutes apart and arriving in St Albans with only a 20-minute window separating them.”
Once in St Albans, team FORGE proceeded through the streets in convoy, turning heads as this procession of lycra-clad, exhausted but euphoric men approached St Michael’s Manor for well-earned refreshments and celebrations with family and friends.
Colin added: “The camaraderie that’s developed has been fantastic. It really feels like we’ve formed a Team FORGE family. The support we’ve encountered in the run-up to the event and en-route has been amazing. Someone overheard a member of the support team talking to a pub landlord and some locals and an elderly gentleman followed her out to the car park to give her a £20 note for the team. And one young lad, William, who had seen our cyclists arrive on Saturday night, came down with his parents to see them off on Sunday.
When we checked our JustGiving page later that day, a donation from William’s family had appeared. The level of support has been truly humbling.”
Congratulations to the team and huge thanks to the 18 sponsors of the event, who have helped to ensure that as much money as possible can go directly towards patient care. The team are very close to raising enough money to fund two specialist nurses for a year. Read more about the cycle at http://teamforge.org.uk/ or top up their total by donating online at www.justgiving.com/ForgeCycle