For those wincing at the thought of the epic distance, fear not. The Bike for Bobby ride isn’t 3,500 miles but a more modest 33 around Northumberland - sparing entrants the Grand Tour-esque proportions but allowing them to be a part of history and in the process raise funds for The Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and Breakthrough Breast Cancer.
The ride will however be the last leg of an incredible journey undertaken by former professional footballer Robbie Elliot - who amongst others played for Newcastle United - and his coach for the challenge, Phil Gray.
Together, starting in Lisbon, Portugal they will travel to Newcastle via clubs the well-loved Sir Bobby Robson, who passed away in 2009, managed. Porto, Eindhoven, Ipswich and London (Fulham and Wembley) are en-route before finishing at what Elliot described as ‘Sir Bobby’s spiritual home of Newcastle United’.
“He was inspired by Mark Allison aka Run Geordie Run, who ran across America and it inspired Rob to do something spectacular,” explains Bike for Bobby ride organiser Drew Swinburne.
“He was very close to Bobby Robson when Bobby was manager of Newcastle from 1999-2004. Rob came up with the concept of cycling to all the grounds where Bobby had managed in his career starting from Lisbon, Portugal.
“Phil Gray, who is a friend of Rob’s and involved in triathlon, Rob approached him to say ‘this is what I want to do, will you do it with me and coach me?’. Rob has never been on a bike since he was a kid on a BMX so it was quite a tall order.”
The pair are already on the road having set off with live tracking allowing the public to follow their every move as the duo spend around 12 hours each day in the saddle along with a support team on hand as well as a film crew documenting each leg of the journey via stadiums such as the Nou Camp, Wembley and Craven Cottage.
“Having to ride 150 miles every day for 25 days is mind-boggling,” Swinburne says. “What was decided is that on the day they get back to Newcastle to put on a cycle challenge which would invite the public to come and join in. What Rob wanted to do was a symbolic 33 mile ride which was his very first training ride Phil took him on which was only a few months ago.”
The 33-mile challenge itself forms part of a celebratory homecoming, with event HQ Ponteland Leisure Centre playing host to the post-event refreshments and entertainment ‘in a great day out for the family’. The sense of involvement from the community was a key driver in the decision to hold the ride. Given Robson’s huge popularity in the area Elliot was keen to allow those wanting to support the cause a means to do so, reflected in a relatively flat route around Tyneside.
“There’s two angles to it really, there’s the Bike for Bobby challenge that Phil and Rob are doing and then it’s putting on this cycle ride where people who are following the ride and looking how they are getting on can actually be part of the last day of the ride,” Swinburne says.
“Hopefully there’ll be a big fanfare and big party and celebrations. It’s to get people included in it and to be a part of it. By keeping it to 33 miles, it’s not requiring that people do any training beforehand and we can hopefully involve some younger members, some teenagers so inviting people perhaps new to cycling, perhaps people who aren’t competent cyclists who just want to be part of the day.”
Entry is just £20 which includes a Bike for Bobby t-shirt as well as chip timing with Elliot is also looking for all entrants to raise £1 per mile (£33) for The Robbie Elliott Foundation, with all donations going to The Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and Breakthrough Breast Cancer.
“We’ve got some celebs doing it and some ex-Newcastle United players involved. They’re getting a t-shirt and we’re trying to get the people supporting it to come along and hand out some freebies,” adds Swinburne.
“We’re putting on some pasta and we’ll have some cups of soup – something that’s welcoming when they come off the ride and hopefully people will hang around once they have finished the ride, we’ve got a little bit of an expo as well.”
Online entry is available on the British Cycling Event Calendar with hopes that it can be the first of an annual ride involving Newcastle United and St James’ Park – paying tribute to Robson.
“We’d very much like to make an annual Bike for Bobby sportive where we have some varying distances but incorporate St James' Park into that, so the bikes would leave from there,” Swinburne thinks.
“It’s a hell of a challenge to out that on involving road closures, it’s something we’re working on for next year hopefully if we can get enough people involved and inspired we can make it an annual thing for the foundation.”