13 riders. 9 days. 20 stadiums. 800 miles. This is their story.
Earlier this month, 13 incredible riders set out on an 800-mile cycling challenge from Newcastle to Southampton, taking some pretty huge detours to stop off at all twenty 2021/22 Premier League stadiums along the way. Spotlighting just one of them felt against the spirit of the nine-day challenge, where all 13 riders relied on each other’s support, encouragement and humour to reach St Mary’s. This is their story.
Since we started our Big Bike Challenges nearly 10 years ago, we’ve put many cyclists through their paces. Early rides covered 70, 80 mile stretches from clubs such as Brighton and Crystal Palace; more recently, that mileage has moved into the hundreds, with challenges starting at the likes of Manchester City and Huddersfield Town. But nothing that we’ve done before has compared to 2022’s Big Bike Challenge – an 800-mile ride from the very north of England to the very south, via some of the country’s most westerly and easterly points, clocking up more than three times the length of any Bike Challenge so far.
Many of the cyclists who had taken on these previous rides for Saints Foundation were eager to tackle their biggest challenge yet. Phil has taken part and fundraised for us from the very start. “I took up my first challenge 8 years ago not knowing anything about the Foundation, just wanting to improve my fitness. Since then, I’ve learnt more about everything that they do within our community. It has inspired me to get involved every year to raise awareness and much needed funds for the charity.”
More than half of this year’s riders had taken on a Big Bike Challenge before, but for Phil, Ben, Andy S, Andy K, Vicky, Malcolm, Steve and Simon, this was a ride in a different league. Speaking on the penultimate day of the challenge, Andy K said: “You get to a level of tiredness where it just stays tired. Maybe I’m an athlete! I don’t think it’s been impossible at any stage, it’s just grinding. We’re doing 12 hour days on the saddle with stops and starts, so it's really hard work.”
Regardless of their past experiences on our rides, this year’s challenge was an altogether different beast to tackle, and each rider had different motivations for signing up. Ben S took it on to challenge himself in his 50th year; for Malcolm, it pushed his limits after falling badly ill with COVID two years ago. The only woman taking part was Vicky, who wanted to push herself further than ever before to give back to her community.
But it wasn’t just old timers who took on this year’s Big Bike Challenge – there was fresh blood too. We’ve already shared the story of rider Matt, who took on the challenge to give back after Saints Works helped his daughter Chloe find work. Matt was cycling alongside one of the amazing coaches on Saints Works, Jake, who has been on his own incredible journey with Saints Foundation. The group’s most senior rider was Richard, a lifelong Saints fan in his 70s, who flew over from Canada to take part. All three, along with fellow newcomers Ashley and Ben S, may have jumped in at the deep end by choosing this year’s challenge as their first, but with the wisdom and encouragement of the Big Bike Challenge veterans, they crossed the finishing line on Day 9 with the rest of the pack.
Their camaraderie was vital for pushing them through truly extreme conditions. After days where they endured heavy rain whilst tackling the steep vertical roads of the Pennines, or cycled directly into the wind for 11 miles along Brighton seafront, the evening mood remained upbeat, cheerful, and ready for the next day. All 13 rode into Southampton together, crossing the Itchen Bridge and sweeping down into St Mary’s Stadium as the strong unit they’d been throughout.
The group’s fundraising efforts have collectively raised more than £50,000, which Saints Foundation will use to help a wide variety of people in our city who need support during these difficult times. A huge thank you to all 13 for giving everything to this once-in-a-lifetime challenge – you are true Saints, each and every one of you.
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