They say that many a true word are spoken in jest but I get the feeling that there was also a fairly large dose of despair that led to the utterance of the following line, somewhere out in the remote wilds of the fens 120 miles into a training ride. “Dark times, lads, these are dark times.”
Dark Times indeed. Going from non-cyclists to hardcore endurance riders in just a few months was bound to bring about a few bumps along the way and the plaintive cry in East Anglia that gave a name to what was up till then just a bunch of mates doing silly distances was just one of them. Getting soaked to beyond the marrow on the London2Paris24 that they had been training for was another. But there are up sides too – the camaraderie that Team Dark Times seem to exude, the impressive array of achievements that they have stacked up since, and the money they are raising doing so.
I’ve known Jonny Mangham for years. We studied together at college in the last days of the last millennium and have always considered “Mango”, as he is universally known, as an all round good mate and designer, and a half-decent cricketeer to boot, But not a cyclist. Nope. I was more than a bit surprised when he suddenly turned up to one of our semi-regular reunions with a palmares that would put a few pro riders to shame talking about 24’s, End to Ends, Etapes and Raids.. What the hell was going on? It’s safe to say that Mango – and a few of his friends – had been seriously bitten by the cycling bug.
“I started cycling in 2012 to do something less damaging to my knees than running, going from buying a bike to riding London2Paris24h in the space of 6 months. That’s how Team Dark Times was born. It’s mainly me and my mate Alex, plus a bunch of other mates from around the country who get together to ride every now and again, and enter daft rides to push ourselves to our limits. Dark Times members have done multiple L2P24’s, Manchester and Newcastle to London, and other rides in the UK and Europe. Several are doing L2424 again this year and some are riding Raid Pyrenees, and some are riding a Raid Paris – there and back in 48hrs!
Last summer Alex, our mate Rob and I rode London2LandsEnd24 and London2Paris24. This year Rob is riding Geneva to Nice, but in true Dark Times style he’s riding from London to Geneva first. A few weeks ago Alex and I rode the 225mile, 5850m climbing of the Etape Eryri in Snowdonia.. But that is just training for the big one..”
This weekend Mango and Alex are taking on what is billed as the “toughest single stage, high mountain event in the world”. The Tour Du Mont Blanc takes on a staggering 9,000m of climbing across its 205mile parcours. It crosses three international boundaries and there are nine climbs, of which FIVE (!) are hors category: the Col du Champex, Col du Grand St Bernard, Col de Petit Saint Bernard, Cormet du Roseland and the Col de Saises. The organisers liken it to riding The Marmotte – their other event – twice back to back, though experienced finishers reckon it more like three as the fatigue really starts to hit. For the faint-hearted (or the weak-willed) it ain’t.
It’s one of those things that most of us look at and just start shaking our heads in disbelief. I get this when I think about the Ironman that my brother did in 2013, or Stuart Birnie’s 24 hour records. I can understand the distances and the effort required but my brain simply won’t allow me to accept that it is possible for fear that I might go and sign up my body to do it too.
Friends are wonderful things. Especially those who go off and do incredibly arduous challenges that I can subsequently experience second-hand in a comfortable pub with a glass in our hands. I applaud them all mightily and dig deep into my pockets to support them if they are riding for a cause. Mango and Alex are ring for Cancer Research UK and Macmillan – two excellent choices that are extremely poignant for Mango as his mum is now fighting cancer after years working in cancer research.
So if you see the Team Dark Times car speeding from London down the Alps in the next day or so, cheer them on. I’ll be waiting here for a full report (in the pub) on their return. In the meantime – drop them a few pounds please..