Martin Mears is Head of Regional Events for the British Heart Foundation who run a range of London to Paris challenges, both on road and off road. We caught up with him to find out more...
What makes London to Paris stand out, especially when part of a group charity challenge?
The thing that makes this special is that it brings people together from all over the country who are united in just one similarity, their love of cycling and the fact they are signed on this event. Three days later as we depart at the end of the trip there are new friendships and relationships that transcend the event. Whether you sign up as an individual or with a team of friends, you are part of something much larger and more special. It’s also a beautiful route with amazing support and camaraderie that raises huge funds for an amazing cause.
What level of cycling fitness should particpants be aiming for?
They should be aiming to be able to go at their pace, but be ready to spend time in the saddle. We don’t ride as a peloton so you can really genuinely do this at your pace, but obviously training is key.
What are the biggest logistical challenges for you in terms of organising the BHF rides and how has it changed in recent years?
The biggest challenges have been the fact that the event evolved from 100% teams who provided their own support to an event which is now largely dominated by individuals taking part. So it's the duty of care for those individuals - such as the catering, the coaches and the bike transfers. Also each year we have to be ready for things like road closures and spontaneous village closures for their own rides. The event is unrecognisable to how it was run five years ago, it has been invested in to match any third party London to Paris event, but is still supported predominantly by amazing volunteers.
What's your favourite part of the route/ride?
I think probably day two (your first day in France) when you leave Marquise and some of the villages you go through are so beautiful, and also they are so supportive of bike rides and can’t do enough for us. They are so welcoming and you certainly see a side to France that you completely miss if you just use the toll roads. It's very exposed in the French countryside, but at least it means you can see the views, which is better than a hedge at the side of the road.
[Note: The BHF's route takes three days, starting with a 70-mile stage from Orpington to the Eurotunnel, followed by 84 miles from Marquise to Amiens and then 90 miles of riding into Paris on day three]
Tell us about the most inspiring story/stories from fundraisers who have taken part in London to Paris rides with you...
I guess it's hard to pick one as so many are inspiring. But one great example was a lad called Dom who had recently lost his father to heart disease so he and five of his friends did the ride for that reason. They really were amazing, raising huge funds and they stayed together the whole time. It was fantastic to support them and watch them as a team, refusing to give up, when clearly some preferred bike riding more than others. His mother and family were their support crew so it was quite an emotional journey for them all. Then when they completed their journey, Dom promptly proposed to his girlfriend….so that’s a memory that stays with us for all the right reasons. I think it was the perfect tribute to his father, but also a good way to look forward in his life too.
Also two years ago we had a team from Hewlett Packard who were doing it in honour of a colleague they lost. They supplied a team of 20 riders and we also used six of their staff to become support volunteers on the event. In addition a lady ran a half marathon every day on the route, it was an amazing experience and incredibly emotional for them all. But we made sure that anybody who wanted to take part could do their bit no matter how far they rode, and it worked for them so well.