Roman road helps reignite his sense of adventure
Few people will find a silver lining when they suffer injury. But for Guy Stapleford, a hernia in March has turned out to be a pivotal moment in his cycling life.
The 41-year-old had been training towards the Race Across America (RAAM). Having deferred entry from June 2022 due to illness, Guy was battling to get back into his best shape.
But juggling full-time work, the arrival of his fourth child and preparations for one of the toughest endurance events in the world was taking its toll.
The hernia delivered that moment of clarity. A chance to stop and think and remember why he began cycling in the first place.
Guy said: “I was really struggling for motivation. It’s really difficult when you’re not enjoying riding your bike and you’ve got to go out and do 12 or more hours on a weekend.
“So, really, the hernia came at a good time. If I’d carried on bashing my head against the wall, I might have stopped riding altogether.
“I’d always wanted to get a gravel bike to help mix my training up. And that’s what I did, prompted by the hernia.
“It’s a basic, entry-level set-up. But I just thought this is a way of getting back to why I started riding a bike, which was the adventure, exploring new places and doing new things.
“I’ve got a busy life. And when you’re training for something like RAAM there is very little downtime. Training became a chore, and I just lost the love for it.
“It’s very easy to lose perspective on why you are doing that thing in the first place. That’s where I certainly got to.”
We caught up with Guy during one of his recent adventures. He was following one of the UK’s oldest Roman roads, which linked Londinium (London) to Noviomagus Reginorum (Chichester).
Stane Street is the modern name for this 57-mile (91km) route, which takes in the Surrey Hills, including Coldharbour Lane which features among the 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs, as well as Bignor Hill on the South Downs and Halnaker.
Guy said: “I’ve always enjoyed doing things other people haven’t. I came across the Halnaker tree tunnel on a Google image and thought that’d be a cool place to ride.
“I thought, okay, where is it? Stane Street. What’s Stane Street? It just evolved from there. I looked for people who had ridden this route and I could only find one blog, so I thought I’ll go and see what it was like.”
Guy, who is a procurement consultant by trade, rolled out of Borough Market shortly after rush hour and arrived in Chichester mid-afternoon.
He said: “Riding in central London is not the most amazing fun in the world. But once you get out of the city centre it’s fine and then into the Surrey Hills it’s absolutely gorgeous.
“One of the things I was thinking as I was riding Stane Street was the Romans would be well pissed off at the state of some of these footpaths!
“There was one stretch where I was literally sat on the bike, pushing myself along by my feet because it was so overgrown, you couldn’t ride it.
“My favourite part was towards the end. Once I’d climbed Bignor Hill, which was exhausting by the way, the views were amazing.
“And from there running down into Chichester it was just open fields and incredible views. You got a sense of what the road would have been like.
“There was a raised embankment with ditches either side. Bombing down a grassy hill on top of what was a Roman road. It was just ace.”
With his sense of adventure restored, Guy is back relishing every ride – even the ones where intervals, thresholds and watts play a more significant part.
He added: “I’m still committed to the RAAM as my long-term goal. But the gravel bike has allowed me to mix my riding up now and I’m back enjoying the adventure of cycling.
“Whether that’s finding a new café, discovering a road I’ve never ridden before, those are the things I’m focusing on now. Where can I go that’s interesting and makes my ride worthwhile.”
Pictures: Phil Hill / The PH Balance