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Meet the record-breaking cyclists inspiring the pack in 2024 Ford RideLondon-Essex

More than 20,000 participants will take part in 2024 Ford RideLondon-Essex, the world’s greatest festival of cycling, on Sunday 26 May. Each person taking on the 100-mile, 60-mile or 30-mile challenge has their own powerful reason for doing so – but for some, the cycling event holds particular significance.

One of those is Tom Kelsall, 20, from Dorking, who is one of three riders taking part from the Special Olympics team - the world's largest sports organisation for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. From a young age, Tom's family noticed slight differences from his twin brother, and from the age of 18 months he started receiving different types of therapy. He was eventually diagnosed with Koolen de Vries Syndrome which causes developmental delay and learning difficulties. Tom suffers with a severe language and communication impairment, and dyspraxia, which affects his movement.

To make things even more difficult for Tom, he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of nine, which is harder for him than most due to his processing issues, meaning he often can’t tell his family how he feels.

A fanatical cyclist, Tom has already achieved a range of impressive accomplishments by the age of 20, having completed RideLondon-Essex 100 twice, and conquered some of Europe’s most famed mountains including Mont Ventoux in France. He has also ridden up the famous Box Hill in Surrey - a landmark in previous editions of RideLondon - in a very imposing time of 5 minutes and 57 seconds.

Tom’s dad, Neil, says that cycling has been a life-changing experience for Tom, as it is a mainstream sport he feels included in and can participate in, proving that he is an equal. “Tom refuses to be beaten and strives to be the very best version of himself,” says Neil. “At the age of 12, Tom was excluded from the mainstream junior football team he’d been a member of for more than six years. Becoming socially isolated and in danger of being lost to society, I reintroduced him to the bike and so began his love of cycling.”

His journey ever since has seen him at the centre of an inclusive international community ranging from Team Novo Nordisk (the world’s first all-diabetic professional cycling team) to YouTubers, local club cyclists, his local Special Olympics cycling club and Special Olympics GB. “This precious community celebrate and embrace Tom and his Special Olympics peers for their differences, inspiring and supporting Tom to reach even greater heights; to ride further and faster,” says Neil.

Having twice completed the 100-mile RideLondon-Essex route in a little over five hours moving time, Tom’s goal this year is to try and complete the event in a moving time closer to four hours 30 minutes, while maintaining healthy blood glucose and making lasting memories.

He is also targeting a Guinness World Record. The record is the ‘Youngest person to cycle 100 miles (II1) (male)’. And he is not alone in attempting to complete the challenge.

Also riding for the Special Olympics team is Hannah Kemp, 26, from Surrey. Hannah, who is autistic , will be attempting to break the same record as Tom, but in the female category come Sunday afternoon. She first learned about Special Olympics when she and her dad, Jon, watched a documentary just before the start of the London 2012 Olympics.

Shortly afterwards, Hannah started going to the athletics sessions at the Special Olympics Surrey venue and she has not looked back. She joined the Special Olympics Boccia team, a precision ball sport related to bowls for athletes with disabilities, in 2014 and is twice a finalist at the Nationals. In 2017, Hannah went to the National Games in Sheffield and won a gold medal in softball, also achieving a bronze medal for the 50m sprint. Following on from her success at the nationals she was lucky enough to be chosen as part of the GB athletics squad that competed at the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi in 2019. But, unfortunately for Hannah, athletics stopped during the Covid pandemic, so she joined the Surrey Special Olympics Cycling team in 2023.

“I have always loved cycling,” says Hannah’s dad, Jon. “When Hannah was diagnosed with autism, I decided to do a charity bike ride from London to Paris raising money for the National Autistic Society. Hannah was inspired by my charity bike ride so I bought a tandem so we could cycle together. We did our first charity ride in 2012, and we did it together on the tandem in 2016. After that, Hannah worked hard to improve her speed and fitness by doing a lot of miles on her own bike and, in 2023, we brought the tandem out of retirement and did Ford RideLondon-Essex. This year she is going to prove her fitness by riding it again on her own bike.”

Since her early teens, Hannah has suffered from low self-esteem, but Special Olympics and cycling challenges such as Ford RideLondon-Essex have helped her to boost her self-confidence. With that little spark of self-belief, Jon says that Hannah is starting to realise that she can achieve her goals of being happy and healthy, all while making plenty of new friends along the way.

Ben Jacob, 32, from Redhill, is the third and final rider for Special Olympics. Ben has a huge passion for cycling and trains every Sunday with the Special Olympics Surrey club. Born with Asperger's syndrome, Ben has been part of the Special Olympics Great Britain movement for more than 10 years and was selected for the 2019 Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi, where he won gold medals in the 10K Time Trial and 5K Road Race, as well a silver in the 5K Time Trial. This will be his third RideLondon-Essex 100 having also participated in 2022 and 2023.

In addition to the three riders taking part for the Special Olympics, there are many more inspirational tales from participants taking part in this year’s rides, including:

Ian Gregory, 55, from Newport
Charity: Prostate Cancer UK

Ian originally took on this event in aid of Prostate Cancer UK, after he lost his uncle to prostate cancer in 2010. He tragically lost a second child, Lewis, in 2021 after the death of his other son, Jordan, in 1996, Ian now rides in his memory while helping to raise money for Prostate Cancer UK.

“I guess I should be riding for a blood clot charity as Lewis died from a massive blood clot on his mother's birthday, 9 November, in 2021,” says Ian. “He was just 23 and left behind a fiancée and a one-year-old daughter, Esme. But Prostate Cancer UK has been so good to me over the years that there is a strong loyalty to not only the charity but also those who work for the charity.

“I love this event, it's one of my year's highlights and an event I look forward to each year. I first took on RideLondon back in 2016 and have managed to do it almost every year since, both in glorious and dreadful weather!”

Ian started cycling again in 2015 after an accident at work left him suffering from chronic back problems, eight damaged discs, curvature of the spine, spondylosis of the spine, sciatica and arthritis and impingement of the AC joint in his right shoulder. He turned to cycling after he was told it would help build his core strength and reduce the pain. 

Ian has suffered from pain for most of his life, after dealing with a complex number of physical issues. From the age of five he was lip reading due to perforated ear drums, before being diagnosed with Osgood Schlatter's Disease in both knees, pulling the tendon off the bone and damaging the knee joint itself at the age of 11.

In 2002, he started his own building firm after deciding enough was enough, as Ian no longer wanted to feel sorry for himself. “Instead of a list of things I could no longer do due to my body letting me down, I found a list of things I could do and have never looked back since,” he says.

“I love the fact that even though I suffer from a number of medical conditions, I'm able to cycle and cycle some stupid distances at times – including multi-day tours of Europe, South Australia, Mexico, Spain and Morocco in more recent times. It just goes to prove that if you want something you can get it, there is no reason why a disability should completely hold you back.

“I love RideLondon and keep on coming back for more each year! This year I will be returning to my yellow shirt I won from Prostate Cancer UK and, of course, making sure Lewis is with me on the bike.”

Mike Ashton, 61, from Peterborough
Charity: Children with Cancer UK

Few quadriplegics cycle the Ford RideLondon-Essex 100. Even fewer have cycled it firstly as an able-bodied rider and subsequently as a disabled cyclist. In September 2019, Mike Ashton, was involved in an accident which paralysed him from the shoulders down. Just a month before the accident he took on the 100-mile challenge.

This year Mike has decided to take part in Ford RideLondon-Essex 100 once again, only this time he will be on a recumbent cycle using just his arms and hands, fundraising for the charity Children with Cancer UK.

"I experienced a life-changing event in 2019 and it’s had a huge impact on me and my family,” he says. “Cancer is life changing for everyone regardless of age. Children and teenagers with cancer struck a special chord with me. Fundraising for Children with Cancer UK has given me new insights into childhood cancer - the treatments needing to be tailored for their particular needs; treatments that can be aggressive have significant side effects, and how the side effects can change the path of a child’s life, such as leaving them in a wheelchair for life.

“There will be some emotional memories at the Start Line! The roadside support through the ride will help hugely. When I arrive at the finish there will be a new memory: completing 100 miles, and giving my medal to Reggie, a young boy undergoing treatment who is truly inspiring.’’

Reggie was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia on 20 January 2022 when he was just eight years old. As of December 2023, after spending time in Great Ormand Street Hospital, Reggie is now two years into his treatment and it is going well.

James Van Cleef, 56, from Billericay
Charity: Cancer Research UK

James’ son, Adam, died of cancer aged 23, having had cancer twice in his young life. Since then, James has cycled some of the world’s most challenging rides, raising money for research but also to tell his son’s story and learning to cope with living through grief. “While my son was receiving treatment during both his cancers, he was always asked if his case could be used for further understanding and research of cancer, and he always said, 'Yes.' So, this is my way of being able to continue Adam's drive for research providing better outcomes,” says James.

To date, £325,000 has been raised for Cancer Research UK and the American Association for Cancer Research. James began cycling to raise money in Adam’s memory, but he has since come to enjoy it. His aim in life is to be able to continue cycling for the benefit of others.

Warren Prigg, 52, from Ely
Charity: Action Medical Research for Children

This is Warren’s first time taking on Ford RideLondon-Essex. Warren, who started cycling about three years ago to improve his mental health, works for the Ambulance service and suffered from PTSD.

Warren is riding for Action Medical Research for Children, helping to save young lives. The charity is very close to his heart, as his daughter, who is now 14, has suffered from numerous illnesses and medical problems since she was a baby. The charity has funded much-needed research to help fight and cure the illnesses his daughter has faced. Warren’s daughter and wife will be there to support him as he makes his way around the 100-mile route.

Sallie Cheung, 70, from Gloucester
Charity: WaterAid

Sallie has already completed the TCS London Marathon and Swin Serpentine so is very keen to complete the 2024 Ford RideLondon-Essex 100 and earn her London Classics medal. Sallie will be 70 in 2024 and plans to undertake a sporting challenge every month throughout the year, with RideLondon being one of them, as she had a place in the RideLondon event that was cancelled due to the pandemic. Sallie is riding for WaterAid, as she says that access to clean water should be a right not a privilege.