On Fri 6 June, 27 odd (and I mean odd!) bold and true headed to Leeds for the first (annual) Tour de Sapper. This was the brainchild of Stan ‘Wiggo’ Darbyshire about a year ago and aimed to bring the REOBCG together for a weekend of cycling and ‘banter’. The Royal Engineers Old Boy’s Cycling Group (REOBCG) is a virtual club for (non serving) Sappers with a passion for all things bike (As Stretch pointed out, Once a Sapper, always a Sapper!). Whilst some of the group had met before and many had served in the same units; most had not met each other in person and this was the first opportunity to gain critical mass in the same location! Stan had promised us a flat rolling route, endless summer sun and stunning views across Gods own county but some doubt’s were raised about the competitive nature when Ans introduced the tag line of ‘if it’s not from Yorkshire, it’s Sh!te’ On Friday night, the troops assembled to recce the start and have pre-ride briefings in a sunny and bustling Millenium Square before retiring to carb load in the Templar Bar opposite the main accommodation (and next to the largest sex shop in the North East (closed down)). The Templar Bar is a good old fashioned pub with a wide selection of carb and fruit drinks, TVs showing t’Rugby (no sound) and no blaring music. Northern Man, couldn’t have been more welcoming despite the influx of jeans and dessies. This was demonstrated when a few of us went for some food and got chatting to some locals who then had a whip around to buy us beer! (Being ‘Athletes’ we instead donated this to Dave’s charity).
The following morning we RV’d at the start in varying states of health (some having slept fully clothed and one didn’t make parade) resplendent in bib shorts and a variety of Corps colours with high hopes for good weather. Bryan Osborne had driven up from Cambridge at 5 am to take photos. It was a great gathering with folk having travelled from Scotland, Wales, Devon and Spain and we were pleased to be joined by some considerably better halves, with Michelle joining us on the ride.
The Team!Paul O’Brien, Dave Coulling, Ash Hanby, Steve Matthews, Andy Burkinshaw, Ian Slack, Joe Bickel, Neil Gadd Nigel Hyde, Mario Reid, Ans Duke, Simon Fox, Michelle, Burns, Dave Bickel, Phil Calladine, Brian Simm, Steve Robinson Frank O’Meara, Steve Marshall, Jase Lewis, Paul Baxter, Mo Howe, Harvey Howe (Mo’s Bro), Mark Stretch Sulley, Stan Darbyshire Missing – David McKay, Taff Shilliam partial WAGs: Margaret Dennis, Sue Simm, Kate Hanby, Wendy Lewis Photographer Bryan Osborne http://
After a group photo, we set off through Leeds. It was a little stop / start to begin with due to the lights but this passed without issue. At no stage did Mo fall off his bike because he forgot about his clipless peddles, nor did he crash into Jase Lewis!
As we left Leeds, we hit the first cheeky climb to 150 m and the field began to spread out. We also hit the first of the route markers that guided us through the hills. Unfortunately, we also saw the last of the sun as the heavens opened. Ans and I stopped at the roundabout to watch the pride of the Corps come around and take a salute before the racing snakes sped off, leaving the gentlemen enjoying the awful weather and a nice undulating run into Ripon. The GPS seemed intent on taking us down the A1 but the ex Ripon inmates kept up on track.
We arrived at the Spa Hotel in Ripon just as Sun broke through. Stan had arranged a Naafi break with cakes, scones and victoria sponge at the wonderful 4 Star hotel soothed by the gentle clack of crocket balls as white (waterproof) suited gentry exercised their summer right of sport. Amazingly there wasn’t a copy of the sun, a rolly or a euchre deck to be seen, just a little too much flesh as wet clothes were hung to dry and Mario went poncing additional layers.
After suiting up, we set off on the return leg. Ans had arranged a treat for those interested and a splinter group set off to explore Claro Barracks. There was some excitement as we passed Dog Squadron lines which reached fever pitch at the Plant Park and MGB pallets and I swear I saw Stretch wipe away a tear as he gazed wistfully at the Guard Room.
There had been some banter about the hills over tea. However, the second half really picked up the challenge as the hills became more brutal. A few of us poottled along at the back and had our own little section competition as we fixed snapped chains (Ash, twice) burst tyres and spokes (Steve M) in quite the worst rain I have ever cycled in. The guys really dug deep, several of them were breaking personal records with every mile they finished and had certainly not experienced Yorkshire hills or weather before. It was fantastic to see the Sapper spirit shining through with Nigel taking some of the newer riders under his wing and Phil working to fix Ash’s chain. Once again, Yorkshire hospitality shone through, when a passing car randomly provided a spare chain link to help the repairs. Harvey also showed his shining armour helping Mario free a stuck cleat (bless) and Andy overcome a bout of cramp.
The hills varied from steep or long to long and steep and caused the team to split up further. Nigel stayed with Stretch, Harvey and Ash and I escorted Mo and Steve. I think the repeated promises that ‘this is the last one’ started to wear thin. When I offered to help fix Mo’s seat on a flat bit, it was made very clear that he was stopping for no man (or red light). Up ahead, there were a couple of issues with Ans finishing the ride with ‘H-Bomb’ stuck in just one gear and Joe the domestique taking and unplanned 10 k sight seeing trip. Taff Shilliam managed to meet up with Stan and the guys briefly from Ripon before heading back for his shift. As we made our way into Leeds, we came upon Bryan who had waited patiently in the rain for 3 hours to grab another picture. We also picked up Michelle who was waiting patiently for Andy who has gotten lost. Unfortunately Andy had made his own way back to the hotel and was well into his second pint. We finally reached the finish point a couple of hours behind speedsters Dave Coulling and Simon Fox. Mo, Steve M and Harvey had all added tens of kms to their personal bests and Ash Hanby had more than tripled his, on a mountain bike, over hills, in the rain, with a broken chain!
As we headed back to the hotel the rain stopped and the Sun came out! After a quick admin session with certain folk sharing showers with their bikes, we reconvened at the Templar bar in tour shirts (thanks Dave) jeans and dessies to refuel. Tales were told, successes were toasted and many many carbs reloaded. All in all the inaugural Tour de Sapper was a huge success and has set a high bar for next year!
A write up wouldn’t be complete without some thanks:
To the stalwart WAGs who joined the event, thank you – it was lovely to meet you all!
To Bryan the Tog – Thank you so much for putting yourself out so much and we look forwards to seeing you in the saddle next year
To all those who joined for the ride, It was a priviledge to meet you all and an honour to be a member of our great club
To Stretch – REOBCG – What more can I say!
To Dave – Thanks for the Polos
To Stan – What a great idea, fantastic venue and execution – The weather made it all the more infamous – You have created a monster – Thanks!