In 2016, when Moritz Werner lost his wife Nicola at the age of 54 to a devastating cervical cancer caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), he vowed to dedicate his life to ensuring that others would not have to endure the same fate.
A few months later, this lifelong cyclist called on his cycling community and set off with a handful of friends with a simple aim: to leave Paris together, ride together and arrive in Cabourg, Normandy together, savouring every moment.
The Nicola Werner Challenge (NWC) was born.
The following year even more people joined the ride, every one of them supporting research into HPV-related cancers. Now, seven years after that first event, The NWC brings together more than 800 cyclists, raising more than €100,000 for this important cause.
HPV is a common virus, and at least half of all sexually active people will be infected at some point with it during their lives. While some conditions are self-regulating, around 500,000 people are diagnosed with cancer caused by the HPV every year. Vaccination, which can prevent more than 80% of all cases, is the only effective way of combating HPV.
For Moritz Werner, the NWC is based on three fundamental principles: “We ride for people suffering from cancer, we ride to support cancer research and we ride to live in the moment, which Nicola liked to symbolize with the motto 'Live the music that is playing within you'. These three things are inseparable, because riding to support patients without contributing to research into their disease would be pointless, and undertaking it without celebrating life - that moment when we come together to do what we love - would be meaningless".
The main event takes place every second weekend in September, starting in Paris. Each participant can choose between four road distances (70, 150, 220 and 300kms / 43, 93, 136 and 186 miles), two gravel rides and several pace groups led by ride leaders. Departures are coordinated so that all the groups are able to meet for lunch at the Barn Hôtel, in the heart of the Haute Vallée de Chevreuse regional nature park.
"I've seen people who had not cycled before their first attempt come back the following year to do their first 100 or 200kms, others who wanted to take up sport or give up smoking to enjoy it more, and the best thing is the stories," explains Werner. "Nicola loved cycling, but I was stuck viewing it purely as a sport. When we climbed a pass, I'd get annoyed that she wanted to stop to take a photo or pick flowers. I realised far too late that what mattered wasn't the bike, but riding together. So when I see that, after completing the NWC, someone wants to join their partner in their passion, or someone else realises that what really matters is the time spent with their partner - not just the average distance or speed - I say to myself that we have won."
While the special jerseys designed for each edition of the NWC are easily identifiable, all riders are also invited to attach a small plate to his or her bike. And instead of the usual bib number, each participant is invited to write the name of the person they are riding for during the event. "My plate was given to me by my daughter," Werner continues. "These cards are not just a souvenir of the event: they show that you are not just another number, but someone who is riding specifically for someone else. It's also a reminder that even at the end of the ride, however much we have suffered it is nothing compared to the suffering of many cancer patients".
While the event is growing every year, Moritz and his association's volunteers have decided to limit the number of participants in Paris in favor of expanding to other cities around the world. "For this year's event, we have rides organized in eight cities in France, as well as in Berlin, Munich, Seattle, Philadelphia, London, Saigon and even La Réunion. It's really great!"
Instead of an entry fee that includes a basic donation, Moritz prefers to encourage cyclists to make a free donation to the charity: "When you're ill with cancer, you're not in a position to demand, it's other people who give to you. Taking part in the NWC means asking yourself what you're prepared to give to help cancer sufferers, as well as having a good time cycling and having lunch together in a beautiful setting".
Eighty percent of donations are then given to two cancer research institutes: the Gustave Roussy Institute in Paris and the Heidelberg Research Centre in Germany. The remainder is simply used to finance participation in the event and to contribute to the day-to-day running of the association.