Matt’s Italian Job Chopper Challenge


Matt Richardson completed his incredible new Chopper bike challenge last week which took him to new heights both mentally and physically.  He rode to the top of Passo dello Stelvio from Prato all Stelvio in Italy. The altitude of 2,758m is over half a mile higher and 3km longer than the summit of Mont Ventoux which he rode in 2014.  He was raising money again for Bloodwise in memory of his father, David Richardson who died of blood cancer.

Matt said, “When John van Ghelink and I booked the Italian trip a couple of months ago, I’d intended to ride my racing bike and tour the area. But Stelvio is too big to ignore.  It’s an 1,800m climb over 24km through 48 hairpin bends. I’d been feeling in fairly good shape for a few weeks and had ridden the Chopper to work a couple of times. I suggested Raleigh Chopper vs Stelvio to John and he said “Well it would be silly not to.”

“Having decided I was going to do it, John and I discussed the Chopper ride in detail a few days before leaving and, although it had not been the plan, he agreed to drive up and support. Without his help, it would not have been possible for me to achieve my objective which was to complete the ride without stopping and in under three hours. I thought this might just be possible for me because Ventoux had taken 2 hours and 10 minutes and the numbers felt right. Unfortunately, I hadn’t allowed for two things: heat and altitude.”

“As we drove down the mountain to the start, it was as spectacular as it was daunting. Although the average gradient is only 0.2% greater than Ventoux, it looked and felt very different: much a more challenging. Whether it was the hairpins or the tumbling cliffs, I don’t know but it looked nothing like the gradient I was expecting. It’s more consistent over all but it ramps up for the entire second half and particularly at the top, where the air is thinnest.”

Matt thought it would feel relatively easy for at least the first 4 or 5km. However after only about 2km he had to resort to Sturmey Archer speed 1. Matt said, “I knew I wouldn’t be changing back in to 2 at any point. There was nowhere to go now. No gears in reserve!”

With the temperature at 30C and in less than 40 minutes Matt had finished a litre and a half of water with John passing him new bottles all the time. “John was there for me the whole way – he was fantastic. We’re both very English about things and so, as I become more and more distressed, I make sure that I say “thank you” and ask for things jolly nicely. It’s a kind of game: a way of letting him know everything is all right,” added Matt

The gradient is consistently unforgiving and there is no shade. At one hour in Matt hadn’t even started on the 48 hairpins. “The first few hairpins were almost a relief. I was in the shade for some of the time and, initially, I thought it would help me because I could count them down from 48. It becomes clear, however that the counting is meaningless. The distance between the hairpins varies wildly and I couldn’t remember what number I’d done.

After nearly two hours of torture Matt said he still couldn’t see the summit. Matt said, “I became very angry with myself. Not only the usual “what am I doing here?” stuff but also “why did I say three hours?” It now seems beyond possible. I don’t want to think about it not being possible at all, so I concentrate on it not being possible in three hours; and then argue with myself that it is. I don’t want to think about my Dad. I know that if he knew how how much pain I was in he would be saying “Just take it easy, it doesn’t matter if you do it in three hours – or even at all: you have nothing to prove.”

Finally seeing the top, the gradient became slightly more shallow and Matt pushed on hard putting his body through torture and the Chopper starts showing the strains underneath him.  Matt starts to worry whether it’s possible to maintain this before things start to fail.

With 3km to go.  Matt has 15 mins to complete the ride in under 3 hours.  The next kilometre takes another five minutes and Matt starts thinking whether it would be better to fail by 20 minutes rather than a few seconds.   After taking the last hairpin, he reaches the top missing a parked car by a whisker, arriving a time of 2 hours, 29 minutes and 5 secs.  Matt concludes, “At the top,  I couldn’t control my limbs, I couldn’t see anything, could no longer balance and fell from the bike. I spend about 10 minutes on the floor trying to assess the damage and do a bit of sobbing.”

Matt has raised over £2,500 for Bloodwise.  If you’d like to donate please go to https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/David-Richardson52