Earlier this month, friends and family of Nelson Pratt - as well as an army of keen cyclists - descended on the late snowboarder's farm in Hampshire for the inaugural "Tour de Test Valley". The aim of the game was to push (or rather pedal) ourselves over a challenging route, raise money for the charity CALM and generally share a few laughs in honour of our good friend.
Such was the enthusiasm for this event that places had to be capped at a whopping 500 riders, and on the evening before kick-off the Pratt family farm had been transformed into a busy campsite. Seasonaire buddies from Nelly's Tignes days, fellow pros including such UK legends as Danny Wheeler and Mark Kent, snowboard industry folk and members of the army slopestyle team he'd helped to train were all out in force. You couldn't walk from one side of the field to the other without bumping into an old face and sharing the latest news or reflecting on memories of the man himself.
But while everyone was feeling the love in equal measure, the ride itself brought different approaches from the assembled fundraisers. Some keenos wheeled out carbon frames and donned the dreaded lycra; many were sporting the rad official jerseys kindly funded by Vans UK; others opted for a more relaxed snowboarder dresscode and mounted an array of battered old steeds including no fewer than two tandems – top marks to Si Belson, Schoph, Chris Orchard and Sam Nelson on that score.
Three distances were on offer: 25 miles, 50 miles and the 100 mile 'full monty' which best friend and chief organiser Marcus Chapman told us was Nelson's all time fave. In fact legend has it he discovered the route when signing up for a local cycle event – his first organised comp ever – where he proceeded to wipe the floor with the confused competition dressed like a farmer and riding an old school steel frame. Team Whitelines opted to give this 100 miler a go (sore arses be damned!) and it proved an absolute beaut, taking in some of the country's most scenic countryside on the fringes of Stonehenge.
The camaraderie continued along the way, with old friends bumping into each other as they huffed and puffed up one of the (bastard steep) climbs or helping each other out with numerous punctures (Team WL managed two in the first mile, including one before the start - surely a record?). It must have been a strange sight for passing cars to see this motley crew of shredders and MAMILS (Middle Aged Men in Lycra); some going hell for leather a la Wiggo, some stopping for the odd pint in a picturesque pub or enjoying a fag break at the top of the more gruelling hills.
After just under six-and-a-half hours in the saddle, our own mini peleton rolled over the finish line back at the farm, where we were treated to some food and music throughout the evening courtesy of DJ BBQ, Twinings and the Pratt family themselves. In fact 'nuff respect has to go out to the organisers, led by Marcus, Nelson's brother Chris and his mum and dad, Nigel and Edie - they threw everything into hosting this event, from liaising with the guys at British Cycling to baking brownies for the feed stations, and it ran like clockwork. As if to put the final seal of approval on proceedings, a stunning rainbow appeared over the farm right at the end; whether or not Nelson was behind it, everyone felt sure he would have been stoked.
When the final count was done, the 2013 Tour de Test Valley raised over £55,000 for CALM, whilst our own contribution was over £1500 - a massive thanks goes out to everyone who supported us. It looks like the event will return next year, so if you're interested in taking part yourself then sign up to the FB page or keep em peeled to nelsonstourdetestvalley.co.uk.
Ride on Nelly!
Thanks to: British Cycling, Andy Cook Cycling, Vans, Twinings, Madison, Marcus Chapman and the Pratt family. Thanks also to Merlin Cycles for explaining the ins and outs of road bikes to this clueless snowboarder.