I hadn’t given the Ride London much thought until Ian and Chris rode in it last year, and then Paula and Jo both entered the ballot for 2017 but were unsuccessful. On a whim, I tried for the 46 and was surprised when I was offered a place – maybe they had fewer applicants for the shorter distance, which was intended for the over 16s and people who had never done a Sportive before. Neither applied to me, but it was a do-able distance on closed roads; a great opportunity for me to cycle in London for the first time in nearly forty years.
But the logistics of getting to the start, at Olympic Park, Stratford, seemed difficult until I discovered that you can take a bike on most tube lines between 9.30am and 4pm and all day at weekends. So I booked myself and my bike tickets from Falmouth to Paddington, and found a cheap and cheerful hotel only a couple of miles from the start. It was a bit scruffy, but the owner didn’t bat an eyelid when I said I wanted my bike in the (small!) bedroom with me. The journey up was uneventful, and after registering at ExCel, I met up with family and we enjoyed the Festival of Cycling in Green Park, and watched the first few laps of the Elite Ladies race (twelve times round a 5k circuit starting on the Mall). The rain was pouring down by then, which made the course more treacherous. Luckily things had improved by Sunday morning as I made my way to the start in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, with 25,000 riders in the 100 event (80% male) and 5000 in the 46, of which 35% were female. The organisation had to be excellent, and it was. My ‘wave’ was due to go at 0915, so it was a long wait in the starting area, but with a view over the Olympic Park and other riders to talk to, the time went fairly quickly. I was glad I kept my FWs jacket on until the last moment; some of the other riders looked quite cold. Then we were off, down the A12 towards central London – and within five minutes, we were passing riders with mechanicals! I’ve never seen so many problems – mostly punctures? – in such a short time. Was it nails or tacks on the road? There weren’t any reports of them, and I certainly didn’t see any; was it ultra skinny tyres? Whatever the reason, it must have been very frustrating for the victims. The 100mile route was closed quite early, so for anyone who missed the time limit at 25 miles when the routes divided, their 100 mile ride was over. A case for more robust tyres at a slightly slower pace, perhaps. As we were constantly reminded, it was not a race!
At 18 miles we crossed Chiswick Bridge, and by 22 we were in Richmond Park – I passed various people only to have them pass me, but I mostly kept to the ‘slow lane’ riding at a steady 12 – 15 mph (my average over the whole event was 13 mph, faster than I ever manage in Cornwall). The food and drinks stop at 27 miles was very crowded, and it had been my plan from the start to keep going, with snacks and plenty of water. In fact I didn’t need them, just a few swigs of water was plenty, on a coolish day with no hills. At the Cycling Show at ExCel, there must have been a dozen stands selling energy drinks, bars and gels – the samples I tasted weren’t great and were a rip off at nearly £2 each! Those peanut and choco bars from Lidls do the job just as well and you get six for £1….plenty of people must fall for the hype, but the truth is that no magic gel is a substitute for training, whether it’s spinning or grinding up Cornish hills.
We crossed the Thames for the third time near Hampton Court, and at mile 38 encountered the only real hill on the 46 route, which was about as long and as steep as Dracaena Avenue.
It was soon after this that the road narrowed and a big bunch of cyclists up ahead meant and incident had occurred – as we slowed the pace to pass, there were at least two riders on the tarmac, being attended to by the medics. It didn’t look good, a sobering thought which emphasised the mantra ‘stay out of trouble’. I just hope they were ok. Then someone behind me said ’only eight miles to go’ which was energising – over Chelsea Bridge and back along the Embankment, round Parliament Square, along Whitehall, under Admiralty Arch and up the Mall for the finish. A very nice medal made a great souvenir.
Overall impressions? Everything was incredibly well organised, with thousands of volunteer marshals, and very clear information about everything, from the day you are offered a place. Lots of lovely Londoners lined the route and cheered us on, having given up the use of their roads for the day. The ballot for next year’s 100 opens on August 7th and closes on January 5th, or when they have 80,000 applicants. Go to PrudentialRideLondon.co.uk if you’re tempted!