Monday 19 August 2019

Another year another Prudential Ride London

Why I enjoy Ride London 100

Feeling satisfied after completing the Ride London 100
Just like April is London Marathon time, late July/early August is Ride London. This great weekend festival of cycling dominates central London, with people of all ages and abilities having a go at cycling. This year it took place on 3-4 August.

For me, Ride London 100 is a chance to put on my favourite cycling kit and look my best in front of home crowds for the cyclosportive. It's not often that I get to ride in front of lots of people in my local area, so I like to make the most of it.

I always relish riding these 100 miles from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park at Stratford, through central London, Richmond Park, and doing the trio of Surrey Hills (Newlands Corner, Leith Hill, Box Hill) before returning to central London and finishing in front of Buckingham Palace.

So, as is the tradition, I wore my brightest Primal cycling kit. I also had a nice bike to ride, namely a test ride of the 2020 Liv Avail Advanced Pro 1. It came complete with disc brakes and electronic gears (SRAM eTAP AXS if anyone's asking). So I had the gear - I just had to show people I had some idea.

Ride London Wake-up call

These things are easier said than done. Firstly, although I consider myself to be a morning person, getting up for the Ride London sportive is always challenging for me. I have done this event 3 times, and the start time for my wave has generally been at around 7am. This means I have to be in my pen by 6.30am, which means a 3.45am wake-up call. Unlike going to the airport where I can sleep on the train to Gatwick, for Ride London I actually have to be alert to do the 13-mile bike ride to the Olympic Park at 4.45am.

And the wake-up call comes after I have gone to bed late on the Saturday after covering the Ride London Classique women's race for such and such a cycling publication, which includes hanging around to interview the riders for such and such a cycling publication.

This year there was a delay in doing the post-race interviews because a crash in the finish strait meant that adjudicators had to analyse footage and decide if any penalties were due. There were, and sadly for Kirsten Wild, she was relegated from first place to disqualification after having strayed from her sprinting line and causing the crash. She wasn't willing to do any interview, but I did speak to Coryn Rivera and Alice Barnes.

So with only a few hours' sleep I was faced with a 100-mile cycle ride at 7 am (or in real terms a 113-mile bike ride at 4.45 am when you include cycling to the start).

For my ride to the event I cycle through the almost empty streets for Sydenham, Catford, and Lewisham - give or take a dozen Ubers - cross the river via the Greenwich foot tunnel and then continue my cycle ride to Stratford. I never particularly research how to get there because once on the Isle of Dogs there are lots of other bike riders so I just follow the mass peloton, bleary-eyed and get carried to my start area.

All ready to go at the start line in the Olympic Park
However, this year there weren't that many people to follow, and shock horror those people weren't locals and were following Google maps.

This route ended up being quite convoluted and going through lots of alleyways and different canals. As it was a case of guess beggars couldn't be choosers, I just followed the errant peloton and hoped to get there sooner or later.

I got to my start point later - in fact quite a lot later, so I ended up starting in a completely different wave from my scheduled start. No bother! That was a blessing in disguise as it meant I didn't have to stand around for half an hour on this crisp morning. So I just had 100 miles to do, with the aim of enjoying it and not getting cramp or just getting hollow legs, like I have done on the previous occasions.

Riding with the 100 Club

I used to do quite a lot of road and track racing, so a 100-mile ride was not much of a problem for me because that top-end effort was there and could carry me through a long-distance cyclosportive. These days I only really race in winter during the cyclocross season, so the rest of the time I am doing long-ish rides, but not particularly at a hard pace. So riding 100 miles does become a bit more of an effort as my legs can testify. Unfortunately, my mind doesn't quite believe it and the last 30 miles (usually after Leith Hill) becomes a tour de force to get to the finish line.

Once we got going it was a lovely speedy ride along closed roads that we never ride on any normal day - the A12 trunk road, the Great West Road, also known as the A4. Then tunnels like the one at Limehouse, and the Hyde Park Corner underpass. Like excited kids the peloton shouted and whooped whooped as we went through these enclosed spaces.

Ride London does have a bit of a festival atmosphere with people riding different types of bikes. Naturally most people are on road bikes, but you still get folks on hybrids, mountain bikes and tandems. But then you'll get some people who challenge themselves by riding the 100 miles on a Brompton, or a recumbent bike. One guy on a hybrid had even brought his dog along and he had a lovely ride sitting there in the basket on the front of the bike. I hope the dog enjoyed speeding down Leith Hill!

Some folks rode Bromptons - I chose this!
From the start at Stratford through central London and up to the Hampton Court Palace feed station the ride was fast without making any effort at all. I easily averaged 20 mph without pushing.

In the next 25 miles the roads become narrower and slightly undulating, so it's usually the time to think about managing energy before hitting the challenging climbs. Also, as the roads narrow you have to be more alert and aware of what's going on around you.

Ride London cyclosportives seem to be run with the same spirit as the London Marathon (given that they both have the same organisers). That basically means that anyone can have a go, especially if you have a back-story around raising money for such and such a charitable cause.

The UK must be one of the few countries where you can take part in these events and the slower and fatter you are, the more people will treat you as a hero - particularly if you are raising money for cancer, a sick child, or mistreated dogs. At the London Marathon there is usually a group of people who will still be running well into the evening, after having started the "race" at 10 am, and they still receive a medal.

It's all well and good having newbies and novices in running races, but when it comes to tens of thousands of bikes, that doesn't translate in the same way. So you get people switching their line unexpectedly, being in the wrong gear on a hill and suddenly coming to a stop, or just losing control of their bikes and crashing. So, having good bike handling and being ready to take evasive action is always a good idea at this event!

The Hills are Alive

Newlands Corner, the first climb was not so bad and just lasted around a mile (1.6km) long and was 10% gradient at its steepest, so that was a little leg tester, followed by another gentle quad opener at Holmbury St Mary.

Congestion at the start of Leith Hill. We got going after the 10-minute hold-up
I made use of the feed stations and hubs and stopped at all of them - not necessarily because I needed to eat, but mainly to take photos and chat to people. I met a few different women who were riding the hundred, including one who had come all the way from Abuja, Nigeria to do the ride.

The main effort came at Leith Hill, a 2.7-mile (4.5km) climb that was around 10% on average, though there were stretches at 15% and 22%. This was where a lot of people ended up walking. Sadly, it wasn't just because the road proved too steep, but also because congestion meant that we had to walk. In fact at one point we came to a complete standstill and had to wait almost 10 minutes for the road ahead to clear.

I guess it's all part and part of doing a popular event. I seem to recall something similar happening during the Tour of Flanders cyclosportive when trying to get up the Muur at Geraadsbergen or the Koppenberg.

Eventually we were able to get moving and I managed to ride around the walkers and get up to the  beast. I guess having this climb on your doorstep to practice means that it doesn't feel too onerous on the big day.

Box Hill - everybody's favourite climb - at least in the Surrey!
For me, the test of how fit I was came down more to how well I could climb up Box Hill. This is one of the most popular climbs in the country, especially with it having been included in the cycle route of the 2012 Olympics.

As Surrey Hills go though, in fact, compared with any hill it's not really that challenging. There are a few switchbacks which give it dramatic effect, and the area is very pretty, but Alpine, it is not!

However, after a bit of climbing and speed, and tackling the climb 65 miles (105km) into the ride can be energy sapping on the legs. In previous years I have just crawled my way up the switchbacks and began to drift backwards as everybody overtook me. This time around I actually managed to ride it at my normal pace, and was even passing people. Hoorah, no cramp, no problems.

I had broken the back of the ride and was looking forward to a pacey run back to London. All I needed to do was to latch onto a good wheel and slipstream my way back through Surrey. The strategy worked as we zoomed through Leatherhead, Esher, and Surbiton.

It was a sense of achievement to still be feeling strong and enjoying my ride. I spoke too soon though, because when we reached Kingston I got unceremoniously dropped by the bunch, and ended up crawling up the short sharp hill at Coombe Lane. Things were starting to catch up with me, and I had to dig really deep for another sting in the tail at Wimbledon Hill. This is one of those hills that people don't really talk about, but it catches a lot of people out, especially as it is less than 10 miles (16km) from the finish. I was doing well just to grind up the hill. Quite a few people were walking!

Cramping my style

We were rewarded with a welcoming view of Central London and a lovely descent through Putney, before winding our way through Fulham and Chelsea to reach Parliament Square. Just as significant events take place in Parliament, that's where I suddenly got cramp in my left quad, and had to shake out my leg. It looked quite unelegant in front of the thick crowds, but I had to do just enough to be able to allow me to at least ride a strong finish in front of Buckingham Palace. I just about managed it, and that was good enough.

My Garmin recorded a time of 6 hours 15, but my official time was probably about two hours longer! With all my stoppages at the feed stations and hubs, mainly to take photos and record interviews that took up a lot of time.

It had been a good day out in the saddle, and the ride has given me the motivation to do more cyclosportives - who knows maybe even an actual road race.

As for the bike: I think I have a lot to thank for in the Liv Avail. I reckon this bike saved my bacon quite a lot. It was so light and responsive that my movement was just quicker than it would otherwise have been. Having electronic gears was also very useful as these just changed smoothly without that cronking that you sometimes get on manual gears. Having a nice bike definitely makes you want to ride more - so that's what I'll be doing.😁

Related Posts
Catching up with a few cyclists at Ride London

Ride London - my favourite cycling event

Etape Loch Ness cyclosportive

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