This is a guest post by my friend Damien Wells who rode the inaugural Ride London 100. I asked if he’d like to share his experience and this is his story of the event:
The announcement that 80,000 riders have already thrown their hats in the ring for next year’s RideLondon-Surrey 100 sportive, reminded me that my friend and riding buddy, @girodilento had offered me a few column inches on his blog to write about my experiences of the inaugural event. Since I’d put this to the back of my mind, the news prompted me to put a few thoughts down.
My brother, Dec and I had entered the ballot for the 2013 ride by way of an adventure – how often do you get the chance to ride around London on closed roads, after all? However, we both fell at the first hurdle, neither of us succeeding in getting a place. And we’d pretty much written the idea off until I received a call from the British Lung Foundation asking whether we’d be interested in riding for charity. Given that they’d lowered the fundraising bar to a number we thought achievable, we signed up.
All too quickly the run-up to the ride passed by; my preparation included a mixture of training rides and watching the Spring Classics and Grand Tours! Since my interest in riding has only been rekindled over the last couple of years, I included a 100-miler in my training. I’d ridden up Box Hill in the Olympic year, so I knew what to expect there, and I’d also participated in the Wiggle Ups and Downs sportive in April this year. So I knew where the real test of legs was going to be – riding up Leith Hill (fortunately the Prudential ride organisers had left out White Down Lane).
Anyway, I felt well prepared and in reasonable shape; just suffering from my usual pre-match nerves. On the morning of the ride, my sister-in-law had agreed to try and drive us as close to the event as she could. So we loaded the bikes onto the roof rack and headed towards the Blackwall Tunnel from her house in south London. To me, it’s strange that on that particular Sunday morning there was no organised public transport to the start – in my book that’s a real fail. We got stuck in traffic, so we unpacked our bikes and rode North through the Southbound Tunnel which was, by then, closed to motor vehicles.
An 8km ride to the start, and what hit me was the volume of bicycle noise; the whirring chainsets and whispering tyres of a tremendous number of bikes made a great soundtrack to accompany the slightly unwelcome extra miles. All of which did at least take my mind off the challenge ahead. Once we’d figured the starting procedure (i.e., that we were in time and not in the wrong place) everything seemed to run very efficiently. Although I’ve seen some negative comments about having to collect your number and tag in person from ExCel, it did make for a much smoother passage to the starting gate on the day.
My brother had an earlier start time than me, so joined his lettered queue, while I tried to strike up conversations with other riders wearing British Lung Foundation jerseys, and said hi to four riders from Kent Velo Girls – a local cycle club of which a friend of mine is a member. Several times during the day I was to be passed by them in their distinctive pink jerseys, usually chatting as they ticked off the distance with apparent ease.
I caught up with Dec in Richmond Park. As I’d crossed the starting line (another two miles on from the starting gate) I’d been determined to keep an easy pace and not to burn too many matches too early in the day, but straight off the pace was 30kph+ and it was hard not to join in. So I did! As we rolled out of London and into Surrey, Dec had a slow puncture – our only mechanical of the day, but this was easily sorted out by the mechanics at the first stop.
Because we ride at different speeds to one another (a new job had meant Dec hadn’t spent as much time as me in the saddle) we agreed to meet at the top of hills, in pit stops and so-on. It meant that I was able to ride the hills at my own pace and I felt that I acquitted myself fairly well. At 54 I’m unlikely to see any KOM’s on my Strava profile, but I managed to keep the pedals turning up Leith Hill and had a nice chat with some people at the top. As a bit of a whinge, a large number of cyclists had thrown their gel wrappers in the road which I think is poor show. We’re a low emissions sport, but that doesn’t give us the right to turn the roads into landfill.
And then there I was at the top of Box Hill. The sense of achievement at that particular feed station (knowing there was no more climbing) was palpable. There was a terrific buzz in the air and, like me, all the riders there seemed wired. In reality it was a bit of a false flat and there was still the matter of another 30-odd miles or two hours of riding before we got off our bikes for the day. Having spent a lot of time hanging out at feed stations, I’d somehow managed not to eat anything after my banana breakfast. By the time we got to Wimbledon village I was having serious energy low. Fortunately the local newsagent supplied a couple of Mars Bars and these provided all I needed to get me to the finish.
As we came to the end of Whitehall, I spotted my wife and youngest son behind the barriers cheering us on. It was perhaps the biggest lift of my day, and I felt like a god as I rode up the Mall to collect my medal a few minutes later. Me and 15,000 others, I’m sure.
On the whole, I thought this was a great day out. The ride was well organised, the route was great and it was terrific to be on closed roads the whole day. The feed stations could have been a bit better stocked, but then I was in the very last group to leave Olympic Park, so had the choice to ride faster (and get food) or simply eat less J. What was striking was the carnival atmosphere on the sidewalks and the road, and the level of support from people at the side of the road. You would have to be really miserly not to have enjoyed a fantastic day out as a rider or a spectator.
By way of a postscript, I have entered the ballot for next year’s ride. I probably won’t ride for charity again as I think it’s getting hard to tap my friends and colleagues up for yet another cause (especially since most of them have figured that I love cycling and therefore reckon they’re simply funding my hobby). I read about that guy who’s launched a petition to stop Surrey being turned into a race track. During my RideLondon 100 I pulled to the side of the road at Newlands Corner where a couple with their young children (and dog) were watching sportive riders on their way by. They’d somehow missed the fact that the event was literally coming ride past the end of their drive, waking up to it on Sunday morning. Nonetheless, far from feeling trapped in their house, they were really good humoured and wished me well when I stopped. And that newsagent in Wimbledon? The Mars Bars were on him.
Thanks for the space, Scott, and thank you for reading.