RideLondon(-Surrey…) 2018: My ‘Race’ Report

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.

Pre-RideLondon Logistics

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.

Pre Ridelondon drinks

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).

Early Start

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.

RideLondon riding to the start

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.

Delayed Gratification

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.

RideLondon waiting to start

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

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.

RideLondon wide roads east london

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.

Rain Pain

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.

Leith Hill RideLondon 2018 wet

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).

RideLondon approaches

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.

Cramptastic

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.”

RideLondon finish with big screen

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.

The Result

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.

RideLondon victors

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.

Fin.

15 thoughts on “RideLondon(-Surrey…) 2018: My ‘Race’ Report

  1. I had a similar, slightly quicker, Strava time than you 😊 and somehow avoided punctures. Completely agree with the 3 sections bit, but I’ve never seen so many walkers on hills which slowed up the middle section. Us northerners are used to real hills!
    Being on my own I stayed close to the centre of the road which seemed the best anti punctures tactic. Even though it rained 80% of the route it’s still a fantastic experience that I’d recommend to anyone.

  2. I was Orange C… I went out with the usual gleeful expression on my face at 0340hrs to go the 14 mi to the start line thinking that this was going to be a healthy time around 5 hours. Then the rain kicked in… I persevered up Newlands but no matter how good the braking efforts in swissstop marketing material claim my brakes were akin to having pads made of greased lettuce. Leith was emotional… sketchy and emotional as the greased lettuce decided to work and my rear wheel locked up. Error. At that point the rest of the ride consisted of treating the course as if it was covered in ice. Gently does it… the time had gone out of the window and all I wanted to do was finish. Things were going well until we merged with the 46ers (and 19ers?!) when my yearning to finish was curtailed somewhat by the “if slower keep to the left” rule going out of the window (despite feigned cheerfulness when calling our “on yer right…” and “Ta, matey”). It’s done, my best bike shall never see rain again. I’m going to Islay next year…

  3. Well done andrew 👍

    I did it two years ago for charity as i have nether got in through the ballot.Even though i will be sixty six next year i will still keep entering the ballot.
    It does annoy me when i watch it on the tv and see these so called celebrities doing it and then saying “i would love to do it next year”.Of course you can because you don’t have to go through the ballot.😡

  4. e had a late start – 0832 Orange & were penned in the rain for 30 minutes before starting – we got cold! Amazing 50 days without rain then down it tumbled for all but the final hour. No punctures on new tyres (my son not so lucky) – roads treacherous, brakes on strike, collisions & fallers scattered about & an amazing number of riders walking up the hills! Never happens in Yorkshire. Some jams & bottlenecks – especially where the Rides 100 & 46 merged. Very well marshalled I thought, hubs great, but kept stops very brief to stay warm. 7hrs 31 officially but Strava moving time a shade under 7 hours. We were diverted off Leith Hill following a fatality (very sad), but made up the mileage with ride to the start & from the finish back to my son’s flat in Bermondsey. Should also say the bike show at The ExCel was great – could easily have bought several new very expensive bikes!

  5. Thanks Monty, for all your helpful advice and encouragement over the last few months, I finished in an official time of 6hrs 10. My strava failed on upload at the finish (or I pressed the wrong button), so I don’t know what my moving time was – probably about 5:50ish – as I only stopped twice for wee and fresh water. Proud to finish as this was the first time I had ridden a bike seriously as opposed to commuting to work. And more importantly managed all the hills without walking. I was very lucky to avoid any punctures or mishaps. I set off at 7:40 so it was raining before we started and kept going until about the last 1 1/2 hours. I’m surprised you didn’t mention the wind, which was a real drag heading out of London, and not much help on the way back. Although everyone says you go faster because the roads are traffic free, and you get some drafting from the other bikes, I felt that I was constantly braking to keep the right spacing with the convoy, and with the greasy roads, you couldn’t get the benefit of a fast freewheel down the hills. All in all I think on a better day I would easily be half an hour or more faster. Overall I enjoyed it, I had enough layers of clothing to keep me comfortable (though wet). As I had previously done the London Marathon way back in 2000 and the 2 mile Swim Serpentine last year, I also qualified for a London Classis medal. So effectively I have completed an Ironman – in a time of 18 years, 4 months!!

  6. In a late wave – 8.48 start – so shivering by the time started. Ride through a rain drenched and empty London was still exhilarating, just for the novelty of not fighting with traffic. An astonishing number of punctures on the roadside, right from the start – the first real rain for 2 months brought a lot of rubbish onto the roads. We were diverted on Leith due to the sad fatality, and Box Hill was closed, but from your description of the descent from Leith I’m quite glad to have missed it – I’ve never liked that descent even in decent weather. We were also held up in Leatherhead for about 30 minutes while they let us down in waves due to the number of accidents at the bottom of the hill. As a south-west Londoner the route was familiar, and is usually very busy with traffic, so I did get extra pleasure from being able to do it without cars. As you say, the spectators made it – all those shouting ‘welcome to sunny Dorking’ in the pouring rain, the groups of teenagers high-fiving anyone they could, those who’d decided to carry on with parties despite the rain and were cheering from under gazebos! In spite of the wind and rain (the official report says the wind was at 55mph in places), and the shortened route, I enjoyed it and would do it again. Official time was 7 hrs 15 but Strava moving time was about 6.5 hours, which shows the number of times we were stopped (as my ride partner didn’t have a jacket we only stopped at one feed station).

  7. Well done! Lousy conditions!! I’ve done the ride twice ’16 and ’17 and was blest with decent weather both times. I would totally agree that the faff factor is enormous at the start and, I suppose, to a lesser extent, at the finish – getting self and bike back to the hotel by the Excel – I didn’t fancy riding it – but I’ve discovered you can take your bike on the District / Circle line – change at Tower Hill and get the DLR back to the Excel. Great experience, though, despite the faff.

  8. Thanks Monty, my Strava time was 6 hours 25 mins, which considering the rain (and the wind!) I was pleased with, (no punctures, phew!). I was also diverted on Leith Hill due to the tragic fatality so this time was for about 96 miles rather than 100. As a first timer to Ride London I was a fairly late start and it was raining from the very beginning until the last 20 miles. Worst moments were being knocked off my bike going up Newlands Corner (but fell into a very muddy bank, so other than my pride nothing hurt) followed by nearly being blown off my bike leaving the Newlands Corner feed station and then going up Box Hill in my slowest ever time (4 mins slower than my PB) and yet feeling utterly exhausted at the top. Was impressed by the number of water and loo stops available (not surprising given the heat the previous week), but by the time us later starters got to the feed zones all the proper food seemed to have gone and there were only crisps and peanuts left (just needed a G&T and we could have had a cocktail party!). Living in that part of the world and having done Leith Hill many times, I was quite glad to be diverted, with the number of walkers crowding out the left hand side and a few quick people who presumably missed their early start time ploughing on up the right, not sure there’d have been much room for the rest of us. All in all a great experience, and thoroughly enjoyed it, but would like to do it in the dry!

  9. Thanks Monty,
    My third ride London and probably the most enjoyable in spite of the weather ( normal Lake district weather). Must admit I hadn’t done the amount of training I should have, due to 6 weeks of gout. First 50 miles very enjoyable but so disappointed to miss Leith again due to fatality and Box hill due to crash. Lost my ride partner due to his puncture and phone battery going dead. Stood freezing in the rain at the start Green Wave 9 .00 am start. Congratulations to all who took part and finished, camaraderie amongst cyclists is fantastic. Did the ride 94 miles in 7hrs.35mins, but cycled from Greenwich to start so made my 100.Cycling show superb too,
    Best regards,
    Ken ( 65 years young)

  10. Well done Monty and all the others who did Ridelondon this year.

    I didn’t get in this year but have done it four times now. Funnily enough, the only two I have missed were the wet ones! On the basis that, mathematically, that sets a trend that a statistician could rely on, I’ll let you all know if I get in through the ballot next year as at least you’ll know whether it’s going to be wet or dry!

    Someone above mentioned the wind. I rode out of the Surrey Hills and up into London on Saturday afternoon to watch the Women’s Classique race (well worth going to see if you’re staying over the night before RL) and then cycled back. The 30 mile route back (almost all on the RL route) was damn hard work into the wind the whole way. I thought I’d died somewhere near Weybridge. I was keeping my fingers crossed for you all that it wasn’t that bad on the Sunday.

    I did manage to get out to the route on Sunday but, apologies, only for the Pro race – it was too wet to stand around for hours cheering everyone on. We did however see two participants cheerfully ask for directions in Ripley as the route had been re-opened at that point. This was at 2pm! 40-ish miles into the route and no hills yet attempted! I hate to think what time they finished even allowing for the fact they would have been diverted.

  11. Thanks for your enjoyable post. I was in Orange N starting at 8:28. My Strava time was 6:32. Upsides for me were ticking the box that is this event, and the fantastic support en route in lousy weather. Less memorable: (1) Adversarial joining instructions – I appreciate such events require firm management but the tone left me feeling almost guilty for wanting to ride; (2) the draconian road closures en route to the start from West London – I know London pretty well though I don’t live there – signposts for us out of towners would have been nice; (3) Poor riding etiquette – e.g. what happened to slower riders keeping left?
    Box ticked, I’ll stick with provincial sportives from now on – I live in the West Country where the rides are more friendly and accessible, yet disciplined.

  12. Just over 7 hours moving time and 7 hours 30 elapsed. One stop for bottle refill and bladder emptying and a few roadside stops to put on jacket, reorganise the larder (spare food in plastic bag to keep dry) and eventually remove and repack jacket. One nasty THUD behind me on a bend in Dorking that I did not want to look back at. But had a real blast despite the weather.

    I also had a false start. Thought the lane opposite was starting so took out phone to take photo. Next I knew my start was off. So over the line with the contents of one pocket in hand until the road furniture just beyond where I could stop and re-pack. Not sure what my rollout music was but DJ kept playing frozen. So not only bad weather to battle but constant ear-worm of “Let it Go” for 100 miles.

    Thanks for your great write up of the day.

  13. My ride time was much slower than I hoped but this was due to the weather. Newlands Corner was truly terrifying due to the gale force winds, instead of an easy downhill blast I was holding on to the brakes for dear life wondering whether I was going to stay upright (deep section wheels are great but not in strong sideways winds!). The Leith Hill descent was not much fun either as like you, I couldn’t see where I was going! Overall time was 5:14:04, moving time 5:11:30. I was Orange B but started Orange C as I just missed the cutoff. Thanks for the kudos 😊

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.