Tuesday, 16 August 2022

Man scales Italian mountain on child’s bicycle

A MAN from Henley rode to the top of the second highest mountain in the Alps

A MAN from Henley rode to the top of the second highest mountain in the Alps on a child’s bicycle.

Matt Richardson, of Deanfield Avenue, scaled the Passo dello Stelvio in northern Italy on Monday to raise money for Bloodwise, a leukaemia and lymphoma charity.

The 49-year-old solicitor was riding an unmodified 1975 Raleigh Chopper Mark 2, which weighs about three stone and only has a basic three-gear system on the rear wheel.

He used the same machine to conquer the hardest climb of the Tour de France at Mont Ventoux in Provence two years ago.

This raised more than £4,000 for Bloodwise, which Mr Richardson chose because his father Peter died of cancer in 1999.

Last year, Mr Richardson set an unofficial world cycling record for achieving the furthest distance in an hour on an original 1969 Chopper Mk1.

He completed almost 70 laps of the Palmer Park stadium in Reading, cycling 31.87km or 19.8 miles and raising at least another £4,000 for Bloodwise.

He decided to embark on his Italian adventure only the Wednesday before after being granted time off work at the last minute.

Mr Richardson said: “I never realised the impact that the Mont Ventoux ride would have — it was so much more popular than I could have expected and was reported all over the world.

“However, that and the one-hour record really took it out of me, both physically and as a time commitment. I wanted to have more time for my children so I decided that was enough.

“Later on, someone at Bloodwise pointed out that I could just do something smaller and that got me thinking about different options.

“I’d always wanted to do more in the Alps so when the chance came up I phoned around my friends to see who could come with me.”

The ride was more challenging as Passo dello Stevio stands at 9,049ft (2,758m) above sea level, about half a mile higher.

He began at a higher altitude but still climbed more than 300 additional metres and cycled an extra 3km in distance while tackling the route’s 48 hairpin bends.

The pass was built in the 1820s and was named the world’s greatest road for driving by Top Gear in 2007. It is often included in the route of the Giro d’Italia cycle race. Mr Richardson, a father-of-two, was accompanied by his friend John van Ghelink, of Greys Road, Henley, whom he met through rowing at Oxford Brookes University.

Mr van Ghelink, 36, had planned to ride alongside him on an ordinary road bike but decided at the last minute to follow him in a car carrying extra water.

The decision proved wise as Mr Richardson exhausted his personal supply in the first hour and had consumed more than five litres by the time he finished.

Mr van Ghelink, who photographed the ride, cycled up the pass himself later the same day.

The temperature at the foot of the pass was almost 30C and it was still well above 20C at the top.

Although it became progressively cooler as he went up, the ride remained challenging because the gradient near the summit is steeper. Mr Richardson finished in two hours, 59 minutes and five seconds, less than a minute under his target time.

At the end, he was gripped by cramp and temporarily went blind so had to get off his bike and lie down on the road for several minutes.

Mr Richardson said: “I was very worried that I would cramp up during the ascent, which would have made it impossible to finish.

“It was a balancing act — I had to put in the maximum effort that I felt I could endure without that happening.

“It’s caused by dehydration so I forced down as much water as I could manage, even if I didn’t feel like it. I only ate two-and-a-half biscuits during the ride but just couldn’t stop eating afterwards.

“Towards the end I’d given up on finishing in under three hours but as I entered the final 3km I saw I had 15 minutes left and realised it was still possible. With 2km to go there were 10 minutes left so I was only just on target and couldn’t afford to slow down. I was still on time by the final kilometre so I just went berserk. 

“I was a bit of a mess when I finished but I couldn’t afford to miss by a couple of seconds. That would have been worse than finishing an hour behind.

“It’s amazing how close I came to three hours as I just plucked that figure from thin air.”

The two men had spent a day training by riding up and down Howe Hill, between Watlington and Cookley Green.

Mr Richardson said: “I’d been keeping myself in reasonably good shape though I couldn’t train as intensively because I didn’t have the time to recover, so I wasn’t quite as fit as I had been two years ago.

“However, when I did Mont Ventoux I genuinely had no idea whether it was possible. This time I had a better idea in my head of the challenges I would face.

“I knew I’d be able to tackle the first half without any trouble but I wasn’t sure whether I would have to walk and push my bike at the end. One way or the other, I was determined to finish.”

Mr van Ghelink said: “I was very excited to take part — it was a wonderful trip for a very good cause. There was no way I’d have done it on a Chopper as it’s hard enough on a regular bike!”

Mr Richardson has raised more than £1,500 so far.

He said: “It’s not as much as the last ride raised but it’s great considering I did it at short notice.”

To sponsor him, visit https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/David-Richardson52

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