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Tour de Sapper 2015

Modern life far too often seems to be about self. A large element of society seems to be, unfortunately, full of self-interest – even in cycling. Yes, folks, let’s not shy away from it. Be it through an addiction to Strava so strong that we can no longer cycle below our maximum, so that we race friends rather than ride with them, or through being those people who buy all the gear, come off mtb tracks still clean, or who pose along the roads and ignore everyone who passes the time of day with them, because they must be beneath them – come on, we’ve all experienced it. The only saving grace may be that you yourself haven’t been one of those cyclists…or people in life generally.

With all of this in mind,  it was extremely refreshing today to be invited along to Leeds, to cycle with the Royal Engineers ‘Old Boys Cycling Group’. For those who don’t know who they are, this is a group of ex-servicemen who over the years have given their all to protect our freedom and the freedom of others around the world. Whether or not we agree with politicians, neither Tony Blair, or David Cameron ever put themselves at risk – these guys have, for us - Selflessness. The very least that I could do was to get my lazy butt out of bed early, travel down to Leeds and ride along with; so it was really great when Garry picked me up at 7am and we headed off, drinking coffee and eating very unhealthy food!

When I was kid, my friends and I would cycle along the lanes for hours, chatting away, sharing jokes, sharing sandwiches and pop, and generally having a great time. As we all grow into adults we forget what those memories actually mean. I’ll try now to remind you in three words - that’s all: ‘friendship and fun’.

The Royal Engineers, like all of our servicemen and women, have this in abundance, and they share it openly. They laugh and joke, they listen, they wait for the slowest man, albeit ribbing them, and they push each other, taking their turn at the front, then checking behind and slowing or waiting for those who struggle - Selflessness again. Yes, there’s a theme emerging…

Arriving at Leeds, nobody said ‘who are you?’ They simply mixed and chatted and laughed and joked and shared the joy of the day ahead. As we climbed out of Millennium Square, heads kept checking over shoulders, paces were slowed and everyone, however fit, was pulled along and out of the city as the Sapper peloton headed towards Wetherby via numerous twisting lanes, and then onward to Ripon for their halfway halt. The wind was blowing in all directions; it blew in that angry and confused way, where it wants to attack you but simply doesn’t know which side to come in from.  Groups formed and conversations passed between guys who hadn’t seen each other since last year, and at key points everyone waited for everyone else.

As we passed the outskirts of Wetherby, hitting the old A1, we seemed to mix in with a nearby cycling event, confusing the numerous marshalls along the roadside, as this large group of middle-aged ex-servicemen took up the unspoken challenge of riding through the whole sportive group that was strung out for a mile or more ahead. These are guys who relish a challenge, and the bemused riders from Wetherby must have wondered what was happening! The A168, long, straight and flat, provided the wind with a funnel and the Sappers with the opportunity to dig in and kick its butt. Stepping up the pace, we soon reached Kirby Hil and descended into Ripon for a well earnt halt at South Lodge – all arranged in advance by Garry, our news editor and a Sapper old boy – you’re never an ex-Sapper, just ‘in retirement’!

Tea and coffee were quaffed, alongside butties, biscuits and flapjack, before the guys prepared for the off again. A quick vote was called due to the weather, and the group stayed true to nature, deciding to stick to their original plan and a few hills in Nidderdale, before heading back to Leeds – they have buckets of spirit that run through their veins. Family commitments meant that my home city was my stopping point, and it was with some regret that I waved them off into the Dales. However, I’ve already pencilled in the day for next year, if they’ll have me along; ensuring that I get a good dose of ‘friendship and fun’ into my cycling, together with an injection of selflessness, to remind me what life is all about.

Thanks for everything guys - for being there when we need you, and for never asking for anything in return other than respect. And for being the kind of cyclists who waves and says ‘hi’ when you pass another rider on the road.