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TRAINING was just one aspect of preparations for this year’s ride to be interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Although cycling was identified as a suitable form of daily exercise, limitations of one-hour duration and other restrictions prevented me from getting meaningful miles in during the spring.
Later, with a deterioration in the weather and the distractions associated with a reintroduction of top-flight football (which led to at least a couple of celebration induced hangovers), I was left to rely on a series of 20-30-mile local sojourns that, owing to local topography, were not really filling me with confidence for the scale of physical effort that was to come.
Nevertheless, at 4.45am on Wednesday July 29 I set off for the drive to Droylsden, where the 2020 challenge would start.
With my luggage stowed in the support van and the front wheel reattached to the bike, I joined two other riders for the short hop into central Manchester and the ceremonial starting point at the Friedrich Engels statue.
There we were joined by the other half of the ride team and a group of Morning Star readers and supporters, including actor Maxine Peake who, having brought her bike, led us out at 7am for the first few miles back to Droylsden and a breakfast stop before the formal depart from the Town Hall plaque dedicated to Harry Pollitt in whose name the brigade would have the honour to ride.
That first day was expected to be the toughest, with 4,611 feet of climbing, including three significant hills through the Peak District, either side of a Bakewell lunch-stop, on the 66-mile route to our digs on the western fringe of Derby.
As it turns out, we did it in a shade under six hours’ moving time without any unforeseen drama.
Day 2 was the longest, at 96 miles, and although the hills were less steep overall, we still ascended 4,346ft in total.
By mid-morning the weather had “improved” in the East Midlands –but that’s a mixed blessing for fatigued cyclists who were enjoying the clear views and topping up tans while emptying bidons of fluids quicker than they could be refilled at few-and-far-between rendezvous with the support van.
Lunch plans at North Kilworth had to be amended as, in what was to become a recurring feature, the pub we were intending to grab a bowl of soup from was corona-closed.
Instead, some shared bread and cheese from a nearby supermarket had to suffice for fuelling us through the remaining 49 miles through Northamptonshire and to just south of Bedford town centre.
By then, we had spent seven hours and 38 minutes in the saddle on the day but with the additional water breaks and the heat taking its toll on some members of the team, the entire journey was closer to 11 hours.
The final leg of the trip covered 58 miles and a relatively modest total elevation gain of 2,656 feet to north London via Golders Green cemetery and Pollitt’s final resting place.
In theory, it should have been the easiest day but temperatures were already in the region of 25°C-plus by the time we set off, and four hours 49 minutes of riding later — much of it on fast, busy roads either side of the M25 — the mercury hit a high of 39°C.
Because of the route and a shortage of safe stopping places, we were self-sufficient as the support van was grappling with the London traffic.
Nevertheless, with the team sharing the burden of pushing the wind at the front and ensuring nobody fell off the back we got through in one piece without any support.
By mid-afternoon we had reached our final weekend resting place in Cricklewood, where the process of rehydration was approached with vigour — if not necessarily medical advice.
Saturday brought no respite though. Weary legs and tender posteriors were dragged back on to wounded velocipedes for a ceremonial 21-mile tour around progressive sites in central London, including the grave of Karl Marx at Highgate Cemetery.
This wasn’t part of the formal 2020 challenge, but it did provide for a fitting bookend to the 8th edition and for discussions with a wider circle of supporters over a beer in Exmouth Market about plans for the 9th renewal: details to be announced in due course.
At the lunch stop on Day 2, we were greeted with the news that an individual donation of £10,000 had been made in recognition of our efforts.
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