The Sage Foundation joined forces with HotChillee for a truly memorable LONDON-PARIS ride in 2019. Record temperatures, torrential downpours and, of course, the Ginbulance, it was an event to remember.
We speak to Elaine McCulloch – Sage Foundation Manager for the UK, who witnessed the workings of the event first hand and Graham Cavan – Partner Enablement Director at Sage, who took on the ride.
How did the Sage Foundation get involved with the HotChillee London to Paris ride?
In 2017 we self-organised the first Sage Life Cycle, which involved riding from our London offices to our Newcastle ones. We managed to raise 20K but, with the challenge of raising two million dollars by 2022 laid down by our CEO, we knew we had to find some partners to help us out. We started researching cycling events that we could utilise for our Sage Life Cycle 2019 and HotChillee just stood out for us in terms of professionalism and organisation.
A real mixed bag in terms of ability. We had 22 Sage colleagues riding, eight partners and three customers. It was the perfect way to strengthen business relations, raise money for charity and for many of the riders, have a genuinely life-changing experience.
Was there a buzz in the company before the event?
Definitely. There was a constant stream of external and internal communications to raise awareness of the ride and, as it got nearer, the excitement just grew and grew. We got jerseys for all the riders sponsored by our partners. This created a real team feel, gave great exposure to our partners and raised even more money for charity.
Even more so. The week beforehand we found out it was likely to be the hottest week of the year and, with temperatures hitting 42C on Day 2, #sagelifecycle was trending as col-leagues and partners throughout the world were desperate to find out how the riders were coping.
I was doing pieces to camera at five in the morning to keep people updated and there was a real buzz across all of our offices. There were “good luck” and “keep going” messages coming in on Twitter from all over the world and it really felt like we were part of something special.
So, tell us about the Ginbulance…
Well, our Executive Vice President Debbie Wall had set herself a number of big challenges that year as her big Five-O was looming. She’d already done the Three Peaks Challenge in Australia and the Reading Half Marathon and had every intention of tackling the London to Paris Ride. However as it got nearer she realised she hadn’t done enough cycling train-ing but was still eager to be involved.
So, we got a long wheel base van, branded it up, filled it with Newcastle Gin and beer, put her behind the wheel and the Gin Bus of Ginbulance was born. At first it was just a bit of fun – finish the stage and grab a gin or a beer from the bus. However, with the scorching temperatures, she soon found herself with a walkie-talkie, following the event and doing mercy runs for extra water and ice!
How would you sum up Sage Foundation’s London to Paris experience?
It genuinely brought colleagues and partners from all across the world together. It was an amazing opportunity to make a real difference and raise a lot of money. Thinking about seeing everyone roll into Paris together still gives me goosebumps – HotChillee really understand the underlying importance of big corporate events – they just get it.
Why did you sign-up for the HotChillee London to Paris?
I was really inspired by the work Sage Foundation does and decided to sign up as an Ambassador. London to Paris looked like an amazing challenge, a fantastic opportunity to raise money for my chosen charities, Mind and Make a Wish, and the thought of riding that far gave me the motivation I needed to get off my backside and do some training!
Were you a keen cyclist already?
Not at all, I hadn’t been on a bike for 30 years and the first thing I had to do was get a bike using the Bike to Work scheme, so I had something to train and do the event on!
What training did you do, any tips or lessons learned?
I probably did about 50 training rides in total including some HotChillee ones which were invaluable. Tips would be to join a local cycling club to get used to riding in a bunch, include some Spinning and to pay attention to your nutrition. The main lesson I learned was that the flat roads around Cambridge left me a bit underprepared for the hills so don’t make that mistake.
What was it like on the start line?
To use a Glaswegian expression, “I was kecking myself”. In polite terms, I was incredibly nervous. I’d never taken on anything like it but the buzz, sense of camaraderie and the enthusiasm of all the riders and the HotChillee crew made it an unforgettable experience.
How was the ride?
I doubted myself so many times – we had the incredible heat, torrential rain, the lot. But there was always a supportive voice, we were all in it together and I experienced a real mindset shift that’s still with me today. It’s had a huge impact on me physically as well – I’ve lost about a stone and have kept the cycling going.
What was riding into Paris like?
Unbelievable, such a sense of achievement. The French love cycling, the traffic stopped and, as we rode on the cobbled Parisian streets, car horns were tooting us and people were shouting encouragement. Seeing the Eiffel Tower, colleagues, friends and family – I’ll never forget it.
Any plans for future rides?
Our WhatsApp group from London to Paris is still active and we all still follow each other on Strava. We had another big challenge planned for this year but with COVID, it got cancelled. However Elaine wasn’t going to let us off the hook, so we completed it virtually and raised lots of money – nothing will stop Sage Foundation, not even COVID!