Tour of Britain one day ahead challenge

Photos: Rupert Cornford/Story Publishing

In September 2018, Phil Jones and James Golding cycled the entire route of the Tour of Britain, to raise £50,000 for The Rayner Foundation. Rupert Cornford documented their journey together on the road

“Chez, my legs have gone.” Phil’s voice crackled down the radio, into the car.

“OK mate; let’s get to Keswick and stop to refresh,” a reassuring voice replied.

It was my first day on the road for the Tour of Britain One Day Ahead challenge with Brother UK managing director Phil Jones and world record distance cyclist James Golding.

The sun was shining, the pace was punchy, and the group was nearing the top of a long drag past Thirlmere in the Lake District.

But with four stages down, and only four hours sleep the night before because of a puncture on the team car, there was emotion in the voice and tiredness in the legs. The stage had been rolling since Barrow and was about to get a whole lot hillier on its way to Whinlatter.

We pulled into a service station and the plan kicked into action. Team director Chez Pridham and mechanic Peter Mooney raced into the shop, and I followed, unsure what to do except try and help.

Scotch eggs, sandwiches, Coke – “they need salt (and sugar and caffeine).”

Phil sat on the boot of the car, with his eyes shut, while James stood looking down at his phone. Something was stirring.

“When we pulled into that petrol station, I knew that feeling would come at some point,” says Phil. “It was a hard day. I gazed into the distance for a minute and had about 30 seconds where I felt a bit tearful; it was that moment when I got a bit overwhelmed by everything.

“I thought, my god, we are really doing this, we are trying to raise money, and all the months of planning have come together.”

I looked for moments like this on the ride; moments when I could understand what it takes to cycle 1,100km for charity. Train for it, go through it, after the months of organisation needed to make it happen.

“I think I had just looked the fundraising page,” Phil adds. “We set the big goal – 50k – and I thought, can’t people just put their hands in their pockets? Because I don’t think people really understand what’s going on with domestic cycling.

“As we walk away, we might raise 20k, and I was just thinking… I wish people would just do something. Maybe that moment was frustration the number wasn’t a bit higher.” 

Scotch eggs can do wonders for morale, and I have never seen more Haribo consumed in five days. Ever. Pit stop down, we continued our quest through the Lakeland hills and a stage that took all day and everything they had to finish it.

One ascent of Whinlatter is challenging enough – indeed the next day, the Team Time Trial took everyone up the hill, finishing at the top – but twice in one day? Surely the race organisers were just looking for entertainment (and suffering).

The climb teased us on the first ascent, with its 15 per cent slopes winding up through the trees to the top, before heading off on a loop towards the coast and another 50 miles in the saddle. The pace varied, we lost sight of the riders at one point – on the streets of Workington – and there were lots more stops to eat and drink.

So, it was late in the day by the time we approached the climb for the second time, with the sun almost disappearing behind the hills on the other side Bassenthwaite Lake. The shadows of Whinlatter looked unforgiving and the temperature was dropping.

But suddenly the pace quickened.

“That’s a super tempo, Jimmy,” Chez called down the radio, as we drove behind them along the A591, as their speed moved towards 25mph.

On rides like this, the body adapts over time, through training and repetition. The more you do, the more you can do. It was amazing to watch the switch between sluggishness and speed, at times when we least expected it. 

“There was many a mile, perhaps in the last 30 of each day, when Jimmy had his ‘dinner legs’ on – and I just jumped on his wheel,” says Phil. “If I was doing it on my own, the last miles would have been a lot tougher for me. I finished each day much fresher.”

But the second ascent wasn’t easy. The sun had gone, 15 per cent looked like 20 and the boys were digging in to reach the shallower gradients towards the end. A few spectators had arrived for the Team Time Trial the next day, and words of encouragement echoed into the fading light. They needed them. I think we all did.

At the top, it was cold and quiet. Apart from a few people in the car park near the forest centre, the cloud had enveloped the trees and amplified the silence. Phil sat on the back of the car, with his eyes shut, and a towel around his shoulders. James Bird, who had joined for the day from the Lakes Road Club, sat staring at the floor.

They looked broken.

I snapped a few pics and left them alone to wander round the car and speak to Jimmy sat on a wall. The contrast was striking.

“I feel like I’ve just warmed up,” he said. “I could probably keep riding for another ten hours now – with a bit of food, a change of kit and maybe a shower.”

They had just ridden 110 miles and climbed over 8,000 ft. He was bouncing.

“I live for this – this is what I do, this is what I love,” he told me. “This is where I am really at home. I miss my kids, I miss my family more this time round than ever before… But I love big miles, and tough days on the bike.”

It was this contrast, but also this friendship between Phil and James, which anchored a lot of our experiences that week. I was struck how they supported each other. When one was down, the other offered balance, and we all began to gel as a unit to keep everyone moving.

“The first day I felt fine; the morning of day two, I had a bit of a quiet moment, thinking, really,” reflects James. “I had a few aches – was I sitting right, pedalling right? I took a bit of time out at lunchtime – and then on day three we were riding from Bristol, which flew past; and day four I was alive from the gate. 

“Since then, I felt a little bit uneasy first thing in the Lakes, but then I got in the groove, my legs were good. Whereas, for Phil, he felt in the groove and then felt that tip later? I didn’t feel in the groove at the start and I tipped the other way.”

James on Phil

I remember the first time I met Phil. It was 2014, at the London-to-Paris sign on. I had just had my first attempt on the seven-day World Record a few weeks before. Phil came over and said ‘great ride, really good effort’ – and we just started chatting.

He popped into the house a few weeks later. I didn’t really know about the ‘Phil thing’ and the ‘Brother thing’ at the time, so the roots of the friendship were never based around expectation. We just liked each other.

Phil was talking about doing a big challenge and I was saying, yes, I want to be involved. I want to do it. 

He has done a lot for everyone else, and so many people are unaware how much there is, because of the modesty and honesty that he has. 

There were a lot of people who wanted to be involved in this, and be part of this, and I know how that works. There are always a lot of people. But there are two of us who rode the whole thing. 

I wanted to be on the ride for Phil. He has particularly helped me in the past few months; we’ve talked about how you react to things, and I don’t think I fly off the handle as much as I used to.

When someone put a sticker on the car, asking us to move, when we parked for the Team Time Trial… Phil said he would sort it out as quickly as possible. Before, I would have probably said, there’s your fucking sticker, I’ll get the car moved, there is nothing wrong with parking here. But I would deal with that differently now after spending time with Phil.

The reasons we did the ride also fit very well with the beliefs I have about supporting young people with their dreams. It fitted on several levels, but I would have done it anyway.

Phil on James

Jim and I are newish into our friendship; we have only known each other for two years. We had such a good laugh and roomed together; I don’t think there was a moment where we didn’t have banter, talked about stuff – and we got on well, rooming together.

A friendship is when it’s unconditional, and where you both get something out of the relationship. 

I think that’s what James and I have. I respect him for all the things he does; I learn from him and the other way around, I think. But we don’t require anything from each other. When I put all this together, he said – well, I’ll come with you. I didn’t know at the time how grateful I was that he did that. I know this would have been a tougher challenge to complete on my own.

You always worry, with someone you have never roomed with before, or been on an event together with. You’ve got personal things, you are dressing and undressing in front of each other, going to the toilet, showering, and worrying you might be snoring all night.

But by the third day, we were in quite a good rhythm. That’s been good fun for me, because I can’t really remember being in that position before.

There is no ‘I’…

The team was a real highlight on the trip. When I joined on the Tuesday night, they had already ridden four stages, and were speeding up the M6 towards Cumbria. As I jumped in the back – three six-foot tall guys next to each other is snug – I was working everyone out.

Chez Pridham, from Vitus Pro Cycling, was in the driving seat and had agreed to be the Team Director for the boys all week. If they needed it, she had it, and if she didn’t, then we got it.

Emily Sutton in the passenger seat. Queen of social media, keeping the profile of the ride amplified across Twitter, and all of us entertained with tales of her time-trialling days and love for Chris Froome.

Pete Mooney, mechanic. Dry as they come. Very funny. And bloody good at keeping the show on the road and the bikes singing. Pete drove the van.

And then me. Keen cyclist, with a camera, the offer of some words and curious to support what they were trying to achieve. I also became the driver for a few days as well.

But one hour into that journey, we punctured. On the M6, near Preston, at 11pm.

“When we got that puncture, it was suddenly, ‘over to the side of the road, get the stuff out, where is the tyre? Let’s get it changed. Oh no, there is no tyre, what next?,” says Phil. 

“Chez was already on the phone to the AA. We got the truck there, no drama; transferred out, no drama; done. We were on the road the next day. 

He continues: “Chez has to problem solve quite a lot, being a DS for a team. In my business, I have to problem solve quite a lot, and as a result you get used to them. All problems can be sorted out; there is no reason to amplify them.

“The group became funnier and stronger through the days really… this tight little unit, going from stage to stage, like the Fellowship of the Ring. Whilst we had people joining us every day, the whole journey was about this core group. 

“Some of the stories are the about the fun we had over dinner, and the things we picked up. Emily took a bit of flack, with her ‘Emilyisms’ – [takes on life which left us scratching our heads and laughing in equal measure]. 

“We had Jimmy and his endless boring facts [mostly about Morrisons]; my luminous sliders from Sports Direct. 

“Chez wanting things to be perfect and on time. Pete had his dryer than a dry sandpaper humour; Rup arriving with his usual calmness and deep thought. 

“And the jokes around Haribos – the amount consumed on the whole tour was incredible.” There, he said it, too.

Reflections and rewards

Phil

My reflection is how much I enjoyed a multi-stage, longer event. If someone said to me, you have got more time off work, would you like to go and do that whole thing again in reverse. 

I would say ‘yes’, I would go again tomorrow. Let’s drive back to London and do the whole thing backwards. 

I was away from the things that are usually distracting me, like running a company, and the home environment. Suddenly, my busy life was super simplified. 

You have got someone like Chez, who was feeding us; Emily, running social media, which means you aren’t picking up your phone all the time. It was very interesting, because it made life very simple.

James

I realised something that I already knew, is that I live for this – this is what I do, this is what I love. This is where I am really at home. 

I missed my family more this time round than ever before. I think that is probably because everything is starting to align in terms of plans and goals, and the family. 

I also enjoyed being away. I love big miles, I love tough days on the bike. I want to create change in people’s lives. And too see other people getting involved with that, from the outside, was good.

The impact

Driving into London, on the penultimate day of the challenge, we had time to reflect on the journey and the reason behind it. Talk turned to fundraising – how the money would be spent and how the impact would be felt more widely than just the fundraising.

“If we do raise 20k, based on the stats I have seen already, that is 20 riders that will be funded,” says Phil. 

“One of those will get to the World Tour, and another one will be a significant rider in the domestique peloton. Twenty people are going to have their lives changed as a result of this little adventure.”

“I think we will do more than that, but what we will probably never find out is how many people go on to donate or raise money for the Dave Rayner Fund because of what we have done,” adds James. 

“Although you can look at the number we have raised, there is also huge value we have created, which isn’t a monetary term, that will be unquantifiable. I think money and value together, we are more than 50k.”

“In a world of commoditised content, brand stories have to be beautifully written, meaningful and personal. Quality shines through whether presented with brevity or in longer pieces. Having worked with Rupert both in a professional and personal capacity, I’ve found him to be excellent at capturing, processing and presenting content to gravitate audiences to your messages.”

Phil Jones, managing director, Brother UK and organiser of the 2018 Tour of Britain One Day Ahead ride