For Those Who Suffer, We Ride
It began in January one freezing cold morning. I was in a car park by ExCel and it was raining. Dark. Wet. Cold. My fingers and toes were completely numb. It was miserably, absolutely horrific. And it was time to start FireFlies training. Again.
I’m proud to say that I’m a FireFly and every year in June fifty of us cycle across the French Alps towards Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Despite varying slightly each year, the tour generally follows ‘La Route Napoleon’ from Geneva to Cannes, where we always finish up by proudly pulling into the Palais.
The aim of the tour, which is going into its 16th
year, is to ride over 1000km in seven days, raising thousands of pounds for
charity along the way. This year’s money is going to Bloodwise to fund a clinical
trials nurse at Hammersmith Hospital, a world leading leukaemia treatment and
My love affair with the tour started on the Croisette in 2006. The police sirens blared as a long line of cyclists rolled into Cannes and, to be honest, I had no idea what was going on. Was it a local bike race? The culmination of the Tour de Cannes?
Making my way up to the Palais, I began to see jerseys emblazoned with Campaign and Framestore logos and that’s when I realised it was an industry event. Talking to the riders, I became inspired by their amazing stories of being battered by the elements, from blazing sunshine to blinding snowstorms. As a young cyclist I used to race and dreamt of becoming a professional – but then I found music, girls and cigarettes. Now I had the opportunity to part-realise my dream and, in 2007, I joined the FireFlies for the first time.
A few months after my debut tour, my godfather was diagnosed with leukaemia. We’re incredibly close and he’s like a member of the family (known to me as Uncle Ray Tucker, who is thankfully still here thanks to the ground-breaking treatment FireFlies funds). The news was devastating. That’s when I knew that FireFlies wasn’t going to be a one off. Immediately I wanted to get back on the bike and raise more money. And I did, coming back again and again until it got to the point where the wife was going to fire me…
FireFlies became a part of my life and for the last few years I’ve missed not taking part. I longed for the camaraderie of being with a group of fifty like-minded people. We’re mainly from the advertising industry but nobody talks about their job – that’s one of the great things, it’s not about networking. It’s amazing, really, when you consider some of the egos in advertising!
You get to meet all these people who you’ve never met before. Runners, CEOs, directors, producers – it’s a wonderful, hierarchy-free mixture of people. I remember riding with Julian Hough and, because nobody talks about work, I had absolutely no idea who he was at the time. It was only when we got back to London that I saw him in Campaign and found out he was the CEO of Engine Group!
By default, you get to know each other so well that you become lifelong friends with guys who you may even go on to work with. I’m great friends with the director Mark Jenkinson because of FireFlies. We’ve done a couple of tours and consequently lots of work together.
When you’re cycling for eight hours a day you go through every emotion together. You really get to know people, going through their darkest times and their most transcendent moments. Through agony and ecstasy. The first time I got there I was terrified. This is my sixth tour and I’m still terrified. I know what’s coming but I still go back.
A lot of people think the ride is a jolly through the Alps but there are three reasons why they’re completely, absolutely, totally wrong.
Firstly, it’s really, really, really fucking hard. No matter how much you train it’s horrendous. Fortunately, there are lots of training rides. I run one myself – an evening hill climb that I try to do once a week. I take people out, whether they’re complete beginners or total Lycra warriors, with the whole philosophy that we never ride alone. That’s why we run ‘no drop’ rides. If anybody drops off at the back then we wait and everyone regroups. It’s a philosophy we keep to on the ride too, waiting at the top of mountains so we all get to regroup. We do the whole thing together.
Secondly, it’s not a ‘jolly’ because we pay for our own ride: the flights, accommodation, food. Every single penny of the sponsorship money goes to charity. I’m incredibly thankful to Adelphoi Music and now MassiveMusic for being my main sponsors over the years. Be it a logo on the jersey (which we wear all year round, I wear mine when training!), on a cap (which looks great in photos), or even the back of a jacket, there are so many ways to sponsor the tour and help save lives. And it’s great marketing too – you’re often in a long line spending two hours staring at someone’s arse, so those logos burn into your eyeballs!
Thirdly, despite taking place in June, the weather can be apocalyptic. We were caught in a snowstorm as we descended Col d'Iseran in 2010, ultimately riding in two inches of snow in which I genuinely believed I was in perilous danger. The snow was smacking into our faces, settling on our knees as we cycled. Literally, I couldn’t see the road. It should’ve taken forty minutes but ended up being the scariest hour and a half of my life. Our next climb was then at 30°C! My body couldn’t handle going from one extreme to the other and as we descended my nose exploded – blood everywhere. I had this red beard dripping all over me. The juxtaposition between severe snow and scorching sun was quite unbelievable.
Incidentally, the tour’s name stems from another particularly hairy moment. It comes from the inaugural year when, late one night, the original crew (who’d no doubt stayed too long at a restaurant, probably drinking wine – typical directors!) descended Col du Turini in pitch-black conditions. With no moonlight to guide them through the forest, it was thousands of fireflies – lifting from the warmth of the road as the cyclists passed – that lit the crew’s path down the mountain and led them to safety. And so, the FireFlies found its name.
That was 15 years ago and today, having raised over £1.7 million for blood cancer and leukaemia research and treatment so far, we’re preparing to go again. That’s what the tour is all about. I was lucky enough to meet somebody at Hammersmith Hospital who’d been treated on the incredibly expensive, not readily available machines that we’d funded. They were basically alive because of the FireFlies, and that’s the same for a number of people we’ve met through the years. The tour has genuinely saved lives.
To be on the ride you have to be active, train super hard and get involved to raise money and awareness for the charity. That’s what we’re doing, really getting our shoulder – or should I say legs – behind a great cause. New riders are always welcome – and if you can’t ride then there are so many ways that you can help, support and sponsor the cause. To paraphrase the legendary Bob Geldof – it’s really fucking hard so give us your fucking money!
PS. The biggest tip that I can give anybody who wants to ride is that anti-friction cream is the most important thing to pack. Don’t forget the bum cream!
Paul Reynolds is managing director at MassiveMusic London