‘It’s more important than cycling’: Nine cycling heroes of coronavirus lockdown

The pandemic has left many cyclists wondering what they could do to help. Here are some amazing results

Geraint’s NHS Zwift shifts

Date: April 15-17
Money raised: £375,483
Key stat: 3 x 12-hour shifts

Probably the most high-profile fundraising effort, certainly as far as British cycling fans are concerned, was Geraint Thomas’s three back-to-back 12-hour turbo-trainer efforts, designed to mirror the shifts of an NHS worker. Still open at the time of writing, ‘G’s NHS Zwift Shifts’ had generated £375,483 on his GoFundMe page for NHS Charities Together – more than £173 for every minute ridden.

The Team Ineos rider, at home in Wales for much of lockdown, came up with the idea after deciding he wanted to give something back.

“I just wanted to help out. I thought the best way was to raise some money, and I came up with the idea of mirroring the NHS worker’s shift,” Thomas says. The 2018 Tour de France winner, who has since returned to his home in Monaco with his family, was supported by his wife Sara and baby boy. He also enjoyed support from followers on his Facebook page, where the rides were broadcast.

The idea sounds straightforward, but definitely not easy, and Thomas says he wasn’t quite prepared for just how tough it would be.

“I didn’t realise how solid it was going to be,” he says. “Sat in that one position, it’s quite stiff on the turbo. And it’s not moving underneath the bike, it’s just stuck there. And then just the mental side of things…three days straight.”

The Welshman describes a big sense of achievement afterwards, adding: “When I look back on my career it will be an achievement that will be up there with some wins. It was a great amount of money and a challenge too.”

Portishead CC’s Alpe du Zwift-athon

(Portishead CC)

Date: April 12
Money raised: £3,000
Key stat: 10 Everests

Bristol-based club Portishead CC opted to raise money for local Trussell Trust food banks ona 24-hour Alpe du Zwift-athon, with riders taking hour-long slots. Club member and ex-pro Simon Gaywood rounded up some pro and ex-pro buddies to give the event extra impetus, with WorldTour rider Lachlan Morton, Max Stedman and Jon Mould joined by the Downing brothers, James McCallum, Chris Pritchard and Eurosport presenter Rebecca Charlton.

The event began at midday on April 12, and in total 36 PCC riders took part, riding 1,600 miles and completing 83,000 metres – roughly 10 Everests.

Kingston Wheelers go Everesting

(Kingston Wheelers)

Date: April 18-19
Money raised: £14,451
Key stat: 200,000 metres climbed

Sixty-one cyclists from Kingston Wheelers took to Zwift to smash their original target of climbing 43,416 metres – the equivalent to sealing the Seven Summits (the highest mountains on each of the seven continents).

They ended up climbing 200,000 metres up Zwift’s ‘Alpe du Zwift’ climb between them in a weekend, and in doing so raised more than £14,000 for Kingston Hospital. The group included elite racer Alice Lethbridge, who holds the current 100-mile and 12-hour records.

Along with fellow Kingstonians Gregg Hall and Harry Bunnell, Lethbridge completed a virtual Everest during the ride, climbing 8,848 vertical metres.

Lethbridge added to her tally of records by setting a new Everesting vQOM mark of nine hours and 24 minutes – 10 minutes quicker than Trek-Segafredo’s Giulio Ciccone.

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Lethbridge went into the ride with the Everesting idea in the back of her mind, but being new to Zwift, and never having ridden more than three hours on a turbo, there were no concrete plans – and then there was the reluctance of her coach to let her go too mad.

“Until about three days before I didn’t even know what a virtual Everest was,” admits Lethbridge. “I had to twist my coach’s arm to let me do five ascents [of Alpe du Zwift] with the other racers in the club, so I didn’t mention it!”

Lethbridge says she felt good after five times up the virtual mountain, and having already embarked on a sixth, she messaged her coach: “I asked if I could do eight-and-a-half…I said I was on for the Everesting record and he said ‘Fine then’.”

As to the money raised, she says her and her clubmates “were blown away”.

Francis Cade’s Double Everest

(Francis Cade)

Date: April 11
Money raised: £17,079
Key stat: 17,696m climbed

YouTuber Francis Cade teamed up with riding buddy Alex Hill to attempt a double virtual Everest, raising a whopping £17,079 for NHS Charities Together.

Setting out at 9am on April 11, the pair rode on Zwift, climbing the re-creation of Alpe d’Huez, Alpe du Zwift.

While Hill had to duck out with a knee injury having climbed a still-impressive 11,000 metres of the 17,696 total, ex-elite racer Cade continued to complete the challenge, finishing after 27 hours 28 minutes, with 435km and 17 ascents of the mountain under the wheels of his trainer.

“I chatted to a few expert coach and nutritionist friends to work out how best to approach it,” Cade said.

“Eating enough was one of the biggest challenges. I quickly reached a point where I couldn’t stomach solid food. I ended up preparing smoothies to get the calories in.”

Elise Chabbey goes to hospital

(Bigla-Katusha)

Date: Lockdown
Challenge: Becoming a medic

Bigla-Katusha’s Swiss Classics rider Elise Chabbey found herself in a hospital gown and thrust into a baptism of fire in a Geneva hospital, just a week after her home nation went into lockdown. A recently graduated doctor, who managed her studies alongside riding women’s WorldTour races, the 26-year-old found herself with an empty racing diary and a yearning to do something to help the cause.

“One of my professors told me the rush was starting at the hospital,” she told French sports outlet L’Equipe.

“I called them up and they offered me a contract that I could stop when I wanted to. I told myself I’d be more use helping at the hospital rather than staying at home and riding my bike. It’s more important than cycling right now.”

Ex-Olympic kayaker Chabbey has also been preparing as best she can for a home road World Championships in Martigny.

World In One Day

(Mark Beaumont)

Date: April 23, 30; May 7, 14
Money raised: £231,000
Key stat: 240 miles on the turbo

If ever there was a man to curate a round-the-world fundraiser it’s Mark Beaumont. In fact the Scot, who holds the current record for circumnavigating the globe on a bike, has already arranged an on-road version of World In One Day in 2018, when he got together a group of “nutters” as he calls them to join him on a 240-mile coast to coast ride from Argyll to Aberdeen.

Totalling 80 riders, they collectively rode 19,200 miles – just over the minimum allowable 18,000 for a round-the-world record attempt – raising money for the STV Children’s Appeal.

Beaumont’s Lockdown fundraiser was based on a similar premise, but gathering as many riders as possible, doing it virtually, and raising money for NHS Charities Together.

“240 miles is a day in the life of cycling round the world if you’re going for the record. A lot of people have said to me “I wonder if I could do one day of that” – that was at the heart of the event. I wanted to design something that was genuinely hard. Something really positive, really hard, really worthwhile.”

Beaumont also roped in some rowing buddies, who naturally had just rowed the Atlantic, and using 160 rowers each doing a 20-mile stint they did it again virtually. “In the second week, while we went around the world, they went across the Atlantic,” says Beaumont.

“I thought we would raise between £18,000 and £25,000 a week. Yesterday we’d raised £231,000. People have been generous.”

Molly Weaver’s Dirty Reiver

(Molly Weaver)

Date: April 18
Money raised: £13,812
Key stat: 1,300 laps of the garden

Ex-Drops rider and CW columnist Molly Weaver has a penchant for riding gravel, and decided to put that to good use during lockdown by riding more than 1,000 laps of her garden to raise money for Women’s Aid.

Shropshire-based Weaver, who retired from the pro scene in 2018, had been due to ride the Dirty Reiver gravel race in Northumberland on April 18.

That was called off when lockdown hit, so Weaver decided to create her own event at home. She set the distance at 130km – equivalent to the Dirty Reiver’s medium route – a mere 1,300 laps of her garden, which was made all the harder by inclement weather. She says: “After about halfway it started to get really claggy and we were having to stop to clean the bike.

“Lap times started dropping off. I said ‘ do you think I can do this?’. And my parents said, ‘well you have to!’.”

By the evening when Weaver finished, 12 hours after starting, she says: “I was just so uncomfortable and so tired and so over it that I was just relieved it was done and I never had to do it again.”

But from an original £1,000 target, Weaver has now raised many times that, and those donations she says, are what got her through.

“My parents were shouting out the totals and at a point when I was really struggling we hit £10,000, and that was like, ‘OK this isn’t about me, this is something bigger’. It kept me going.”

Adam Hansen gets creative

Date: Lockdown
Challenge: Making masks for hospitals
Masks supplied: Dozens – at least 60

Lotto-Soudal’s home workshop aficionado Adam Hansen put both his creativity and his 3D printer to good use over the lockdown. The 39-year-old veteran of 28 Grand Tours, who is based in the Czech Republic, found a way to create multiple PPE masks out of a single item and has been supplying them to local hospitals.

Aussie Hansen uses masks in his workshop as he works with chemicals and carbon-fibre dust, so he already had some to work with. “You can print a device that goes around your nose and mouth and creates a seal, then, if you have a surgical mask, you can cut the membrane up into nine pieces and you’ve just increased your supply by nine,” he said.

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“I didn’t get it right the first time, I made a few prototypes first. Then I tried with different plastics. But at the start, I was printing 24-seven for a good 10 days – I don’t know how many I exactly made.

“It’s a nice seal around your mouth and nose, so it works better than a surgical mask, as they don’t do a proper seal,” says Hansen, a fact confirmed to him by the main doctor he was supplying, who said Hansen’s masks didn’t fog his glasses like the standard item.

Bernal auctions jersey and bike

Date: April 16
Money raised: Undeclared

Egan Bernal joined in the lockdown heroics by auctioning off Tour de France jerseys, a standard Ineos team jersey and a Pinarello bike for the Colombian Fundacion Exito charity, which has been supplying children with food packages during the coronavirus pandemic.

The 23-year-old Team Ineos Tour champ put a yellow jersey, white jersey of best young rider and one of last year’s team jerseys up for grabs, as well as a Pinarello Dogma F12 complete with Dura-Ace Di12 wheels. He tweeted: I will say it with my heart: more than a thousand packages of food will be delivered thanks to our auction, our solidarity led to the goal.”

Bernal’s auction came hot on the heels of that of Alberto Contador, who put up a Specialized Tarmac bike on eBay to raise funds for the Spanish Red Cross, raising £22,550.

Best of the rest

  • Issy Sherwani-Keeling from Hemel Hempstead cycled 761 miles in aid of NHS Charities Together on a turbo-trainer in her back garden. The 21-year-old spread the distance out over five days, cycling up to 120 miles a day, with the odd hour-long foray onto the road. At the time of writing she had nearly doubled her £250 target, raising £428.
  • Scots pensioner Bob Hossack raised more than £1,000 for the NHS by doing his own virtual ride to Land’s End from his home in Gourock. Riding on the road, but staying within his local area, he notched up at least 12 miles every day from the start of lockdown in March, and at the latest tally had ridden a total of 773 miles, with £1,113 raised on his JustGiving page.
  • Team Ineos rider Luke Rowe came to the aid of an NHS doctor who had his bike stolen while working in an intensive care unit. Dr Tom Roberts’s bike was taken while he was working at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff. After tweeting about it, Dr Roberts received a message from Rowe, who asked for his size and said he’d drop something round.
  • Eleven-year-old Thomas Ivor Jones raised £1,600 as part of Mark Beaumont’s World In A Day challenge. But not only did he do a full 240-mile stint on the indoor trainer, he did it as part of a 1,000-mile week, riding an average o more than nine hours a day. “Last few miles and he’s riding at threshold, boy’s an animal,” tweeted his father Tom.
  • Astana rider Davide Martinelli became a cycle courier during lockdown, riding from his village in Italy to a neighbouring town to pick up food and medicine for the elderly. “I had the honour of being able to go to the pharmacy to collect medicines for an elderly couple,” he wrote on Instagram. “Being useful to others is priceless.”
  • Three siblings from Cumbria, Amy (12), Archie (9) and Jack (6) Brown, took on a mini version of Molly Weaver’s Dirty Reiver challenge, cycling a marathon – 262 laps of a 0.1 mile lap – around their garden to raise £982 for NHS Charities Together. “Great effort from three troopers even keeping at it after boredom set in at five miles!” wrote father Neil on their JustGiving page.

This feature originally appeared in the print edition of Cycling Weekly, on sale in newsagents and supermarkets, priced £3.25.

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