It was 6:38 am, and I was in pen ‘G’ along with 1,000 other Mamils, waiting for our wave to be unleashed, not onto the Normandy beaches but onto the A12. Unlike me, Dr Doug missed out on a place in the ballot for the inaugural Ride London Surrey 100 Sportive (doesn’t that just roll off the tongue?), so this meant only one thing: who would I wheelsuck for 98 miles before jettisoning my water bottles and racing to the finish? These, and several other questions, would be answered over the next 5 hours and 15 minutes:
Q. Is Box Hill really just a false flat?
A. Yes. Especially if you think you recognise someone from Team Bike, but it turns out that they bought the jersey randomly at the Tour of Dartmoor; nonetheless, you enjoy a nice chat spinning up the ‘hill’.
Q. Is Leith Hill really just a false flat?
A. No. Nor are the ones before it. Like any sportive, you can enjoy the sight of people getting off and pushing.
Q. What is it like riding on closed roads?
A. A bit like getting upgraded to First or Business. Turning right after this is a bit of a let-down. That said, it took a while to stop slowing for lights or junctions, and to remember to use the right hand side for overtaking, choosing a good line for a descent. A bit like remembering to put your seat flat and making use of the free slippers.
Q. How often do you fly first class?
A. Not as much (ever?) as some of the other Mamils on the route, I suspect: 'accountant' was the occupation most cited by participants.
Q. How good is your race plan?
A. First, it’s not a race, it’s a ride. A timed ride, with thousands of club riders on well-specced bikes, all relishing the thought of a hundred miles of closed roads, but still a ride not a race. And this was my plan; enjoy the sights of London, see how much of an event it is, soak up the atmosphere, and not go to fast too early and blow up somewhere on the flanks of Leith Hill. This was a good plan. It was a rare treat to see London and the roads of Surrey like that, plus there were odd acquaintances to bump into and have a bit of a natter.
Q. But didn’t you put the hammer down?
A. Yes, but mostly out of laziness (see wheelsucking above). The first third was a bit of a haze, what with it being a 4 a.m. start. But whirring along the A12, through the Limehouse link, past early well-wishers in the City and Docklands, and then through the West End and out towards Richmond Park took on a splendid dream-like quality. The same could be said for the stewards of the first wave at 6 am (send on their way by Boris), as they directed these whippets towards the Blackwall Tunnel.
I took on some water at Hampton Court, spent some time in the portaloo (be cautious in your beetroot intake in the days before), and then made a 19 mph average towards the Surrey Hills, mostly riding alone. These turned out to be nice spins up to pleasant views (Leith Hill excepted). And I began to realise that this was more than a decent day out, but an Event! With Closed Roads! Cheering Crowds!
I cautiously opened the toolbox and rummaged for something rusty.
The average crept up. The legs still felt okay, with a slight hint of weariness kept at bay by gels. 30 miles to go. But it was gusty, and even a bit of an unexpected headwind. The legs now started to get tired. A group was needed. Around Esher a well-drilled train zoomed by. I jumped on their back and then, unlike others, they noted took my turn at the front. 10 mins at 26 mph. About 15 miles of this, and we got separated, so I tried to get someone to work together to catch them up; even deployed an old trick to get someone to take the lead. And by Wimbledon we were back together (helped by volunteers handing out gels and water on the street as we rode by). A whizz down Putney High Street brought cheers from Friends of the Trois V who had made the trip to a point recommended by 10 mile emails from Cyclemeter, and we crossed the river at speed. By now there was a touch of hanging on for dear life.
Then, The Mall appeared after a sharp left turn at the foot of Trafalgar Square. Where was the line?
There! There! Sprint... and... ride done. Medal, shandy, and home (with a Schleck on the way). The orange group appeared on a populist newspaper website the next day, crossing the line in a variety of Sagan-esque poses. Thankfully, I had just slipped through.
Q. But I thought this was the year of the no sportives?
A. Let's keep this among ourselves.
Here's the movie: