I am sitting here eating my second cake of the day.
Since the conclusion of my RideLondon ride, I’ve consumed, inter alia, an Indian takeaway, a jumbo sausage roll from the West Cornwall Pasty Company and the aforementioned dos pasteles. I need to write about my RideLondon 2018 experience so that, if nothing else, I can reach closure and stop eating junk.
So behold, my RideLondon-Surrey 100 race report.
Crashes, Punctures and Slippy Roads
For me, RideLondon 2018 was captured in three sounds.
The first was sickening clatter of carbon going sideways onto the road as my teammate stacked it riding across a roundabout in Weybridge.
The second was the disappointing phutter of a tyre rotating without any air in it.
The third was a heart-stopping bang behind me, two thirds of the way down the Leith Hill descent. The sound of a tyre blowing perhaps, or two bikes colliding?
I couldn’t even turn to look, so focused was I on attempting to maintain control of a bike whose brakes had given up some 5 minutes after the rain had started, on a slippy, pot-holed road, with rain-smeared glasses affording 20% vision (at best).
Much fun was had by all.
The flavour of my RideLondon ride was changed by another crash, this one a few months ago.
One of our (charity) team mates owns a big house in London that the whole Montgomery clan was going to stay in for the RideLondon weekend. A big chute on holiday in France (and subsequent extensive wrist surgery) put paid to his ride participation and a wholesale change to his summer plans.
So the four remaining team members decided to stay together in a hotel close to the start. My supporters club (wife and three young children) were informed that their services were no longer required. They must stay in Derbyshire. The boys were going on (le) tour.
After some searching, and much concern over which hotels would allow us to keep bikes in rooms, someone happened upon an offer on rooms in the Novotel in Canary Wharf.
It turned out to be ‘a right touch’ – a modern, upmarket hotel, with a snazzy bar, with roof terrace, on the 38th and 39th floors. Sadly our ability to enjoy its amenities to the full were kaiboshed by the fact we got to spend approximately half a night there.
For future reference, the hotel was very happy to allow bikes in rooms (provided that you signed a disclaimer that presumably allowed them to renovate the room using your credit card at any point over the next five years), they prepared breakfast boxes (that turned out to be bags) that were collectible at any point during the early hours of the morning and the trendy bar allowed in four proto-mamils in shorts (admittedly not lycra).
RideLondon has a huge faff factor. No other sportive, or organised sporting participation event, I’ve been on requires you to be at the start line about an hour and a half before you might start.
I was in Orange Wave D. My ‘wave loading time’ started at something like quarter to five. Otherwise known as ‘before dawn’. I think the wave closed at 5:24.
Whilst I don’t remember what I put as my anticipated finishing time, the Orange D allocation suggests I was optimistic.
Very optimistic as it happens.
In fact I never saw Wave D.
After much persuasion, my team mates, who were in waves Orange G and H, coerced me into gambling on turning up late and sweet talking my way into their start pen. Whilst the Rider Guide does say something along the lines of, ‘if you turn up late, the marshals will direct you to a later start pen’, the conformist in me was nervous that I’d be unsuccessful and unable to start.
Which is about as far from the truth as you can get. The start was very relaxed. We had no problem at all getting into the wave H start pen, which was due to set off some 25 minutes after my original go time.
As an aside, whilst we got there after my wave was due to close, because of the way that each pen of riders is filled up from a feeder road down the side, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d have let me in. I didn’t get chance to test this though.
Where the organisers are strict is about not letting riders go off in an earlier wave than the one they’re registered in. Apparently some people are desperate to get up even earlier with the promise of a less crowded route.
The start had a slightly farcical feel to it.
One minute we’re listening to the tannoy guy pestering former Rugbian Martin Johnstone into choosing between Daydream Believer and Sweet Caroline as the soundtrack to one of the green wave starts, and the next minute everyone in front of me seems to have scarpered, and a chap behind suggests I might like to start riding my bike rather than pushing it.
Where was the KLAXON for fugs sake?
A Game Of Three Halves
I mentioned above (rather pretentiously) my three sounds of RideLondon.
The route lends itself to being described in three parts. You have the first section from the Olympic Stadium in the east, through the City and the West End, then out through south-west London. Then you have the loop through the Surrey Hills, ending as you cross back over the M25. The final section back towards central London gets gradually easier as the roads flatten, the crowds build and the distance to go diminishes.
The bit in the middle is naturally the hardest section. It has the hills. The 25,000 riders are squeezed onto narrower roads. The exuberant time-trialling undertaken in section one starts to register as tiredness in the legs.
For the 2018 edition, the weather conspired to make the difficult middle bit both longer and more arduous.
When Not If
Like my last RideLondon experience, the first hour felt fast.
Fresh legs, wide flat roads and the novelty of not having to avoid cars or heed traffic lights. One of the biggest challenges was reining back the desire to ride hard, knowing that there’d be plenty of opportunity to test the legs later.
Most importantly it was dry.
It’s not like we weren’t expecting the wet. For days the weather forecast said there would be rain. Whilst some people turned up with nothing more than a cycling jersey (cough, ahem, two of my team mates), I wore a thin gilet as well and had my (bottom-of-the-range) Castelli plastic-bag-cum-waterproof with me.
The only question was when the rain would start (with the sub-question: how far could we get round before that point).
The answer: about 7.30am. The sub-answer: between Hammersmith and Chiswick.
The start of the rain effectively brought forward the start of the painful middle section of the ride. We were already sopping wet by Richmond Park, many miles before the start of the hills.
Whilst there are certainly worse ride routes for it to be wet, and we didn’t have to contend with cars forcing us into water-filled gutters, the rain immediately started to make things harder. Road surfaces were slippy. Brakes became less efficient (or stopped working entirely). Corners became exponentially more tricky.
I made the mistake of leaving it too long before putting on my waterproof. I rode for a long time shivering and willing the hills to turn up sooner so that I could warm up.
The water washed a lot of junk back onto the rode. I’m sure many riders rode through water-filled pot-holes that in the dry they have avoided. The result was what felt like a huge number of punctures. Every 100 metres saw a rider by the side of the road struggling to change a flat tyre.
I flatted but could count myself incredibly lucky. It was literally as we left one of the feed station hubs. I was able to walk back to the mechanics stand and prevail upon them not only to supply me with a new inner tube (at £5) but to change it for me as well (any desire to prove my mechanical proficiency was washed away somewhere near Hampton Court).
Feed Station Crawl
We ended up stopping at more feed stations than we intended. One of them, due to the puncture, I conspired to stop at twice.
One reason for stopping at so many, from my perspective, was that the food I was carrying was packed tightly into jersey pockets, two layers below my waterproof. Being wet and uncomfortable meant that I tended towards that mental tunnel vision where I just couldn’t think about eating. I had to maintain my hunched shoulders and press on.
At least by stopping I could take on fuel and top up water bottles (I was at least drinking).
It’s at this point that I should note that the feed stations, hubs, drinks stops (whatever they were all called – they all seemed pretty similar) are a marked improvement on my last experience (admittedly the first time they ran the event).
There were more of them, more evenly spread throughout the route. The products on offer were spot on: Clif Bars and the Clif energy jelly bars (whatever), Nuun energy and electrolyte drinks, bananas (I don’t know who makes bananas…). A distinct improvement on the packets of Sunburst crisps (chips to Ameri-folk) provided in 2013.
So, despite completing what felt like a good amount of training for the event, riding at a slower pace than I do on rolling rides in Derbyshire and climbing fewer metres on much more benign slopes … I got major cramp.
I can’t remember exactly where it first came on. It could even have been towards the top of the first climb (Newlands Corner). I was aware of being on the edge of one coming up Leith Hill (though I was able to throw some of the hammer down – perhaps the handle?). I had a major cramp at the bottom of Leith Hill as we turned onto the A25 to Dorking.
Box Hill was just surreal. On the one hand being ‘in of breath’ (the opposite of out of breath) whilst on the other being unable to spin any gear combination other than the lowest for fear of sending off a series of death spasms bouncing from one leg muscle to the next.
No one knows for definite what causes cramps. Surely it can’t have been a lack of moisture…
Normal Service Will Resume Shortly
And then with a click of the fingers, everything returned to normal.
Somewhere around mile 80, as we re-entered the suburbs south west of London, the rain stopped and the sun came out (okay, the cloudy sky went from dark grey to light grey). Temperatures rose (or seemed to rise) by a good few degrees.
We stopped at the supporters station for our charity, the Princess Alice Hospice, for a few photos (without me – I was fiddling around trying to change the battery in my Go Pro).
The threat of further cramps receded. The tunnel vision widened as I left my personal aquatic pain cave. I became far more aware of the support from the growing numbers of spectators at the roadside. Once again the roads became wide, flat and fast.
Once you’ve crested a small hill in Wimbledon (which I like to think I attacked a la Philippe Gilbert), it’s pretty much down hill all the way to Putney Bridge followed by a flat blast along the river. Suddenly, almost without warning, it’s over. Whitehall. Trafalgar Square. The Mall. And we’re done.
Funny Things That Supporters Say
Cycling is an odd activity. Being further through your ride distance doesn’t necessarily correlate with the amount you’re suffering.
I’m hugely appreciative of the spectators that turn up to watch and encourage thousands of amateur cyclists for hours on end in the pouring rain. It’s one of the attractions of the RideLondon event.
I did have to chuckle though at the people in the final few miles shouting out things like,
“Only 3 miles to go,” or
“You’re nearly there. You’re doing really well.”
By this point, for me and I reckon most riders, you know you’ve done it. It’s not like running, where the last bit is harder than all the bits before and you need all the encouragement you can get.
It doesn’t take too much effort to keep up a reasonable clip along the last 10 (or even 20) miles of the RideLondon route. It’s probably more effort to stop (certainly to stop and walk).
That all said, if someone is prepared to stand by the barriers watching us cyclo-goons ride past, they’re welcome to shout whatever they want.
Well I finished. So there’s that.
It wasn’t quite how I expected the day to pan out. It felt more a fight for survival (certainly a fight to stay upright) rather than a course to set a PB on.
I count myself lucky that I only had the one puncture (that I got someone else to fix!), that the weather didn’t cut short the route (as it has in prior years) and that the only injury I suffered twas in shaving my legs (er, wha?).
Whilst my official time was a few minutes over 7 hours, my Strava moving time was 6 hours 22 minutes and 20 seconds (which implies an awful lot of time spent weeing in portaloos).
As the hours passed after the event, that Strava time increasingly felt familiar. I recalled some other event I did in the past feel like it took a similar amount of time.
Then I remembered.
Then I checked. It took a lot of finger scrolling in the Strava app (I should have searched using the website version).
RideLondon 2013. Moving time 6:23:04.
All that training. Dedication. Focus.
44. Bloody. Seconds.