RIDE LONDON SURREY 100 – 31/07/16
Nature provides us with some truly inspiring events. Epic migrations of thousands or even millions of individuals over land, sea and air.
Driven by instinct they move across vast distances facing untold perils, hazards and predators in order to find new habitat on which to roam and survive.
Take the mind boggling annual wildebeest migration. Over 2 million animals moving from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the greener pastures of the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. ( For Fawlty Towers fans you will definitely not see that out of a Torquay hotel bedroom window ! )
These amazing journeys driven by primeval urges take place across all species be they insects, fish, birds or mammals.
But now a new species has evolved that also feels that urge to undertake an epic annual migration.
They are the MAMILs.
Once a year at the end of July or early August they come from all corners of the UK and indeed farther afield and they head by land sea and air to a the concrete jungle of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford.
Along the way they shed their normal clothing, don garish brightly coloured lycra and climb aboard push bikes of all types, shapes and sizes ( although tri bars are definitely not allowed ! )
En masse they all then spontaneously cycle 100 miles.
This incredible spectacle of nature has now been given a name.
They call it Ride London.
Starting from the Olympic Park in Stratford the ride would go down the A12 into central London and then pop out the other side into the green and pleasant lands of Richmond Park.
Then off to the Surrey hills starting at around the 40 mile mark. Here we would face the wake up call of Newlands Corner, the reasonable tester of Leith Hill and then the much more famous but easily do-able Box Hill.
After Box Hill the route would be generally down hill or flat heading back to central London through Leatherhead, Esher, Kingston-Upon-Thames and Wimbledon. But there would be a few cheeky kicks up in elevation along this stretch that for those who had over extended themselves would be the cramp killing fields.
Then the final money shot section of the ride would be along the banks of the Thames into the city, Whitehall, Trafalgar Square onto The Mall and finishing in front of Buckingham Palace.
I was doing the ride with Annette ( The Missus ) who had made the ride the whole focus of her cycling year. No pressure then. She was doing the ride to raise money for Epilepsy Action and I was doing it for The British Red Cross.
Annette was resplendent in her Epilepsy Action jersey whereas I was equally resplendent in my Cottingham Road Club jersey.
So basically this was now a club ride and I could do the blog on the club website !
The logistics of gathering 27,000 cyclists and setting them off on a bike ride on time are frightening.
It involves splitting the field up into different waves and moving them steadily towards the start line and then letting them go with a 5 minute gap in-between waves.
The downside for the riders is that you are standing or shuffling at the start for at least an hour in a very large herd of MAMILs. If you feel uncomfortable in crowds this is not the event for you.
Annette and I had been allotted different waves but our start times were less than 10 minutes apart. The plan was for me to stop a hundred yards after the start and then wait for Annette. What could possibly go wrong with that ? Well nothing actually it worked rather well.
Annette pushed her way to the front of her wave ( why did that not surprise me ) so she was literally in pole position to see me on the side of the road.
We let her wave go past and then it was time…..to start pedalling.
CENTRAL LONDON TO RICHMOND PARK
The first thing that struck me when we turned onto the A12 was the complete lack of cyclists.
As we had waited for Annette’s wave to pass before starting we were pedalling along a deserted A12 completely on our own. Bit weird, I thought there were supposed to be 27,000 of us ?!
As the other waves were released behind us however it didn’t take long before we were in a sea of cyclists where lane discipline was of the utmost importance.
Slower riders to the left and leave the right available for the speedsters….we were on the left.
In terms of catching the sights on the way into the city we skirted by the Tower of London, through Trafalgar Square and then passed by St James’s Palace and Harrods.
To be honest though an open top bus tour would be a much better option to see the sights of London than a mass cycling event. My eyes were focused most definitely on making sure I didn’t lose Annette, did not ride into people and did not get in the way of the sprint trains.
Sprint trains ? Yes I had no idea that this sportive event would be graced by the likes of Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel.
Why else would there be long lines of cyclist absolutely hammering down the road at 30 mph like they were in the last 3K of the Champs-Elysées stage of the Tour De France?
You could tell easily when the deep wheel rim brigade were coming as they literally sounded like a train thundering down the tracks. Then 10, 15, 20 guys ( and gals ) would come past urgently pedalling hunkered down behind the rider in front some of them hanging on for dear life.
And this was in the first 15 miles of a 100 mile bike ride ?!
If they were going to keep that up for the whole ride then they should be on the plane to Rio never mind Ride London.
I have no objection to riders trying to get out of a ride what they want like giving it the beans in a train of cyclists, good luck to them.
I just question whether a mass cycling event with 27,000 riders of varying speeds and abilities is the best place to do it. Goodness that was nearly a serious point !
Not only where they risking serious injury for themselves and other riders but they were in line for a severe telling off from Annette if they came too close ! Trust me guys you don’t want that !
RICHMOND PARK AND THE BIG WAIT
After 19 miles we were through the big city and into the pleasant landscape of Richmond Park.
The road was narrower here and there was more bunching up.
Annette wasn’t looking happy and as you can see from this photo the sprint trains had dropped back for fear of getting a telling off.
It turned out her Garmin mount was wobbling causing excessive gadget vibration a state of affairs that could induce extreme belligerence. No wonder there were about 1000 cyclists hanging back behind us.
This situation could not be tolerated for long so we pulled over for a quick break and she made the necessary adjustments.
Having successfully diffused that ticking time bomb we rejoined the never ending stream of cyclists and pressed on out of Richmond Park and on towards our first planned stop of the ride which was a drinks station in the Surrey village of Pyrford.
The feed and drinks stations at Ride London tend to resemble refugee camps with hundreds of cyclists milling about looking for sustenance or somewhere to relieve themselves.
I thought Annette was going to lose it when she saw the queue for the portaloos and she cried out in exasperation in front of about 50 stoically queuing riders :
” I just want a pee !! ”
I did what all good husbands do on these occasions and pretended that she wasn’t with me.
When she had finally relieved herself the genie was back in the bottle and having topped up our bidons we got ourselves out of that hell hole quick smart.
Surrey hills here we come !……….not exactly.
Just a few hundred yards after the drinks station everything ground to a halt and the road quickly filled with cyclists for as far as the eye could see in both directions.
This was soon followed by the disheartening sound of ambulance and police sirens and emergency vehicles squeezing past to get to the scene of the accident.
The scene of the accident was just half a mile up the road and was at the bottom of a small but steep descent that had a sharp right hand bend at the bottom. A rider had failed to make the corner and gone straight on into a tree.
I thought we were wildebeest not lemmings ?
Air ambulance and medical evac were required. We were in that country lane for an hour and a quarter either standing still or slowly shuffling forward.
I know it wasn’t as bad for us as it was for the poor victim of the crash but I soon became pretty depressed waiting for the accident to clear. My mood did not even lift when a rider next to me had his rear tyre spontaneously and explosively deflate as he was just standing there….that was pretty funny though.
A special mention and thank you must go to the residents of Pyrford some of whom came out to offer water and even use of their own toilets to the temporarily stranded cycling hordes.
When we got to the scene of the accident there was nothing left to see except emergency service vehicles and personnel. I thought there may at least be pools of blood, body parts or entrails to gawp at………. but no.
We got back up to speed and this time it really was ….Surrey hills here we come !!
THE SURREY HILLS.
At the 46 mile mark on the A25 just south of West Clandon came the Newlands Corner climb. At 1 mile with an average gradient of 5 % it was nothing to be scared off but it was a useful reminder that this ride was not all pan flat and that stiffer challenges were ahead.
Annette took it nice and steady. I found that I could not take it quite that nice and steady and ended up 50 yards ahead of her.
It can be unwise to leave Annette too far behind. There can be emotion and chin wobbling….and that’s just from me.
I waited for her at the top and when she came past she was OK.
Phew, dodged a bullet there !
This was a good sign because on the next climb, Leith Hill, we were more than likely to get separated due to the narrowness of the road and the numbers of riders who would be going slowly or even walking.
The Leith Hill climb is 1.4 miles long with an average gradient of 6.5 % but maxing out at 12 %.
The congestion was as expected but we managed to stay together until about half way up. We hit a steep bit and I just couldn’t go as slow as she was going in amongst all those cyclists and keep control of my bike….m’lud.
So a gap opened up and when I couldn’t see her anymore I thought sod it I’ll give it everything now !
It was nice to go past a lot of the riders in the second half of the climb that had gone past me on the first half.
However I am not getting delusions of grandeur as there were still a number of riders who cruised past me effortlessly even though I was giving it everything . Still I’m not doing bad for an oversized 52 year old ex smoker.
Annette had done great up the climb and maintained a steady pace all the way up. She was in no danger of stopping. A couple of riders had come too close and ventured into her territorial waters so to speak. A shot across the bows had got them to change course. No need for the broadside. Trust me guys you don’t want that !
After a distinctly dodgy pot holed tree lined decent from Leith Hill we got on the A25 through Westcott and Dorking and then made our way over to the celebrated Box Hill climb.
Box Hill is celebrated because during the 2012 Olympic road race the peloton climbed the 1.5 mile, 5 % average gradient 9 times.
I assured Annette that climbing it once would be a doddle as the 2 hairpin bends and long straights in-between only gave it the appearance of an alpine road.
We had got into a bit of a routine now on the climbs. I would stay with her for about half way and then give it a bit of a go to get to the top. She would catch up when I slowed down or stopped. It worked quite well. This way she was feeling adequately looked after and I got to pretend to be Chris Froome for about 20 yards.
Put it this way, she never complained so I kept doing it.
She climbed Box Hill no problem at all and we stopped at the drinks station at the top.
” That was a doddle ” she said. Told you.
THE RUN IN AND THE FINISH
Up to the top of Box Hill it was difficult to find a picture of Annette with a smile on her face.
She had her game face on.
After all she had been building up to this event all year and lot’s of people had sponsored her to complete the ride. There was quite a bit of pressure.
After Box Hill though I think the pressure was off. We had completed 70 miles avoiding mishaps, punctures and crocodiles and we were obviously going to make it.
So I think she started to enjoy it more and start basking in a bit of well deserved glory. She even started making jokes. We kept coming across a couple of guys wearing Funkii Cow jerseys.
” I just told them to moo-ve over ! ” she said ” make sure you put that in your blog ! ”
Will do love. Will do.
The route took us through Leatherhead, Esher, Kingston-Upon-Thames and Wimbledon.
There were a few cheeky little hills on the way back that would seem like mountains to those near the end of their resources.
At Wimbledon the road took a nasty kick up for a few hundred yards which proved to be the last straw for one poor guy in front of me who was struck down with cramp. The lions would pick him off now. It’s nature’s way.
Before you knew it we were riding along the banks of the Thames, past the Houses Of Parliament and down Whitehall. Good luck Theresa !!
Through Trafalgar Square and under Admiralty Arch we popped out onto The Mall with Buckingham Palace in the distance.
” Get yourself close behind me love so I can get a good picture of you crossing the line, I’m not paying £17 for an official photograph !! ”
I didn’t really think that through as it would have been nice to have a photo of us both crossing the line together but in the official photographs Annette is totally obscured by me looking to save £17.
So we crossed the line and pulled up in the shadow of the Victoria Memorial in front of the Queen’s pad.
” Well done love fantastic achievement……let’s go home now ”
So that was the end of the annual MAMIL migration for another year. At the end of it I had definitely had enough. The travel, the expense, the stress of the ride itself. Never again !
However, within just a few hours ( and admittedly a few beers ) of the finish I was actively contemplating putting my name down for the Ride London 2017 ballot…..there’s no harm in that is there ?!
What was it that had brought about this turnaround (besides the alcohol ) ?
Why face the hassle, the queues, the cost, the crashes, the portaloos, the sprint trains and the stress ?
I dunno …..must be my inner wildebeest.
I am taking part in the 2016 Ride London – Surrey 100 and this year I am doing it to raise money for The British Red Cross. Click on the red Virgin Money Giving box to donate. Thank you very much.