Date: Saturday 16th May, 2015
Distance: 189.0km | Elevation: 1,942m
Destinations: New Cross – Lee Valley – Edenbridge — Ascot
Start kms: 2,898.8km | Finish kms: 3,087.8km | % complete: 30.9%
I like an organised ride.
There are downsides, the biggest one being that you have to go somewhat out of your way to do them. Sometimes it’s an early morning train. Others, a car journey.
In this case, it was a 25km ride to the start line.
However, the loss of the convenience of starting and finishing a ride outside your front door are more than counteracted by what an organised ride has to offer.
Route planning is non-existent. Stem-staring is no longer necessary as you replace the reliance on an iPhone or Garmin with following the peloton or, better yet, the well-placed and frequent road signs. Snacks are packed on an emergency-only basis, with fuel stations fulfilling all cake and coffee doping needs.
In short, the majority of thought is removed, leaving the joy of the ride and an unexplored route to be enjoyed.
The initial 25km I mention was to take me out to Lee Valley for registration. On my way out, I picked up my ride partner for the weekend, Saul. Together we’d be taking on the Mitie London Revolution, a two-day sportive that would take us around the edges of London.
However, to get to the outskirts and suburbs of Greater London, we first had to work our way through its centre. Following a route very similar to the one that had got me to the start line, hundreds of riders moved their way through East London and over Tower Bridge. It was as slow-going as you’d expect given the mid-morning congestion and the number of traffic lights, but any sense of frustration was subdued by the meditative sounds of the peloton: the whirring noise of the freewheel, the click-click of tens of riders unclipping in unison, as they paused at yet another red light.
The momentum began to build as we moved south from Crystal Palace and the group began to thin as everyone found themselves enough road to spread out.
Sadly, we were reminded of the dangers of riding unfamiliar routes very early on. As we approached the top of a steep descent, we became part of a bottle neck at least one hundred riders deep. From what we were able to make out, a rider had taken on the narrow, slightly bumpy, tree-lined (and therefore dimly lit) hill too fast and not been able to manoeuvre through a blind bend. Whether or not an oncoming car was involved, I don’t know, but the road was certainly open to two-way traffic.
When we were given the all-clear to walk our bikes down the hill, the presence of an air ambulance in a nearby field sent a shiver down my spine and offered a tangible warning that is better to finish slow and safe than to not finish at all.
Lightening the mood — and providing some light relief for our legs — were two rest stops along the way. The first was in Edenbridge, around 100km in. In terms of fuel, we were not left wanting. With a smorgasbord of chocolate bars, flapjacks, fruit, energy gels, energy drinks, biscuits, sweets, biscuits and cakes on offer, the danger wasn’t that we’d wind-up bonking somewhere between the start and the finish, but that we’d get overexcited and end up over-indluging. This became an even greater risk at the feed station, as sandwiches and a pretty decent cup of coffee (provided by Claud the Butler) were added to the equation.
Exercising serious levels of self-restraint in both circumstances, I took a spot on the grass and, basking in the afternoon sun, made my way through my mini haul.
The lethargy had perhaps started to take hold slightly as we left the second feed station.
Within the first 10km, Saul let himself drift a little too far into my slipstream and was quickly thrown out of it and from his bike. His front wheel had skimmed against my back one and, unable to rectify the imbalance, he slid along the road at a not inconsiderable speed.
Back on his feet, he’d picked up some nasty road rash, but everything was still bending and all of the cyclists riding behind him had managed to swerve around him. Thankfully there’d been no oncoming traffic, as he’d made his way onto the opposite side of the road.
The bike was looking good, too, so he was able to brush himself off remarkably quickly, getting back into the saddle and powering on within a couple of minutes of hitting the deck.
The final 50km towards Ascot put forth some of the best riding of the day. The sun had been shining all day, the roads were smooth and wide and the hills were negative rather positive, meaning the kilometres drifted away beneath our wheels.
Arriving at our overnight rest stop — the racecourse itself — I felt tired, but capable of going further. It was a good sign, as this was my longest ride to-date and, knowing what lies ahead of me in September, these kinds of distances need to feel both familiar and achievable.
Awaiting us were already-pitched tents, hot showers, massages and stretching sessions, plus a seemingly endless supply of buffet food.
There was also beer.
We drank beer.
Two main courses, two desserts and two beers was all it took to make our eyes feel heavy. Sun down meant heads down and we were into our sleeping bags before 22.00 ready for an early start the following day.