Thursday 8 August 2013

Event report: RideLondon 100

Executive summary: I rode London!

You want a little more detail? OK let's start with "What is RideLondon?" In their own words:

"Prudential RideLondon: an annual two-day festival of cycling – a true legacy of the 2012 Games"

"Developed by the Mayor of London and his agencies, Prudential RideLondon will be a world-class festival of cycling taking place over the weekend of Saturday 3 August and Sunday 4 August 2013."

"There will be no other closed-road event like it that combines the fun and accessible element of a free family ride in central London with the excitement of watching the world’s best professional cyclists race in the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey Classic and Prudential RideLondon Grand Prix."

"Taking a cue from the London Marathon, amateur cyclists will also participate in the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 – a 100-mile challenge on the same closed roads as the professionals, with the added incentive of raising money for good causes. To capture it all, the best action will be broadcast live on TV in the UK and internationally, to be seen by an audience of millions."

I can't help thinking this is a slightly threatening warning!

I took part in the RideLondon Surrey 100, though the path to getting there was fairly tortured. I initially entered the ballot and didn't get a place - the only person I know who entered unsuccessfully. I then got a formal email from their lawyers. This is because a few years ago I had an idea to cycle between all the London Underground stations in one go for charity (kind of an overland tube challenge) - to my knowledge it's still never been done, but gets talked about from time to time. I decided to call that project "Ride London" (can you see where this is going yet?). I registered @RideLondon on twitter, for a blog, and ridelondon on flickr. If you're going to start a project, it's wise to snap up the social real-estate first.

Clearly RideLondon hadn't done that, and ended up with @Ride_London on twitter. They wanted the names and had looked at my Ride London social presence and decided I wasn't using it. In their words:

"This has caused much confusion for our audience and we believe the brand is not receiving the level of engagement it ought to be"

I'd received maybe a half dozen mentions form the "confused" audience, so I didn't think it was that bad - but they had a point, I wasn't progressing my project and I didn't want to be a pain in the arse for an initiative I fully supported. I said I'd give them the names if they gave me a place. They agreed.

I got a link to sign up - but although it was guaranteed entry, I still had to pay - again! (I donated my original entry fee to charity). I made a note to have a word, work got hella-busy, and the deadline passed. I forgot about it.

Then my wonderful amazing wife won her Freespeed competition and the delightful people at Virgin Active said "hey, do you guys fancy doing Ride London?" - she had won a place in the ballot (as I said, literally everyone I know who entered got in) but swapped that for this prize-spot, and got me a place too - so I was in! I went from no place, to a guaranteed place, to a free place - it really doesn't get much better than that. Thank you Virgin Active and Team Freespeed for being awesome on a weekly basis :)

We got a cheap and nasty Travelodge for the night before, neither of us wanted to cycle to the Olympic park from Wimbledon in the middle of the night. We chose somewhere near the finish so we didn't have far to stagger afterwards which meant a 30 min gentle ride in the morning. When we set off it was 4:30am and there was just the two of us, bike lights twinkling in the first suggestions of a clear summer dawn.

Arriving at the Olympic Park, along with every other cyclist in the South East

Quickly we were joined by a few more, and then more. Cyclists joining us on the A40 from every direction, through the city, and the same on the A11 until by the time we hit Stratford there was a continual stream of us. I had a Pied Piper experience for some of it as I found myself at the front (through timing, not because I was hoofing it) and leading the way. A few surreptitious checks of google maps on my phone were required to make sure I didn't fork us off the route to somewhere random.


Departure times were staggered from about 6am to 8am, with the fastest going off first to avoid congestion on the road. Some of the other Freespeed crew were riding too, they'd all got into "C" wave so were the third group to leave. We'd been assigned group "T" and were due to set off at 7:55! I had visions of being surrounded by people on Boris bikes and shoppers with baskets on the front - I know I'm not quite at race fitness right now but I'm not that bad! We decided to show up to the Olympic Park two hours early and sneak in with the other Freespeed guys (we all had Freespeed kit on, so I figure they won't check too closely). We got away with it (we weren't the only ones, we saw a few other interlopers, but they really were the exception).

Me & Mrs, ready to go

We were directed down to the starting area and eventually, after some waffle from Mayor Boris, we were off! Well, the "A" group were off, we shuffled forward a bit, then the "B" group went, and we shuffled more... And then we were off! The organisation was absolutely excellent - the starting system worked perfectly as far as I could see, and everyone set off at a fair pace. They acknowledged that people wouldn't want their overall time to be impacted by congestion at the start, so the start timing mat was a couple of miles down the road, plenty of time for us to get organised on the road - a really nice touch that I'm sure prevented a lot of silly riding in the first miles. Each letter had a "Black" and "Blue" variant too, with the two streams being kept separate for the first few miles and being released in turn. Flawless execution, massive respect to the organisers and volunteers.

Looking back you can see start wave "D" waiting behind us - the pens worked very well

Freespeed, locked and loaded

Off under the start banner, the timing start isn't for a couple more miles

So we were off! 100 miles ahead of us. We were both a little concerned that we hadn't cycled this far for a very long time. I still had a lot of fatigue in my legs from the fun of the Virgin Active London Triathlon the weekend before, and a battering from my new friends at Athletic Edge on Thursday (those guys are excellent, can't praise them enough - I'm really enjoying my strength and conditioning workouts now - and how many triathletes can say that with a straight face?). Mrs was worried about making the cut-off times.

A few nutbars did it on single-speed bikes - this Bianchi Pista is one of my favourite bikes

The first few miles were fantastic - we flew down the A12 - three lanes of perfect tarmac and not a car in sight. After chatting with the Freespeeders in the starting funnel we soon let them drift out of sight in the first mile or two - this was a conscious decision, to try and stay with them would have been foolish to say the least. We chatted and enjoyed the perfect roads and fast pace. Through to the Blackwall Tunnel, across the top of East India (past Anchorage House, where I used to work), turning round Telehouse - one of the earliest and most famous data centres, and then onto the Limehouse Link. How strange to have ridden these closed roads two weeks in a row. Down Embankment, out through the West End and on towards Richmond, a detour through Richmond Park, and to Kingston.

Action shot - you won't often see the A12 like this!

We stopped at Hampton Court Palace for a breather and a cup of tea. We'd made great progress! Such fun! The rest stops were just as well organised as the start. There were three hubs spread equally across the 100 miles with additional drink-only stops in between them. If you were finding it hard, you were never that far from a break. The hubs had food (bananas, some new McVitee's Medley bars, and - wonderfully - little packets of pretzels and Sunbites, salty savoury snacks, perfect). They also had hot drink facilities, toilets, bike parking (transition racks), and mechanics available to fix any niggling problems that had come to light.

Tea at Hampton Court Palace, how civilised

This is the last time I'm saying it: The organisation was excellent!

We set off again, out into deepest Surrey and towards Guildford. We continued to make good time. The faster waves were still drifting past us, but not so fast now. The route was good and road surfaces generally excellent. At one of the drink stops we bumped into Boris! He was in high spirits and seemed to be doing really very well indeed. Operation Chiselled Whippet was clearly paying off, though as he admitted in his starting words, he had a long way to go to get to the level of the "mahogany whippets" on the start line!

London Mayor, Boris "Chiselled Whippet" Johnson

We took a long stop at about mile 50. I'd found miles 40-50 quite hard for some reason and was grateful for a longer pause. We stayed for about 45 minutes in the end. I enjoyed some food, and then we saw the tea hut - two teas and two bacon rolls later and we were much revived.

Mrs, looking effortlessly cool

The general profile of the course was 50 miles "flat", 25 miles "bumpy", and then the final 25 miles "flat". We'd heard plenty of talk about Leith Hill - the longest and steepest climb in the bumpy bit. When it came it was indeed a tough one, but as these things often are it was much bigger in our heads than in reality. Mrs got a good start and pulled away, I dug in and after having to take some evasive action to get round a crash that happened right in front of me, we both got up there in one piece. It's a good hill, "honest", and I'll certainly be incorporating it into my training rides. The view from the top was outstanding!

The bumpy part of the course passed quickly. We continued to stay together occasionally one or other of us getting a lead, but usually in sight. Before we knew it we were back in the Leatherhead area and going up Box Hill.  We've both conquered this one many times - I always think it has a reputation it can't live up to (good for hill reps though) - there's no taking away from the vista at the top though, a great view across Surrey. We decided to stop at the famous Box Hill cafe which, ironically, was quieter than normal for a weekend with no queue at all for refreshments - the third and final hub was just a mile past the summit and it seemed most people were waiting for the free stuff. We had our final cup of tea of the ride, and shared a treacle sponge. Perfect.

A good view on the low slopes of Box Hill (and in fact most of the other hills of the day)

Box Hill cafe area - eerily quit, normally you can't find space to sit down here

The Box Hill Cafe cakes are legendary, and this treacle tart was no exception

The route back was on roads known to us. Down from Box Hill, through Esher and past Sandown Park race course where we stopped to get some brief medical attention for Mrs who had an achy elbow - a quick ice pack sorted that out.

A quick icing

I don't think they were going to run out of water at this drinks station...

Always time for a quick stretch, especially those tight hammies!

Then it was up through Kingston again, through Wimbledon and up Wimbledon Hill (within a mile of our house!), past the famous Wimbledon Common and the windmill, over the A3, down through Putney, and up towards Millbank and the Houses of Parliament.

Outside the Houses of Parliament - nearly there!

We turned up Whitehall from Parliament Square, left at Trafalgar Square, then onto the Mall where the crowds were thick and the noise tremendous. Amazing support, thank you people of London, you were great.

Finished! On The Mall with Buckingham Palace behind us

Our finish times were identical, 7:50:03 - but this included all our stops. According to my Garmin our moving time to cover the 100 miles was 5:55:26 - I'm totally happy with that.

The final 10 miles had been at a ferocious pace - I don't know where she got her energy from, but Mrs was absolutely slamming it, I was on my drops and virtually time-trialling just to keep her in sight. Her riding had been fantastic all day - strong, confident, fast, and I'd got genuinely dropped on a couple of occasions (OK so we weren't racing all-out, but it took considerable effort to regain her wheel). Her riding has gone from strength to strength, and she's a visibly more accomplished cyclist this year - watch out world, the little hint of cycling potential we got at 70.3 Galway last year (when we were both fitter than we've ever been, and I was having the bike leg of my life and yet was still only 7 minutes ahead after 80km on the bike when she crashed) might just be coming into play...

It's all about the bling

A weighty piece with a route map on the back

We chilled out for a while afterwards in the sun - we'd done it! A fantastic psychological boundary for us both, and we were really very very happy. What an excellent day. Back to our hotel (so glad we'd got somewhere close!) and then to Byron Burger for a bloody great nosh up and beer (yes, beer!).

Perfect day.

1 comment:

  1. Another wonderful report.

    I'd forgotten about your Ride London thing. Well, not forgot that you did it, but forgot what you'd called it.