A slightly later start for our riders this morning as we all met at Etaples Cemetery for a moving wreath laying ceremony.
In the First World War, ‘Eat Apples’, ‘E-taps’, or more properly, Etaples was the British Army’s biggest training camp, home to the infamous bull ring. Here among the sand dunes at the edge of the English channel, there were enough facilities to cope with 100,000 men.
The cemetery, which is the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in France, contains 10,771 First World War burials of whom only 35 remain unidentified.
During the ceremony, the Padre recounted the life of VC Johnson Beharry and his grandmother’s advice to him as a young man. She taught him that ‘Love, Respect and Honesty’ were the greatest values. The Padre asked to think of the people in our lives who always treated us with these three values and said it was these precious few who are gifts from God.
As our cyclists departed on the road to Calais, you could see many were contemplating the Padre's wise words and thinking of their special loved ones who have supported them on their journey to get where they are today.
Charlie Brooks found the ceremony particularly moving: “It was lovely, he has a way of taking a modern day story and linking it to the past or visa versa. It’s brilliant. He always finds the right words, he’s a reassuring figure.”
All 50 of our wounded participating in the ride decided to spend the morning together in a ‘pelaton’ of sorts. They made a pretty phenomenal sight as they tackled the route as a team, supporting each other through each undulation.
Having been a key member of the Race Across America team last year, experienced cyclist Jamie Hull led the group and acted as pacemaker, making sure the team only rode as fast as the slowest rider.
At lunchtime we caught up with Trevor Hunt, one of the incredible support crew for the wounded, karting around their kit, buying the beers in the evening and keeping up morale:
“It’s been the toughest ride I’ve ever supported on. The weather has been awful, it’s been cold wet, windy, I’ve done six of these and I think it’s been the most challenging, but as a team they have been absolutely phenomenal, the hand cyclists especially. A special mention to Josh Boggi, a triple amputee who has pushed himself to the absolute limit. Having supported the Race Across America team last year, I think this is a bigger challenge for him than it was for that team, given they had nine months training and he’s only had five weeks.”
Reflecting on the last six years, he said: “It’s an absolute privilege and an honour to be here. They are absolutely humbling to work alongside and hugely enjoyable to spend time with. It’s a complete highlight of my year; I’m looking forward to the next one already.”
After lunch, the team pushed on to Fortess de Mimoyecques where they had the opportunity to visit an old hidden quarry hidden away from the French countryside and which was home to a German V3 rocket.
Pulling into the hotel in Calais after completing the day’s 53 miles, fundraiser Maria Lee said: “Today’s been absolutely wonderful thank you very much, the sun did shine! The ride is so much more than I thought it would have been. It’s been inspirational to ride with the guys, words can’t describe what it means to watch them make it to the top of each hill, my heart goes out to them all they are all so strong. All those months of training have been worth it, though Lincolnshire doesn’t have nearly as many hills!”
While achy, fatigued and a little wind-burnt after some tough weather today, the team are excited by the prospect of home shores tomorrow; the race is on to spot the white cliffs of Dover first!