This weekend, I’ll be heading off on a 1,100km ride called Chain Reaction. With the sole premise to raise money for sick children and their families, Chain Reaction is 6 days with some race stages, but otherwise a great week of riding with mates.
For me though, it’s a real ‘Tour de France Pro’ experience. With huge support and logistical organisation, a Queen (climb) stage, a 40km TTT, and a 50km scratch race, it’s the closest I’ll ever get to being pro cyclist.
It seems lots of people are also riding in these things, so I put together a list of aspects which I think make Chain Reaction special, and maybe how other charity rides might be able to add to theirs as well.
It should mean something
Whilst most Gran Fondo-type rides are selected on the basis of the course not the charity, Chain Reaction actually means something to me, and to every other rider as well.
It all started when my best mate’s daughter had a brain haemorrhage after birth and was rushed to Monash Medical Centre, to spend six weeks in intensive care. Melbourne can host a Grand Prix but only has a few ambulances capable of transporting sick newborns. A harrowing start turned into a drive to help those who helped his family, and in the first year we helped him raise enough to buy a NICU ambulance that would help other kids.
Everyone on Chain Reaction has a link that connects them to the charity, but none are better spelled out than Troy Upfield and his daughter Lily. As Troy mentioned, Christopher Reeve said, “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles”.
In his first year, my own son had a major operation to fix a Cleft Palette. I saw first-hand how the skills of the medical staff combine with the benefit the Starlight room to rapidly improve recuperation. I’d take a hundred consecutive Stratford-Dargo climbs before I want to sit with my kid in that hospital again, though.
For most people, we have our ups and downs, but rarely do you get to really look deep inside yourself in a safe environment. Chain Reaction is a challenge. There is guaranteed to be a hurt box with your name on it on at least one day. When that comes though, the meaning of Chain Reaction has a massive impact, plus you’ve got 35 team mates around you. On Chain Reaction I have seen some pretty stirring efforts, seen the strongest of riders with tears in their eyes and unable to speak, but I’ve never seen anything like that on Beach Road.
Chain Reaction specifically supports children’s charities, with a large amount of its donations going to The Starlight Children’s Foundation each year. In turn, Starlight provides staff and immense logistical support in return. The other donations are given to various Childrens’ health organisations and charities, selected year to year. On the hospital visits organised for the riders, it’s great to see where my dollars go.
Get the dollars right
As one of the 36 riders, I donated $1,500 to sign up, and then committed to personally raising a minimum of $5,000 (feel free to donate here).
A ride like this costs a lot to run, even with the Committee and a large amount of volunteers, and an ethos of Chain Reaction is that we want committed people. You can’t just write out a cheque, so I have been calling in favours and hitting up friends, family and business contacts as well. It’s hard generating donations, and I sometimes feel like that guy in the Koala outfit holding the bucket in Brunswick Street…
At the corporate level, each major sponsor pays the naming rights for a team, in return guaranteeing the right to supply a few of the riders on that team. The team/sponsor is then responsible for generating its own smaller sponsors, which it does by offering logo spots on its jersey. That spreads the reach of sponsors, with different suppliers, etc. for each team. It works well in spreading the workload, and not exhausting the same donors.
For most team sponsors though, it means their logo sits prominently across the chest and back of CEO’s, Senior Partners, etc. and tied to a good cause. That is marketing cut-though.
Get good people around you
Like so many other volunteers and donors to Chain Reaction, I reckon there’s a basic human decency in people just waiting to be tapped.
This has become obvious in our Ambassadors. With just a simple request, Simon Gerrans jumped on board and has given more than the Organisers could have ever hoped. From personalised TdF video diaries to hosting us on a weekend in his hometown of Mansfield, Gerro has given a faultless display of what a sporting role model should be. Articulate and generous are two qualities which spring to mind, but he played such a straight bat to my requests to dish the dirt on GreenEdge and his fellow Pro’s that I reckon he’s next in line for Australia’s test team.
So too Phil Liggett, after being approached last year he has provided background commentary to our video clips and rode in Chain Reaction kit at the TDU. He recently gave Chain Reaction riders a personalised message as well.
Chain Reaction hosted Rapha’s founder and CEO, Simon Mottram, for lunch, where he gave some really good insights into his brand and what drives it. Anyone with the cajones and sheer style to wear white brogues gets my attention. He also joined the bunch for a spin around Kew Boulevard earlier that morning – just one of the unique networking opportunities available to Chain Reaction riders.
The Tour de France Experience
Training is intense, with around 400km a week sustained over several months, but nothing like what most of the riders on Chain Reaction will experience. Bunch safety is a major issue, with lots of training and skills work to make sure tired bodies don’t crash.
The course is planned by Emma Carney and the team from Total Rush, driven several times so that every corner and hill is noted. That doesn’t mean we don’t hit some of the nastier hills around – Mt. Tambourine in Queensland doesn’t hold fond memories for me, but for every big hill, there’s usually a good descent.
With full mechanical and ‘race’ support coming from Total Rush, it’s a novel thing for me to hold up the hand with a flat and see it swapped out within a minute. Makes a change from my usual situation, ten fat riding buddies standing around on the nature strip heckling me while I take 5 minutes to do it.
In the spares van, are a couple of highly amusing mechanics, plus Toll Group provides the friendliest truck driver in the world and his 3 tonne truck. Altitude Volvo is providing a better looking team car than any of the Pro teams have.
On top of the hugely capable support staff, this year we have the uber Pro photographer Veeral Patel. He may need to work miracles to make me look ‘Pro’ though.
Any endurance event has psychological impacts a well as physical. I know from having done a couple of Chain Reactions that a third of the way I’ll start to really feel tired and my personality soon shuts down on the road. What would be constant chatter on Beach Road becomes a chore here, and I find myself having to motivate myself just to make sure I contribute to a conversation. These team events need an all-round contribution from each member, no matter how unintentional, my bad attitude can have a hugely detrimental effect on my team mates. It’s a great test of your own character.
While Tour de France riders are in a different stratosphere, there are some areas in which I’ll feel a small affinity with them.
The constant soreness and tiredness, the need to refuel all day long, and then the inevitable bad day on the bike. Add in things like race radios and daily rider guides, and my own ‘Tour experience’ has me feeling like Jens even when I really only share a similarity in age.
As the daily diet of energy bars and goo shots takes its toll on your intestines, causing flatulence able to be heard in neighbouring states, my hunger for ‘real food’ begins. Old school food, like jam sandwiches and creamed rice come out. By the last days I am pouring in Hydralite and Voltarin, but in between there’s a Team Time Trial which really stretches the team bonds, a scratch race for the A graders, and a KOM (this year it’s Mt. Buller).
Just to top off the Tour experience, there’s a jersey presentation each night. Based on ever changing criteria, the yellow, green, white and polka dot jerseys are awarded to the sound of cheers and the occasional jeer over dinner each night.
Enjoy the achievement
When we finally ride into Melbourne Town Hall on Friday March 16th under police escort, I’ll be thinking of the training, the great days in the saddle together, the hills, and maybe even the business contacts. We’ll have completed a massive effort, but I reckon I might think about the kids we’ll be able to help too.
Afterwards, I’ll sleep for a week, or as long as the kids let me anyway…