Greek ultra-endurance cyclist Vasiliki Voutzali talked glowingly about her the London-Athens ultra-endurance race aimed at boosting the Return of the Parthenon Sculptures campaign, and she urged people to get involved with it in the years to come.
Voutzali was one of six who participated in an gruelling cycling race that began from the British Museum and concluded at the Acropolis Museum.
The race was supported by the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles (BCRPM) and was designed to help promote the BRING THEM BACK campaign for the restitution of the Parthenon Sculptures.
The cyclists first did a tour of the museum to see the sculptures there before commencing the race on August 5th from 5.22 a.m. with riders travelling over the following two weeks to ten different countries.
“The first country we visited after the U.K. was France, crossing from Dover to Calais by ferry. After that, we made our first official stop at Mons, Belgium to visit Melina Mercouri St, who was the first person to speak about the return of the Parthenon sculptures,” Voutzali told Neos Kosmos.
“We wanted to show the participants the Greek culture and the Greek mentality so that they themselves could become invested and supportive of the Bring Them Back campaign.”
The cyclist said that two of the riders, Paul Adelson and Pierluigi Talamona, went back to London from Mons, while herself and Dionisis Kartsambas (Greece), along with Christopher Ross Bennett (New Zealand) and Steffen Streich (Germany) proceeded towards Athens.
The four cyclists then rode to Luxembourg, Munich in Germany (where they visited a Greek restaurant), Austria and Budapest in Hungary where they visited a Greek-speaking village called Beloiannisz (Belogiannis), which Ms Voutzali considered her biggest highlight of the race.
The cyclist explained that Google Maps had directed them through these fields where they saw a myriad of animals and creatures (boars, deer, mosquitos, spiders etc.).
They were welcomed by the village mayor at around 11 p.m., who told them they had come through a route with no road, and that it was a forest plain.
“We got into the village and were welcome by the locals with tears in their eyes because they were incredibly moved by what we were doing for Greece,” she said.
Following Budapest, they went to Serbia, North Macedonia and then finally Greece.
“Throughout our trip, wherever people saw us cycling, people would ask us where we’re from, why we were there, and it was an excuse for us to talk about the cause of the London-Athens race and its purpose in spreading awareness of the Bring Them Back campaign,” Voutzali said.
She mentioned that the uncharacteristic weather conditions made the already taxing ultra-endurance race even more challenging.
“Normally, in this time of year it would be sunny and 30 degrees Celsius. For us, it was wintery, with heavy rain and temperatures of five-eight degrees Celsius,” the cyclist told Neos Kosmos.
“I remember tearing up once we saw the sign at the borders of Greece and knowing how much we endured to arrive there. I’m tearing up even now recalling it.”
They persevered despite the various difficulties.
“We rode, we enjoyed the trip and the overall adventure. We also had a friendly competition as to who could get to the Acropolis museum first. It was interesting for those who were following.”
Streich, Bennett and Voutzali all arrived at the Acropolis Museum, in that order in the morning of August 17, with Kartsambas getting there two days later on the 19.
The average distance cycled by them came to 3,500 kms, with Voutzali doing 3,650 kms.
“The point was for all of us to create our own path but with the same destinations, so some rode shorter paths than others,” she said.
“When we arrived at the Acropolis Museum, we were welcomed and given a tour. We learned about the white-coloured sculptures which are replicas of the original sculptures we saw in the British Museum.”
The ultra-endurance cyclist praised the experience, saying that every day was its own adventure where they did not know what they would see or face.
“In the difficult moments where we thought we couldn’t last any longer, we thought about why we were doing this, the Greeks and the friends who were supporting us and this gave us the strength to keep moving forward.”
The aim is for this race to become an annual event with participation from athletes internationally to do either a part of or the entire race.
“I believe it’s an experience that is worth it for every adventure-seeking person,” Ms Voutzali said.
“Even if you only do part of the journey and not the full 3,500 km ride that we did, you can still become part of this initiative and enjoy the experience.”