Guest Post! RideLondon 2016 – by Steve Castle

‘We’re not doing this again’, said my wife as she caught me wincing as I lifted my fully packed bike bag for the first time – before we’d even left the house…

Last year I rather rashly entered myself for the now annual Prudential Ride London 100. It was championed by Boris as a legacy event post 2012 Olympics and seemed like a great ride to do amongst the sights and sounds of the capital and surrounding Surrey countryside.

I know it’s not strictly ‘Cardiff by Bike’ but I thought the experiences of travelling to another event away from home roads might interest others who might be thinking about entering in future years.

Initially I just entered myself in for the ballot. There are a limited number of spaces –in fact the previous year 86,000 people entered for just 25,000 places – less than a 1 in 3 chance of success.

Rather predictably I didn’t get a place, so opted to get a charity spot and rode for the Alzheimers Society, in memory of a family friend who died earlier this year.

The distance shouldn’t be too much of an issue, having already completed the Carten100 (which ended up more like 110) and the 86 miles of Velothon Wales. The route also didn’t look as challenging as either of those mentioned so riding wise, it looked like a fun day.

Logistically though, it was another story.

Getting there…

Most of the rides I’ve ever done have started from my front door, which means it’s easy to prepare and get to the start line. This meant a weekend travelling to and staying in the centre of London.

Hotel choice was a difficult thing to consider. The Ride London route starts at the Olympic park and finishes on the Mall, outside Buckingham Palace. So the start and finish are about 7 miles apart! My first idea was to try to find somewhere between the two, to minimise journey length at the start and end of the day. I decided on somewhere near the Tower of London, which was not only midway between but also near one of the new Cycle Superhighways that would lead me directly to the start. My heart sank a bit when the official transport options email came through, which stated that, of course, you would not be able to travel anywhere on the route on the morning of the ride. After checking the details I was lucky enough to find that the route I had chosen to the start was exactly that proposed by the organisers as a means for entrants to get there from the various official car parks and drop off points. In order to help me navigate my way to the start and back to the hotel, I made two routes that I could use as courses on my Garmin to make sure I didn’t get lost.

My first instinct was to drive to London and find a hotel with parking. We’d then be subject to the congestion charge as I’d planned to come back on the Monday, rather than head back straight after the event. The alternative was to go by train and make our way via tube to the hotel. Possibly easier in someways but lugging a bicycle on public transport could be an endurance event in itself!

There are many pros and cons to both options but in the end I opted for the train method and began looking around at bike bag options.

Throwing money at the problem, I opted for a bag from Chain Reaction, while much cheaper than some, still offered enough protection for the bike and enough storage for other bits & pieces, along with two wheel bags. I still wrapped the drivetrain and handle bars (which need to be removed, along with the seatpost) in a good amount of bubble wrap.

TIP! I took pictures of my bars and seatpost, which have markings on to make sure I put them back at the same height / angle.

Registration Expo…

On the Saturday we had to go to the Excel centre on the DLR to register and pick up the pack with race number etc. The expo there was pretty good and we stayed to watch a riders briefing, an interview with the makers of the Fixing Dad documentary and a Q&A with Sir Chris Hoy. Registration was really well organised considering the number of entrants and only took a couple of minutes from entering the expo.

Then it was a case of killing time for the rest of the day, without walking around too much to save the legs!

Event day…

The next morning, ride day, was an early start. As it happened I was in a wave near the middle of the pack, starting at a reasonable 07:38. But the pen closed at 07:03, opened at 06:38 and took about half an hour to get there… So up at 5:15 I was, ready for the off.

TIP! The hotel we stayed at didn’t start breakfast until 06:15 but I’d taken some porridge pots that only needed hot water adding for breakfast fuel. They’re not as nice as the ones you add milk to but was enough to get some last-minute fuel in.

As it happened I didn’t need the course on the Garmin to direct me there, once I’d made it to the main A11 route, I joined hundreds of other entrants making their way to the start.

The start procedure was very well organised, clearly signed, plenty of toilets and soon the countdown for the off was upon Blue wave E.

The Ride…

Don’t go off too hard is always the advice given on these long rides. Well, that’s probably good advice but it’s so not fun. We were soon swooping our way through tunnels and flyovers through central London on beautifully quiet but major roads. The first 20 miles took just under an hour and brought us to Richmond park. Here the roads narrowed but there was still enough room to ride, which I thought might be a problem given the number of entrants. Once through Kingston the route became ‘Surrey-fied’ and more like the sort of country roads we are used to around Wales.

The Hills…

If you are used to riding the climbs around Wales then you’ll find that on the Ride London route there aren’t any 🙂

I should qualify that by saying I am more of an uphill kind of guy and don’t have too many problems on an incline.

There are two famous climbs on the route and two others that are noted. Box hill and Leith hill are the two major ones but for me, the two lesser climbs were more of a shock. The first one at Newlands corner came early on but the ride was stopped for over an hour after a crash at Pyrford, so my legs weren’t quite ready for it. The other stingy one was the Wimbledon Kicker that isn’t too bad but comes at 90 miles in. I tried to big ring it with a surge at the bottom, ran out of gas and had to grovel up the last 200 yards!

Leith hill is the steepest of the more well-known climbs but I was disappointed there were so many flat bits in between the ramps, plenty of time for recovery. I’d mentally compared this hill to the Tumble on the Velothon but the Tumble wins hands down for steepness and suffering.

Box hill should be reported to Ofcom because it’s really not a hill. I know people say Caerphily Mountain shouldn’t really be called a mountain but Caerphilly Mountain is much more of a mountain than Box Hill is a hill. It’s just a path that meanders vaguely upwards.. Yes, it’s a famous hangover from the London 2012 road race but there’s a reason the pro peloton ascended it NINE times. It’s easy. Honest.

There was great support at the side of the road from the crowds that lined even the smaller towns and villages of Surrey. There were even a couple of Welsh flags on the route and as I passed I shouted ‘Wales, Wales’, which got a wave and a cheer!

Kingston was great both ways and although central London seemed a bit quiet on the run in, once we hit Westminster the noise grew. The Mall was more sweet relief than a sprint for the line and there were cheers, cowbells and barrier banging the whole way.

In a weird premonition to the men’s race I found that the last ten miles were the hardest and like Geraint Thomas I faded a bit at the end 🙂

After collapsing in Green park with my medal and meeting up with my wife, we headed slowly back to the hotel on the Tube. Annoyingly the nearest stop at Green Park wasn’t accepting cycles, so we walked to Victoria about 15 mins away and got the Circle back to Tower Hill.

All in all it was a great weekend and a well organised fun event. I guess there are cheaper ways to take on a 100 mile event – the total cost of staying, travelling and eating in London did add up to that of a small holiday but it is definitely one to tick off the list. There was good buzz around riding in the UK capital and was certainly a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience. Especially, as it seems, my wife won’t be letting me do it again!

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