The biggest bike ride in football took place last Friday and Saturday, with the Football League’s selected charity Prostate Cancer UK organising a London to Amsterdam Challenge – the “#L2A”.
250 riders representing 50 different football league clubs took part, with the largest single contingent coming from Ipswich with 70 riders. There was of course some friendly banter, particularly prior to the start, between the riders associated with the different clubs, but overall the camaraderie amongst all riders was remarkable and much commented on by the excellent ride organising company, who marked the route from Harwich to London and from the Hook of Holland through to the Amsterdam Arena very clearly. They also provided medical staff and trained mechanics who rode at different points of the various groups, as well as providing support vehicles.
The first day was a warm one with a gentle but persistent headwind all the way from the football ground of Leyton Orient through Essex to the ground of Colchester United, and then on to Harwich Rugby Club, who provided an excellent meal and some invigorating cold showers. After changing, the riders were bussed the short distance to the ferry, while the bikes were transported on several trucks.
After a smooth overnight crossing to the Hook, the riders gathered and collected their bikes from the 3 trucks. Whereas on the first day, riders wore their own shirts reflecting their associated football club, on the 2nd day everybody wore a Prostate Cancer UK “Men United” shirt. Unfortunately, the day was much cooler, though with a tailwind all the way to the ground of Ajax Amsterdam, which meant that most of the Ipswich contingent quickly donned their #teamITFC wind tops.
By the end of the ride, the Ipswich riders had raised £58,000 of the £305,000 total, with Prostate Cancer UK saying that typically they say 20% more funding come in after the event, so they are hopeful of seeing £320,000 go into their charity coffers to help more men survive prostate cancer and have a better quality of life.
As the oldest of the TeamITFC riders, I wasn’t able to keep up with some of the younger riders, either in cycling terms, or in the celebratory beer drinking that went on Saturday evening in Amsterdam! But it wasn’t a race though I was still delighted to be somewhere near the middle of the pack. As a football supporter, it was a pleasure to meet and talk with such personalities as Terry Butcher and Simon Grayson, Matt Holland (who was doing TalkSport interviews along the way), and ex Ipswich players like the quietly spoken Alan Lee, the irrepressible David Johnson and the outgoing Simon Milton, who had organised the 70 strong contingent. While no prizes were awarded for finishing times, 3 people were awarded orange “leader’s jerseys”: Luther Blissett, on his 3rd ride, who has been instrumental in coordinating the football league’s support of the charity; Dave Garbett of Preston North End who had raised the most – £4000; and Simon Milton for having the largest team on the ride.
The 4th London to Amsterdam ride will take place next year. If you want to have a really great ride for a wonderful cause, make sure tosign up early, as the ride was oversubscribed this year. Men and women take part, and all were keen to raise money for research into a cancer that will affect 1 in 8 men.
250 British cyclists have now seen what excellent cycling infrastructure can be like, as all bar a few metres of the Dutch leg were on cycle paths, and a huge proportion of that completely separated from road traffic. It was noticeable how cars gave way to bikes as we crossed junctions and roundabouts – an almost alien experience for the average UK cyclist. With the expectation that more riders will be able to take part next year, there will be another group who experience what cycling could and should be like here in the UK. Apart from raising money for charity and having a great ride, let’s hope that this nucleus will add to all those who have already experienced such infrastructure and create the critical mass in calling for that here in the UK.
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