What makes me lucky?

Phil Upton

When I was first approached last November about the idea of doing a sponsored bike ride in 2013 I jumped at it!

After all, I'm a cycling NUT!

I've been to the Tour de France a bunch of times, had Lance Armstrong throw my son one of his caps (not worth quite so much now as it was in 2009), cycled the iconic Alpe D'Huez and Col Du Galibier as part of a sponsored ride in 2011 and write regularly on the sport in my role as Press Secretary of Solihull Cycling Club - not to mention the opportunity to squeeze it in at every given chance on my daily afternoon drive time radio show on BBC Coventry & Warwickshire.

However, with just a handful of days until I roll out of Zurich with a band of other cycling nuts - I'm now really having to face up to the idea I've bitten off more than I can chew.

Prior to this ride, the furthest I'd ridden was from Bordeaux to Barcelona in 2009 covering almost 500 miles in 5 days.

Riding from Zurich back to Birmingham will need me to complete 700 miles in 7 days - and no matter how much of a cycling nut I am, I've NEVER put my bum on the saddle for seven days in a row!

So why do it?

Well, as I've pointed out, I'm a cycling Nut - I'll get the chance to ride through 7 countries from Switzerland, Germany, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and Holland before coming back to England.

Whilst en route we'll climb the Cote De Wanne in Belgium and the famous Stockeu climb where a young Eddy Mercx did all of his training, and then in Holland we'll go up The Cauberg climb in Valkenburg, made famous in the annual classic Amstel Gold Cup race. All parts of cycling lore, but on their own not enough to make one train hard over a period of nine months.

I'm lucky. Very lucky. I'm fit and healthy and at 46, completing something I'd never thought I was capable of even ten years ago. I have two fit and healthy children (not without their own scares), which make me even more grateful.

But, doing what I do I come across great people. Men and Women who inspire and make me and my everyday worries feel very insignificant - and that makes me even more grateful.

Two of those people are Prof. Charlie Craddock and Mr. Tony de Grey. Both of these are well known to Cure Leukaemia supporters.

Charlie is a World Beater, literally a one-off. There's no one doing what he's doing, and he's doing it right here in Birmingham at the Haematology Unit at the QE. 10 years ago when Charlie set-up CL with Graham Hampson-Silk only 1 in every 10 patients survived, now 4 in every 10 who come to him make it. I KNOW that sometime, maybe even in the NEXT 10 years he's going to emerge from behind all those test tubes and microscopes with his own 'Eureka' moment.

Tony on the other hand was a very regular guy. But all of us at CL got to know him VERY well indeed.

In October last year Tony drove the support vehicle for a "Night Ride" through Birmingham and Dudley, I'd set-up for CL. A lot of the guys on the ride were from corporate backgrounds and were a world apart from Tony. I can tell you now, a year on, they still remember that ride and meeting him and the story he told of his treatment and battle against Leukaemia.

When I ride I think of lots of different things. Despite my job and 'host with the most' exterior my friends and those who know me closest, recognise that actually I like being on my own.

When I'm riding I am at one with myself and my thoughts. Believe me when you train for big sponsored rides you spend hours in the saddle - a typical training ride to the Cotswolds and back might take 3.5/4 hours, and I train on my own, it’s how I like it! But that creates a lot of thinking time!

I think about cycling and cyclists. I imagine I'm in the Tour De France on a climb - my silver dog-tag bouncing on my chest and as I crest the summit, I kiss each tag, one for each of my children.

I think about suffering. I think about pain. I think I'm Very Lucky. I also think that whenever I'm suffering, whenever I'm in pain - it is nothing in comparison to the pain felt by those in treatment. By the pain Tony must have gone through. The pain his family must still feel.

I look at my fellow cyclists, whatever pain I'm in, they are in even worse pain, and even that is nothing in comparison. We ride through wind, rain and on more than one occasion, snow. We think we know how to suffer. We think we've felt pain. We know nothing!

In the seven days from Monday 23rd-Sunday 29th September, I will repeatedly feel pain. I will suffer for long periods, hours on end, mile after mile. Hell, I might even think of stopping, of getting off my bike. I have that luxury. But whatever happens, come Monday 30th September, the pain will end, so too the suffering - and that makes me lucky!

I can choose for the pain to stop, for it all to just go away. Whatever happens, the seven days from Zurich to Birmingham will be filled with memories and moments, I'll remember for the rest of my life.

The views, the landscape, the joined sense of achievement you get when you complete an exercise like this. They'll be stories and countless "do you remember that time when..." that we'll all regale our nearest and dearest with but, when I crest the Cote de Wanne, or charge of the Cauberg pretending to be Phillippe Gilbert in the 2012 World Championship Road Race, I'll also think about Tony, I'll think about my children and I'll feel them in my legs. Every time I think it's all too much, that I can't push my legs through another pedal stroke, I'll ask them to be there for me. They've never let me down yet - and yes, you've guessed it - that - makes me Lucky!


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"Cure Leukaemia’s funding of the UK Trials Acceleration Programme (TAP) is a game-changer and increases the access for blood cancer patients to potentially transformative new therapies."

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"Cure Leukaemia’s funding of the UK Trials Acceleration Programme (TAP) is a game-changer and increases the access for blood cancer patients to potentially transformative new therapies."

Sir John Bell