“Live the music that plays within you!” This life philosophy was the main message of the artist Nicola Werner. After her death in early 2016, it also served as the catalyst for the Nicola Werner Challenge. The idea was as follows: friends and family would ride a charity gran fondo in September from Paris to Cabourg, Normandy, as a tribute to Nicola, and as an occasion to celebrate friendships and the joys of living.
Just before dawn on Saturday, 10th September, around 40 cyclists gathered in Levallois, just outside of Paris. Several had even travelled from Germany to take part in the Levallois-Cabourg bike marathon, a 225 km route towards Normandy. We’d organized our own event-within-an-event: while we were participating in a regular bike marathon, we had a different objective and alternate awards: our proceeds would be donated to a newly created HPV research prize, with the aim of spreading awareness of the vaccination against the cancerous HPV virus and supporting its prevention, as these were topics that were close to Nicola’s heart.
Promising to be a long and wonderful day or riding, we weren’t disappointed. As we rolled out of Paris with around 2,500 other cyclists on this late summer morning, the sun was just creeping up into the sky.
The first checkpoint and refreshment stop took place after about 50 km, nestled below a chateau, making it the perfect opportunity to greet my team and outline the spirit of the ride: “Today is about the joys of being in this landscape, riding, having fun as a team, helping each other and letting off some steam – but we are not here to race each other. If you still have some energy left at the end then let it out, but we want to reach Cabourg as a team!”
This wasn’t an easy challenge for our group. We had an ex-pro, a couple on a tandem, a few triathletes, riders of all ages and even some riders who were just getting back into cycling. We were united by Nicola’s positive spirit that pushed us along the roads and a common will to enjoy the day.
The notorious south-westerly wind was already making its presence known, and intensifying with each kilometre. Three strong cyclists led the group, with the ex-pro skirting the group to help. The tandem and several others drafted.
Despite the challenges, the group stayed largely as one, although a few splinter groups broke off sporadically. While conversations flew around our group, other riders were curious, asking what sort of a club we were. The answer was simple: “We are the Nicola Werner Challenge; we live the music that plays within us! And we are raising money for the fight against cancer!” It was an undulating route that took in tarmacked lanes, farm tracks and other small roads through little villages.
After we’d enjoyed a lunch break, which was laid out in the grounds of a school, we had another small climb before we regrouped again. By now the wind was really making itself noticeable, and the next 110 km were a bit of a battle. This was where the ride really tested the strength of the riders.
We ploughed our way as a team through the wind, stopping at times for quick photos, and grinding up the climbs. Other than one puncture, there were no crashes. Around 5 pm, we rolled over the finish line in clusters, where we were met by some great beer that Phillipe had organised. Exhausted and exhilarated, talk soon moved onto the topic of next year’s event. The evening train took us back to Paris, but some opted for an overnight by the coast.
Once back in Paris, we picked a restaurant for a much-needed steak and protein boost and chose a bar where we could enjoy a gin and tonic – all in the name of a good night’s sleep.
On Sunday morning we headed to the famous Parisian Longchamp bike track for another blowout. We followed this exertion with a satisfying brunch, before everyone went their separate ways.
Right now, we’ve got this plan:
Next year we’ll stage the second Nicola-Werner Challenge as part of the Levallois-Cabourg Bike Marathon on 9th September 2017. Once again we’ll donate our proceeds to the Nicola-Werner HPV Research Prize in Germany and France. And once more there will be five awards for the participants: for fun, the joy of the landscape, fairness, team spirit and ambition. We’ll take our organization to the next level to ensure it will be another enjoyable event. Having since created new German-French ties, we’re also considering the idea of organizing a smaller, more informal Nicola Werner Challenge with the French tandem in the Rhineland, near the German city of Cologne.
In addition, we’re also considering creating an additional challenge during 2017 in the area around Heidelberg.
Date: Saturday, 10.09.2016
Distance: 225 km
Weather: chilly in the morning, but sunny and warm in the evening, quite a strong wind blowing at 25 km/h
Participants: 36 (7 from Germany)
Fundraising: for the Nicola Werner HPV research prize, that will be awarded in Germany and France
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Words: Moritz Werner Photos: Jochen Hoops