“The red road stretched out in front of us like a welcoming red carpet” says Weston Hospicecare’s chief after 100-mile cycle ride
The RideLondon London-Surrey 100 is the most participated one-day cycling event to take place each year in the UK with more than 25,000 amateur cyclists taking part.
The event is so popular that entrants are now drawn via a ballot system to decide who is lucky enough to have a spot on the day.
This year, Weston Hospicecare was represented by a number of fundraisers – including the hospice’s chief executive Paul Winspear.
After the event, Paul wanted to share his experiences of the ride.
He wrote: “The Prudential Ride London-Surrey 100 is one part of a weekend festival of cycling, the world’s biggest such event. There are events all weekend in London and Surrey. Here’s my blog of taking part in the Ride 100 to give a flavour of what the event is all about, including a few tips for anyone thinking of taking part.
“Registration day. Open Thursday, Friday, Saturday in the ExCel centre in Docklands, but of course most people end up registering on the Saturday, so I was prepared for a scrum.
“I worked out a route from Cheddar to Peckham that stayed south of the river and avoided likely traffic build-up as a result of London road closures which started Saturday morning. Nonetheless, it took around four and a half hours door-to-door but logistics worked well and I collected the key (thanks Mark!) to my home-from-home (many thanks for putting me up, Mike!) for the weekend. I dropped my bags off and climbed back in to drive to the ExCel centre. After an hour of battling traffic through Greenwich and gridlocked on the approach to the Blackwall Tunnel, I dumped the car in a side road and walked the remaining 2 miles to the Emirates cable car to cross the River Thames.
“Normally I would have enjoyed the ride and spectacular views even with the other occupants shrieking with the car swaying in the strong winds, but I just wanted to get to ExCel and register before the 5pm cut-off time, failing which I’d be out!
“A short walk to ExCel from the cable car and I was in. Wow, what a buzz! Cyclists everywhere, stalls selling everything related to cycling you could imagine, from advice to holidays to spoke spanners. The main theatre was the central hub – I just missed Martin Johnson’s talk (gutted) but managed to catch Dame Kelly Holmes, and some useful talks on nutrition and making the best of the day. The organisation was superb and registration was a breeze. I checked through my pack and confirmed all present and correct.
“After walking around the cycling show and buying a light shower-proof cycling jacket (boy, was I glad I did that!), I headed back to the cable car for the return journey to Peckham only to find service suspended due to high winds. So I tried the DLR instead, but trains were delayed to Canning Town, so I ended up walking to Canning Town and catching the Jubilee line back to North Greenwich, then a walk back to the car, and a final drive back to Peckham.
“By this stage, my legs felt dead! Not very good preparation for a long cycle the next day.
“Back home I got the bike ready with seat-post number, handle-bar number, frame sticker, jersey number with medical information on the reverse, helmet number, made up my isotonic drinks bottles, got my saddlebag ready and laid out my cycling clothes for an early start. All done, 10pm, time for bed.”
“A start time of 7.32am meant alarm call at 4.30am, working backwards with the various timings. I was awake anyway, after a broken night (nerves?) and what felt like hardly any sleep. Regardless, the shot of adrenaline to my system when the alarm sounded and the realisation: game on, this is it, made me sit bolt upright.
“I wanted to be out the door by 5.15am because I wasn’t sure of the route from Peckham to the Olympic Park. Not much time to shower, trough down a large bowl of porridge and change into cycling gear. The porridge tasted rubbish. Still time for a cup of tea though, obviously.
“A few final checks: do I have everything? Yup, think so. Then it was kit-bag on my back, out the door and onto the Peckham streets for the 7 miles to the Olympic Park.
“Aargh, already drizzling, not good; from the forecast, I’d hoped the first 2-3 hours would stay dry. Thank goodness for the shower-proof cycling jacket I bought at ExCel. I’d picked a route from Peckham to the Rotherhithe tunnel which the organisers had explained would be closed to cars and open to bikes and tentatively made my way through the backstreets, making sure to avoid any broken glass, referring to the folded A4 map in my hand.
“Typical London: a surprising number of cars on the roads even at 5.30am, and a BMW stopped kerbside with occupants being sick –a big night out, obviously. After about a mile, another cyclist joined me, then two more, then five, then twenty and after a few miles we were more than a hundred making our way north.
“Then we picked up the signs to the Olympic Park and I could stow the A4 map. Even at this stage, a few guys were roadside fixing punctures – what a bad start to their day! The numbers swelled and soon there were thousands of cyclists jostling at the start area a stone’s throw from the Olympic stadium. The signage from the north side of the Rotherhithe tunnel to the starting area was great and another testament to the fabulous organisation of the event.
“A final check of the kitbag to make sure everything needed for the bike was on the bike, then it was deposited on the lorry not to be seen again until after the finish line. There were plenty of event marshals around, and helpful volunteers (or veloteers as they like to call them), to answer questions. The Continental tyre station was kindly checking tyre pressures – a bit lower for wet conditions.
“Now, it was a waiting game, but luckily the drizzle had stopped and we were all more or less dry. Slowly everyone made their way to their starting zones, both colour-coded and letter-coded to make the huge numbers (>25,000) manageable. In Black area Wave C, I met up with Shane from Worle, also riding for the hospice. What a top bloke!
“As each wave was started, we would shuffle forwards en masse until we could see a herd of cyclists in the starting straight with more joining from the sides. Again, the organisation was superb, and each wave was sent off at pre-planned intervals with a “choice” of a soundtrack and a countdown. There was a bit of banter and people were friendly, but also a certain amount of tension as people got themselves ready for the off.
“Finally, it was our turn and at 0731 (a minute early, by my watch) we were off!
“One’s first experience of cycling at speed, in a peloton, on London streets with no traffic, is exhilarating to say the least. There was plenty of road space at this stage and the roads were reasonably dry (not for long though). My Strava app later showed regular averages of 20mph, and we whizzed past famous landmarks with barely time to take them in and before we knew it I was over the Thames and heading for Surrey.
“Even at 8am, some spectators were out on the course giving us a cheer as we sped by. Shane and I hadn’t planned to cycle together, but we found ourselves at a very similar pace and jostled for position, one overtaking the other, and pausing for a chat as we did so. “You OK?” “Yup, going fine, thanks”. “What’s with all the punctures?” It was incredible – every 100 yards or so there would be another cyclist or group of cyclists stopped and changing inner tubes. What was going on? Did they just have rubbish tyres? Not once did I struggle to see the route, it was very well-marked and there was a constant stream of bikes. Hazards were well marked too, with marshals flagging us away from lampposts and bollards. It felt strange to be approaching traffic lights at speed, watch them turn to red, and resist the temptation to hit the brakes!
“Steadily, as we headed out of London the wind increased in our faces and the rain started falling, at times so heavy it was hard to see. In no time I was soaked through and the only thing that kept the cold at bay was pedalling. The smart move was to draft a slightly faster cyclist, but the spray from the back wheel made that difficult until I found a fast hybrid rider with a back mudguard – thank you whoever you were!
“Mile signs 10 and 20 went past fast. I stopped in Richmond Park to refill my water bottles, making sure I was taking on plenty of fluids, as recommended. Exiting the drinks station, I saw a rider come off at speed and he stayed down – nasty fall, and medical attention was immediate. A sobering reminder to take it easy, stay clear of trouble, avoid the slippery white lines and drain covers, and slow down for the corners.
“Underway again, back up to speed, feeling good, and at Hampton Court hub in no time. No need to stop at the first hub (there were 4 in total), just keep going, flying along over Hampton Court bridge and out into the countryside, soaked through but no problem – I was going well and the bike was going well.
“More and more riders stopped by the side of the road, fixing punctures. Phew, glad that wasn’t me, and then… hang on, my back wheel feels different, I hope not, a quick glance and oh ****, sure enough, the tyre is deflating. Changing a punctured tyre roadside is never fun, but when you’re kneeling in wet gravel, shaking with the cold and hands are semi-numb it’s really tough.
“Every minute that went by, there was a whoosh, whoosh, whoosh as hundreds of bikes passed behind me was very demoralising. Eventually, it was done, and I was underway again. After 5-10 minutes the cold eased off and I was back up to cycling temperature. But only about 5 miles later, I felt the rear tyre losing pressure, and the same exercise again.
“Back on, get pedalling and warm again, a few miles further and yet again the back tyre going down. Each time, I checked and re-checked the outer tyre inside and out for any sign of gravel, glass, thorn, etc… but nothing – a complete mystery.
“Changing tubes meant it wasn’t the valve. Just bad luck. At this stage, about 35 miles into the event, I thought ‘that’s it’, I’m actually not going to complete this event, defeated by multiple punctures, ‘what will all my sponsors say?’ It was a truly horrible feeling, and so unexpected.
“This third puncture was a slow one and I was out of tubes so I borrowed a pump from a good Samaritan, filled the tyre and cycled off at speed to try and reach the next drinks station before it went down. After two more stops and air refills, interspersed with mad dashes in the saddle, I made it to the Pyrford drinks station and found a mechanic’s stand – hurrah!
“After 30 minutes waiting in a queue with all the other unfortunates, shivering, stomping to try to stay warm in the wind and rain and swapping war stories, it was my turn and I managed to buy 2 new tubes and get the 3rd puncture fixed. I was on my way again. However, the mechanic, as good as he was, had been rushing and hadn’t seated the valve correctly. After about a mile the consistent bump, bump, bump with each revolution of my wheel told me there was a problem, and sure enough, the tyre was bulging above the rim by the valve.
“Nothing for it but to stop again, deflate the tyre completely, re-seat the valve, borrow a pump again (I was relying on compressed air canisters and only had one left I needed to save) and recharge the tyre. This time it was good and I continued at speed to Newland’s corner at 48 miles and stopped for food and yet another banana (I am completely off bananas, pretzels, peanuts and energy bars!) and water bottles refilled.
“I knew the roads here from when I lived in Surrey and would have enjoyed the long, fast downhill to Shere village and Abinger Hammer (50 miles, halfway, yippee!) had it not been slippery and all downhills were taken cautiously with the brakes lightly applied albeit still at fairly high speeds. At the bottom, approaching Leith Hill, my 4th puncture, this time the front tyre and a more rapid deflation – lucky it didn’t happen on the fast descent. This time, there were a couple of mechanics on hand who not only helped change the tyre but also pressed 2 free inner tubes on me and whistled their way through the whole exercise. To me, they had appeared like angels, and funnily enough, that was my final puncture of the day. Thanks guys!
“By this stage, I had lost a couple of hours’ time and any thoughts of getting around the course quickly were entirely replaced by a shift of focus to; a) just get all the way around, whatever it takes, and; b) to do it in one piece.
“Underway again and the climb towards Leith Hill… the road narrows with overhanging branches and hundreds of cyclists bunching together, many walking to the left, some walking in the middle of the road (get out of the way!) and the remainder trying to keep moving in lowest gear while slaloming the traffic.
“At this stage, with bikes everywhere, punctures left and right, riders falling, and the sound of sirens approaching there was only one word for it: carnage!
“During all these fun and games, I occasionally fell into conversation with some of my fellow riders. Most people were quiet – focused within their own private world of cold and pain – but some were ready for a chat and it was good to make new friends out on the course and give each other a boost.
“The sirens got closer and we were marshalled to the left and the ambulance flew past at a speed and with such little clearance, we all knew it was serious.
“Whether that was for the poor fellow who suffered a fatal heart attack in the hills, or one of the other fallers en route, we can’t be sure. However the organisers detoured us away from the very top of Leith Hill, meaning my Strava app recorded 97.7 miles start to finish instead of 100, but I consoled myself knowing I’d cycled an extra 7 miles to the start line, and yet had to cycle home again. The descents were slippery and most of us were suitably cautious, with one or two idiots bombing down and nearly, or actually, coming to grief.
“Changing down to my lowest gear and applying some force through the pedals, clank! The chain was off, and worst still, it was wedged between wheel spokes and inside cog. With both hands gripping the chain, pulling as hard as I dared for fear of snapping the chain, I couldn’t clear it.
“Was this it? Was this the end of my event? After about 5 minutes I managed to engage the underside of the cog, and using the pedal spooled the chain back in place. For the rest of the event, I didn’t engage first gear, relying on 2nd for the steepest portions and occasional gear slippages told me the chain had stretched slightly in the incident. My hands were covered in oil, despite wiping them on the grassy verge, and oil also found its way over all my clothing.
“Box Hill arrived before I knew it and it was an easy, steady climb. Nothing compared to Cheddar Gorge!
“More delays on the descent and the organisers holding us for long periods as we approached Leatherhead around mile 75, presumably to restart the event in safe waves of cyclists rather than en masse. This was probably the only time during the race I heard people grumbling and saying ‘there’s just too many riders out here’. All the while, we were off our bikes, advancing slowly, getting colder while the rain kept falling. It was a real test of patience. However the volunteers around the course were brilliant, and the public supporters were noisy and encouraging – it really did give us a boost when we most needed it.
“Eventually we were underway again, and I carried on through to the final mile 86 hub at Kingston where I refilled water bottles for the final time, had one last banana (yuk) and with the rain finally stopped I took off my oil-splattered shower jacket and rode the final 14 miles in Weston Hospicecare colours, which was how I started the event too.
“Wimbledon Hill was a breeze and I felt energized during the final 10 miles, enjoying being able to cycle with the wind finally at our backs and no rain in our faces. Over Putney bridge, along the Thames and into central London, passing between the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and Westminster Cathedral, with a growing swell of supporters making increasing noise, along Whitehall towards Trafalgar Square, travelling fast now, enjoying the atmosphere, through Admiralty Arch and into the Mall with Buckingham Palace in the distance, the red road stretched out in front of us like a welcoming red carpet.
“I slowed right down and rode the final 400 metres reflecting on the event, feeling proud and a little emotional, thinking about the fallers and people who hadn’t made it, and crossed the line shortly after 4pm remembering not to stop immediately as other cyclists came thundering along behind me. Everywhere people were congratulating each other, meeting up with team-mates, waving to friends and family. It was a lovely atmosphere.
“A slow walk to the kit-bag lorry to collect my dry things and then it was into Green Park to change in the tent (at which point I realised I’d forgotten to put in any non-cycling shoes – doh!) and queue for toilets, drinks and food. That burger and chips at 6pm tasted amazing, washed down with a strong cup of tea, my first proper food since 5am. There was a great vibe in the park as riders and family were reunited.
“I lingered for a while, taking in the end of the pro race (London-Surrey Classic) along the Mall, then it was a slow journey back to Peckham, weaving through traffic, half-walking, half-riding, across the Thames and navigating the back streets to Peckham. Climbing back into the saddle for the journey home wasn’t a fun moment, but after a couple of miles, it was fine.
“I started and finished my Strava app to coincide with the start line and finish line, recording 97.7 miles not including the 7 miles from Peckham to Olympic Park, and back again from the Mall to Peckham.
“I’d been hoping for a time of under six hours but realise now in the context of the event as it unfolded in 2018, it’s meaningless. You don’t take part in RideLondon to see how quick you can go – there are other events for that – especially not in the rain. There are just too many other cyclists, punctures, stoppages, etc… It was not a test of fitness in the end, but it was definitely a test of determination.
“Approaching the house in Peckham, I felt quite fresh, like I could do quite a few more miles if needed. But I think that’s enough for one day. A hot bath and a cold beer. Always a great combination, but after 112 miles of cycling and being wet through for 10 hours, it was fabulous!
“Delighted to hear that all the hospice riders made it back in one piece, raising amazing funds for us. As of 1 August, my JustGiving page sits at £1,250 plus gift aid and I can’t thank my sponsors enough for supporting me. I promise you, it was hard-earned on this occasion, and the hospice can continue its great work with your help.
“Would I recommend the event? Definitely! Go for it, and remember to ride for the hospice. Roll on 2019?”