For all things motorcycling
For all things motorcycling

Swapping paddock life for the Pyrenees - when WorldSBK took on the mountains for charity

Earlier this summer Crescent Racing Team Owner and Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK's Team Principal Paul Denning and Technical Co-ordinator Dale Meech swapped horse-power for pedal-power as the duo took to a different type of two wheels in aid of the Dallaglio Foundations' Rugby Works programme, raising money, support and awareness for the Foundations' youth support programme.

'Rugby Works' targets the UK's vulnerable teenagers, those most at risk of 'slipping through society's cracks'. Its aim is to make a profound impact on the marginalised lives of those excluded from mainstream education – increasing self-worth, improving life skills and boosting employability – by using sport to transform the aspirations of disengaged 14 to 16 year olds at increased risk of long-term unemployment, criminality and imprisonment. Understanding the huge range of factors that can lead to students being excluded from mainstream education, the Dallaglio Foundation doesn't believe this should signal exclusion from mainstream society too.

Central to each school's curriculum and focused on building long-term relationships, small groups of just 10 students per school (currently located in London, Newcastle, Bristol and the Rhondda Valley) really get to know their coaches, sticking with the same individuals for the full 60 weeks of the two year period. Working in Pupil Referral Units, 'Rugby Works' gives young people the practical support, experience and ability that helps them believe and invest in the possibility of a better future.

The bi-annual Cycle Slam Challenge raises vital funds for the charity while pushing competitors to their limits across mountainous routes. In 2014 Denning completed a five-day-trek across the Alps and thought this year he would enlist Meech for company as he challenged the Pyrenees, journeying from Andorra to Barcelona. Totalling 550kms, with some days hitting climbs of 3000m, the route took in mountain range and coastal roads as it visited both French and Spanish soil before arriving in Barcelona on Thursday afternoon. Adding an extra element to Meech's debut on the mountains, the 31-year-old really was a cycling rookie! Having never even ridden a road bike until April of this year and with the constant demands of the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship schedule draining his time, the furthest he had ridden by early May was just 75km! Three race weekends and a private test in Italy kept the Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team busy in the four weeks running up to the challenge but Denning and Meech still completed stage two of the Cycle Slam in flying style, with numerous stories made along the way, as Denning explained upon his return.

“Doing 160km cycle in the mountains and in hot temperatures is something in itself but then to have to repeat it day after day! It's certainly a challenge but eventually I think everyone rides themselves a bit fitter as the week goes on, obviously you get fatigued etc. but your body just gets used to the routine, your heart rate improves and your legs get used to constantly being on the bike. It's uncomfortable, especially if you're not used to being on the bike for such long periods and there is a lot of discomfort in sensitive areas (which tends to be people's biggest focus!) but there is a really good medical team on the challenge and I think they've seen it all before! There are lots of special creams, skin healing potions and horror stories of people having to wear two or even three pairs of padded shorts at the one time, but that can be somethings that even the professionals sometimes suffer with.

“Nutrition is critical when undergoing this type of challenge and the ride had organised excellent catering throughout. We stayed in nice hotels which set us up well for breakfast, with catering stops half way through the day so you would stop and actually eat good quality food rather than just sugary gels and energy bars. It really does make all the difference when you're able to stop and take in the nutrition you need, it's really important for your stomach health as much as anything. The heat and the high altitude also meant that you needed to keep the salts in your body and keep hydrated - which possibly wasn't helped by staying up until four am drinking 12 pints of beer like some of the rugby lads managed to do!

“The stage of the ride Dale and I completed was great as it was very varied, starting in the mountains and then heading out across the coastline with some beautiful scenery and weather. On day one we started out from Andorra and the first thing we did was ride about a kilometre and a half down into the town via a roundabout, hang a left and then we were uphill for about 30kms so it was a fairly extreme introduction in terms of climbing up into the mountains and across the French border! However, the harsh start was then matched by the descent, so you could be assured that every time you hit a hard climb in the mountains you would be rewarded with a fast downhill which can be a lot of fun. The latest road bikes really are fantastic with the type of grip they produce and the stability of the chassis, so even on the twisty roads you can reach speeds of up to 80kph - which when you're wearing effectively nothing but padded underpants feels a lot less safe than 200kph does on a motorcycle in leathers! But the bikes were really good and you can really throw yourself in to the bends and really use the handling and dynamics of the bike which makes the whole thing a lot more fun and as the week progresses you start to take a bit more risk which adds to the adrenaline. The more confident you are with the bike and the more feeling you get, it starts to feel a bit more like downhill mountain biking or motocrossing and you can hang in to the corners and push the lean angle, at some points you can be leaning into 60kph corners which on the skinny road tyres can be quite exciting.

“However, the main thing that remained at the forefront of people's minds genuinely was the reason we were all there. Yes it's great to be able to do something that challenges you and it was a lot of fun but to do it supporting a great charity that is really effective, and to really feel that you are helping them to make a difference to the lives of kids that are and have been having a difficult time, also the lives of those immediately around them and in the communities they work in, that gives a greater positive than just the challenge in itself.

“On a personal note, we also got the chance to ride with some true legends of sport, Laurence himself, Martin Johnson, Austin Healy, all of whom are incredibly good cyclists as well as being inspirational in their own sporting careers. Amy Williams came on the ride for day one as she's training for a reality programme to do with cycling and I got to ride with her for a bit and listen to some of her experiences. There was a good collection of quite inspirational people, within a huge range of abilities but the fact that people are willing to put themselves through sometimes up to ten hours a day on a bike is quite incredible. Hopefully in two years' time I will be able to find the time to complete the full four stages of the event, we only completed one five-day stage, but to do the whole thing would be quite an achievement (this year's full challenge was 1861.2km in 19 days comprising 16 days of cycling) not just as a challenge but quite enjoyable as well.”

Having completed the Cycle Slam and the first half of 2016's MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship, the Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team is currently looking towards a two month break from competition. Race action will recommence on 17th September as the series returns to Lausitzring for round 10, while the team will also undergo testing at the German track in mid-August.

Paul and Dale's fundraising page

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