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700 miles, 5 days, 2 countries, 2 university students, 2 road bikes, a lot of wrong turns and a lot of memories created. There are many easy ways to get back from a year abroad and cycling doesn’t ever come under that list…until now.

This summer two university students, who just finished their year abroad in France decided to cycle back from Bordeaux to London over a course of a week in an attempt to raise money for charity…with the initial target being £1 a mile for all 700 miles planned.

 Josh Lowe and Dan Mccartney are the two students who decided to replace the comforts of a simple 1-hour plane journey with an adventure across a country and into the heart of the next, creating a fantastic and challenging experience whilst raising money for a fantastic and heart-felt cause.

Firstly, Can you tell us about yourselves and what were the motives behind the cycle?

Dan Mccartney (University of Bristol) and I (Josh Lowe – University of Exeter) are two students and we have just finished a year abroad in Bordeaux, France.

 The whole idea behind the cycle came from Dan Mccartney who spoke to me about the loss of two of his family members to Motor neurone disease and Cancer over the Christmas break. He wanted to do something to raise money for the charities that looked after these two family members, as well as raising awareness for the two diseases.

 I am a Downhill Mountain bike racer and quite often go out road riding for training. So after a chat together during a soirée in a Bordelaise skatepark we thought that it was pretty obvious that we should cycle back from Bordeaux to London. In fact I have to be honest and say that I wasn’t expecting this plan to go through until Dan said that he had bought a road bike a couple of days later!

 

Can you talk us through the route you took?

We were both initially concerned that we would end up cycling on the hard shoulder of a French Autoroute for a whole week. However France is very good with the number of green cycle routes across the country. So we headed up the coast from Bordeaux to La Rochelle on the Green routes and then headed north passing through Cholet, Angers, laval and Caen on all types of roads from walkers paths to dual carriage ways – thanks Google Maps!

 Getting Lost in France

The last part of the journey then consisted of a ride from Portsmouth to London through the South Downs. It was swelteringly hot all week passing through France so we found that it was better to cover 70+ miles in the morning before suffering the final stage of each day in the afternoon. In typical fashion, as soon as the doors of the Ferry opened, the heavens opened up and it rained for nearly the entire way from Portsmouth to London…welcome home I suppose!

Crossing France 

Where were you are staying?

At first we were both fairly keen on bringing a sleeping bag and just sleeping on the side of the road. However when we actually started planning the route fully we realised that a good night sleep is going to be pretty crucial, especially if it rains! So in the end we opted for youth hostels along the route, which provided us with some nice targets for each day.

With hindsight we should have booked the hostels in advance, but you never know what will happen on a ride like this. For example one night in Laval after cycling 110 miles in 38-degree heat we headed to a hostel the other side of the town (which meant an extra 10 miles) but found out that we had been looking at the availability for another day…So anyway that was then another 10 mile ride back to the other side to pinch the last space at a hotel (the last room left in the entire town). Needless to say this was just one example of the frustrations we had with finding places to stay, which is not what you need when you’re exhausted.

 Lost again...probably

What did you do for training coming into something like this?

We were fairly fortunate with the Pyrenees being not too far from Bordeaux. So we have climbed the Col du Tourmulet a few times for a bit of altitude training. However apart from rides around Bordeaux, we have spent long hours in the gym and in the swimming pool. So instead of simply putting in long hours on the bike (which we did as well), we have combined quite a few other training aspects with a lot of concentration on core stability, as well as legs.

 

What was difficult in the lead up to this event was managing the difference in training between the upcoming mountain bike season (which goes on throughout these summer months) and road bike endurance training. Although there are a lot of similarities in the training regimes between the two cycling disciplines such as: leg power, strength, rotational speed, and core work, there is more emphasis on power and upper bodywork within the downhill discipline. So slight compromises were made on this front but we both came into the ride feeling strong and fit.

What was your diet like for the week?

If you had asked me this before the ride BLOCKHEAD, my answer would have been a lot more scientific, but we had to adapt to what was available when we were actually on the ride! We knew we had to be eating enough to balance the calories lost, which in the heat was a fair amount (far too many cereal and energy bars!). The BLOCKHEAD gum was a lifesaver though for the last 20 miles of each day! The hardest part of the cycle was managing our water input; the majority of the cycle was through some pretty remote parts of France and there weren’t many supermarkets on our route. So we ended up stopping at little bars, where the locals were more than happy to help out cyclists.

In fact one day on a particularly hot afternoon Dan and I walked into a bar to ask for some refills; because we had just stopped and no longer had the wind resistance to cool ourselves down, we irrupted into a bit of a red-hot sweaty state and we didn’t even have to ask for water as the barman hurriedly grabbed our bottles!

So Dan, this is obviously a very personal project for you, can you tell us a bit about the charities you have chosen to support?

We’ve opted for the Motor Neurone Disease Association because it is very personal to me, I had an uncle pass away from the condition last Christmas. To be honest it’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen because it strips you of all dignity and mobility. As it stands there is no known cure and it is a relatively unsupported charity compared with the likes of Cancer Research, so it is important to raise awareness.

We also opted to raise money for Candlelighters, a Yorkshire based children’s cancer hospice. Again, it is close to my heart. I had a cousin lose his baby son at only eighteen months old and Candelighters cared for him during the duration of his illness.

 

Dan Mccartney