What an amazing weekend! As you might gather from the title it didn’t all go to plan but it was a great experience. Me and Paul set off up the road from Cornwall at 6:00 a.m. on the Saturday morning. We had to get up there in good time so that Paul could get registered. It was a really clear drive up but we had a couple of complications. The rail strike on South West trains meant that Epsom station was a no go so I had to drop Paul off at Sutton. No real problem but we did have a nervous few minutes when I realised that we’d been chatting away and enjoying the journey so much tah I’d neglected to refuel the car! When the fuel light came on on the M3 there was a nervous mile or two until the services sign appeared. Having dropped Paul off at Sutton in good time I made my way to Epsom to join my Send A Cow cycle buddy Nigel Gibbens for the ride. We had a lovely afternoon and evening discussing tactics and loading up on pasta.
In the morning we had persuaded Nigel’s wife Jane to get up with u sat 5:15 to drive us in to just South of the river. We then had a gentle 6.5 mile cycle to the start which was amazingly well organised given the numbers of cyclists involved – somewhere between 27 and 30 thousand. You had to be there just over an hour before your start time which inevitably meant a lot of standing around but all of the groups started on time. After nearly two months of sunshine it was a tad disappointing when just as my group was about to set out the rain started with a vengeance and it never really let up for the next six hours. But we were off and running and the first 25 miles to Hampton Court were pretty flat so it was steady going. Nigel was two groups behind me so we’d arranged to meet up at Hampton Court at the first Hub stop and that too worked pretty well. We were able to refuel ourselves on chocolate bars and fluids and we were off on the next leg.
There were lots of punctures going on but we got through untroubled by this or any other mechanicals. There were no real hills until we got to the run into Newlands so we made decent time. We were pretty wet by this time but thought we could at least have a refuel at the second hub before tackling the hilly section. The second hub however was a little disappointing with only crisps peanuts and bananas on offer. It was pretty cold and wet so we didn’t hang around at Newlands but set off again ready to tackle Leith Hill and Box Hill and that’s when it started to go wrong! As we started the approach to Leith Hill we were diverted up a small hill which seemed to come as a bit of a shock to some. Some immediately dismounted and started walking, others obviously couldn’t deal with the hill and were stopping in the middle of what was a pretty narrow road – hence stopping the ones behind them (including me) who then had to get going again mid hill. There was then an accident on the diversion road and we all came to a grinding halt. At this stage we were a bit frustrated. We didn’t know why Leith Hill was closed and we weren’t moving. We figured Leith Hill must be pretty serious but we only found out later that a rider had suffered a fatal heart attack.
Once we were moving again it started to feel better but then we were diverted away from Box as well! I still don’t know the reason for that but there were a couple of accidents with air ambulances involved so I guess that it was one of them that closed Box hill. We knew we had only missed it by a few minutes because our diversion was subsequently joined by those that had been up it.
The other problem now was that the various groups that either had or had not been diverted all seemed to converge and there were cyclists everywhere. It became very stop start for the next 10 miles or so and it was only towards the end that we could really get going again – all very frustrating. By the time we got to the finish we had ridden 96.5 miles so we made an executive decision to cycle back to Epsom through the traffic – familiar territory for Nigel but pretty unnerving for me!
We made it back to Epsom having covered 112 miles and then had a celebratory visit to the local Indian restaurant. When we contacted Paul we found that he had managed to complete all of it. He started 20 minutes before me so that’ll tell you how close it all was.
I had a thoroughly enjoyable trip and did my first 100 mile cycle. The Ride London was well organised and you could see that on a good day the ride itself would be a really nice ride. We completed the 100 miles without accident or injury and had no punctures or mechanical issues. The crowds along the streets cheering us on, playing music, banging drums etc. were truly inspiring and showed what great fun the event can be.
The absolute frustration of not being able to cycle Leith Hill and Box Hill. There were too many cyclists resulting in logjams once things went awry. There were also too many cyclists who weren’t able to tackle the course – as soon as some of them came to any sort of hill they got off and walked and on narrow roads this caused problems.
The weather! The only truly wet day in London for two months and we got it. Most of the chaos stemmed from this. Nothing anyone could do about it but incredibly frustrating.