A group of wounded, injured and sick veterans and serving personnel is hoping to become the first disabled team to complete one of the world’s toughest mountain bike challenges.
Two training weekends in preparation for the epic event in July have already been held in Hamsterley Forest, County Durham, and Dalby Forest, North Yorkshire, supported by Help for Heroes. The next weekend in March will take place in Grizedale Forest in the Lake District.
More than 15 participants, with a wide range of injuries, took part in the training session. They will now compete with each other over the next few months before a final team of eight riders plus two reserves is selected for the race from July 4-10.
Due to their injuries, some of the riders will train on specially adapted trikes.
The Alpe d’Huez Megavalanche is the longest downhill race in the world, taking 1,400 participants from 20 countries through four days of training and racing from Le Pic Blanc to Allemont.
Colour Sergeant Roger Coates, based at Phoenix House in Catterick, North Yorkshire, will lead the team.
He said: “Having personally entered the event twice before, I have a clear understanding of the training, equipment, commitment and motivation needed to take part in a mountain bike race such as Megavalanche.
“For our guys, it will be a huge commitment to train if they want to make the final team.
“Sport provides optimism, self-belief and confidence in what can be achieved, and this is proven to be of particular importance to this group.
“All of these benefits can be translated outside of sport and into day to day life, sport helps with coping strategies and resilience – which is so important on an individual’s recovery journey.
“Nearly 20 people have expressed their interest to start training so far and they have a wide range of injuries from leg and arm amputations to traumatic brain injuries, PTSD and anger problems. There is a broad range of ability and some people who have dreamt of doing the event in the past but never had the chance before their injury.”
CSgt Coates said riders will hit speeds of up to 60kph during the race, down a black diamond ski run, amongst some of the world’s top downhill bikers.
He said: “While most people take part in the race as individuals, we will make sure our group works as a team so as to help each other out. To avoid injury, we won’t be taking part in the infamous mass start but will hold back so as to ensure the safety of our riders at all times.
“They will need to cross a 2km frozen glacier pushing, pulling, dragging and lifting each other from one icy plateau to another. Another 20km will see them twisting and turning through a dense mountainside forest with a couple of short but tortuous climbs thrown in for good measure. Finally a decent along a steep forest track at high speed will see them across the line and into the history books.”
All participants are wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women that are beneficiaries of Help for Heroes, incorporating all abilities, using sport as part of their recovery journey.
Serving men and women are engaged as part of the Defence Recovery Capability programme which ensures that they have access to the key services and resources to enable their return to duty or a smooth transition to civilian life
The training programme will run until July, as part of Help for Heroes’ and Battle Back extensive Sports Recovery Programme. The final team will be selected towards the end of May.
Help for Heroes has been involved with Sports Recovery since 2008, and in 2015, offered 300 events across 50 different sports enabling over 2,100 wounded, injured and sick service personnel and veterans to take part in adaptive sports from grassroots through to performance level. Sports Recovery works in conjunction with the DSATC as part of the Battle Back programme.