Event: 10 November 2012
Andrew Kennedy encountered beautiful autumnal sunshine, a superbly organised event and football legend Paul Gascoigne cheering on the riders when he visited the wilds of Northumberland for a late season sportive.
Bike for Bobby duo - former Newcastle United footballer Robbie Elliott and triathlete Phil Gray - enjoyed a triumphant return to Tyneside on Saturday morning as they neared the end of their 3,500 mile charity cycle challenge.
Their families, friends and hundreds of local cyclists and football fans packed the grounds of Ponteland High School on Saturday morning as the pair arrived back in the North East at the beginning of the inaugural Bike for Bobby Cycle Sportive. The following day Robbie and Phil would complete the ride in front of thousands of Newcastle United supporters by walking onto the pitch at St James Park.
Football legend Paul Gascoigne made a surprise appearance at the start of the Saturday sportive after pledging his support for Elliott and Gray's ambitious fundraising efforts.
“It’s just unbelievable what Robbie and Phil have done for the last 25 days,” said Gazza.
“And they’ve done it all for a great cause, to raise money for Sir Bobby’s Foundation and breast cancer is incredible enough. But to do it in the way they have is an amazing feat".
"Speaking to Robbie today has really brought it all home to me, he told me what he was going to do, but hearing about him sat in the saddle for 10 hours a day every day has been inspirational. Let’s face it – the seats on bikes aren’t the most comfortable".
"I just think it’s fantastic for Robbie. After all of these years he’s finally found something he’s good at" Gazza joked, before mingling among the crowd the 250 riders who'd signed up for the Bike for Bobby Sportive.
The November morning was chilly, but the sunshine promised to warm things up during the ride. The route took riders from Ponteland north through the picturesque lanes of Northumberland, following a 33 mile undulating circuit back to the HQ at Ponteland High School.
The atmosphere at Ponteland and out on the road was different to other sportives I've ridden this year. The two main differences being the level of excitement/enjoyment amongst the participants was noticeably higher than a ride dominated by experienced cyclists, and the pace out on the road more leisurely. It's unusual for me not to be passed by other riders, but I was only passed when I stopped for a natural break or to take photos. The distance of 33 miles was also a bit short for a sportive, but obviously suited lots of other riders, especially the beginners. If the weather had been poor then 33 miles would also have been perfect for me. The level of organisation was very good and the signage out on the course the best I've seen all season. The tented village and facilities at the HQ in Ponteland worthy of a much bigger event.
Would I ride again next year?
If the organisers include a longer route option, and persuade Gazza to get on his bike and join in, definitely.
British Cycling’s Andrew Kennedy spoke to riders participating in the event and found they were mostly football fans inspired by Robbie Elliott to support his foundation and give cycling a go.
Craig and Riikka Dixon had ridden 15 miles from home in Tynemouth to do the sportive and afterwards planned to ride back, giving them a long day in the saddle. Finnish born Riikka had been a junior road cyclist back home. When she realised Craig was suffering from too many football injuries she encouraged him to get on a bike. He told us, "Cycling has been good for me and Riikka, it's something we enjoy doing together, I can be a bit of a fitness obsessive and cycling is good to focus on, I've really got into it now, and this ride today is probably the first of many big rides me and Riikka will do together".
Dawn Lindford and Andrew Hartley from Gosforth enjoy triathlons and running, but told us they'd been following Phil Gray's exploits on his charity bike ride challenge and felt the least they could do was come down and ride the sportive. Dawn's in training for an Iron Woman triathlon, whilst Andrew was gravitating towards cycling to prevent any further running injuries. Andrew added, "Cycling is the perfect way to explore the Northumberland countryside, we often get our bikes out and set off to discover new places, the scenery here is just the best in the country".
Jane Jones from Morpeth and Holly Greenwell from Wallsend are friends who did the 'Bike for Bobby' ride together. At the finish they were bursting with excitement having completed the challenge. Mother of three Jane only started cycling in April, with Holly the more experienced rider having downhill mountain bike as her preferred discipline. Jane told us, "Everyone was buzzing at the start this morning even though it was freezing, when we got out onto the road we really enjoyed ourselves. Cycling is girl friendly, you get to spend time chatting with your friends and at the same time enjoy a good workout, and I love the gear, but can you please pass on a tip to cycle wear manufacturers - girls don't just wear pink, please use some other colours".
Holly added, "I loved watching the Olympics this summer, Vicky Pendleton, Shanaze Reade, Lizzie Armitstead and all the other brilliant women cyclists proved that riding a bike isn't just for the boys. We'll be looking out for other rides to do together, and checking the British Cycling website for girl friendly events in the North East".
Stood at the barriers resplendent in their 'Bike for Bobby' tee shirts waiting for their father Nicol Ferrier to finish were sisters Mary (24) and Beth (29). British Cycling asked the sisters if they'd beaten their Dad back to the finish? Mary said, "We were just a bit quicker than him, but not by much". The Ferrier family are big Newcastle United fans and signed up for the Bike for Bobby sportive to support Robbie Elliott and the Bobby Robson Foundation. Beth said, "We are big fans of football, especially Robbie Elliott and as a family we also love cycling, so when we found out this ride was starting in our home town we couldn't not do it. It's been a really good day and we've enjoyed doing something as a family even though we left our Dad behind!".