(actual posting date – 24 May)
Match forty-two versus Manchester United (away)
Total mileage 7,122.1
On Friday, I’m going on holiday with the family to Cyprus. Once I’m back, I’ll try and write a blog summing up the whole experience and – more importantly – thanking the people I really need to thank for supporting me through this challenge. But in the meantime, here’s a ‘normal’ blog covering the last match.
Not that there felt that much ‘normal’ in the build up to the last trip of the season. With Palace safe from relegation, I could at least look forward to the football without any worries. The final ride of the season brought with it some very welcome publicity – some sought by me, some unsolicited. In the week before I set off, Ed Malyon from the Independent interviewed me and wrote a very nice article; and the Holmesdale On-Line Podcast team interviewed me for their final preview podcast of the season.
Independent article – http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/premier-league/the-fan-who-has-cycled-to-every-crystal-palace-game-this-season-prepares-for-one-last-ride-a7743611.html
HOL Radio podcast (about 31 mins 30 seconds in) – https://www.acast.com/holmesdaleradio/previewpodcast-32manunitedaway
In addition to these two pre-ride interviews, four further media opportunities were arranged, with Talksport, MUTV, BBC Radio London and the Five Year Plan podcast.
The route north was by now very familiar. I set off on Friday with the same two days to South Manchester ahead of me as two weeks before and two weeks before that. It was Trevor’s turn to play host this time.
The weather forecast for Friday had suggested I was in for a soaking. Thankfully, whilst it was a dull and damp morning, there was far less rain than predicted. There was, however, a lot of surface water, including one soaking as I forded a 15 foot puddle.
It was strange to be cycling on these roads for the last time. I stopped more often than normal to take pictures on landmarks that will mean little to anyone but me. As on every ride, I found myself planning where I might try a slightly different route another time or consider somewhere different to stop before quickly reminding myself there wouldn’t be another time.
I stopped for lunch one last time at the Food4Thought cafe at Thrift Farm. Lunch was a cheese sandwich and my final piece of Victoria sponge for the challenge.
The post lunch ride was similar fare to the morning, and I found myself struggling with conflicting emotions as the end of the challenge accelerated towards me. My roadkill spots hit a new low when I saw a rather mangled baby deer. On a happier note, I was riding on a short stretch of dual carriageway near Silverstone village when I received a friendly toot and a wave from a van driving past. The final few miles once again took me along the A5; never my favourite road and even worse with the amount of spray from lorries as they thundered past me. But I made it safely to the Ibis Rugby East in reasonable time.
Between breakfast and setting off on Saturday morning, I was interviewed live on the phone by Talksport’s Weekend Breakfast Show. Unfortunately, I had reception problems, and I ended up dashing outside to get a better signal. Notwithstanding that, I think the interview went okay. My previous appearance on the show – back in November – didn’t seem to generate much sponsorship, but this one (and my other media appearances around the final trip) led to a significant spike in donations. I found the random donations from supporters of other teams particularly touching.
Talksport link http://talksport.com/radio/listen-again/1495260000 Click on the 7.30 to 8 segment and then I’m on at about 11 minutes to go.
For the first part of my morning ride, I enjoyed nice clear weather. I planned on stopping for my stolen Ibis breakfast picnic at Sandon, about 62 miles into the day. About half an hour before I was likely to arrive there, it started to rain. Thankfully, it stopped before I did. Not so thankfully, it started again as soon as I had stopped. And so I enjoyed a rather damp lunch stop. As I was mentally preparing myself for the restart, the rain stopped again and the sun came out.
Buoyed, I got back on the bike. And within a few pedal strokes it started to rain again. I stopped to put on my waterproof jacket. That was a good decision, because it started absolutely hammering down. It only lasted about 15 minutes, but the rain was stinging and not at all pleasant. After that, the sun came out, it warmed up and I dried out. My ride took me as always on the A34 through Stoke and Newcastle (on Trent, obviously). There was a massive traffic jam either side of the junction with the A500 at Talke (site of detours back in the autumn) and once I had negotiated that it was a pleasant familiar ride through Cheshire and on to Timperley. I then spent a fun family evening with food, drink and games.
One of the questions Tony Cascarino had asked me on Talksport was how many punctures I had. I replied lots, but none for the last few months. We then all realised I’d just tempted fate. And so it proved. When Trevor got my bike out on Sunday morning, the back tyre was very soft. I couldn’t find the cause of the puncture, but changed the tube and headed off to Old Trafford. I arrived at about midday. The next couple of hours were taking up chatting to other fans, interspersed with interviews with MUTV and BBC Radio London.
The match itself was something of a non-event, particularly from a Palace point of view. After the excitement of the previous week, the team seemed off the pace against a young Manchester Utd team. The game had something of the feel of a pre-season friendly (except for the number of fouls on Wilfried Zaha) and United won 2-0. After the match was my final media engagement of the weekend, a quick chat for the Five Year Plan podcast.
When I got back to Timperley, I was greeted by Trevor and Lisa and a bottle of champagne to celebrate my achievement. We then headed out and met up with Sherann and Garry for a lovely evening out.
The return journey felt strange. Trevor, Lisa, Sherann and Garry had all been congratulating me on what I’d achieved. My burst of fame had led to a big social media response, again with people congratulating me for what I’d done. It was all very touching and welcome. However, it also felt like it was only me who had remembered I needed to cycle home; and with all the euphoria of getting to the final game, it felt like the final 215 miles might be something of a drag.
I set off and rode into the centre of Timperley where I had a quick stop for an energy drink and to say goodbye to the Frank Sidebottom statue.
The ride after that was hard work. On the previous two rides back from the North West, I had been pushed along by a favourable headwind. This time, however, the wind had returned to the prevailing direction and that meant a headwind, and as a result my progress was much slower.
I stopped for lunch at another regular haunt, the McDonalds at Rugeley Power Station. Riding was hard work again after lunch. I was dawdling along at around 13mph when another cyclist overtook me with a cheery wave. It shook me from my reverie, and I sped up to take his wheel and let him drag me along through Orgreave. This worked well, and I found myself riding at around 20mph, with my average speed for the afternoon climbing towards 16mph. I got the distinct impression – as much as you can from the view of someone’s back – that he was less happy about giving me a tow than his friendly greeting might have suggested. And at a slight ramp up to a roundabout he saw his chance and kicked. The metaphorical elastic snapped and he left me for dead.
Most of the rest of the day I watched my average speed steadily drop down towards 13mph, but I didn’t mind as I made the effort to make sure I enjoyed the beauty of the countryside.
I was a little worried about how much I’d have in my legs for the final few miles on the A5, but a well-timed energy gel hit the spot and my average speed rose a little before I arrived back at the Ibis around 5.30.
I switched on the TV on Tuesday morning to the horrific news of the Manchester bombing, and it made the ride home a rather sombre one. The wind had eased and moved round a little, so that it was neither helping nor hindering me. I made pretty good time, though I was disappointed to learn later than I’d failed to hear a fellow Palace fan cheering me on as I rode near Milton Keynes.
Lunch was another picnic in Chesham. A few drops of rain fell on my phone, just as I was reading my weather app telling me there was 0% chance of precipitation. The drizzle continued for a little bit after I set off, and I played the waterproofs hokey-cokey for a few miles before it brightened up.
Then it was just a case of the final miles through west and south west London. For the second trip in a row, I managed to avoid getting snarled up in Isleworth and before I knew it I was riding through Kingston and Worcester Park and on to Cheam.
I turned into our road to be greeted by the lovely sight of Janet and the kids, with flowers and Palace flags, ready to welcome me. Gilbert running along the pavement to keep up with me over the final couple of yards was a beautiful way to end the challenge. As was the half bottle of champagne and Victoria sponge cake waiting for me on the door step.
And that was that: I had cycled the season.
And, Palace being Palace, Sam Allardyce resigned.