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Professional event for amateurs

Feet Calais

The Hot Chillee London-Paris ride is unique in cycling and described as the professional event for amateurs where the everyday cyclist can mix with legends of the sport. The Daily Telegraph has placed it among the top 25 organised events worldwide.

The ride takes place over 3 days, averaging around 105 miles a day with riders split into 7 groups. As well as the 450 riders there are also over 150 support staff to make things go smoothly. Each group would be accompanied by 2 to 3 ride captains, a lead car supplied by Skoda, motorbike outriders, following car, mechanics van and Mavic support car or motorbike for wheel changes in case of punctures.

Neil Manning, Production Director at Condor Cycles blogs his time on the London 2 Paris 2012.

Day 1 - Registration - Esher, Surrey

The bike prepared, kit carefully chosen for all kinds of weather along with some smart Skoda team kit it was time to get down to Imber Court in Esher to sign on for the ride and meet the team. There were 4 of us making up Team Skoda and it was a good time for the 2 of us who rode last year to pass on some advice to the first timers. After signing on, collecting the goodie bags full of t-shirt, SiS energy products, freebies and race numbers we cheered in Nigel Mansell who had ridden down from John O'Groats and was joining us all the way to Paris.

Day 2 - Stage 1 - Esher to Calais

Team Skoda was split over 3 groups. First time L2P riders Phil and Jonathan were in group 6, Rob in group 3 and myself looking forward to riding in group 1. My group was last off, due to leave at 0745, but as I was sharing with Jonathan it was a 0430 wake up to get down to the start. On the plus side it meant I had plenty of time to get some porridge down as well as a few decent cups of coffee. As we sheltered in the huge Hot Chillee marquee watching the first groups set off in the rain I had the chance to wish Nigel Mansell luck for the rest of the ride. He looked tired already after riding down from John O'Groats, but was keen to get on the road and excited about the number of riders he would be joining.

By the time my group set off the rain had stopped, but it was still wet so capes were definitely needed. As we approached the first race section we slowed almost to a stop behind the group of hand cyclists climbing Frant Hill. This was the first I had seen of the hand cyclists and realised what a hard job they had ahead of them.
The race section was very short, but incredibly fast. I didn't get to put my nose in front, but gave it my best effort. Even my local knowledge of the route didn't do me any favours against the pro riders in the group. At least lunch was around the corner. After lunch I had the chance to sit on the back of the group and chat with Endura pro Jack Anderson and talk bikes with Magnus Backstedt of the UK Youth Team.

The next 40 odd miles ticked away pretty quickly and we were soon entering the hill climb section. The best option for me was to settle in a low gear and get over in a group for the roll in to Dover.

There was a big cheer as we all rolled off into France with just a short few km ride to a large warehouse where we dropped off the bikes, picked up our bags which were lined up in order so easy to find and onto a coach to take us to our accommodation.

Muddy Condor Leggero
Muddy Condor Leggero after Day 2

Day 3 - Stage 2 - Calais to Amiens

The weather was not looking good with rain promised and the trees being blown about in all directions. It was a steady start heading off into the wind with our group about a third smaller than the day before with some riders opting to move down a group. We kept pretty compact with everyone seeking out as much shelter as possible.

Not long after the hill climb section it was time for the race section which was a fair bit longer than the first day at 21km long. As soon as we entered into the race section the group split apart. Magnus Backstedt had punctured just before so as he came through the group I took the chance of jumping on his wheel to see if I could follow. I managed about a kilometre before he rode away. It was increadibly hard in the wind and we rolled over the line in very small groups with me somewhere in the middle to back end.

Everyone was pretty glad when we reached the lunch stop, a cheese and ham baguette was just the perfect thing after all the gels of the morning. It was good to get out of the rain and warm up for a while and catch up with the other Skoda guys in the other groups and swap some clothing.

The last 60km after lunch was again into the wind towards Amiens on rolling roads. After the first few kms out of the lunch stop the rain finally eased and it started to dry up which was very welcome and off came the rain capes once more. I ended up riding with Maurizio Fondriest for a while, chatting about the difference in weather between Italy and the UK, especially as he have had such a bad summer this year. It was amazing to ride alongside a former World Road Race Champion and despite having been retired for over 18 years the class was still clearly there.

At the finish, I got my tired calves looked at again, this time accidentally kicking one of the masseurs on the chin as he dug his thumbs into my muscles. He seemed to think it was quite funny, especially as he knew it wasn't as painful as what he was doing to me.

Stephen Roche and Marcus Backstedt
Stephen Roche and Marcus Backstedt

Day 4 - Stage 3 - Amiens to Paris

The first part of the final day was to be a long one with lunch not till the 123km mark so everyone made sure they had plenty of food and liquid on board. The sports hall was also full of riders cleaning their bikes, trying to get as much of the road grim off from the previous day as possible. It's amazing the power of baby wipes on a bike covered in dirt.

On the road I wanted to spend some time on the front so I sat in behind the ride captains as they lead us out before having a stint of a few miles on the front. It felt great to be leading the group along with all the motorbike outriders and Skoda ‘Tour de France' lead vehicle clearing the way for us up ahead.

We hit the race section only a few kms after I swung off the front, starting with a long drag over some open fields with not too much protection from the wind.

It was easy to see the splits as they appeared, there were a few riders away with a group of a dozen just behind, followed by a similar group then me desperately trying to join them. Unfortunately I couldn't close the gap so eased up and joined in with a group of 5 riders who were not far behind me. We worked very well together, riding through and off in an echelon across the road. We managed to sweep up a few more riders before the end of the section. Coming into the last few kms I remembered the end of the section from last year and took my chance to jump clear of the group. There were 2 riders about 100m ahead so I put in a big effort to reach them, taking a moment to recover when I caught them, then went for the line. I just managed to hold them off. I finished somewhere in the middle of group, but enjoyed the race to the line with riders I was with as it brought back memories of my racing days.

Mr Fondriest and Neil Manning
Mr Fondriest and Neil Manning

Lunch was a change from the day before as the sun had finally come out to greet us and we could eat while sitting outside on the grass rather than sheltering from the rain. With only 45kms into the centre of Paris to go all the 7 groups merged for the final run-in. It was now a pretty large peleton with over 400 riders and all of the support vehicles spread over a kilometre and a half. It was amazing to cruise along in such a large bunch heading into Paris with the roads closed in front of us.

Then we rode over one of the many bridges over the Seine and onto the cobbles up towards and round the Arc De Triomphe, then onto the finish under the Eiffel Tower.

Ride sponsors Moet ensured there were plenty of mini Champagne bottles to go round for all who completed the ride.

It was an amazing experience where all levels of riders shared the road from London to Paris.

The most impressive group among the riders were the hand cyclists. Having seen how hard it was for them in the wet conditions to witness their determination was awe inspiring.

Ride details, route, results and pics/videos:
Fellow Skoda rider Phil's view from group:
An insight into the tough task faced by the hand cyclists:

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