WE are now in France and getting ready for the challenge ahead.
Not Hull FC v Catalans in Perpignan, though. This is a different challenge – the RACE across Europe.
As regular readers will know I’m taking part in a cycle race that is just short of 3,000 miles long, covers six countries, crosses the Alps twice, the Pyrenees once and has a world record – which our team is aiming to beat – of seven days, 10 hours and 24 minutes.
It is in aid of the Steve Prescott Foundation, which is a great charity and obviously close to my own heart; I played with Steve at Wakefield Trinity when he had a season with us in 2000.
I was just starting out in the game, but his professionalism back then really left a big impression on me.
Later, watching what he did when he battled through his illness – all those challenges he undertook – was such inspirational stuff, but that’s just like he was as a player; so professional, so committed and so driven for the team.
I was really pleased when I was invited on this challenge to help raise funds for Steve’s Foundation.
As a player you look at their events or those of Rugby League Cares and want to be involved.
Now I’m retired I can be and, as well as raising money and awareness for such a great cause, I’m getting plenty of fulfilment from it, too. I’ve loved being part of a team again, doing something special, working together for a common goal and one that I think, when we are finished, something we’ll all remember as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
With regards the race, it is continuous from start to finish.
We have eight riders, two teams of four.
Of those four we take it in turns to each do a 20-minute effort for eight hours and then the other team takes on the next eight hours.
With that strategy we feel it gives us the best chance of going as fast as possible to try to break that record. I know it will be tough. Some of the guys on our team have been training for it for the last couple of years.
They are used to Iron Man sort of challenges whereas I’ve just jumped on board in the last four months.
But the lads I’m with are absolutely fantastic and have really helped me advance and get better at what I need to do.
Rugby league people will know Ewan Dowes, Steve Hampson and Steve Hall, the ex-St Helens player.
The other riders are Phil Ellison, Kev Humphries and Steve Prescott’s brother Neil. They are the real strength of the team and there’s the support staff, too, who are such a massive help; it’s like rugby league – the backroom guys do all the hard work to make sure players can perform on the pitch.
I’ve really got into the training and gone from wondering what I’d let myself in for to ending up getting all the gear, spending loads of money on a great bike and really getting the cycling bug.
But now it’s down to the actual race. We start out on Tuesday. Hopefully by next week’s column we’ve broken that record.
If anyone would like to donate that’s greatly appreciated. This is my page: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/gareth-ellis13