In August, the team at Sensat cycled all the way from London to Paris (that’s 270 kilometres!) in just under 30 hours – to raise money for charity.
In August 2018, Sensat decided to hold a brainstorming session to discuss the next team challenge… well, the first team challenge! The obvious challenge would have been to find another technology-focused hackathon or similar. However, someone suggested something far from the norm, that Sensat ride from London to Paris in two days on two wheels, self-propelled.
Being part of a startup doesn’t allow any training time during weekdays. Hence, weekends came to the rescue, when we realised that we should get some cycling experience. After all, it takes some time to get used to those lycra shorts, all the new tech kit on the bikes and those ‘tour de France’ style clipless pedals. But after a total of two training rides, the team felt that they were ready to tackle London to Paris!
Exciting as it was, the fear started to kick in. 270 kilometres on the road, in under 30 hours. From 15 initial volunteers, only 7 brave souls stood at the starting line on a blustery October afternoon in Shoreditch. Nonetheless, we were all motivated for a brilliant cause, a charity raising awareness of Parkinson’s disease, and helping people who suffer from it.
The chain-gang was a group with varying physical abilities; an Olympian, an ex-Team GB, one who had completed an ultramarathon. On the other side of the spectrum, someone who’s biggest athletic achievement was a sports night out. The team had a diverse range of athletic abilities and a unified will to make it to Paris.
12th October 2018: D-Day!
We were all ready, not physically but mentally strong. As a collective, the team had collected a total of £4,600.
The day arrived.
We had to do it for the charity and for the people who put their trust in us. Day 1 would take us from London to Newhaven, from where we will catch an overnight ferry across the English Channel arriving at Dieppe in France, early in the morning. Day 2 was to be 15 hours, 180 kilometres, finishing the journey at Arc De Triomphe in Paris.
On day 1 the peloton had 9 riders; two of them who decided to join us up until Newhaven, and the magnificent 7 who will brave on towards Paris. It was a cold and windy day with the remnants of a hurricane battering the UK. Cycling through London is not an enjoyable experience on any day. Red lights and white vans sap the energy from your legs at every opportunity. It was a welcome sight hitting the M25 after some 4 hours on the road. It was a surprise we all made it to this point with some of the team reaching 67.7km/h on the downhill sections.
After a lunch break, we hit the Surrey Hills – a range of long undulating hills, stood between us and Newhaven. Some of the hills were challenging. Some of the hills were evil. Coupled with the wind, the ride after lunch was tough on everyone. The spirits of the team remained high even after darkness set in and the mental battle to reach Newhaven kicked in.
Up and down hills. Up and down… Up and down. Cycling into the darkness felt like an unknown challenge. In the darkness, the peloton struggled to stay together – at times, kilometres apart. But at checkpoints, the peloton waited and cheered on anyone struggling up a hill – the team was united by the desire to make it to Newhaven. It was a welcoming sight to see the lights of Newhaven Harbour glinting in the distance! With only a few kilometres left the team gained energy (due to the thought of a beer at the other end).
8 hours after leaving Shoreditch, the peloton rolled into Newhaven.
Stage one, complete!
13th October 2018: Storming the beaches
After exactly 2.5 hours of interrupted sleep on a ship that was being battered by an ex-hurricane, we made landfall at 0430 in Dieppe.
We were on French soil!
Ahead of us was a 180km ride that would take us through some of the most beautiful countrysides that Normandy could offer. At this point, none of that mattered. Within 3 minutes we were going in the wrong direction up a dual carriageway. We ended up climbing 10m up a muddy embankment, with our bikes on shoulders, to get back on the right path.
When we finally made it on the open road, fatigue from not eating enough and the ride the day before set in quickly. The peloton was disparate and spirits were low. It was 40km until our first scheduled stop.
The first stop was wonderful – a small French hamlet with one Bar and one Patisserie. We grabbed croissants and bread and headed to the Bar to drink coffee and refresh our water bottles. Feeling refreshed and re-energised, the following kilometres flew past with ease.After 90 km, lunch was due.
Group navigator Harry had hand-picked a town on the map called “Fleur de Floret” due to its perceived size and assumed abundance of food available. These assumptions turned out to be incorrect. The team rolled into Fleur de Floret to find a ghost town.
This was our lowest point. We were informed that it was 10 km to the closest town with restaurants and food. This was France – who knew there was no food!? Low on energy and spirits, the team set off for Gisors. By far the least enjoyable and most frustrating ride of the trip. Our tanks were on empty and it was a mental battle to reach the finish line.
We reached Gisors and dived into the first place we could find – to be told they were full. The second place was a dirty Kebab and Pizza restaurant – but it would do. To our peril, the ride after lunch involved a 2 km 15% incline – the fact that no one vomited on the side of the road was surprising to say the least. At the peak, we looked into the distance and knew this was the top.
It was all downhill from here – in more ways than one.
At 120 km we had broken the back of the ride but it was still a long way to go. The team peddled onwards through French villages and into the suburbs of Paris. Much like the beginning of the ride in London, Paris’ streets were suitably unenjoyable to ride through. You were in an urban sprawl with traffic, noise and red lights. After cycling in almost solitude for 12 hours it was a shock to the system.
When crossing the River Seine we knew we were close.
The sights of Paris started to come into view and the finish line was in sight. Darkness once again fell on the team but the bright lights of Paris guided the way. No urban hill, small or big, was going to hinder our progress. We could see the end of it all. Then, riding up the Champs Elysees and to the Arc de Triomphe, they had made it.
The team that left Shoreditch 29 hours before rolled to a stop. Finally, it was done. Some were walking, some were limping and others were spread-eagled on the ground. But we had all made it. We had all experienced very different rides and came out of it as new people, some more than others.
The feeling of joy was overwhelming especially as the donations continued to come in from friends and family.