Has the rain stopped yet?

Seriously, has the rain stopped yet?

After 5 weeks of no rain, why RideLondon weekend?

Really, why?

All of my most recent training had been geared to getting used to riding in heat, direct sun etc. Following the weekend, most of my tan washed off to be replaced with road-shit, diesel and so much more horrid detritus.

But the rain was desperately needed, right?

Yes it was – just not on Sunday!

So how was the ride, apart from the rain?

Better than I thought in many respects!

Firstly, let me say a BIG THANK YOU to all of my sponsors, raising money for the fabulous Starlight Children’s Foundation. Whilst I’ve not reached my (self-imposed) target of £2000, people have still donated over £1100 at the time of writing to the charity.  Well done all of you!

And for those who haven’t sponsored me yet, here’s the link, again: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/SimonBenson3

And the ride?

The ride itself if both awe-inspiring and terrifying at the same time.

100 miles from the Olympic Park to The Mall via the Surrey Hills is always going to be challenging – even if the sun is out. Throw in the rain and 30,000 mostly lycra-clad cyclists and it could be a recipe for disaster.

Before the start
Before the start… looking a bit glum – that’ll be the early start and the weather moving in!

For me, it all passed off fairly quietly!

By pure luck my hotel, booked about 3 months ago, turned out to be less than 1/2 a mile from the entrance to my starting wave. A 5 minute (very gentle) ride and then a few minutes walking and I was amongst the couple of hundred people going off at exactly the same time.

Of course, the start to something so huge is never a simple affair! Once into our start ‘waves’ it’s then a slow shuffle forward until finally we can see the start gantry.  More shuffling, a few nervous conversations… A couple of discussions about the benefits of wet weather gear (such as my fluro rain jacket). Then we get to a countdown and some music and we’re off.

The Route

Initially it’s a run down the A12 towards Blackwall Tunnel – through Bow (still can’t believe they built a school right beside one of London’s busiest roads).  Oh, and the rain has started!

A loop around takes us off towards the City via the Limehouse Link tunnel – first dry bits of road for a few minutes – and to realise that people without lights may be hard to see at times!

The Tower of London passes in a blur – mainly spray – before it’s on to Upper (or is it Lower) Thames Street, Blackfriars and then the Embankment. Trafalgar Square – I blinked and missed it – was followed by Pall Mall. Then the first of the climbs – St James’s Street.  So wanted to divert to Quaglinos for a burger at this point!

The ‘West End’

Then it’s on past the Ritz, and then the underpass at Hyde Park. Onto the A4, we pass Harrods (I think) then the museums of Knightsbridge – V&A, NHM and more. Through West Kensington I recognise bits I used to walk to avoid getting the Underground when working a contract for… London Underground!

Further along we ignore signs saying unsuitable for cycles to take on the Hammersmith Flyover, and on into Chiswick. Through Mortlake, and on to East Sheen, the group changing shape all the time as faster riders come through and slower ones mostly sit in the middle of the road making it challenging keeping a constant pace.

Beyond Richmond

Slippery is the best way to describe the road through Richmond Park. A few people are shouting to people to slow at one of the bends – it’s sketchy but fine if you’re not moving too quick… some people are probably going to have issues if they ignore the shouts!

Then we’re through Kingston upon Thames and cross the river again. A recurring theme for the day as shortly after we’re over another bridge and past Hampton Court Palace on our way to Walton. Weybridge soon follows and I spot the entrances to Brooklands.  Again, the thought of a nice juicy burger stirs me on. Will have to go back to Mercedes-Benz World’s Gullwing Bistro another day. Not sure they’d appreciate my current (very wet) attire.

It’s all towns…

Finally we start to head off into the countryside proper as towns make way for villages. Now I can start to concentrate more on keeping an even pace whilst still keeping out of the way of the chain-gangs coming through…

Looking rubbish at the top of Newlands
At the ‘hub’ on the top of Newlands Hill

Passing West Horsley, I hook up behind a couple of ‘Ride Captain’ who are having a it of a chat about what’s to come. Good timing as one tells the other (clearly with less local knowledge) to hook the smaller chain ring at the next turn. The first proper climb, to Newlands Corner – it’s just over a mile with an average gradient of 5%. Something to warm up the leg muscles, apparently  Looking at my Strava trace, it seems I found this easier than I expected… Not quick, but that’s beside the point! It’s a Sportive not a race.

After a brief stop for a pee and some fresh water I head off, having munched one of the energy bars I brought with me. Can’t believe the number of people just grabbing at whatever food is on offer. Just hope it’s what they were used to!

What goes up must come down

And it does!  The first big hill also means the first proper descent. Complete with a couple of minor spills for other people on the way down.  It’s selfish but I wasn’t planning on putting myself at risk by stopping – and they all had other people with them.

Then it’s a turn off the A25 towards Sutton Abinger and the pretty Holmbury St Mary – not that I had time to admire the scenery. Now, nobody ever really mentions Holmbury – but this is a very similar climb to Newlands. So that’s big hill number 2 done… then the climbing really starts as we make the (slippery) turn onto Leith Hill proper. At this point I should say that there are already people walking.

Leith Hill is pretty steep!

It’s Number 17 in the ‘Official 100 Climbs of the UK’. The official climb is 1.26 miles, at an average of 7%. What that neglects to mention is that it’s quite narrow – and the official climb stops at a small ‘false flat’ before kicking up again.

I’m fortunate, I rode it about a month ago so I’ve got a good idea what to expect. I also know that I need to pick a gear (2nd preferably, from 22) and then just ‘spin’ my way to the top only changing if I really need to. Of course, that’s not so easy to do and I end up in bottom gear from the start but that’s fine… just means I’m spinning a bit quicker. In hindsight I think it was a good move as there were times when half the road was walkers and yet we still have people coming through at speed!

That said, I still did the ‘official hill’ distance more than 3 minutes faster than last time!!! 6mph average instead of 4.8mph, with an average power 15W more than last time. This despite it being almost 60 miles into the total distance rather than 25!

What goes up… 2

Having recently ridden the climb I was also aware of the drop down the other side!  To describe this road as ‘sketchy’ would be to understate the conditions.  Recent patching of the road surface – something that had happened when I last rode this way – wasn’t very helpful either having had no rain in weeks. Water streaming down the road made it pretty dangerous, to be honest! Yet here people were still reportedly hitting 50 mph. Yes, FIFTY MPH.  I saw a few incidents on the way down.  Again, I didn’t stop as I was more concentrated on my own safety – and the kick up to the A25, which I’ll admit I’d forgotten about 😱

A few rolling miles took us into Dorking where the crowds were starting to build.  I was going to say ‘despite the weather’ but by this point the rain had largely stopped. Great news although my rain jacket stayed on ‘just in case’!

The ride for Box Hill

Up past Denbies Vineyards it’s on to Box Hill. Again, thoughts of juicy burgers or a bacon and egg sandwich were returning as we approached but Rykers’ Cafe looked distinctly closed. Then we’re on the pre-climb and the turn onto ‘Zig Zag Road’. Yes, it really is called that – and for good reason.  It’s not at any great altitude, nor does it climb to any great height (starts at roughly 200ft ends at about 700ft) but this road is about as close to some of the Alpine passes of the Tour de France as we get in the UK!

Again, it was a case of grab a low gear and then keep my pace as consistent as I could.  Strava allows users to create their own segments and I had one previously created that runs from Denbies to the turn where RideLondon deviated from the route ridden before.  This, near 5 mile, segment is a mix of dual carriageway, the climb and the gentle plateau at the top. Again, I was really chuffed to see I did it 2 minutes quicker than last time!

Actually, in terms of ‘moving time’ I was about 3 minutes quicker.  I was fighting with an energy gel that just didn’t want to let me in so I stopped in a small car park. Of course, as soon as I’d stopped the pack opened!

The run to the finish

Buckingham Palace just after the finish line. A very welcome sight!
A very welcome sight!

From Box Hill it’s all downhill, right?  Wrong!  Rolling hills abound with one or two steep enough to catch out the weary – me included!  I knew about Wimbledon Hill but it was before then that I started feeling it. But others are right when they say that the crowds and adrenalin will keep you going!

Then it was on to Putney Bridge to cross the Thames for the last time before we headed up the Kings Road, then onto Millbank before passing through Parliament Square.

Past Downing Street it was then left at Trafalgar Square through Admiralty Arch and the ‘sprint’ for the finish. There was no sprinting from me, I hasten to add!

Can we see the ride?

Why yes, you can.

First up you can see it on Relive – at least in map form.  Just click the button below…

Relive ‘RideLondon-Surrey100 Full Version’

You can also watch the video at ‘high speed’ – well, 8x faster than I rode it – over on YouTube.

Would I do it again?

My 2018 RideLondon finishers medal
My 2018 RideLondon finishers medal

Probably not! Well, not RideLondon anyway.

I set myself a challenge to complete my first ‘century ride’ and I’ve done it. And I’ve got the medal (and Strava evidence) to prove it!

I might repeat it at some point in the future, but am more inclined to start cycling in some smaller ‘events’ – group rides that don’t have 30,000 people taking part.

One of my biggest frustrations from the whole event was the attitude of some of the riders – from those who assiduously stuck to the middle of the road to avoid the rubbish that had been washed onto the route by the rain. I understand the “I don’t want to puncture” mentality, but I rode the gutters from time to time and completed the whole 100 miles without a puncture!

By riding where they did they made the whole event more dangerous for people looking to make a bit more progress.

It also annoyed me that some still consider PRL100 to be a race. They want to go through at great speed (some achieved times around 4 hours!) regardless of who may be struggling to even stay on their bike. It was these characters who seemed to be getting into trouble on some of the descents too!

A final note

My condolences go out to the family and friends of Nigel Buchan-Swanson, who sadly died during the event.

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