The RideLondon 100 is just around the corner, a fact that is no doubt occupying the minds of many a Sportive Cyclist reader.
If you’re not doing RideLondon (hell, you’ve maybe not even heard of it), perhaps you have another long distance sportive on your target list.
I’ll assume your training is going to plan (c’mon, as the advert said, “P M A”).
So let’s talk logistics. Specifically, what are you going to eat and drink on the ride, what are you going to wear, and what are you going to carry on the bike (for mechanicals and some such).
There is no right answer to this. Much is about personal preference. The clearest way to present this post (and the easiest way for me to write it) is to assume I’m doing RideLondon at the start of August (sadly I’m not – damn ballot…) and simply to tell you what I’d be wearing, eating and tool-carrying.
Feel free to disagree, add to, ridicule or comment in the, er, comments section below the post.
On with le show.
Aggregation Of Incremental Gains
Let’s get this out of the way: you are not going to ‘win’ RideLondon*.
(* if you are, nothing you’ll read on this website will help you).
My view is that RideLondon is a glorious event, ripe for the enjoying. As such, when it comes to clothing, food, drink and ‘miscellaneous equipment’, err on the side of caution.
Don’t optimise for weight and calories to the point that unless everything goes absolutely to plan, you won’t get round the course (or it takes a trip to your own personal hell to do so).
Forsake some of your Team Sky-inspired marginal gains. Don’t park your Winnebago near the start line. Accept that an extra 100g spent carrying an additional inner tube is weight well spent.
Bidons And Musettes
Unless you’ve arranged support staff to follow you in a gaudy team-decorated Skoda, you won’t receive a nutritionally-balanced pack lunch, half way around the course.
Instead you’ll have to rely on a combination of food you’ve carried yourself and that which is available at the official feed stations (of which I believe there are two).
RideLondon differs from all the other sportives I’ve done in having food sponsors, over and above the energy bar/gel/drink provider.
This means that the food on offer at the feed stations is somewhat esoteric versus the plates of custard cremes and flap jacks that you might have seen at your local 100-miler.
In particular, when I RodeLondon two years ago, I think I ate a couple of packets of Walkers Sunburst baked crisps at the Hampton Court feed station – presumably since Walkers was a sponsor. It’s an odd choice of food for athletic performance (though it did provide certain electrolytes).
RideLondon did provide plenty of bananas though (as I guess they will this year).
I’m a big fan of the banana as a ‘sports nutrition product’ (and as a thing). Not needing to carry them (and force them to uber-ripen in your warm Jersey pocket) is a definite plus.
There I give you pro-tip number 1:
Don’t fill precious jersey space with bananas; pick them up at the feed stations en route.
What Food Should You Carry?
Or rather, what would I carry (if I was doing it… sad face)?
For ongoing energy needs on a longish ride, I’ll tend to load up on either Jelly Babies or Haribos.
They’re pure sugar and, for me, slightly more edible than the synthetic taste of energy gels. Jelly Babies even have a little bit of sodium in them (check the packet – electrolytes baby!)
Deciding how much to take is a tricky question. We’ve talked before on the blog about the maximum amount of carbs that your body can process into usable energy within your muscles.
That maximum number is around 60g per hour, but your personal number might be lower (you often see the range 30–60g).
A Tour de France pro who’s riding sur le rivet will work on the basis that they’ll be consuming all that hourly energy and more. So they’ll aim to take on at least 60g per hour.
My guess is that you won’t have a team car passing you a fresh musette of food nor will you be riding at the sort of intensity level with which a pro tackles a Grand Tour stage.
All of which is a long way of saying that I’d take one large packet of Jelly Babies, decanted into one of those re-sealable sandwich bags.
I find it easier to extract a Jelly Baby (or Haribo – I’m not picky) from a sandwich bag than from the original packet. Plus there’s less chance of them emptying out into your sweaty back pocket.
So I’m not a total nutri-science Luddite.
I would take one or two gels. They’re an efficient way of carrying maximum energy in the smallest possible package – vital when pocket space is at a premium.
In my 2013 ride, I realised at around 80 miles (in the fairly tedious stretch near Esher) that I was beginning to bonk. Without paying attention, I hadn’t eaten for about an hour.
I stopped for wee behind a bus shelter (stay classy San Diego – the shelter backed onto some woodland) and then consumed (neither ‘eat’ nor ‘drink’ are the appropriate verbs) my emergency gel.
I soon felt better and managed to complete the final miles of the course (reasonably) strongly (helped by the cheering crowds from Kingston onwards).
If I get myself organised for a long ride (and if I was doing RideLondon, I would at least try), I’d purchase at least 4–6 gels in advance. Two would go in my jersey pocket on the day.
The other gels I’d use in training, to check that my stomach was prepared to accept them after a couple of hours in the saddle (some sports drinks and gels have been known to cause ‘bowel distress’ for some lucky people, due to their carb-heavy composition).
Talking Of Sandwiches (We Were)
I’m a big fan of peanut butter.
For me, RideLondon takes a long time (I think my last one took 6 hours). Six hours is a long time in which to get bored of eating only sweet things.
We’ve mentioned the potential to consume a salty (probably potato-based) snack from RideLondon’s nutritional partner du jour at one of the feed stops.
I’d still plan to do that, but also carry a peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread (slow release carbs what what) for just in case.
Optimal nutrition it may not be: the fats in the peanut butter will not efficiently be converted into fuel unless you’re cycling at a particularly low intensity.
But, for me, the increased chance that I eat something (rather than not being able to eat anything) outweighs the slightly less optimal nutritional balance.
The Key Thing To Remember About Food
I’ve made my ‘don’t strive for marginal gains’ point above. The key here is to do the simple things right.
By far the most important part of your nutrition strategy is to keep eating.
Don’t leave it too late.
Don’t take things that are a real chore to eat when your appetite escapes you like Tony Martin at the end of a 220km cobbled tour stage.
Drink (A Drink A Drink)
Clearly drinking is important.
I’m not going to waste too many hot words on why you should drink (other than to say that even a little bit of dehydration will cause your performance, and your enjoyment of RideLondon, to suffer).
From memory, I reckon I started my 2013 event with two 750ml bottles – one containing water, the other a sports drink that I mixed up the night before.
There are more water stations than food stations on the course (obviously the food stations are both). At the food stations I’d guess there will be packets of sports drink (from the nutrition sponsor) for you to replenish yo’ bottles.
If it’s like 2 years ago, the nice people behind the counters will take your empty bottle, tear open a sachet and put it in the bottle for you (I don’t recall whether they put the water in as well).
The main thing to be aware of with specialist (powdered) sports drinks is that they can have an impact on your gut (for the same high carb reasons as gels).
I’ve never had a problem in this area (perhaps because I can only face the taste for a couple of bottles worth) so I tend to be a bit blasé and just go with what’s available.
Looking at the RideLondon website the sponsor name that stands out is High 5 Sports Nutrition (I’m guessing they’re not the payments partner for the event). You might want to get a few sachets of their basic sports drink (in a couple of flavours) to try in the run up to the big day.
Ode To Toilets
Oh how we wish there were more of them…
Adequate hydration is always judged against ease of pee (science).
There are loads of toilets at the start in the Olympic Park. I was in a later wave (perhaps even the last) so maybe things were slightly quieter, but there were no real queues to speak of.
(And without being overly detailed, in reasonably good shape given three hours or so of use by nervous people jacked up on carbs).
Have no fear about being well topped up with water or sports drink right up to your start time.
Hampton Court Portaloo
Assuming the same set up as 2013 (and 2014 riders can chime in as well), the feed and drinks stop at HCP (as it probably isn’t known) is … odd.
You don’t cycle into the main front entrance (for those that know it), you come in via an earlier side entrance. In 2013 we were told to dismount at this entrance and then walk some considerable distance down the side of the palace, before arriving into the main forecourt right in front of the house.
The second issue with HCP is toilets. There tends to a … concentration of demand.
Luckily I only needed a number 1 and I was able to hold on, but I believe the queues for the toilets were in the 10s of minutes (if not as much as half an hour).
As a bloke I am not unthankful for our natural ‘ability’ to go in places that would be too exposed for a lady. Not long after Hampton Court you’re in to countryside where you can provide so liquid nourishment to the hedge without letting other rides see your inner tube.
Perhaps there are opportunities for ladies with a more ‘continental’ mindset to do similar but I wouldn’t guarantee it ( this is rural Surrey, not no-people Montana).
(As an aside, I think I’m dealing with this topic with just the right amount of misogyny.)
All of which is a long way of saying that for some people, you might want to come to an acceptance that you will spend 15–20 minutes queuing for a toilet at Hampton Court.
Yes, this will add of to your time. But no, it won’t take you over the time cut offs. You’ll more than make up the time versus trying to ride with low hydration in order to avoid toilet stops.
Prepare yourself for this delay now. Don’t feel stress on the day. If the queue turns out to be just 2 minutes, you’ve earned a Brucie bonus.
What to wear
I’ll assume you plan to wear the standards (starting from the bottom):
I have nothing to say about these other than don’t wear the ridiculous upper-calf-hugging black socks worn by Chris Froome.
I’m sure they’re fine performance wise (hell, I bet they’re optimal) but they look rubbish.
Wear your best pair.
Ahead of my RideLondon debut, I treated myself to a pair of Specialized Rbx bib shorts (not quite top of the range, and certainly not ‘Rapha cost’ but a good £80-worth of short).
Mainly I wanted a large, good quality pad adorning my undercarriage and the Specialized Rbx were up to the task (the ‘Rbx’ nomenclature refers to the cobble-strewn Paris-Roubaix race held each Spring, so you’d like to think they’re built for comfort).
If you’re a charity entrant, there’s a reasonable chance you’ll be wearing the jersey you’ve received from your charity.
Don’t begrudge this. Towards the end of the event (particularly on your second pass through Kingston), you’ll get spectators cheering you on by the name of your charity (“Keep going Macmillan!” etc).
For me that was worth a couple of kph during the (psychologically) hardest part of the ride.
Aside from that, any cycling jersey with pockets on the back (I prefer three pockets) will be fine.
This will depend on the weather forecast.
In 2014 it was clear in advance that conditions would be biblical. The ride organisers scrubbed Leith Hill and Box Hill from the route.
If you were someone that felt the cold, you may have decided to wear a more substantial rain jacket on the ride. Primarily this would be to protect you from wind chill (I doubt you’d have stayed dry in full North Sea Trawlerman garb).
For my ride in 2013, the forecast looked good. I therefore took a very lightweight rain jacket which could be rolled up to be as small as possible in my jersey pocket.
Unless you’re very confident in the weather, I would be tempted to have some rain protection. Even if it doesn’t rain, it will always be there as an added layer if you find yourself feeling a little chilly (e.g. whilst you’re waiting in the holding pens prior to your early morning start).
(As an aside, I bought my jacket the day before RideLondon 2013, at the little expo when you pick your numbers up. It’s probably the cheapest piece of Castilli clothing you can buy – other than perhaps socks – and I’ve been very happy with it. This is the closest version of it that I can find online – the ‘Squadra’, on sale at a very reasonable £28.50.)
A lot can happen on a 100+ mile ride (yes, I’m afraid you’ll ride at least 5 more miles than the stated 100…).
In the words of our much-loved Chancellor of the Exchequer, “we hope for the best, but must prepare for the worst”. Well, not quite the worst, but at least a puncture.
If it was me riding RideLondon next month, I’d be taking the following:
Specifically this Lezyne one.
Hopefully I don’t need to explain why you might need it.
I carry my pump in one of my jersey back pockets, held firmly in place by having my rolled up rain jacket jammed into the same pouch.
You can hold your pump in a clip attached to your bike frame if you prefer. I won’t judge.
I Use A Saddle Bag
Some people don’t.
In fact I use this saddle bag, the Topeak Aero Wedge (medium):
It’s a good size and stays firmly in place due to the solid clip fitted to the underside of my saddle.
(I wrote more about saddle bag options in this post.)
Look Into My Sack
We don’t need a huge exposition on this.
The following is what I’d be carrying in my saddle bag if I was doing RideLondon (or any long sportive):
- two (count ’em) new inner tubes (unboxed but secured with rubber bands to try to stop them unraveling in the saddle bag)
- a set of three tyre levers (I own these plastic ones from Park Tools, which clip together so they don’t rattle around all over)
- one (or two if they’ll fit) of the energy gels mentioned above
- my trusty Crank Brothers multi-tool.
That just leaves space for my iPhone and some emergency money (I like to carry with me a couple of monkeys and a stoat, but then I’m a high roller…).
You won’t want to forget your helmet. I doubt the marshals will let you get to the start without one.
I should maybe have mentioned cycling shoes above but, er, didn’t. So here. I mention.
It’s important this ride gets uploaded to Strava, so don’t forget your Garmin (other cycling computers / ride tracking apps are available…)
And I reckon that’s not far off being about it.
All that’s left to do is to look forward to, and then enjoy, the day.
And if you’re still eager for more RideLondon ‘intelligence’, do check out my Ultimate Guide from last year, which has links to all my various RideLondon posts over the years (yes, years…).
Bon chance et chapeau a tout!