After ten years of charity bike rides to Paris, The Argus Appeal goes the extra mile this year to acknowledge the war that shook the world.
To coincide with the 100-year anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, a record number of 60 intrepid cyclists will travel through Belgium, paying tribute to fallen heroes and raising money for a valuable cause at home.
Some have raised in excess of £1,000 for The Argus Appeal, the charity wing of The Argus, which offers a helping hand to those who need it most.
The Argus Appeal aims to raise £25,000 from the ride.
The trip kicks off bright and early tomorrow when the riders meet up at Withdean Stadium at 6am.
A coach will take them to Dover before a trip to Bergues on the outskirts of Dunkirk. This is followed by a 30-mile ride on day one to Ypres, the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting of the war. The riders will get to pay their respects at the Menin Gate in the evening.
Day two sees the team riding 41 miles to Bruges, with trips to cemeteries at Passchendaele and Tyne Cot en route.
Day three sees a 31-mile ride to Ghent before a 42-mile journey along a marked route to Brussels on day four.
It’s a gruelling expedition but some are travelling even farther to get involved and to make a difference.
Faye McLennan took on the Brighton-to-Paris challenge last year and loved it so much she is returning for another go. However, this year is different – she is flying in from New Zealand.
She said: “I loved the challenge and thought I would like to do it again this year.”
She cajoled her riding buddy Tui Davenport, who was involved last year, to sign up and has other friends joining up for the journey with The Argus Appeal.
“It’s the best charity to help support communities and I get to do it with a bunch of friends,” she said.
On the challenge ahead, she said: “It gets me focused and means I have to go out and train for a fair few months before.”
Her focus has also stretched to fundraising.
“The generosity of my donors has been fabulous. With a little cajoling, I have so far managed just over £500.
“Now all I need to do is cycle – and of course make sure my bicycle arrives in one piece off the plane.”
Faye has strong links with Sussex, having lived in Hove for 14 years. “Sussex is truly the best county,” she added.
“We lived in a little bit of Hove and felt such a sense of belonging and community.
“Now we miss this having gone to the big city of Auckland.
“I feel honoured to be doing this ride so to experience it with my friends will be amazing and we can all share the experience as we cycle through the Belgium countryside.”
Another cyclist – and friend of Faye – making an epic voyage is Leigh Koritke, who is travelling across the Atlantic from Tampa, Florida, to be involved for the first time.
The 46-year-old sees it as a good opportunity to reunite with old friends, who all used to live in Brighton.
Leigh said: “I kept in touch with most of my friends from my time in the UK.
“I count a few of them as among my best friends.
“This was a way to reconnect with them, involving something other than drinking wine and eating macaroons.”
Leigh has raised £650 (about $1,100) through the Just Giving website for the appeal.
She said: “Fundraising has been an amazing experience and I never thought I would say that.
“Everyone has been so supportive and generous.”
She said training had been fun – “I rode 30 miles the other morning” – and that she is just about ready for the ride.
She said: “I’m now more nervous about finishing the ride than anything else.
“I’m not the fastest and remain very grateful it’s not a race.
“I definitely need to swap my seat for a ‘granny’ version. My ‘sit’ bones are killing me.”
As she is flying in from America, she is borrowing a “proper bike” from Giant Shoreham with, “fingers crossed, the aforementioned ‘granny’ seat”.
This year’s ride bridges the age gap: the youngest rider is 13 years old while the oldest is a pensioner.
Michael Beard, editor of The Argus and chairman of The Argus Appeal, will be among the riders again this year.
He said: “There is a real cross-section of people going and they are really looking forward to it.
“Visiting the First World War monuments will really add to it.
“It means a huge amount.”
One man who has helped forge the way is Howie Blanks, a long-time Argus employee and Argus Appeal bike ride co-ordinator.
He said: “Belgium has a brilliant infrastructure for cycling, which makes it an ideal charity ride.”
A complete network of numbered cycle paths guides the riders to their destination each day, such is the efficiency of the system developed there.
Even so, the logistics have been challenging for the appeal’s support team and has taken a year to plan.
Howie added: “The hardest thing was finding a safe way into Brussels. We have found a route which finishes at the Atomium, a metal structure celebrating the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels.
“You have to be quite innovative when it comes to raising money for charity and keep organising rides that are value for money and people want to go on.”
One of the biggest fundraisers has been the Brighton Institute of Modern Music (BIMM) through its principal Vaseema Hamilton and director David O’Connor.
They have broken through their target of £1,500.
To make matters even more impressive, BIMM has pledged to match the amount raised by the end of the ride.
BIMM has supported The Argus Appeal for the past ten years as one of its major charities but this is the first year Vaseema has taken up the cycle challenge.
She said: “I was inspired to take up the challenge to raise money for the appeal and try to get fit at the same time.
“The fact that this is the 100th year since the outbreak of the First World War makes the ride this week even more poignant.
“I have been riding up and down the coastal cycle path between Littlehampton and Rottingdean to train over the past few months, looking out across the Channel and imagining how it must have felt to live here 100 years ago, knowing that Europe was on the brink of something terrible but not yet knowing just how devastating the impact of the war would be.
“I’m really delighted to have the opportunity to make the trip.”
Vaseema added: “The fundraising has been incredibly positive – friends, family and colleagues have all contributed magnificently.”
As well as the fundraising efforts of the 60 committed cyclists, Legal & General remains a steady constant as a sponsor of the event.
Frances Borrer, of Legal & General, said: “We are committed to supporting the local communities where we have offices and our support for The Argus Appeal enables it to do what it does best and raise funds that make a real difference to those who live and work in Sussex.
“This bike ride is a great example of this fundraising and will, I’m sure, be a great success. Good luck to all those taking part.”
Elsa Gillio, of The Argus Appeal, said: “After lots of discussion, Belgium was a firm favourite for this year’s ride, particularly given the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War.
“We are very fortunate to have a team of intrepid cyclists who make up our support team.
“When you take 60 people abroad you need a dedicated support team. We are grateful to them and the cyclists for taking part.”
The Argus Appeal is the charity of The Argus, Sussex’s only daily newspaper.
The appeal is celebrating more than 50 years of giving to local people.
Every penny raised by the appeal will be used to help those in need within our community. Working at the heart of the community enables us to see, first-hand, who is in need and to be able to act quickly to make a difference.
We pride ourselves on having supporters who trust the integrity of our work, the honesty with which we tell our stories and the decision we make when allocating funds. Choosing to support The Argus Appeal guarantees that every single penny you raise will go towards helping those in real need, here, in our community.
Those wishing to apply to the appeal should write to Elsa Gillio, The Argus Appeal, Argus House, Crowhurst Road, Hollingbury, Brighton BN1 8AR, call 01273 544465 or email firstname.lastname@example.org with details of who you are, what you do, what you need and who will benefit.
Our trustees judge all applications on their own merit.