This weekend saw a return to ‘racing’, with SS Flat Cap sailing east at an ungodly hour on Sunday morning to take part in Ride London for the 2nd time (2015 report). As my ship is completely rudderless at the moment, after Paul Burton jumped overboard to pursue an attempted ascent of the north-west Surrey regional TT circuit, my plan has consisted of some training, more eating, and just doing whatever events take my fancy.
Safe to say the event wasn’t designated ‘A’ priority status, and so training consisted of nothing more specific than cycling around Richmond park a few times and having a good chin-wag with mates. I enjoyed a few beers on the Friday, before a decent tempo run at Clapham Common parkrun combined with a volunteering stint, ‘politely’ coercing people to stay in the finishing funnel once they’d crossed the line.
A 5:48 start time was absolutely ludicrous, so I was up at 3:20AM, which in some countries, is considered illegal. I rolled through central London in total darkness, watching revellers clutch their McDonalds and stagger homewards, either offering up quizzical expressions or hurling lycra-based abuse my way.
By this point, I’d met up with cycling legend and all-around nice guy Andy Stringer, who’d very generously saved me a trip to the Excel centre, by collecting my race number and timing chip for me. Being similarly matched on 2 wheels, we had a loose plan of riding together if possible, at least for the first half.
I’d clearly missed the memo re; the race starting at the actual start line. It seems that male ego’s had already been engaged, with some keen to treat every traffic light as the opportunity to race everyone else to the next one. We’ll see how fresh those legs are going up Box Hill lads..
We arrived in good time to hit the loo’s and cram in a couple of energy bars before the off. Andy and I placed ourselves right on the front, knowing that the pace would probably be pretty frantic from the off, and staying in the first group would be important.
The first wave went off 4 minutes before us, which contained the aforementioned Burton (who went on to finish in the top 10 – average). With absolutely zero chance of catching the lead riders from that wave, it’d be a case of sticking to the front in our gang for as long as possible.
Wheels started rolling, Andy and I shared a joke, and we were off. That was the last time I saw him for the next 100 miles, despite the fact that he could still see me when we were well past half-way. The group we were in was just so big, and the pace was so frantic, that we never ended up riding near each other.
I spent the first 20 miles trying to stay upright and safe somewhere towards the front. We charged through West London, scattering shoppers everywhere in East Sheen who were attempting to make their Sunday morning Waitrose trip. Riding on closed roads in Richmond Park was a welcome change – despite the fact I was in a group of about 300 others.
Annoyingly, I needed a leak about 5 minutes after starting, but there was no chance I was stopping and losing absolutely everyone, so tried to forget about it and manage. After the initial hard pace, things seemed to ease as we made our way out into Surrey, with everyone waiting for the hills for things to kick off in earnest.
About 40 miles in, I went over one of the thousands of potholes that can be found across the UK, which ejected my full bottle of tailwind, which I was relying on both for hydration and calories. Balls. I was left with a couple of energy bars in my pocket, which were going to taste drier than a bread sandwich if I had nothing to wash them down with.
We hit Newlands, the first of 3 ‘major’ hills on the route, and surprisingly I wasn’t going backwards by much, with the front of the group very much in sight as we crested the top. By this point I’d hooked up with fellow Chasers Ed Keighley and Christian Moxon, and we all chased on hard down the other side to stay in touch.
These two saved my day over the next 50 miles, offering to share water and energy drink – legends. The pace again stalled, with everyone regrouping for the next climb – Leith Hill. Again, things started to ramp up as we approached the bottom, and then it was absolutely full gas all the way up. Mox and I were riding in close proximity, with me constantly annoying him by asking ‘are we nearly at the top yet?’ multiple times.
I’d actually managed to get to the top towards the front, and again we sprinted down the other side to make inroads to those who’d crested slightly before us. By now it was warming up nicely: great news for my suntan prospects, not so great for my current dehydrated condition. On the plus side, I didn’t need to go to the toilet anymore.
The crowds were out in force going through Dorking, with everyone sucking in some air before heading towards Box Hill. Those that do a bit of cycling know that Box as a hill isn’t really that bad – fairly gentle gradient, great road surface and cracking views. Unfortunately, by this point my quads were feeling like they’d been repeatedly hammered by a meat tenderiser, and groups were splintering apart all over the show.
I clung on for dear life to the back of a little 4-man train, and we combined with a few more at the top. This is where I met a strong contender for the highly coveted ‘moron of the day’ award. This guy had clearly been watching too much cycling on TV, and proceeded to drain the rest of his drink bottle, before hurling it into the nature reserve shrubbery we were currently riding through.
After a moment of pure disbelief, me and another guy simultaneously launched a barrage of abuse his way. After initially trying to defend his actions, he rather sheepishly went back into his shell, claiming that he’d ‘come back next weekend and pick it up’. Fat chance of that happening, you utter tool.
By now it definitely wasn’t all sunshine and roses, but we were heading back to the capital via Leatherhead and Kingston. The mighty Chasers were marshalling here, and I briefly pretended to be having a good time before heading back into my own little world of hurt.
By the time we reached Wimbledon Village, the small hill that takes you up towards the common had apparently transformed into Everest overnight and I was cycling through treacle. Our group split here, and I found myself on the wrong side of that gap. A brief respite as I spotted Katie running up and down keeping an eye out for me, before charging down to Putney and towards the city centre.
The last 10 miles are a bit of a blur, with the tank 99.9% empty, as I was just pedalling with whatever fumes I had left. We weaved our way along the Embankment before turning down the Mall and into the finish. Some of the group attempted a bit of a sprint finish – I was happy to just roll over the line and stop riding this bloody bike.
Scores on the doors then – 4:09 for the 100, fairly hilly miles. Looking at the finishing times, I placed about 150th out of the 25,000 odd riders, so not too bad a result all things considered.
Average speed – 24.1mph. AP – 238w. NP – 267w.
However, that was by no means day over… I quickly cycled home, got a bit of food in, before reporting for my afternoon stint marshalling one of the road crossings near Parsons Green. Thankfully, I managed to not get anyone run over and everyone seemed to be having as much as a good time at mile 94 as is physically possible.
After all the have-a-go heroes had finished, someone decided it’d be a sensible move to give me a big yellow flag and make sure none of the elite men cycled into one of the traffic islands. Turns out that my flag waving game is on point, with Elia Viviani coming back to thank me personally after this win, saying he couldn’t have possibly done it without me.