The London to Paris cycle is becoming an ever popular choice for SportsAid fundraisers. Earlier this month, Ben McLaughlin completed the 347 mile distance across four days - taking in the sights of the beautiful French countryside on the way to iconic monuments such as the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. He opted for the challenge after he was asked by his girlfriend Kat Wieymeyer, a national level Olympic weightlifter, and her friend to join them in heading into the unknown by taking on a new sport in cycling.
Ben's next decision was to choose a charity, and his passion for wanting to help young talented athletes overcome financial barriers led him to SportsAid. He managed to raise nearly £2,000 (including Gift Aid) and now has an appetite to continue cycling. The keen CrossFit enthusiast, who works as an Area Manager for the Stonegate Pub Company, is lining up for Team SportsAid in the TP ICAP L'Etape London this Sunday (24 September) and also has Prudential RideLondon in his sights for next year.
How did you find cycling from London to Paris?
“It was a really eye-opening experience. I had previously done a fair bit of mountain biking but to take to the road for 100 miles at a time was amazing. Lance Armstrong talks about a bike being truly liberating as it is your first real taste of freedom as a kid and it's really true. It feels awesome knowing that you are powering yourself along with no-one or nothing else to rely on (until you have a puncture....) for miles at a time.”
What did you enjoy and dislike most about the experience?
“So many things were enjoyable that I couldn't list them all but the early morning sunrises, alone on the quiet French roads, were sensational. Meeting a whole bunch of like-minded people for a shared goal was really cool but the feeling of limitlessness was the real enjoyment for me. The weather on the first day was horrendous. The organisers told us that these conditions usually made people retire early but the whole team just put their heads down and got on with it which was pretty special. Four days also resulted in a pretty sore bum which wasn't the most fun!”
What made you decide to do the challenge? And why did you choose to fundraise for SportsAid?
“My girlfriend and a friend from her gym decided to do the challenge and asked if I would like to join. It seemed like a great chance to try a new sport, push some boundaries as well as raise money by doing something that was going to be a real challenge. Sport in Great Britain is close to both of us and there are numerous examples of raw talent going to waste because of someone else's agenda. Not giving people the support they need because they chose the "wrong" sport or hadn't qualified at the right time almost seems criminal and I wanted to do something to help that process. SportsAid was in my mind in the background but as I began to look more deeply into it and uncover all of the amazing work that was being done it was an absolute winner for me.”
Did you find the ride difficult or within your comfort zone? How had you approached your training?
“I could lie and say that we were really well prepared but in all honesty we only bought bikes a couple of months prior to the challenge. We both had decent fitness levels so most of the training was tailored around getting comfortable with road biking; traffic, clipping into pedals etc. It meant that we got to explore our local area much more than we had previously done which was brilliant! The physical endurance of the challenge was probably within my comfort zone but the logistics of riding the bike, mechanical issues, disturbed meal schedules and early starts certainly made it a real challenge. As our first event, it also meant we were learning how much we could push and when to ensure we made it to the end!”
What were the stand-out moments throughout the ride? And when were the toughest bits?
“Riding into Paris, the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower were really iconic moments. Pacing a few of the seasoned riders up the hill climbs was also a great feeling. Riding 350 miles alongside my girlfriend whilst touring France, enjoying a new sport to both of us, was pretty awesome too.The weather early on was tough, five punctures on Kat's bike upset the rhythm a lot as well. On the last day one of our team had a fall requiring hospital treatment - he is fine and well now! When you have spent four days in the saddle you feel almost invincible but then seeing an experienced rider in distress it suddenly brings the perils back home and meant we rode a lot more cautiously for the rest of the day.”
You’re now taking part in L’Etape London to show your support for SportsAid Week. How much are you looking forward to the occasion?
“I feel really honoured to be riding on behalf of SportsAid and despite my relative novice status I think it will be an absolutely amazing day. I will probably ride the middle distance to try and keep with the main pack of riders - these things are much more fun when there are others around you. It will be a great occasion and something that I can really shout about on social media to drive awareness for SportsAid Week. You can expect a world of live videos and stories documenting the highs and lows throughout the day! Check out @theb4ben on Instagram and Twitter.”
Do you have any other major challenges in mind beyond that? Anything you’ve always wanted to achieve?
“We really enjoyed the challenge and it has opened the door to what else is possible. RideLondon next year is certainly at the top of the list but who knows after that....I joke about doing the Trans Am ride but that might be some way in the distance!”
What type of exercise would you get up to in a typical week? Which sports and physical activities do you enjoy most?
“I have a background in coaching CrossFit and love to see people push their physical abilities to levels they could never imagine. The good thing about the sport is that it gives you a core level of fitness to dabble in so many other activities, cycling being a perfect example. My work schedule is pretty erratic which means that I have to mix up my training fairly often. In the lead up to the challenge I was on the bike two to three times a week with one long ride, a couple of CrossFit sessions at CF Blackfriars in London at the weekends and then, time allowing, one or two strength sessions in my garden gym at home.”
You can help support the next generation of young British athletes by getting involved in SportsAid Week 2017. The initiative runs from Monday 25 September to Sunday 1 October with a week of fun and fundraising in store. There are lots of ways to show your support including the newly-introduced #MyMiles challenge. Your backing will make a real difference to the country’s finest sporting prospects.