Ann Kenrick: Drop a size in jeans in four days whilst eating all you want!

London Cycling Campaign's Board of Trustees Chair, Ann Kenrick, recounts her epic cycling journey to Paris.

At this time of year with the wind howling – great if it is behind your back but not if you are trying to get home from work and cycling straight into it – you need some kind of incentive to get you out on a decent ride on the weekend.

And what better incentive than the prospect of doing the Royal British Legion Pedal to Paris ride? September (5-9) may seem a long way away but it will be here before we know it and at my age having to cycle 70 miles a day for 4 days requires some training. This is my sixth year doing the ride and I can’t wait!

Would someone remove this saddle from my arse? This was the comment from a rather obese elderly gentleman on arrival in Dover last time I did the ride!

We had left Camberwell at 6:30 that morning to join 170 others on the bike ride to Paris and 9 hours and about 80 miles later, we had arrived at the ferry port pretty exhausted but delighted to have the worst day of the ride out of the way.

When the British motorists honk their horn it means ‘Get out of my way’. When the French do, it means “Go for it!!”

So why was I abandoning my two daughters - one on her first day back at school and the other on her birthday as I bike off to Paris with my husband, 20 yr old son and a group of local mates?

It all started four years ago when I saw a poster encouraging people to bike to Paris and raise funds for the Royal British Legion.

One of the great things about the ride is the camaraderie and the temporary friendships that you strike up en route. People from all sorts of backgrounds are doing the ride for all sorts of reasons. One guy had remarried in his sixties, had 2 young children and a wife of 30 and had used the ride to motivate himself to get fit!

Another was a Professor of Psychiatry who had written a book on the history of shell shock, and got involved with the RBL. Some were incredibly competitive 18 year olds, determined to reach each destination first.

But most were pretty amateur, getting off their bikes to walk up the really challenging hills or being given a lift in the support van, or a firm hand on the back by one of the French motorbike outriders to help them up the hills.

The route runs down to Dover, by boat to Calais for the first night, then on to Paris via Abbeville, Beauvais ending at the Arc de Triomphe.

A typical day involves gathering at the starting point first thing in the morning. Each town welcomes all these cyclists every year in a tremendously moving ceremony.

It is touching to see the ancien combatants turn out and sing the national anthem and marseilleise before setting out. A delicious lunch is provided in another village hall en route.

After an afternoon of riding through pretty villages with the outriders stopping all the local traffic, being cheered on by the locals, accompanied for a couple of miles by a keen spaniel, and buffeted by the wind you arrive at the destination by around 5, leave the bikes in the local fire station and get bussed off to a hotel for a welcome meal…and a few drinks!

The last day is a bit different – the outriders have the challenge of getting the whole group of differing abilities to the Arc de Triomphe by 15:00 on the dot. In a country known for its chivalry the French outriders insist that any ladies go first for this last stage.

Thus it was that last year I found myself ahead of everyone else riding up the Champs Elysees cursing the cobbled streets but feeling on top of the world in glorious sunshine.

For anyone out there inspired to do the ride themselves all you need is to be relatively fit, to follow the training recommendations over the year and to be imaginative about raising the sponsorship money (£800 + £650 to cover travel, accommodation, etc.).

There are three ability groups: the social group which average 10 miles an hour, the medium group at 14 miles an hour and the scary fast group who fly past the rest of us in a peloton at around 25 miles an hour.

The RBL team carries all of your luggage, sort out any bike problems and offer masses of encouragement.

And of course there is always the added bonus – you can eat as much as you want including a well deserved slap up lunch in Paris and in four days you easily drop a jeans size!

Check out the Royal British Legion website for more details and see you in September!

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