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PCA Benevolent Fund video inspires former professional cyclist

Former professional cyclist Dean Downing has revealed how watching the new PCA Benevolent Fund video inspired him to get involved in Big Bike Ride 3.

Sheffield-based Downing spent 10 years, riding in road races and track events including the 2004 World Championships in Melbourne.

He retired in 2014 and became a cycling coach but injuries sustained in a hit-and-run accident in 2015 prevented him from working for a time and led to him suffering from depression.

It was while attending the Tour of Britain last summer that Downing met Paul Shaftoe, a cycling enthusiast and Big Bike Ride stalwart, who told him about this year’s event and the two charities, the PCA Benevolent Fund and Tom Maynard Trust, that will benefit from last month’s fund-raising effort.

Shaftoe also sent Downing a link to the PCA Benevolent Fund video, which includes interviews with former England players Marcus Trescothick and Matt Maynard, who were in the Big Bike Ride 3 peloton, discussing how they have benefited from the Benevolent Fund.

Downing was so moved and inspired by what he watched that he wanted to get involved in Big Bike Ride 3. He joined the riders for the first day of the 360-mile route, spending time with each of the three groups of cyclists on a demanding 90-mile leg from Birmingham to Sheffield through Warwickshire and Derbyshire.

“After I retired from pro cycling I did really well with my coaching and being involved in other events but when I got knocked off my road bike in the hit-and-run accident I had to stop working,” Downing said.

“I got hit hard by not being able to work. Knowing what I do now, I had mild depression through not being able to look after my family. So I know from experience how professional sports people can slip into depression.

“I met Paul Shaftoe at the Tour of Britain and he mentioned to me that he was doing Big Bike Ride 3 and asked if I could do some social media to help promote it.

“He sent me the link to the PCA Benevolent Fund video and after I had watched it I rang Paul back and told him that I wanted to be involved somehow.

“I could relate to the video. My situation was down to the accident not stopping being a professional cyclist. When I had my injury my life stopped. I didn’t have my sport because I had retired, I couldn’t ride my bike because I had a broken leg, I didn’t have any money, I had two kids to look after and my wife and a house.

“It struck a chord with me and I wanted to be involved. The idea of riding with sports people, sponsors and cycling enthusiasts appealed and, with the first day being from Birmingham to Sheffield, it made sense for me to do that.”

Despite his vast cycling experience, Downing found the first leg of Big Bike Ride 3 challenging and he is full of admiration for the 60 cyclists which also included Ashes winners Tim Bresnan and Geraint Jones as well as past and current county cricketers, who completed the five days which took in the Peak District, Shropshire, Malvern Hills, Forest of Dean and South Wales mountains, before arriving at the SSE SWALEC Stadium in Cardiff.

“People said to me on the first day: ‘I bet this is really easy for you.’ I might not have been pedalling as hard as I did when I was a pro cyclist but I was still on the bike for six-and-a-half hours. That’s a long day and I was absolutely shattered when I got home,” he said.

“Knowing how tired I was physically it would have been more difficult for the other riders and they still had another four days to go.

“I advised the riders to take their time. I said: “Pace yourself. Your finish line is in Cardiff in five days’ time not in Sheffield.’  A lot of people took that on board and I got a lot of messages on social media thanking me for the advice.

“It was impressive to see how they all got through it, every one of them in different groups, they all got round.

“I now follow a lot of the riders on social media and I was it was a really good to be involved in some way in the event.”

Although Big Bike Ride 3 is now finished donations to support the riders, the PCA Benevolent Fund and Tom Maynard Trust can be made online until November 30 at: https://mydonate.bt.com/events/bigbikeride3/386971

To view the PCA Benevolent Fund film click here.