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Steve Plackett's cycling challenge

September 25th was the date for the first 100 mile challenge. Fundraiser and cyclist Steve Plackett tells his multiple sclerosis story.

September 25th was the date for the first 100 mile challenge. This was a Big Bold Challenge thrown down by my employer, Vodafone.

I completed a 300 mile ride from Newbury to Manchester in 2013 (Vodafone Big Bike Challenge) so this would be a breeze.

Starting from Vodafone HQ in Newbury we set off for our destination of the Olympic Park in East London. The weather was kind this year and it remained dry all day with a touch of sunshine when we crossed the Chilterns.

The highlight was Kop Hill which was used for Stage 6 of this year’s Tour of Britain, so much so that Wiggo and Cav's names were still painted on the road itself!

This little bump has an average gradient of 9% over its 0.7 miles with it ramping up to an alleged 25%. Fellow riders quoted 18% off their GPS, but it was relatively easy, although somewhat off putting by the cyclist in front of me weaving back and forth in S shapes, struggling a little!

The final nine miles were cycled in the big smoke, which I have done before and thoroughly enjoyed again. To say you need eyes everywhere would be an understatement but it keeps the blood pumping!

Seeing the 'Pringle' and 'Orbit' appear pretty much from nowhere was a great end point to an enjoyable day in the saddle. October 5th was the date for the second 100 mile challenge.

This was the official Mark Cavendish sportive, starting/finishing at Staffordshire University and taking in the Staffordshire Moorlands and Peak District. I was expecting hills and I wasn’t disappointed.

An early and fairly chilly start saw my friend and I make good time and the first 60 miles flew by with little incident. We had to encounter a man walking out into the road with a canoe on his shoulder, downhill at approx 35mph!

One of the steepest descents of 14% saw my friend have a broken spoke, but luckily for him he didn’t crash. It however left us stationary and without signals on our mobile phones. We decided to wait for race support but after 45 minutes we hadn’t seen anybody.

I decided to ride to a nearby house to use a landline to call event control. This is where the fun for me started. Upon approaching said house, I was surrounded by six Jack Russells and having dogs all my life, this wasn’t a problem until one of them decided to bite my left leg!

I have been meditating for six months now and I remained strangely calm and collected. I still wanted to use the house owner’s phone though don’t forget! One quick phone call and quicker escape took me back to the roadside where my friend was.

Less than 30 mins later and I had been stung by a wasp on my little finger. So having never been bitten or stung by anything in my previous 42 years on the planet, I had acquired both within 30 mins! Two hours later and another phone call from a dog friendly house, but still no sight of race support.

They were very busy apparently, but over three hours in total with no support at all was disappointing. Knowing how important it was for me to finish the ride, my friend insisted that I carry on by myself. I was desperate to finish, so reluctantly left him in a little village called Warslow in the middle of the Peak District.

The final 40 miles loomed, knowing full well that I wouldn’t see another cyclist ahead of me as they were long gone.

There was also the small matter of Gun Hill and Hollington Road climbs to conquer. Gun Hill was on the Tour of Britain in 2012 and again even though it was 80 miles into my ride I found it strangely easier than expected.

At an average of 8.5% over 1.2 miles topping out at 25% (no GPS to confirm or deny though) my 1000s of miles training had paid dividends!

One last 20% descent and the sportive was done and dusted. Strangely I was the last to finish after my three hour wait with my friend. He was rescued by the broom wagon some 30 mins after I left him.

All in all two identical distance cycle rides but completely polar opposite with regards to on the day activities! Strangely enjoyable and all for a fantastic charity! London - Paris 2015 looms for the second time, plus a couple of others no doubt.

Steve Plackett

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