We thought you might like to read about our exploits at this years event.
The club entered a 4 man team earlier in the year – Cookie, Elliott, Digger and Ryan.
The posse travelled down in one car, loaded to the gunnels with bikes and kit, on Saturday 1st August.
We needed to book into our hotel and then high tail it across the capital to Excel in the Docklands to register for the event and collect ride numbers, timing chips and info.
As seems normal the exit to the registration was via the expo and merchant stands so a little retail therapy was hard to avoid, what with all those Castelli reductions.
Our return to the hotel and relaxed evening meal/early to bed was somewhat disrupted when we stumbled across a beach rugby competition on Finsbury Square, 5 mins from our front door.
Needless to say this had to be investigated what with the Doom Bar signs, loud music and kicking atmosphere. One pint lead to another and before we knew it we were well into the evening, side tracked by the rugger buggers and their attractive cheer leaders who were sozzled after the heady antics of the day. Par for the course, drinking games, rugby songs, dancing, nudity and general misbehaviour ensued. We were supposed to have been carb loaded by now, tucked-up in bed. Fortunately there was an indian restaurant on our way back to the hotel which allowed 4 more pickled diners before closing for the night. Suffice to say it was after midnight before we got back to our rooms, reveille was 0430 with a planned departure an hour later.
Not a great deal of sleep was had, thick heads, and general confusion seemed to prevail as we tried to organise ourselves and our bikes, stowaway our remaining belongings for the hotels baggage room and get out the hotel door for 0530. The fresh air and adrenaline was more of a help than the instant porridge we’d consumed in haste. Fortunately we were not the only cyclists heading east that morning so we didn’t have to trust my pre-loaded route to the start. Warm weather and light cloud cover was very welcome as we made the turn into the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and our blue wave holding area. With the Millennium Dome on one side of us and the Copper Box, Orbital structure and Olympic stadium on the other we soon forgot about our tardy preparation.
The rivers of cyclists snaking towards the start line from 5 different directions were an incredible sight. I’d never seen so many cyclists, whacky club jerseys, or expensive bikes in one place.
Unfortunately the nights revelry and I suspect the chicken jalfrezi he’d consumed had an adverse affect on Elliott who couldn’t pass the portaloos lining the holding pens without an impromptu visit.
He wasn’t the only one suffering event anxiety which sadly meant the team missed it’s allotted start time, albeit we were swept up into the next wave without much consideration.
As we edged forward to prepare for our own departure we were asked by the resident DJ what music we would like to ride off to, there were some murmurings after an initial voice had suggested Take That – Rule the World, when a second suggestion Dire Straits – Money for Nothing was proposed. Needless to say with several hundred MAMILs physicked-up for the off, Mr Barlow didn’t stand a hope in hells chance.
The start was a steady roll across the line and onto the first few miles of the course which was a neutralised zone, un-timed to let the ride numbers spread out and let different speed settle.
Past Canary Wharf and through a couple of underpasses we approached father Thames and familiar sights, The Tower of London, Mansion House, St Paul’s Cathedral. A surreal feeling riding through central London at that time of the morning. No traffic, and straight across traffic and pedestrian lights regardless of their sequence. Very few people around save a few quizzical looking soles heading to work and wondering how they were going to cross the roads. On we rode passing the Ritz, Harrods, Trafalgar Square and then down Pall Mall out towards Chiswick its bridge namesake and out of the city and into Richmond Park.
The pace was quick and we were cruising at an average 20-23 mph on flattish road, over the M25 motorway and onwards until the first slight rise up to the second designated hub stop at Newlands Corner – 46 miles in.
Time for a mini break, refill water bottles, take on some yellow fruit and a fig roll or two. Digger tried photo-bombing the BBC sports reporter Ore Oduba who was desperately seeking quirky riders to interview, we clearly didn’t fit the bill, if only he knew!
It was still morning as we left the hub we were eager to get back on the route and tackle the two main climbs of the day. All the pre race and hub talk with riders who had ridden previous years was that Leith Hill was far worse than the more famous Box Hill, being shorter, more steep and quite narrow, which made passing difficult when coming across slower riders and those pushing their bikes, would you believe!
Leith Hill was as expected, the tortoises were asked to stay left whilst the buck teethed riders took the right hand gutter to hare past. There were a few close calls with riders wanting to unclip or to stop and push, not a good idea when literally thousands of cyclist are climbing the hill behind you. We survived unscathed and after a brief pause to reform the team we clipped-in for the fast descent which naturally follows the prior effort. For those less cautious the speeds were quite impressive and the duration of the descent was a welcome respite before the more famous of the two climbs just around the corner.
By comparison Box Hill was a breeze, although longer, the road was wider, less steep and windy with a silky smooth surface without a single imperfection. After a brief respite were surged on, almost 70 miles in by now. The route flattened out and we picked up the pace, our previously good average speed had come down to around 18mph. The low elevation and increasing desire to up our overall time pushed us to race along. Soon we saw our average climb and with the crossing of the M25 for the second time our arrival to the outskirts of London was imminent. Digger pushed the pace on and the rest of us clung-on the best we could. Knowing Wimbledon High Street and its’ last niggling climb were just around the corner we were keen to keep something in reserve. We needn’t have bothered the arrival of Wimbledon Village signalled 10 miles to go and in that we had adrenalin enough to negate its sting.
The growing crowd numbers as we passed each high street was a welcome distraction and the sound of whooping, whistles and cow bells was entertaining.
The final push, Digger extended his gains and we were split up in our individual efforts to keep up to his pace. I finally managed to bridge the gap, I suspect more down to him relaxing his pace than my efforts to reach him. I suggested we should perhaps wait for the boys when it was convenient to stop. We pulled over and were both surprised to see Elliott and Ryan were right there sailing past us. The push for London renewed we all raced across Putney Bridge and recognised the embankment and all of its familiar sights.
The pace quickened and previous thoughts of tiredness and aching legs were forgotten. We sped past the Houses of Parliament and onto Whitehall, the Cenotaph, Downing Street and Horse guards. I can’t tell you how good the feeling is to hear so many people lining the streets, all cheering you on with the prospect of briefly revisiting Nelson before sailing under Admiralty Arch and seeing the red roads of the Mall ahead of you. It was everyone for themselves at this point cocooned in the hysteria of the occasion and the realisation that the road ahead is effectively a sprint finish, so that’s what we did. Caution to the wind we wound it up and raced down the Mall, little did I know I was leading Digger out, he pipped me at the post, but the feeling of speeding towards the Victoria Memorial framed by Buckingham Palace will live with me for the rest of my days.
As always the jubilation of finishing gives rise to sadness at the journeys end. We were handed our medals and goodie bags and collected our possessions which were kindly transported from start to finish, no mean feat considering 25,000 riders!
Diggers family were there to share our glory and supply us with a beer and a few eats, in the leafy shade of Green Park just off Constitution Hill and overlooking the Palace gates – bliss!
Reflective analysis of our stats showed we’d completed the route in just under 6 hours (5hrs 29mins ride time), at an average of 18.4mph, which was a pleasant surprise to all!
The ballot for 2016 opens on the 10th August so get in quick should you wish to experience this amazing event – highly recommended.