The Kent to Ghent bike ride took place from 12-14 May 2016. A team of keen 34 cyclists and support vans set off from the Southern Municipal Exhibition in East Mallling, Kent, with the final destination Ghent. The journey took place over three days and 150 miles. LAPV Editor Ann-Marie Knegt took part in this epic event.
It all started two years' earlier, during the Riverside Golf Day in 2014, when a group of people from the municipal fleet management industry came up with the idea to organise a charity bike ride from the Tower of London to the Eifel Tower in Paris. The 'men in lycra' completed the gruelling yet exhilarating ride in soaring temperatures in 2015 and raised a tremendous ï¿½£24,000 for charity.
It was such a success that the organisers decided to do it again this year. A plan was formed and everything was in place. What could be easier? But from the start at the Southern Municipal Exhibition to the final destination in Belgium, it turned out to be 150 very eventful miles in which nothing could be taken for granted.
Vince Dignam, business performance manager of the City of London, Julian Glasspole, the VWS managing director, Kevin and Lynda Merton of Epic Media and CMS's Jason Airey organised the event and managed to get a record number of riders signed up.
Vince said: 'We learnt a lot from the year before, so we decided on a slightly different format. CMS Supatrak put trackers on the bicycles so it was possible to see where everyone was at one time on a map and family and friends were able to see their progress via www.meninlycra.co.uk.'
On 12 May, the weather was warm and sunny and the riders tucked into a pork roast, courtesy of Kevin Murton and Julian Glasspole. Good hearty food before the start of the first leg to Folkestone with the option of riding on to Dover for an extra 10 miles.
Sponsors Epic Media and VWS provided the blue jerseys for the first day. At the start, a comprehensive technical bike check was provided and the trackers were connected. All looked good and the riders were chomping at the bit to get going.
The team picture was taken and the Chairman of CIWM [is this the chair of CIWM Enterprises or perhaps the President or CEO of CIWM?] cut the cord, wished the riders well and off we went. But it wasn't long before several riders started to receive concerned phone calls from people who were following them at home via www.meninlycra.co.uk.
'You are heading towards Tunbridge Wells which is the opposite direction from Folkestone and you are more than 10 miles off course,' was the message I received. Apparently, the whole group, which had started off together, then spread out in all different directions ï¿½ apart from the right one. This posed a particular challenge for the support vans provided by Collett Transport, VWS, CMS Supatrak, Simply Waste, and Scarab.
However, we all got the message and made it back to the route ' some of us through gruelling traffic and over leg-destroying hills. The second part of the day took the riders along the busy A20 through Ashford and then via the Eurotunnel terminal to the outskirts of Folkestone. A few riders still had stamina left and decided to push on over the hilly bit to Dover.
Meanwhile, the support vans were attracting quite a bit of attention from the local law enforcement agencies, having parked under an international railway line for Eurostar. Apparently, the men (and women) in lycra were seen as a definite security risk. After we were cleared, we moved onto the hotels in Dover for refuelling and sleep.
Early the next day, we sailed from Dover to Dunkirk and the support vans dropped the riders off in the small town of Ghyvelde, near the French/Belgian border, where the team set off wearing green jerseys kindly provided by JB Rhiney.
Normally, a ride along the Belgian coast would have been relaxing and pleasant but, facing 45mph headwinds, it was anything but that and we were slowed right down.
There was one stretch of road directly alongside the beach that is now infamous in the minds of the riders. It seemed to drag on forever and the wind roaring across the beach was sandblasting us with a vengeance. One of the riders said it actually scraped the logo of his sunglasses. It was ï¿½ character building. But still we battled on through.
By the time we arrived in Oostende the wind had become so severe that some people actually had to get off their bikes to avoid being blown into the traffic. From Oostende we somehow managed to continue to the beautiful city of Bruges where a well-deserved Belgian beer awaited us in the medieval market square.
The support vans then took us to Ghent where we stayed for the night after a lovely dinner in the historic centre. The next morning, the group was split in two wearing white jerseys for day three, sponsored by Dennis Eagle. One group went back to Bruges in the support vehicles while the others cycled back to Bruges where we met once more and cycled on to Ghent ï¿½ again. It made sense at the time.
This should have been a straight forward leg. After all, it was a matter of just following a canal. The problem was, however, that there is more than one canal in the area and so whose Garmin was right? In the end, everyone found their way to the final destination, safe in the knowledge they had achieved an amazing feat while making new friends and strengthening old ties.
Celebrations started with a boat trip on the canals of Ghent and after which we partied into the night.
The next day we returned back home, back to reality but rich in experiences and sponsorship money. The Kent to Ghent cycle ride had raised a staggering amount of money for charity.
Julian Glasspole said: 'Together we raised the best part of ï¿½£40,000, that is a massive amount and really helps a lot of people. This really is a heartfelt thanks to everyone. I think you are all pretty amazing and I loved spending time with such outstanding people.'
Vince Dignam said: 'We could not have done this epic ride without the help of our sponsors and support teams. I would like to thank: Faun Zoeller for providing the mini buses and donating to our causes; Riverside for providing insurance and break down cover; Terberg Matec for providing the water bottles and its donation; and Johnston Sweepers for providing the water. I would like very much to thank, VWS, Epic Media, JB Rhiney and Dennis Eagle for sponsoring the shirts, and their very generous donations to the charities.
'I also cannot thank our support teams enough. Their backing was essential. So a big thank you to Andy and Bridget Collett from Collett Transport Services, Shaun Hamilton, Jake Peters and Martin Lister, Trevor Evans and Kate Lloyd from VWS, Dean Croad and James Capel from Simply Waste, Nigel and Peta Proctor from Scarab Sweepers, Andrew Gunn and Ian Chaplin from Thomsons, and John Lancaster, Damien Penman and Gary Laver from VWS.
'It also needs to be emphasised that all riders paid for their own food and accommodation and that all money was donated to charity. We have raised an incredible amount of money and all of it will go directly to the charities. And we can't wait to do it all again with a different destination next year and the enthusiasm and spirit of our riders has been superb.'