Yesterday I took part in the London Surrey 100, a cycling sportive which takes you through the centre of London on closed roads, out into the Surrey countryside and back again to finish on the Mall. I am mightily pleased, and somewhat relieved, to say I made it round successfully. Here’s my story:
My day started at 5.30am as I awoke to an East London skyline smeared with grey clouds but thankfully no sign of hurricane Bertha. Morning preparations involved a big bowl of porridge and last minute kit check before leaving Lou and Matt’s flat (thanks you guys!). Cycling out on to Roman Road, I was soon part of a huge convoy of cyclists making their way to the Olympic Park; damp, deserted and barren, it seemed another world from when I had been here last at the Paralympics. I stashed my bag on one of the waiting trucks and made my way to my Starting Wave bang on time: 7.05am. There was small talk while we waited, and this was when I found out that organisers had shortened the route to 86 miles, taking out LeithHill and Box Hill due to safety concerns. I was disappointed because I was looking forward to notching up my first century, but I had been concerned about the descent down Leith Hill anyway so the thought of doing it in the rain did not bear thinking about. Indeed, my first soaking of many came as we spent an hour in our pen outside the Copper Box waiting to the start. When we finally got the signal to come forward, calls of good luck were exchanged and we were off!
The first few miles were along wide dual carriages, sweeping overpasses and tunnels that threaded through East London and into Docklands. Trains of faster cyclists sped past but my plan was to ride conservatively for the first part of the race. In fact, the flat terrain and good road surfaces, combined with the road closures meant I was able to zip along pretty quickly anyway and it wasn’t long before I was taking the turn up from the river, through Trafalgar Square, past the Ritz and then Harrods. I passed the 20 mile marker soon after the hour mark and my legs felt good, but the waves of rain kept coming and I was completely soaked. Or so I thought!
Next up came Richmond Park and the rain abated for a little while. For a moment I could almost have believed I was back on the country lanes of West Sussex, surrounded by rolling countryside and mighty oak trees. Unfortunately, the mood came to an abrupt halt, along with the cyclists in front, as blue flashing lights came into view a few hundred metres ahead; I later heard that a rider had broken his leg. On what was a fairly innocuous stretch of road, it was a reminder that getting round safely was the most important aim on this ride.
The rain returned, heavier than ever, and may even have been hail judging by the way it stung when I stuck my head up. Through Kingston I had my first of several experiences riding through water ankle deep as we passed under a bridge. I may as well have gone for a swim in the Thames, I was that soaked through, so I decided to make a stop at the first Hub on the lawns opposite Hampton Court. However, it wasn’t just the portaloos that made it feel more like Glastonbury, the ground was rapidly being transformed into a shifting, muddy bog with pools of rainwater everywhere. I ducked under a small marquee to send a couple of texts home, only to find myself among a glum crew who had plainly had enough of the conditions and decided to wait out the storm instead. I didn’t fancy hanging about getting cold, no matter what weather was out there, and besides, I had a rendezvous to keep with my supporters, Chris and Laura, in Walton on Thames, so off I went once again. Well done guys for cheering everyone on, including me, through the rain and I looking forward to coming up to see you again soon, preferably when the weather is a bit sunnier!
Then it was out into Surrey where the roads became narrower, the terrain started to roll and my speed dropped as I settled in for the harder miles. The first significant climb of the day was Newlands which came as a bit of a surprise after 40 miles of flat. The view at the top was great, but the descent was a bit hairy. As I picked up speed I was torn between applying my brakes and risk going into a lethal skid, or trying to change my line in order to pass slower cyclists in front. In the end, I got uncomfortably close to a couple of cyclists in front despite applying my brakes more than I was comfortable with on such a treacherous surface. It was certainly confirmation for me that the decision to avoid Leith and Box was probably the right one.
Without them, the far end of the course became a succession of windy, rainy and desolate dual carriageways. However, if concentration was beginning to waver, I received a wake up call going through Dorking High Street where an old lady on a mobility scooter, apparently having accidentally squeezed the throttle (or hit the Go button, however these things work?!), had crashed through the barriers moments before, and blocked over half the narrow street. Luckily, I was on the other side of the road, but even I nearly came off as several other riders had to brake and swerve at the last moment to avoid her, while a couple of stewards hastily tried to drag her back onto the pavement. Bizarre!
It was time for another hub stop and at Leatherhead, with 25 miles to go, I calculated that if I could complete the course in another 1hr 20mins, I would get back in under 6hours. My legs still felt pretty fresh due to the hills that never materialised so I loaded up on fig rolls and went for it. With the wind on my back and the sense that London was getting ever closer, I managed to keep a good pace. The roads were drying out, and for the first time during the day I had the sensation that I was passing more cyclists than were passing me. Wimbledon Hill was a sting in the tail, coming after 90 miles, but soon I was whizzing down to Putney and over the Thames for the final time. At 95 miles I passed the Shelter cheer squad and the storm water sparkled in the gutters as I raced along the Chelsea Embankment under blue skies.
I reached Parliament Square, to the chimes of Big Ben striking 2 o’clock. With less than a mile to go, I knew I would hit the target I’d hit myself back at Leatherhead so it was time to sit up from the handlebars and soak up the atmosphere. The crowds cheered as we rounded the corner through Admiralty Arch and into the Mall. It was thrilling to pass down that avenue towards Buckingham Palace and I couldn’t resist putting a final spurt on as I crossed the line.
I will admit to feeling a swell of emotion as I dismounted and walked down to collect my medal, although a final, unexpected lashing of icy rain soon dampened spirits and sent spectators scurrying for cover; a goodbye slap in the face from Bertha I suppose.
So, all was done. I met my parents in a pub off Green Park, got into some dry clothes and stuck around to watch the pro’s come in before heading home. And that should have been the end of the story except for an idea that had been forming in my mind all day…
It was bugging me that I hadn’t ridden 100 miles, my target for this year. As the train pulled into Brighton station, the Sun was still teetering on the horizon so I figured there was just enough daylight to put in another quick 14 miles to make up the difference from earlier in the day. I had eaten during the afternoon and felt relatively fresh so this should be a doddle. Think again!
As I headed down to the seafront for a quick circuit of Hove to Rottingdean and back, the waves were crashing in and the wind was blowing furiously. Fine for the journey out. I glided down the cycle path with the Super Moon, full and copper-tinted, gazing down on me and looking curiously like the finisher’s medal I had acquired that afternoon. But as I turned for home, the headwinds shrieked like banshees and did their best to bring me to a stop or blow me sideways off the path. My splits on Runkeeper show I toiled away at 7miles an hour along that cliff top and the passing cars must have thought I was crazy. Well maybe they have a point but truly, I thoroughly earned my century!
My final thoughts are that the RideLondon100 was a fantastic experience but I count my lucky stars that I had no ‘mechanicals’ or accidents. My thoughts go out to all those who did, particularly the young lad who was flat on his back and looked out cold at the bottom of a minor descent somewhere out near Dorking. Also, the support and stewarding along the route was brilliant, especially when you consider the horrendous weather; those guys should get a medal too.
As for me, I feel pretty proud of what I achieved. I have been training for this since February, riding to work, forgoing many a lie-in at the weekend and generally getting wet, cold, mucky and sweaty on a regular basis, not to mention the odd annoying punctures, niggling injuries and crazy motorists. Thank you also to everyone who sponsored me. Together we raised over £700 for Shelter and I hope I did you proud too.
Ride Sussex14 splits:
However, there are a couple of me to be found on Shelter’s facebook page if you look hard enough!