You’d think with a comfortable bed, a reasonable ambient room temperature, peace, quiet, and a few pints of San Miguel, I’d have slept like a log, wouldn’t you? Don’t be daft – as if! *sigh*. To be fair, this didn’t come as any great surprise, as it’s fairly typical for the night before a sportive. It’s a Christmas Eve type thing. I’m so worried I’ll miss the actual alarm clock and the big event that my inner alarm clock wakes me up on a fairly regular basis just to check I haven’t! Well I hadn’t! It finally went off at 5:00am, dragging me up from wherever I’d finally ended up, giving me 45 minutes to get my act together, pack everything up, and meet GB in the lobby. Easy, considering how much I’d faffed the night before. Kit on, bottles filled, bags packed, whilst having instant coffee, another Eat Natural bar, and a variety of pills…the breakfast of Queens ;).
On my first pigeon-toed trip downstairs, I stuffed all my bags in the boot of my little car, and hid them under blankets in an attempt at security. By the time I made the trek up to the room and back down again in the lift with the bike, GB was waiting in the lobby. After some unnecessary bill settling shenanigans, it was finally time to head off. Which is where GB came into his own, as being familiar with the area he knew how to get where we were going. Just as well, cos I was clueless! The roads we were using might not have been closed, but at 5:45 am they were still pretty empty, apart from one eejot in a speeding Merc. The nearer we got to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park the more cyclists we came across doing the same as us, and then there were official signs, and then a steadily growing stream of us were following those same signs, as relevant to us, into the Olympic village start venue.
Which brings us to start times. Now there’s a mystery. Every rider was allocated a set of times – to arrive at the Park by, load into our pen by, and to actually start at. And then a colour and a wave. Which for me meant 6:10, 6:34, 7:10, Blue wave L. How they worked it out and with what goal I have no idea. There were far faster cyclists than I starting both earlier and later. Such things are clearly for far greater minds than mine too! No-one I knew had the same time as anyone they knew. GB wasn’t due to start for another hour, in Blue S, which means he sacrificed an hour’s sleep just to keep me company. Such martyrdom, for which I am not unappreciative ;). However the whole start thing was all really well organised. Nowhere was heaving, the queues for the many, many toilets were perfectly tolerable. Large lorries were collecting the official numbered, labelled, bags given to riders at registration, to carry belongings from the start to the finish, which neither of us were bothering with. I’ve been at events with far fewer entrants that were far more chaotic, so I guess the system was working!
There wasn’t much to do before they started processing Wave L, so I did what I was told by the freakishly cheerful and persistent tannoy guy. Bless him, he was trying very hard. So. Stand outside the pen for a while. Pass through to the pen, having handed in your rider card to a marshall to prove you were in the right place at the right time. Stand inside the pen for a while, where there were yet more toilets. Eventually move along to the start line. Stand by the start line for a while. Finally it was our turn. The same tannoy guy counted us down, the air horn went off, and we were on our way as scheduled, past the TV cameras, to roll our way out for the first couple of miles to the starting mat proper. Various cyclists peeled off to stand by the side of the road and wait for their friends before we got to that point, pretty much the only way to sort things so that you could ride with your mates. Having done enough standing around, this wasn’t for me. Not to hang around and wait for people who’d probably be faster than me and leave me behind anyway! *grin*. We’d agreed there was no point, and even starting an hour later there was every chance that GB would catch me!
Cycling through a city is a weird thing for me. Especially London with closed roads, thought it is no doubt infinitely preferable to doing the same on open roads! Cycling down dual carriageways. Through tunnels where bikes are usually banned, like Limehouse. Ignoring traffic lights completely. All before the city has done much by way of waking up. Fascinating. Past the Gherkin, seeing the Shard, past the Tower of London. And so on. I’d have taken more photos but I was trying to concentrate on what I was doing! There had been a lot of pre-event talk and worry about the sheer number of riders doing it and therefore on the road at one time, but it didn’t really work out like that at all. I guess the pen/wave system logic, whatever it was, worked. After the initial rolling out period even my wave spread out, and with the roads fully closed, there was plenty of room to get on with what needed to be done. Paying attention was more for road furniture, pot holes, man hole covers, and that kind of urban hazard, than for other riders. Apart from the odd fancy dress rider the majority turned out, at least around me all day, to be far more professional and well behaved than expected – which was a very pleasant surprise.
It all passed by so fast that it was tempting to slow down to try and appreciate it a little more. Which wasn’t really going to happen as it was far too early in the day for dawdling. Everyone was clearly enjoying the novelty of it all though, as landmark after landmark flew by. Our first trip past Trafalgar Square gave a hint of what was to come at the end of the day, with spectators and photographers all over the place. Tantalising… Then we were heading out of London, through the posh streets of Knightsbridge that have probably never seen so many cyclists, and out along roads I’ve only ever driven down and that rarely. Can you imagine an empty A4? Surreal!
Every junction was marshalled. Every serious road obstacle – such as traffic lights and road islands – had a marshal standing on it waving a yellow flag and blowing a whistle, albeit some more enthusiastically than others. Big arrows pointed out that you should go round one side or the other…but that wasn’t always enough. I can’t quite remember where, but as we came down a straight road that then had a wide 90 degree left turn, riders were spread out everywhere to take the corner and to take others on the corner…and one of those obstacles was right in the middle as we straightened up. I made it around the corner fine, but behind me? Not so good. There was that horrible noise, the sound of panicked voices, and I looked behind me to see, a little way back, a cyclist mid air and about to land on his/her left hand side. I’m guessing that was a broken collarbone at least… Happy Healing! 🙁
Carrying on, everyone was somewhat chastened and subdued for a little while. I saw two other ambulance requiring accidents out there during the day which I guess, considering the number of people involved, wasn’t surprising, but I do hope they were all ok. I wonder how many injuries there actually were on the day? The early miles seem to tick by amazingly quickly. By the time we reached the (well padded!) gates to Richmond Park we’d already done twenty miles. Lots of my city cycling friends talk about it, I think it’s as close as they can easily get to countryside ;), and as a country gal I was starting to feel a little more at home now. A bit like the small group of Kingston Wheelers who’d stopped to talk to family and friends, it being in their own backyard! It was all fairly green and pleasant, with grass, trees, birds singing, all totally fenced off from us. I wonder where all those metal barriers get stored in between times? There must of been tens of thousands of them used today.
The other thing today’s ride had in abundance was stops. Three Hub stops with everything – food, drink, mechanics and medics – and I think 7 Drink stops. Every one of them was well, and repetitively, stocked, so you could go to any point of them to get what you wanted, eliminating the need to queue. Every stop had portable toilets, and there were also portable toilets at random points along the route. I didn’t stop at all of them – toilets or stops! I did decide to stop at the first hub, because I fancied a brief stop, and I needed to stuff my gilet in the saddle bag. As I turned left into the one way system to lead riders in, I had no clue where I was…and to discover that I was at Hampton Court was awesome, and if you didn’t stop, you missed out. I’ve not had many food stops at royal palaces! The toilets were fairly posh too ;). I’ve no idea how they managed to keep all the toilets fairly clean and well provisioned everywhere all day, but they did – most impressive!
We headed out through Kingston, into the Surrey country side. I wasn’t feeling that great. There was a strong headwind. It was getting warmer, I was probably paying for the less than orthodox race prep the night before, and the lack of sleep. Actually I was starting to feel properly weird. And it occurred to me that this might well be a sign of bonking to come… Looking back I’ve not been eating properly of late, hadn’t eaten right the day before, and hadn’t eaten much so far. Well eating dry, though safe, fruit bars when it’s hot is nigh on impossible, though I had tried. When I engaged brain, I realised I was also an hour overdue for the next dose of pills – talk about a less than ideal cocktail! Time for a gel methinks! And a little while taking it a little easier until I’d had chance to settle down somewhat. It wasn’t long before the next hub where I made sure to drink, top up my bottles, and eat banana too – way easier than bars :).
Think of this as a ride of three thirds. A flat third, a lumpy third, and a flat third. The middle lumpy bit has three Surrey Hills. Newlands Hill, Leith Hill and Box Hill, in that order. It was almost a relief to go up for a change though it took quite a while to get into my rhythm and I did momentarily worry that I wasn’t going to…but I did. Unlike some, for whom Shanks Pony was almost instantly the option of choice. Newlands was ok, Box Hill held no fear for me as I’ve done it twice before and (not to disparage it but…) it’s pretty easy. I was a little worried about Leith Hill but although it was hard work, being steeper than the other two, it was doable. Having said that, I swear the guy behind me was about to expire, judging from the noises he was making! I felt a tad guilty for not suffering likewise! Thanks to the way the riders had spaced out, although there was traffic there wasn’t enough to get in the way. Walkers kept out of the way, show-offs hurtled up on the outside and the rest of us plodded up as necessary in the space left in between.
The great thing about ups is the downs of course, and there were some crackers today, especially when you can go down ’em any way you want, past as many people as you want, without meeting anything coming the other way. Faster than a speeding bullet ;). Ignoring Strava, because 62mph is ridiculous, Garmin reckon my max speed was 47mph. That I can believe :). I knew that this wasn’t a hard ride, per se, so I felt justified in going fast in when I could, and there’s no better way to gain some momentum to maintain right? Even though I would have liked to go downhill all day, I was still kinda looking forward to Box Hill. It’s pretty, it wiggles, it’s iconic. I like it in the same way I like Porlock toll road. My kind of hill :).
And I enjoyed it. Really! I pootled and actually found it pretty easy, and I certainly wasn’t pushing it. No point with all the other riders around, the views to enjoy, and plenty of photo opportunities to be taken. Both by me, and of us no doubt. I’ve given up smiling for photographers mostly, unless it’s Phil, because if I bought a photo for every sportive I’ve done I could wallpaper the downstairs loo at the very least. Actually it turns out that he was out on Newlands Corner and if I’d known…see how serious I look? 😉
Right. Some more downhill, yippeeee………a kick up, and time to head for home. I stopped at the next drink stop to top up, it being important to keep hydrated when it’s hot. Plus I gather you’re supposed to wash down gels with fluid, and since I was taking one every hour at least, I needed that too. They seemed to be doing the trick though, keeping the bonk at bay. It was time to put my head down and allez allez! 30 or so fairly flat miles ahead, with wide open roads, the kind of riding I can do, and a sneaky feeling that if I pushed it maybe I could make it back in under 6 hours ride time. Ooh, a goal….!
So I hurtled. I overtook. I pushed. I tailgated, wheelsucked, hitched rides. I took the racing line, went the “wrong” side of road furniture, and generally had a blast. No time for photos, time for having fun. It was hard work, but oddly enjoyable. Plenty of spectator support along the way helped keep morale and momentum up all day, especially now, although there was a noticeable drop in their enthusiasm as we got back into London. City folk are clearly too cool for school ;). There were are few minor climbs that my legs still didn’t like, but they didn’t last long, and it was always back to the fun bit. The sprint for home. Well why would you pootle in? I felt proper pro racing my way through busy towns, with all the supporters, stopping for no-one and nothing, the bit well and truly between by teeth. Especially I was overtaking people rather than vice versa for a change – I felt fast even if by the standards of my usual peers I wasn’t really! Ooh, a girl could get a taste for this :D.
Before I knew it we were back in landmark central. Battersea, Westminster, up Whitehall again, a sharp left to go under Admiralty Arch, and then finally we were riding down The Mall to the sound of hordes of spectators banging on the hoardings and cheering. Time for a gratuitous sprint finish no? Of course! Shame not everyone felt the same way, the guy next to me and I had to slow down a little just before the finish line, but it was with a wry grin rather than any real sense of disappointment. Now that was fun! And according to my Garmin, my ride time was 5:42 with an average of 17.9mph. Yee haw, go me! 😀
As we met up in dribs and drabs later, it turned out that Chris, having been there for hours, had seen the riders and their times going up on screen as they came over the finish line, and my official time was 5:58 – so I was sub 6 hours in lots of ways. I am still so chuffed with that. I’m also pleased to have not been that much slower than a whole heap of other people who usually kick my arse ;). All the worrying beforehand turns out to have been completely unwarranted. This was a superbly run event, and thanks to the weather, the nature of the course, and the organisation, I had a seriously good day at the office!
Cycling time: 5:42 hrs.
Official time: 5:58 hrs – 626 out of 2900 women!
Distance: 102.5 miles.
Avs: 17.9 mph.