Pedal to Paris
30th August – 2nd September 2007
FROM ZERO TO HERO IN FOUR DAYS!
Pedalling to Paris in aid of The Royal British Legion
The story of an epic cycle ride through the Northern battlefields of France
by Bob Foster, Yew Tree House, Sulgrave
After several months dodging the rain in order to put in a sufficient number of preparatory hours in the saddle, on Thursday 30 August, Bob set off on his ambitious cycle ride of 280 miles from Greenwich Park in London, to Paris.
He was taking part in the 12th Annual ‘Pedal to Paris’, to raise money for The Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal, which took place over four days, finishing under the famous Arc de Triomphe in Paris on Sunday 2 September.
Riders waiting for the off, in front of the statue of General Wolfe
at Greenwich Park-Thursday 30 August 2007
250 riders, aged between 35 and 75, set out with a full Police motorcycle escort, at 08.00 on a chilly, but fine Thursday morning. They swept out through the Park, across Blackheath and on down the A20 to Dover. At each roundabout, cross roads and set of lights, they were waved through like royalty – past commuter traffic waiting somewhat impatiently!
After the junction with the M25 (no, don’t worry, they didn’t actually go down the motorway!), they were left to their own devices, following the specially placed ‘poppy signs’ to guide them on their way through Kent and competing with all the other traffic for every inch of the way.
Some 80 miles later, after a short lunch stop at Sellindge, the first riders (including Bob) reached Dover – around 2.00pm – and caught the early afternoon ferry to Calais.
Waiting for the Ferry to Calais
The perfectly smooth crossing from Dover to Calais set the tone of the weather for the next four days – slightly overcast with a cool breeze from the north west – ideal for cycling.
A French motor cycle escort team of some 20 bikes accompanied the 250 cyclists on their way in Calais.
Ceremony at the Calais War Memorial
Friday morning at 08.30 all the cyclists gathered for a ceremony at the War Memorial in front of Calais Town Hall, where wreaths were laid, the English and French National Anthems sung, and a reading of ‘They shall not grow old…….’ in both French and English, before once more setting off accompanied by the shepherding motorcyclists – due south to the next overnight stop in Abbeville, 75 miles away.
50 miles later, at the afternoon tea break, Bob was met by his daughter-in-law and his two grand-children – a wonderful surprise!
A (small) family reunion:
Sarah, Lucy and a camera shy Thomas
Before setting out on the third morning, the cyclists attended a ceremony at the Abbeville War Memorial, where Monsieur le Maire gave a very good speech to the assembled crowd of both French and English spectators. He said “it is good to welcome the British once again to Abbeville. Just over 60 years ago, in 1944, we were delighted to welcome you from the west, this time you are equally welcome, coming from the north!” ‘En route’ again with the roads closed and the traffic stopped ‘pour les velos’.
Enjoying the ride so far,
lunch stop ‘en route’ to Abbeville
After another long day in the saddle, and some 65 miles, the column of cyclists arrived at Beauvais, to be greeted by cheering crowds of officials, veterans and spectators. In the park in the centre of the town they attended a further ceremony at the City’s War Memorial before being taken to their hotels for the night.
The final day, Sunday, was the amazing, (spine chilling) 65-mile, ride into Paris – still with the motorcycle escort closing every side road, stopping traffic at junctions and roundabouts to allow the column to sweep through like royalty once again, often being applauded and cheered by spectators standing at the side of the road or leaning out of their windows. Even car drivers having been stopped by the escorts tooted and clapped as the cyclists passed by – imagine the reaction of British drivers at being held up in this way!!
The due arrival time at the Arc de Triomphe was 15.22 (not 15.20, nor 15.30, but 15.22!) After 280 miles in four days this was duly achieved – to much back slapping and toasting with bottles of beer! The cyclists were greeted by the President of The Royal British Legion, Air Marshall Sir Ian Macfadyen CB OBE FRAeS, who presented a special medal to each rider to commemorate their achievement.
Full of ‘Joie de Vivre’
The final event for the 250 cyclists was to form one large column to march up the closed Champs Elyseé, to stand under the Arc de Triomphe, around the tomb of the unknown warrior, for a special remembrance ceremony to all those who had fallen in all wars. Both National Anthems were played by a French Military Band and sung with much gusto by the cyclists – who had each been given the words of the ‘Marseillaise’ the night before!
As you may imagine, the celebrations went on for some time that night!
The (very moving) Ceremony
If you’ve listened this far – THANK YOU!
Well Done all!
The British Legion hope to raise in excess of £325,000 from this event, and Bob has already raised a quite astonishing £2150.00 towards this target.
Bob says “Thank you so very much to all who have supported me – your generosity certainly helped to keep the pedals pushing round.”
By the way, did you know that The British Legion does much, much more than just support war veterans? They support serving and ex-services wives and their families, including, for example, a forces wife separated from her ‘wayward’ husband who would lose her entitlement to an MoD House. The Legion would help to re-house her and look after her and her family.
If anyone would like to support The British Legion – and Bob’s epic effort - any contribution to the Appeal would be very much appreciated - just go to www.bmycharity.com/foster and make a donation direct to The British Legion Poppy Appeal. Don’t forget to tick the box if you are a UK tax Payer – this generates an additional 28%!
Bob re-united with whippets Mango and Lulu at home in Sulgrave
Bob's wife Libbie also does exciting things for charity purposes! See here.
See here for details of Sulgrave casualties in two world wars honoured on the Church War Memorial.