One hundred cyclists. Two countries. Three hundred miles. Four days on the road. And a five-star experience as riders of all ages and abilities came together to support Cure Leukaemia by getting on their bikes from London to Paris.
This was the fourth time Cure Leukaemia have staged the event, and its popularity, and the contribution it makes to the charity’s work for blood cancer patients, continues to go from strength to strength.
Teamwork, camaraderie and togetherness continue to be the buzzwords from those who complete such a tough and gruelling physical challenge, and - once again - the class of 2019 didn’t disappoint.
There were so many inspirational stories, with Cure Leukaemia patron Geoff Thomas one of a number of former leukaemia patients who completed the ride and provided such a positive example to all on the trip.
One of those former patients was Brooke Evans, who was treated for leukaemia at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where she now works as a nurse.
“Amazing, incredible, the experience of a lifetime,” was Brooke’s assessment of her first ever London to Paris.
Fellow former patient Mark Nicholas has become a regular feature on Cure Leukaemia’s cycling events, having twice completed Velo, and also twice now London to Paris, since being diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia in 2016.
It was a case of keeping it in the family for Mark, who was joined on the ride by Milan-based sister Dominique, with their parents and other members of the Nicholas clan awaiting at the finish line in Paris.
“I’m feeling good and so proud of my sister and everyone else who has finished – it was a great ride and this is an event I would recommend to anyone,” he said.
There were some tears from Dominique as they completed the ride in front of the Eiffel Tower.
“It was a very emotional moment with all the support we have had here,” she said.
“I have never cycled until this year and this experience has been amazing and shared with such brilliant people.
“I have never known someone as strong as Mark and, even with what he has been through, he has stayed super-positive and has been the one to keep the family going.
“I would like to thank everyone who has donated, to help this great charity help other people like Mark in the future.”
Another former leukaemia patient who was able to share the experience with his family this year was one of the charity’s co-founders, Graham Hampson Silk, who was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia in 2001.
Graham was cycling from London to Paris for the fourth time, but the first alongside 20-year-old daughter Ali.
“It went really well and was very emotional at the finish with our family there,” said Ali.
“Pedal by pedal, as you got closer to Paris, you could just sense the excitement growing,” added Graham.
“During the ride I was talking to people who said they have achieved something that they never thought they could – and when we all did our first one we said exactly the same.
“It is just the best event that you could ever do to challenge yourself and meet the greatest people.”
Faheez Shafeek also had family very much on his mind when getting in the saddle for 300 miles.
His father Salim, who has treated so many leukaemia patients himself in his role as Clinical Director of Haematology and Oncology at Worcestershire Royal Hospital, is now in remission having been diagnosed with myeloma earlier this year.
“I feel ecstatic at having completed the event and grateful that so many people have donated to raise money for such a brilliant cause,” said Faheez, whose incredible fundraising has now passed the £15,000 mark.
“Every kilometre I was riding, even the painful parts, I was thinking about all those who have contributed and I am ever so grateful.
“My Dad was in my mind, knowing what he has been through which is much harder than what I have done here.
“I am very proud of him.”
There were several businesses that fielded groups of cyclists in the event, including Deutsche Bank, The Binding Site, Drive System Design, caboodle and Culture Recruitment, with many kindly contributing to the various sponsorship packages available.
“We loved it, meeting some amazing people, and a great way to mark my first time in Paris,” said Jamie Wills, who took on the ride with fellow Culture directors Laurence Sidwell and Leanne Perry.
For Geoff meanwhile, a Patron of Cure Leukaemia and seasoned campaigner of so many different cycling challenges, it was another fantastic few days.
“There was such a buzz around the trip and you can tell everyone has really enjoyed themselves,” said the former Crystal Palace, Wolves and England midfielder, who is again taking on the Tour De France route a day before the official race next year.
“You want an event to be that good that straightaway people want to do it again next year, and that is great for raising more money for such an important cause.
“Once again we have all been inspired by so many patients getting involved, which is incredible really.”
Geoff was joined by another leading figure from the world of football in current England Under-21 Head Coach Aidy Boothroyd, getting back on his bike four years after previously completing London to Paris.
“It felt a bit of a harder challenge this year – maybe that’s because I’m getting older – but I absolutely loved it,” said Aidy.
“The camaraderie is fantastic, and so are some of the fabulous stories of survival such as that of Brooke.
“Geoff is a great guy who has done an enormous amount of work for the cause, and it was really nice to be joined by Professor Charlie Craddock as well, a special guy who is as humble as they come but is a real lifesaver.”
Cure Leukaemia CEO James McLaughlin has gone the distance on each and every one of the charity’s four London to Paris events, and described this year as the “hottest” in terms of the weather.
“It was so lovely to turn up in Paris in baking sunshine,” said James, one of the many who got drenched on the final day of last year’s L2P.
“It has been another fantastic event, and emotional for so many people, and to cover 300 miles in four days is a heck of an achievement.
“Many people aren’t proper cyclists - myself included - and it is the former patients that we are riding with who are such an inspiration.
“Everyone celebrates together as well, and there has been such a great spirit, a few tears along the way, but great teamwork and that is what makes the event so unique.
“Raising £1,400 is a big commitment for people and so is the challenge of completing the 300 miles, but anyone can challenge themselves to do this event.
“We need to raise as much money as we can and give it to the clinicians to work their magic.”
Talking of those clinicians, Professor Craddock was delighted to be part of L2P 2019, and highlighted the need for the charity to keep on fundraising to help continue the search for a cure for all forms of blood cancer.
“It was an amazing team effort, with such fantastic camaraderie and everyone working together to raise money to drive forward clinical trials for patients less fortunate than those of us who have spent four days cycling through the beautiful countryside,” said Professor Craddock CBE, one of the co-founders of Cure Leukaemia and Academic Director of the Centre for Clinical Haematology at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
“It is a celebration of life, and events like these are going to transform our ability to work together for patients to try and beat these cruel diseases.
“It was a privilege to be part of, and to see some former patients cycling so much faster than me which I guess is part of the deal!
“Inspiration is a bit of a cliché but it was inspiring, and it was fantastic to see these people who have been through such incredibly tough treatment now fit and well, happy and reaching this sporting pinnacle so effortlessly.
“They lifted our spirits when it was tough, and that is why we are here, to make sure everyone with blood cancer has good outcomes – whatever their age – and are able to go on and reach a fulfilling life.
“It is also a testament to how much progress is being made and how much more we can make with more trials and investment and the brilliant work of Cure Leukaemia.”
The good news, either for those who were on this year’s event and are already missing that camaraderie and team spirit, or for those who have never taken part before, is that London to Paris for Cure Leukaemia will definitely be returning for 2020.
The date is set – June 4th to 7th – offering the chance for more memories to be made and more vital fundraising to save the lives of leukaemia patients both now and in the future. To pre-register for this once-in-a-lifetime event email Jennie@cureleukaemia.co.uk.
Watch this year's parody music video from the event below - 'Shotgun' by George Ezra
How funds raised for Cure Leukaemia help save lives