24 HOURS IN A CYCLE SLAM
1st June 2018 | Catie Friend, Dallaglio Cycle Slam
PlanetSKI asked for a short interview & was offered much, much more. Catie Friend joins the 2018 Dallaglio Cycle Slam charity ride as it passes through Verbier.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, PlanetSKI reporter Catie Friend, asked for a short interview with three incredible men and was handed an unforgettable 24-hour experience.
This is her glimpse into life in the Dallaglio Cycle Slam 2018 charity ride.
Some years ago I discovered that a friend of mine was a regular cycling buddy of none other than Lawrence Dallaglio, former England rugby captain and Andrew Ridgeley, half of pop duo Wham!
Well, as a 100% pure bred Scot, I had only a passing interest in the former, but as star struck tween of the 80s, my 12 year old self nearly imploded with envy upon hearing about the latter.
He’s really great, she enthused, and a cracking bike rider.
Fast forward a few years and word in the sleepy community that is Verbier in the summer was that the duo were riding through our resort, as part of the biennial Dallaglio Cycle Slam charity ride.
I duly asked for an introduction and was granted a short interview on the evening they arrived in Verbier.
I then invited Warren Smith, ski expert and coach on TV’s The Jump, to join us.
I have known Warren for many years and as a Verbier local and core rider, knew he would be a good addition to the interview.
It had been a hot day and on arrival in the gorgeous Cordée des Alpes hotel, the whiff of unwashed cyclists and wave of testosterone that hit me may have been intimidating for someone who doesn’t spend much of their life in male dominated sports.
Fortunately (or should that be, unfortunately?), I am no stranger to sweaty cycling kit and boisterous sportsmen.
There is grumbling about the fact that although the hotel has opened especially for them, the bar has not had the memo that 50 well-heeled, thirsty cyclists are in town.
To make matters worse, the lorries carrying their non-cycling kit have been stopped at customs and won’t be here for nearly two hours.
However, on spying me, the grumbles abate and the smiles and welcoming, sweaty handshakes are aplenty.
Lawrence Dallaglio, an imposing mountain of a man with a personality to match, arrives and says, “Great to meet you, are you staying for dinner?”
Don’t mind if I do, thanks.
Once the local Coop has been raided for beers and we track down Warren (he had been icing his legs) and I stumble through my introduction to Andrew (silent aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaggggghhhhhhhhhhhh! in my head) the banter begins between a big group of them.
I can only sit and move my head back and forth, reminiscent of a tennis spectator, as the post mortem of the day involves language that would make sailors proud and mickey-taking that only close and long time camaraderie allows.
Kirstie Swinnerton of Verbier Life magazine is with me to take photos and she and I try to hold our own, but it’s much more interesting without our input.
Finally, I manage to pry my interviewees apart from the group and set up my gear.
Kirstie takes out her camera and Andrew announces that if there are to be photos, he will have to go and sort his hair.
Cue raucous laughter and “that’s a fine, Ridgeley!” (This later turns out to be a shot of something green and odious-looking).
Sitting together on the pale blue sofa, all still in cycling kit (hair immaculate), they turn their attention to the task in hand; answering all the questions I have for them.
Strangely, I am less daunted than I thought I would be facing three men who between them have probably been interviewed thousands of times, all over the world, by countless reporters.
Luckily for me, this makes them ideal people to interview.
They listen carefully, they answer thoughtfully and they sit patiently during the one awkward moment when I completely lose my train of thought and flutter through my notes.
I ask about the Slam and Lawrence reminds me that this is the fifth one they have done.
He is rightly proud of this endeavour, which is a major fundraiser for his charity, Dallaglio RugbyWorks.
This edition had started in Evian the day before and was carrying on through Switzerland, Italy and Slovenia, finishing in Split, Croatia with a much-anticipated finishing party.
To earn that, the 26 core riders (those doing all three 5-day stages) will cycle 18,000km and climb 30,000m of vertical. Ouch!
The charity itself has, since 2009, used rugby as way to help young British people who have been permanently excluded from mainstream schools.
Some of them have got into trouble but a large number have just had a tough start in life and through little fault of their own, have found themselves down a difficult path.
Much of this I later learn from Lead Coach, Matt Ryan, as we batter up a hill on our bikes the following day.
The idea of using of rugby to teach punctuality, respect, teamwork and discipline (a word many of the youngsters rail against, due its negative connotations in their short lives) is a clever one.
Getting young people outside, doing exercise and instilling fundamental life skills at the same time will hopefully lower the staggering statistic that “90% of young people in the youth justice system were excluded from school” (stats taken from Dallaglio RugbyWorks).
Given the banter, the beers and the fantastic dinner we enjoyed later on that evening, one might be forgiven for thinking that this is a jolly for some wealthy MAMILs (middle aged men in Lycra) but there seemed to be a genuine desire to raise funds for this worthy cause.
Not least, I think, because of people’s genuine affection for Dallaglio himself.
After dinner, Austin Healey, himself a former England rugby player, showed a side of himself probably unknown to many people, as auctioneer/stand up comedian.
Wickedly funny and unashamedly harsh on his fellow riders, his fast and furious one liners had them rolling in the aisles, and tears streaming down my face.
It was reminiscent of a pantomime, in that if you laughed too long or too loudly, you missed the next joke.
In 15 insane minutes, he managed to raise around £10,000 for, amongst other things, a Bluetooth speaker you can hang from your bike (not signed by Ed Sheeran, as he hilariously claimed) and dying Andrew Ridgeley’s hair bright yellow.
This bid was as much as of a surprise to the former pop star as it was to the rest of us, but he took in extremely good humour and I look forward to the photos.
Let’s face it; the cycling is not a walk in the park.
I imagine there will be some dark times for everyone, but especially for those who like a beer and a fag or three post-ride.
They are all definitely earning their sponsorship, as I found out the following day when I was invited to join them for day three of the Slam.
It was an inauspicious start, however, as I arrived the following morning for the descent from Verbier and discovered a puncture.
Quick, last-minute pumping of tyres had caused me to damage the valve – oops!
A quiet word with the lovely Georgie, who had coordinated the interview, and the tour mechanic had my tyre changed in no time.
My prideful cries of “I really can do it myself, but just not very quickly”, were met with wry smiles and good humour.
All three “celebs” greeted me with big smiles and pecks on the cheek and posed for obligatory pre-ride photos.
Despite the alleged 4am finish in Tbar.
Andrew Ridgeley is perhaps not the first person you would expect to be a bike rider.
Most famous for being part of Wham! with George Michael, one may easily think that he would be pop-starry and have gone to seed after his meteoric rise to fame in the 1980s.
He appears to be, however, a quiet, charming man with an easy smile and of all three interviewees, he possesses the best build for a cyclist.
Tall and wiry, you can imagine that the hills are not as much of a challenge for him as for, say, Lawrence Dallaglio’s 110kg frame.
Although, as I was to find out, no one beats the softly-spoken Smith on the downhills.
All that skiing has left him with almost zero fear factor, despite a horrific crash last year which saw him breaking one hip in two places and needing stem cell therapy on his knee and a tendon replacement in his shoulder.
Almost exactly a year to the day since the accident, he got back on his bike to start the Slam, and as I tried desperately to follow him down the hill I marvelled at how little the experience seems to have affected his daring lines and lightning speed.
The accident occurred at 70km/ph downhill, when a tyre blew out.
It doesn’t bear thinking about how bad it could have been.
Back to the present day and the previous evening I had been asked with whom I wanted to ride.
Unsure how to answer, I said I really didn’t mind.
Bearing in mind I finished the Patrouille des Glaciers six weeks ago, I thought I must still be in reasonable shape, but I also knew I had done little since and the whole team is approximately 95% male, so I just flapped my hand a bit when asked how fit I was and found myself allocated to group two.
I met them in the morning and we set off down to Le Chable.
At this point I would like to say how sorry I am that I abused my privileged place as a guest of group two, by battering on out of the village towards the bottom of the big climb of the day without waiting for anyone.
Fresh legs, an early night and a total misunderstanding of the etiquette of waiting for the group, meant that once I had one buddy from the group, I just ploughed up the hill with him.
Sorry again, group two, hope you had a great day!
The subsequent climb to Col de Lein made me so very proud of my adopted part of the world.
The sun was shining, the temperature was just right and despite the killer steep section at the bottom, it was a glorious way to start the day.
With about 10km of winding mountain roads, views up one valley in the direction of the Mauvoisin dam and another towards Italy, it is a very picturesque ride.
I rode with Matt Ryan, a Lead Coach for Dallaglio RugbyWorks.
This turned out to be a most enjoyable and very informative ride.
If he is typical of their coaches, then these young people must be in good hands.
He was polite, patient, fun and quite clearly very passionate about his job, especially about getting the youngsters into workplaces and seeing them grow in confidence.
A great ambassador!
And just as an aside, did it feel good overtaking a lot of men from other groups on that hill?
You bet your *ss it did!
At the top of the hill, we were met with high fives and energy bars.
Being complimented on my fitness form by one of rugby’s greats (even as a Scot I can admit that!) was a highlight of the day.
I descended with Warren Smith and two of his ski coaches and tried not to fear for my life.
A quick coffee stop later and we made a little peleton of four and charged along the flats to Sierre for lunch.
After a yummy picnic in a park, just outside Sierre, I reluctantly said my thank yous and goodbyes and jumped on the train home.
I had only asked for a 20 minute interview and ended up with 24hrs of a truly excellent experience.
Sure, the banter, the language, the testosterone and the eye watering bids were not for the faint hearted, but neither is this challenge and yet there they were (and still are) turning their pedals every day to make a difference to young people who deseperately need a second chance in life.
I felt very welcomed and very lucky to have been allowed a glimpse into Slam life.
Maybe I’ll be tempted to join in 2020.
Need to work on my banter though…
For more information on the Dallaglio RugbyWorks charity and the Slam, visit the website here
Follow the progress of the Dallaglio Cycle Slam, with daily video updates on Warren Smith’s Facebook Page
Sponsor: Ski Instructor Warren Smith who runs Warren Smith Ski Academy in Verbier – click here
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