2018 Paris to Amsterdam

On a dark, early October morning 30 intrepid Rapha Cycling Club (RCC) members gathered in a Paris cafe for a grand départ breakfast. Croissants consumed and ride leaders briefed, we headed out through the morning rush hour, direction Amsterdam. 630 kilometers, 3 countries, 3 days. A challenge for even the most seasoned of riders, over demanding terrain including the pavé of Paris-Roubaix and cobbled climbs of the Tour of Flanders.  

27 riders and a 3 person volunteer support team, resplendent in Rapha custom jerseys. Our jerseys, designed by Rapha design manager Maria Olsson, featured flowers from the three countries we passed through, and tucked away in the inside pocket, an ingenious message about breast cancer awareness. It is October (Breast Cancer Awareness month), and it’s not just about the bike.

Photos by Dan Glasser

Three days later we all arrived safely in Amsterdam to great elation and emotion, and pledged to do it all again next year.  And in the process raised nearly £50,000 for Imperial Health Charity to fund research into secondary breast cancer.

The 630K in three days - many of us had done longer individual days and there were no big climbs, but the cumulative physical and mental effect of three days of 200 kilometers plus can’t be underestimated.  What got many of us through it was the group. We rode in tight groups of 6-8 people. No one was left behind, and we were only as strong as the weakest rider. We worked together as a team, and like most high performing teams, had our moments of strife but by the end had formed strong personal bonds.

Day 1 was the longest, 230 km.  The autumnal sun was shining but by the time we reached Cambrai, not far from the Belgian border, it was nearly dark.  We’d traversed the suburbs of Paris, vast farmlands, the site near Compiègne where the Armistice for both World Wars was signed and long canal paths.  After a well deserved meal in a family run bistro, sleep was the only thing on our minds.

Leaving Cambrai the next morning, we were soon in Spring Classics territory, the prestigious one day professional races that are some of the oldest in the sport.  Paris-Roubaix, affectionately known as ‘The Hell of the North,’ is famous for its pavé segments, and being in the area it would have been a shame not to sample some.  We only did one 2.5 km segment but the exhausting and bone jarring experience was plenty for the morning.

As we crossed the border into Belgium, the architecture began to change and we passed through grand towns such as Tournai, with its two Unesco World Heritage sites.  But alas we still had many kilometers to complete and the best was yet to come. Flanders. More cobbles, but different. Smoother than the Roubaix cobbles, but anything but flat.  Gradients of 18-22% are not uncommon. Combine that with a MTB sportive and a classic car stalled out on the tightest turn of one of the toughest climbs, the Koppenberg, and you have a brutal challenge that tests your strength and grit. But we all managed, and after a re-fuel in Oudenaarde, set out for our overnight destination, Antwerp.

As we got closer into the city, the road Christine had recce’d 2 month prior disappeared.  Torn up, stripped back to the gravel. There were mechanicals, it was late, dark and of course it started to rain.  But the delightful entry into Antwerp soon raised our spirits - an art deco pedestrian/ cycle tunnel that takes you into the city, complete with gorgeous wooden escalators, and lifts for bikes.  

By Day 3 exhaustion had really set in.  Muscles were aching, but thankfully we would spend the day on the flat cycle paths of the Netherlands.  But alas it wasn’t all easy going, as the open fields in a headwind can present their own challenges. Many bridges and ferries later, and after copious amounts of cake at a local cycling cafe, we made our way into Amsterdam, re-grouping at a cafe on the outskirts of the city, and then riding en masse into Rapha’s Amsterdam clubhouse for celebratory drinks.

The ride was a great success but it taught us all a lesson about the hard work involved in organising a cycling event.  A few of us beavered away over several months on all the logistics, and three volunteers generously gave up their time to drive support vehicles and kept us fed, watered and smiling. Anything is possible when you have the right people around you, and when you experience places on the bike you might otherwise miss, it’s all worth it.  

So the perpetual journey continues, from one city to the next, the challenge ever present, but spirits never dampened.  Such is the magic of cycling.