In this post we’ll take a detailed look at the route of the RideLondon-Surrey 100, which takes place each year at the end of July or the start of August.
*** UPDATES ALERT ***
- I wrote this post a long time ago (in the mists of 2013). My latest ‘review’/analysis of the RideLondon Essex version is here (written / video published in 2022).
- I also have my “Ultimate Guide To RideLondon” post, a collection of pretty much all the information I’ve written on the blog to help YOU make the most of your RideLondon experience – I’ll be honest, it could do with a little updating, but the general stuff about preparing to ride 100 miles is all still valid
*** UPDATES ALERT OVER ***
I’ve plotted the course using bikehike.co.uk. I’ve included some screen grabs, including various sections of the course as well as elevation and gradient charts.
If people are interested (let me know in the comments box below), I will attempt to upload the TCX file to the site, which you should then be able to download and manipulate as you see fit.
Given the low level of detail on the official map, I’ve had to guesstimate exactly which roads the route will follow. For the most part, this is fairly easy. The route will have to follow main roads to accommodate the 20,000 cyclists that will participate. Similarly, where the professional race shares the same course, it will have to be sufficiently wide to ensure the safety of riders travelling at 40-50km/h.
DISCLAIMER: I am SURE that my route will have the odd difference with the final route. If you are going to ride the route using a cycle computer loaded with my route, bear in mind that you will be riding on open roads. Knowing that the event is to be held on closed roads, I took the liberty of assuming that you might not have to ride around all of the Kingston one way system (for instance).
The RideLondon route is made up of three main phases:
- Phase 1: crossing Central London then out through the south west of the city
- Phase 2: the Surrey countryside loop (outside the M25)
- Phase 3: the return through south west London, running into the finish on the Mall
As the name of the ride suggests, the total length is 100 miles (just under 161 km). My plotted route calculates it to be a smidgen over, but I doubt you’ll be arguing as you sprint finish down the Mall.
According to Google elevation data, the course features 4,325 feet of climbing (1,318 metres). This is largely to be found in the stretch between Pyrford and the summit of Leith Hill and the Box Hill.
The highest gradient is approximately 28%, which occurs on the ascent of Box Hill. For the most part though, the gradient stays in the low single figures.
UPDATE: As a number of people have commented below, this 28% spike on Box Hill is a Google Maps blip. Consensus opinion is that Leith Hill is considerably tougher than Box Hill (gulp).
I should probably mention that I don’t think that the two gradient spikes towards the beginning (mile 10) and at the end (mile 100) of the route actually exist. I have a feeling they are an anomaly caused by roads being crossed by other roads at a higher level (i.e. the roads that cross London bridges). The route follows the Embankment, which follows the river (which is largely flat…).
The map on the Ride London website simply shows a big circle at the Olympic Park, with no detail on where in the park it will begin.
Looking at how the route begins (westbound, followed by a dog leg turn south) and considering there will need to be space 20,000 cyclists to start safely, I would guess that the start will be at the north of the Olympic Park, where it is bounded by the A12. This is also the location of the Olympic velodrome, providing a nice backdrop for the departing participants.
Mainly flat and fast
A large part of the RideLondon route is made up of relatively flat roads. In Central London, most of the roads are wide with multiple lanes. Through south west London and out into Surrey, the roads are mainly A roads. Most appear to be wide single carriageways. These wide roads should allow for pretty comfortable riding, even with the large number of cyclists on the road.
All the roads will be closed to other traffic for the event, which, for those used to commuting in London, will provide some novelty value at least.
The buildings in central and suburban London will provide shelter from wind.
The flat roads, shelter from buildings and the drafting effect from all the cyclists on the road, should hopefully make these sections quite rapid, putting time into the bank that riders like me might need to spend on the climbs.
There are two significant climbs, and three smaller ones, in the entire 100 mile route. These all occur in the loop through the Surrey countryside.
I am certainly in no position to show the hills any disrespect, but we are not talking about the volume or severity of climbing that you would see in continental European sportives (l’Etape, La Marmotte) or, indeed, some of the more serious UK ones (Etape Pennines, Dragon Ride).
So what do the two main climbs look like? I’ll take them in reverse order, since I have actually ridden up Box Hill.
Vertical ascent: 557 feet
Length: 3 miles
Distance from start / left to end (excluding climb): 65 miles / 33 miles
The climb up Box Hill will be familiar to most road cyclists in the south east and to anyone that saw the 2012 Olympic road races (which just about covers everyone). The road was resurfaced just before the Olympics, reducing rolling resistance and removing those annoying potholes that put you off your climbing rhythm. The tarmac is covered with messages for the Olympic cyclists, offering some distraction as you climb (I seem to recall an entertaining image of Cav on a rocket?).
With its switchback turns, Box Hill is the closest that the south east has to an Alpine-style climb. Only a lot shorter. With a National Trust tea shop at the top.
The main challenge on the narrow road going up Box Hill is likely to be other people. For those that have done the London-to-Brighton, the challenge of Ditchling Beacon near to the end isn’t so much the gradient but the fact you have to navigate past what feels like some mass sit-down protest spread all across the road. There is nothing like having to attempt a track start on a 15% gradient in order to avoid someone that has stopped without warning in front of you.
I assume the 100 mile distance (and therefore fewer ‘chancers’ riding on no training), plus the fact that Box Hill is still some way from the finish, will mean a fewer number of walkers. Of course, having written all that, it is now highly likely that I will find myself walking up Box Hill on the day.
Vertical ascent: 513 feet
Length: 1.9 miles
Distance from start / left to end (excluding climb): 55 miles / 41 miles
I have not ridden up Leith Hill, so have less to say. (Note: I have now, and I have this to say about it).
If anyone reading is familiar with this climb and has any particular advice, then please do share it via the comments section below. What I can see, having mapped it and taken a quick look on Google Streetmap, is that it looks like a very English climb. That is, a straight road going directly up the hill.
Whilst it doesn’t have the gradient peaks seen on Box Hill, tThe average gradient is higher than Box Hill – (it is 1.1 miles shorter but only 44 feet less climbing ).
(UPDATE: Paragraph above updated in light of the comments below)
Being straight and a relatively main road means that the presence of other cyclists should be a help (in the form of reducing wind resistance) rather than an obstruction. It could well turn out to be one long grind (which of course you might like).
It is worth noting though that the Classic route (the professional race that follows after the sportive) does three loops of the section that contains Leith Hill. It doesn’t do any loops around Box Hill (as the Olympic road races did). As well as upping the length of the professional race, I assume the organisers deem the Leith Hill section to be sufficiently severe to provide some sort of ‘selection’ in that race.
Having cycled back through south west London, via Kingston and Wimbledon, the route crosses the river at Putney for the final run in to the finish.
This should not be too arduous (relatively speaking). It’s all very flat. There are likely to be cheering spectators (he says, hopefully). Providing you’re in a peloton of sorts then you’ll be getting protection from any wind.
All that is left to do is to compose yourself, zip up your jersey, hands above your head and show your sponsor’s logo to the TV cameras. Or is it just me that still imagines myself sprinting on the Champs Elysees…?
Having spent some time looking at the RideLondon route, I’d say that, other than the loop out into Surrey, the course is somewhat uninspiring. It features quite a lot of suburban London. Many will already have cycled past the famous landmarks on the route. It doesn’t have any really challenging climbs.
But then it isn’t really about the route. The excitement of RideLondon will come from the presence of 19,999 other cyclists, the atmosphere along the way and the fact that the event will be held on closed roads.
For me (and I imagine many others), cycling 100 miles is not something to be taken lightly, whatever the route. Studying the course and anticipating what it will require will maximise my enjoyment of the event and hopefully avoid any emotional breakdowns on the day.
If you are also doing the RideLondon event, I hope that my musings may be useful. Let me know what you think in the comments below. I will be doing further posts on preparation for the RideLondon event, so please sign up to get the Sportive Cyclist by email to make sure you don’t miss anything (plus, you’ll get access to my (digital!) Sportive Cyclists Toolbox, including free ebooks and the like).
UPDATE: As mentioned above, since writing this post (and actually taking part in the event), I’ve written loads about RideLondon, the climbs, what to wear, carry and eat.
The best thing would be for you to take a look at this post, The Ultimate Guide to RideLondon, which will direct you to all the information you need to maximise your performance and enjoyment on the day.