2016 was the launch of the latest generation of Nukeproof Mega frame, it seemed a fitting time to return to race the Megavalanche with Nukeproof staff and athletes to test the new bike in the race that originally inspired its development and name.
Whilst there, we wanted to meet up and support fellow Nukeproof owners that had made this journey too. The Alpe D'Huez track is brutal; a mix of snow, exposed terrain, gnarly rock gardens and tight switch-backs, all of which forming a formidable and highly challenging 20km downhill course. Add a mass start of 350+ riders into the mix and it's an extreme challenge for any mountain biker's endurance and skill...
Prior to leaving, we were approached by Sgt. Simon Taylor for a little support at the Megavlanche. Simon's story was a little different and we were very happy to oblige and help the former member of the Light Dragoons
. Simon was part of a team made up of soldiers and ex-soldiers competing and representing, Help for Heroes. The team was led by Colour Sergeant, Roger Coates, who is a founding patron of the Battle Back
program. A program set up to support wounded, injured and sick Service personnel. The Centre exists to help people achieve their best possible recovery and either return to service duty or to make a smooth transition to civilian life.
During his career, Simon served in Bosnia and Iraq before being deployed to Afghanistan. While on a routine patrol in 2009, his vehicle was hit an improvised explosive device. He suffered a multitude of broken bones, a traumatic brain injury, a collapsed lung, spinal fractures and a shattered ankle.
As a result of the injuries, in 2011, Simon’s right leg was amputated below the knee. He has had a cage fitted around his spine, his shoulder pinned and arm plated. Psychologically he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from feelings of guilt for his comrade who died in the incident...
Simon’s first encounter with cycling post-injury was in 2012, shortly before being medically discharged from the Army, after Help for Heroes funded a mountain bike for him through its grants scheme.
He said: “Running had always been my favoured sport - my escape - but, post-injury, that was no longer an option. Somebody suggested mountain biking and luckily Help for Heroes was able to provide funding for a bike.
“On my first time out on it, I went further in a 15 minute ride than I’d been in the last two years. I became addicted. It’s my way of helping with the psychological side of things, getting out and about in nature. It gives me the space to get my head together.”
Since that first bike ride and with the support of family, friends and local business's (Cyclo Services) Simon has cycled around Vietnam raising money for Help for Heroes and is now part of the Charity’s mountain biking team competing against able-bodied people in endurance races. He finds competing against able-bodied participants in cross-country races difficult but said downhill mountain bike racing was much more about skill than physical strength.
“Although I only have one leg for power, when it comes to the downhill stints I’m not limited; I have a sense of freedom. People perceive the sport as off-limits for people with a disability but it’s just about having the right skills to do it.”
The training programme has been running since January, as part of Help for Heroes’ and Battle Back's extensive Sports Recovery Programme. The team of riders has been riding through the UK in preparation for the assault on the Pic Blanc, utilising UK venues such as Fort William and Antur Stiniog. We caught up with the team in Alpe D'huez in their training camp HQ (the local bar) and got the low down from Simon on the event:"It was an absolute ball. I am certainly coming back next year with any luck. My moving time on Strava was 1:32:50 so with some work and on a bike I now think a few of us could make some good times. I can't believe how quick they all ride lol... Crazy. It was an amazing although terrifying experience, however highly addictive."
All of us at Nukeproof are proud to have been a small part of supporting the team on their achievement and hope that the team can inspire more people to get out and ride no matter what their circumstances are. Help for Heroes has been involved with Sports Recovery since 2008 and offers 300 events across 50 different sports enabling wounded, injured and sick service personnel and veterans to take part in adaptive sports from grassroots through to performance level. Sports Recovery works in conjunction with the DSATC as part of the Battle Back programme.
For more information about how to offer your support to those who have been wounded,
injured or sick in the line of duty, please visit: helpforheroes.org.uk