Back in November Great Ormond Street Hospital had their first velodrome fundraising event based at Lee Valley Velopark.

Myself, being on the committee for the event, thought it would be a fantastic auction prize to offer two places in the first ever Gran Fondo to be held in the capital of Portugal, Lisbon, on 22 April 2018. I asked the organisers, Ultra Spirit Sports and Podium Events (Antonio Queiroz) and they kindly donated two entries and two nights’ accommodation. The auction winner was James Hatchley, who brought along his cycling buddy, Ian Cammack, to take part in this special event. I also, would be taking part to meet and greet and make sure they were looked after throughout their stay, I was very excited about being involved with the first ever Gran Fondo in Lisbon.

The start of the Gran Fondo was set in the breath-taking backdrop of the famous Jerónimos Monastery buzzing with tourists. The race pack was filled with goodies, not only did you get a cool cycle jersey, you also got a commemorative bottle of wine from the Volta Portugal 2017, the famous wine region of Alentejo, along with various other products from the sponsors which made the Gran Fondo great value for money

On the morning of the race, myself, James and Ian headed off to the start of the Gran Fondo on our bikes after a hearty breakfast in the hotel. It was only a five minute ride to the start so we arrived in plenty of time to warm up and settle those pre-event nerves, with frequent trips to the loo. We had the great advantage given by the organisers as guests, starting pen positions, which meant we were near the front. With 1200 excited riders we waited with anticipation for the start of this first ever event. The first 20km or so would be controlled as we would be going through Lisbon, so at the start it was nice and calm and relaxed, with closed roads, police escorts (which made us all feel quite special) and people everywhere cheering us on through the cobbled streets of Lisbon. I rode side by side with my good friend, José Estrangeiro, who was the guest rider for this event, his first ever Gran Fondo. I can only imagine how much organisation and planning this took going through the capital of Portugal.

After 20km or so we came out of the city into the hills where we were free to ride. The organisers had put a long climb in straight away to break up the riders and give them space, as after reaching the top of the climb the riders dispersed into small groups. The whole route was designed to show us how the regions terrain can change and how diverse it is from the city, to the hills, to the coast. Everything all in one Gran Fondo. Don’t think for one moment the Lisbon Gran Fondo is a flat course as you have demanding climbs on the route from short sharp climbs to long drags. A race for everyone.

Taking in many famous tourist destinations in this region, from the popular coastal surfing town of Ericeira to the outskirts of the enchanted town of Sintra and sampling the coastal ride of Sintra-Cascais National Park, to name but a few. Through the whole riding experience, feeding stations were plentiful and signage and marshals were in abundance, so you didn’t feel lost or unsure of where to go. A great atmosphere on the whole ride with all levels of riders, men and women, taking on the challenge of a Gran Fondo. With support and encouragement from the spectators as we passed through the many villages it made us feel quite special and gave us that extra drive to press on – such a great atmosphere on the whole ride.

The finish was in the same place as the start, so the finish line had the backdrop of the monastery which made a very dramatic and exciting finish, it was the icing on the cake to a fantastic event. I’d also say one of the key things was the food at the end of the event. It was plentiful and of very high quality, with local dishes such as bacalhau, pastas, wine, beer, coffee. You definitely weren’t going to walk away from there thirsty or hungry! You could see as the riders finished there was a great sense of achievement and a great atmosphere. The venue and setting made it something very special for everyone and the organisation was top.

James and Ian totally enjoyed the day, from the great setting to the organisation in general and were chuffed with their jerseys and, of course, nice bottle of wine and a lovely finishing medal for all riders. A massive thanks again to the organisers for donating this wonderful prize for the auction back in November at the Velodrome Pursuit in Lee Valley Velo Park, which now James is on the committee for the Velodrome Pursuit with Great Ormond Street. It’s great to have you on the team James - with your drive and enthusiasm you’ll be a great asset to Great Ormond Street.

Ian and James were great company and formed a definite bond, fun to be around and both have a great passion for riding their bicycles. It was a pleasure to share time with them.

I was also fortunate enough to have a good result myself in the Gran Fondo, managing 40th overall and 2nd in Masters. Lisbon Gran Fondo is definitely one to put in your event diary. Hope to see you there next year!

A heads up for some big events I have lined up for this year include Ride Across Portugal and Gran Fondo Premium.

If you want to take on your own cycling challenge for Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity then they have a range of exciting UK challenges such as London – Brighton, Prudential RideLondon and The London Triathlon.