An ambitious challenge for an ambitious cause!

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Hello, I am Sergios Agapiou and this is my attempt on blogging as I prepare for the inaugural Rapha Manchester to London Challenge. The challenge will take place on the 7th of September 2014 and it is a bike ride starting at dawn from Manchester Velodrome and ending at the Lee Valley VeloPark in London before midnight. In between, the route covers ~220 miles (~350 km) through the heart of England, which may be a bit of a challenge given the fact that my longest ride so far has been 110 miles.

Sounds ambitious, but it’s appropriate since all the participants are riding in support of a fantastic charity, namely Ambitious about Autism. Autism affects 100,000 children alone in the UK, children who experience difficulties communicating and interacting with the world around them. Ambitious about Autism provides support to children and their families, specialist training and also campaigns for change to ensure the needs of people with autism are understood and met. One of the great services they already provide, is the TreeHouse school for autistic children and starting from  September 2014 they will launch the Ambitious College If you would like to support this great cause, please donate here

About the challenge, I hope that in the three months between today and the challenge I will manage to get myself to a state that I can complete the ride. In order to do this I will need to both train under severe heat conditions during my holidays in Cyprus, where temperatures often rise well above 40 degrees celsius, as well as to regularly train after normal workdays. My plan is to post on this blog all the data of my training with some additional comments about weather conditions, how the ride felt etc. I will also frequently post material relating to autism in an effort to raise awareness.


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The challenge

Everything has gone great and both myself and my friend Paul successfully completed the challenge! It was a very tough day of riding, at a fast pace given the distance, but definitely worth it! A massive well done to all the other finishers! I would be enormously grateful for any late donations to my great charity Ambitious about Autism, which can be made here.

We arrived in Manchester on Saturday afternoon and after we checked-in to our hotel, went to the “pasta party” organized for the participants. There were lots of people at the party, and I immediately noticed that the average age of the participants was a lot lower compared to audax events. That was a bit worrying, since everyone looked very fit  (the challenge was not a race, but nobody wants to come dead last). We didn’t stay for long, we collected our entrants packs, ate a plate of pasta and went back to the hotel for an early sleep. Indeed, with a planned wake up time of 4:15 am, we went to sleep quite early, but unfortunately we got a false fire alarm at 11 which ruined my sleep. Anyway, I was not too worried since I was very careful not to tire myself at all on Saturday.

Eventually we got up, packed our stuff, and got to the starting line all ready for departure around 6 am. Paul and I had this pact that we wouldn’t try to stay together for longer than necessary, since this would slow down the one that felt stronger, and put the other one in danger of “hitting the wall” and eventually dropping out. At 6:10 we were set off in a group of 20 riders after a quick briefing about the signage of the route and something about road works that I didn’t pay the necessary attention to. Half a minute after departure, we had already missed a turn and kept on going to the wrong direction for around 2 miles. At some point people at the back of the group started wondering whether we were heading the correct way and this is when the app viewranger, which was provided for free for the event, proved very useful. A quick check on the phone and then immediately I turned back. The detour added an extra 4 miles to a planned 217 mile ride; not the ideal start to the day.

For the first hour or so, I found myself riding in a group of 20 riders (including my friend Paul) and eventually we navigated our way out of Manchester and into the Peak District. The first couple of hills started thinning the group out, and I found myself riding completely alone after the biggest hill of the day (which was around mile 25, on Cowlow lane close to Chapel-en-le-Frith). What a hill that was! The part of the briefing at the start that I failed to pay attention to, said that the planned big climb of the day (which was not too bad at 10.5% average over 0.6 miles) had to be replaced by this climb. The hill was a complete killer, and I made it even worse since I got confused about the direction I should head to at the bottom of it, and had to unclip from my pedals. I eventually managed to clip back in, and after a while found myself in a 0.3 mile part of the climb which averaged 16% gradient! I had to stay seated because there was a bit of gravel on the road and I was worried of losing traction by standing on the pedals, so I climbed that bit at 35 rpm and moving at the snail pace of 3.7 mph (my gps went to autopause a couple of times thinking I was not moving at all).

After the big climb came the best part of the route which was the Monsal trail. The Monsal trail is a compact gravel trail along an old railway line, which starts at Miller’s Dale and goes to Bakewell and runs roughly along river Wye. Riding on the gravel was fantastic (perhaps the slightly negative gradient helps), there were 2-3 tunnel sections which were quite special, and some absolutely stunning views of the river and the surrounding hills. Not long later, I arrived at the first feeding station which was in Carsington Water, 20 minutes behind schedule due to the early detour, despite the fact that I was going faster than planned. Nevertheless, I was happy that all the climbs of the day were behind me, and thought that ok it’s just a long flat stretch to the finish line (this proved to be completely wrong). I quickly got my brevet card stamped and filled my bottle with energy drink and took off again.

I rode again alone for around 20 miles and then I was very fortunate to get caught by two riders, Ian and number 167 (from Lancashire), who were looking for people to make a small group and try to help each other to get to the finish. I tried to take some turns on the front, but to be honest I wasn’t of much help and I was essentially being pulled by them until the next stop at mile 88. Again a relatively quick stop, drank a coke, ate a banana and a flapjack, got my card stamped,  and back on the road with my two new friends.

The next segment was what I anticipated to be the mentally toughest of the day, since it ran from mile 88 to mile 145. Feeling refreshed after the stop, I managed to pull a bit longer on the front. Around mile 100, we met up with my friend Ed from my local club in Leamington, which was a very much needed distraction from the immense distance lying ahead despite the huge distance already covered. Ed stayed with us for around 6 miles and stayed on the front giving the three of us some rest. It was a very nice gesture of him and I am very very thankful to him! Later on in the segment I started fading again, but thankfully my two companions were willing to pull me along, despite not taking equal amounts of time on the front. What I anticipated to be a flat terrain proved to be a very much undulating terrain with many many slow long drags and some 5-7% short hills. Eventually, we arrived at the next stop in Castle Ashby. A slightly longer stop, since our wetbacks awaited for us there, so I had a quick freshening up and restocked my “fuel” supplies. I also ate a baked potato, happily collected a complimentary Rapha gillet and got ready for departure. Ian suggested to wait a bit longer because there was a big group of riders setting off soon and indeed after five minutes we took off in a group of around 20.

Riding in a much bigger group was a relief and I thought that was essentially the end of the ride; i just had to follow these guys to the next stop and eventually the finish. Again this was wrong, since there were many many little hills so it took a huge effort to stay with the group. After another 40 miles we arrived at the last stop of the day at Woolmer Green. Another fairly quick stop, to get some more energy drink in my bottles, another coke and a stamp on my card before getting back on the road.

By that time, it became dark so I found myself in a group of 20 riders, riding in completely unlit and unknown to me roads, and all of us being tired after 12-13 hours on the saddle. The experience was exhilarating but scary, the 20 red backlights in flash mode providing a great spectacle, but the complete lack of awareness of what’s coming two meters up the road (since I couldn’t see past the riders in front of me) being very worrying. Again, what I thought was going to be just a cruise in London proved to be a very challenging ride, with many slow drags and some short hills.

Finally, we did arrive in London and made our way through the traffic, staying together the whole time, to reach the Olympic Velodrome in Stratford at around 9:30 pm. After 15 hours and 39 minutes I finally arrived at the finish line, and I was chuffed about it. I averaged 16.2 mph moving pace which I think for my ability is great! I genuinely feel that I did the best I could for the day.

The event was brilliantly organized by Rapha and Ambitious about Autism. We felt supported throughout the way, with cars driving along the route checking for mechanical and other emergencies. The feeding stations were stocked with a huge variety of options, gels, rice cakes, flapjacks, pies, potatoes, energy drinks, soft drinks, everything one could have asked for. The best part of the stops, was the uplifting and massively encouraging spirit of the ladies from Ambitious about Autism which was so important and I am massively thankful towards them. The moment we reached a stop, they were asking whether we needed any kind of help, and made us feel very well looked after.

I feel the need to thank some people here. First, I would like to thank my girlfriend Chara for enduring my obsession with this ride in the last three months and for being very supporting the whole time. I would again like to thank all of my sponsors who supported my charity, Ambitious about Autism! Massive thanks go to my friend Tzvetie, who has been a great training companion in the summer, and my friend Ed for being very supportive and meeting me en route. Last but definitely not least, I would like to thank my friend Paul, who also finished the ride (chapeau!), without whom I don’t even know how I would have got to the start line, let alone get through the route and find my way back home!

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Final thoughts (before the ride)

On 11 June 2014, I signed up for the Rapha Manchester to London Challenge. I believed I could sort of manage to train enough to complete the challenge but I was very worried that I would completely fail the people relying on the ride’s charity, Ambitious about Autism, in raising enough funds.

Ambitious about Autism is a great charity, which among else runs a school for autistic children, supports and provides consultation to parents of children with autism, and starting from this year, runs a college for people with autism. They are a small charity and thus largely rely on this event for securing funds to continue to operate and hopefully expand.

I decided to create this blog for several reasons. First, I wanted to document my training so that I have a nice reference for my experience while training this summer. Then, I believe that my posts can prove useful to other cyclists seeking information on other people’s experience in training for this kind of rides. Furthermore, I wanted to make a commitment to post articles about the Autism spectrum, so that I and hopefully my readers, become more aware of the condition. Finally and perhaps most importantly, I wanted to have a way to communicate my efforts to my friends and family so that they can understand what this challenge means to me and hopefully support me. 

After 113 hours of training in which I covered 1800 miles, I am now ready to depart for Manchester, and I feel very happy about the way my preparation has gone. My training included many short rides in the area around my current base, Leamington Spa, some time trials, four century rides two in the north Cotswolds and two towards Malvern, a 300km audax starting from Tewkesbury and heading to Wales, and three rides in extremely hot conditions in the Troodos mountains in Cyprus. I would like to thank here my friend Tzvetie, for riding with me in many long rides sometimes in dreadful weather conditions.  

I am also very happy about the progress of my fundraising. With the help of all of my donors, we have exceeded my target of raising 750 pounds and we are still going strong! I am enormously grateful to all of them and would like to thank them again!  If anyone would like to donate now and support this fantastic charity, here is my fundraising page:

I guess that’s it for now, and hopefully on Monday I will post my experiences while completing the challenge 🙂 (and of course I will not forget to thank my girlfriend for enduring my obsession in the last three months and my friend Paul who is also doing the challenge for his enormous help with logistics, bike problems and organization)

bike ready to go!

bike ready to go!




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RM2LC training ride 40

Last ride before the challenge today and I did again the same 17 mile route as in the last two rides but at a slightly faster pace. I made a couple of harder efforts hence the couple of personal bests.

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RM2LC training ride 39

An easy ride today, on the same 17 mile route as Sunday’s recovery ride. My legs felt a lot fresher than Sunday, so I did a couple of short harder efforts. Only four days to go and then the big ride!

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RM2LC training ride 38

Just a recovery ride today, so a slow 17 mile ride. Had lots of little pains on my legs in the beginning but by the end of the ride things improved. Did some proper stretching and now I feel a lot better. Two more rides of this kind and then the big one! Can’t wait!

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RM2LC training ride 37

Last century today before the big ride, and we headed towards Malvern. The profile of the route was flattish with a big bump in the middle, however the way out was quite tough due to the wind blowing from the west. For the first third of the ride my legs felt quite tight after thursday’s ride, but later on in the ride my condition improved. In the end I finished the 125 mile ride thinking that I still had something in the tank. My plan now is to do 2-3 easy short rides in order to relax my legs before the big one next Sunday.

Today I return to my posts about autism with a link to a newly published study by a group of neuroscientists at Columbia University. Their findings show that people with autism have more synapses (think of them as cable connectors) in the brain than people without autism, and this is due to a reduced pruning of the synapses during development. This gives hope for the production of a drug in the future, that restores normal pruning and hence possibly treats autism.

In the meantime and since autism affects so many children and adults, please consider supporting Ambitious about Autism by donating here!


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RM2LC training ride 36

Today’s ride was 60 miles with the first part quite hilly and the second part flat. For the first 20 miles of the ride it was raining, which gave me the opportunity to test my new rain jacket. The jacket is definitely an improvement over my previous jackets, that said, it’s still not pleasant to ride in such conditions (especially since my glasses fog up and i don’t see where i am going). I felt generally tired and weak throughout the ride, possibly because of the moderate wind. Despite that, I averaged 17mph which given the weather conditions and the lumpy first part is quite ok.

As we are now less than 10 days from the day of the challenge, please consider supporting my charity Ambitious about Autism by donating here!


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RM2LC training ride 35

First ride after a week-long break today, and I did a 21 mile brisk ride. The purpose of the ride was to get back into riding after my short break, but without taking it too easy, given the fact that we are now less than two weeks from the day of the challenge. On the way out I felt quite empty of energy and slow, but soon I realized that the reason was the massive headwind. The route was out and back, so on the return I was flying and in fact achieved several personal bests.


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RM2LC training ride 34

Despite the slow pace (16.7 mph) and the short length (27 miles), today’s ride was not a recovery ride. The purpose was to stack a bit more mileage to yesterday’s century to see how my body responds. I felt very tired throughout and was actually very fortunate to find my friend Mike 5 miles before the end, because at that point I was counting the ft to the end. Nevertheless, I am satisfied with my pace given the fatigue from yesterday and the windy conditions. My pace today was a bit faster than my target for the challenge.

Now it’s time for a well deserved week-long break in Cyprus away from any sort of cycling!

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RM2LC training ride 33

After the gear problems I encountered last Thursday, I was very fortunate to even ride today. A huge thanks to the guys at theBikeYard who sorted my bike out quickly, and I was able to be on the road by 10 today. Despite the slightly late start, my friend Tzvetie (who I thank for her patience this morning) and I did a century on a quite hilly route through the north-east Cotswolds. I am usually very conservative on the climbs when doing long rides, but today I consciously pushed a bit harder to simulate the fatigue that I will have after the first 60 miles of the challenge, which are quite hilly. I have to admit that my legs felt very tight after the first 50 miles and I was very happy to make a quick stop for lunch at Bourton-on-the-Water. That said, when we restarted our ride my legs felt even tighter but then I got a bit into the zone and for the next 20 miles or so I felt better. Towards the end I was really tired and counting the miles until home; maybe the wind had something to do with this as well.

So, 101 miles today at 15.8mph on a quite hilly route and in windy conditions.

If you would like to support my fantastic charity Ambitious about Autism and the awesome work they do, please click here!

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