Sun 2nd September
5.30am on a Sunday morning is a time when most sensible people are still tucked up under their duvet. Paul Macey’s idea of four B riders entering Ride London as a team seemed great and myself, Andy Sutcliffe and Henri Smith were daft enough to say yes. After the not inconsiderable task of finding each other among hundreds of other cyclists we lined up on the start. All the discussion of tactics, regrouping points and chain gang training were now at the point where the good idea had to become action.
Bizarrely though we had found two other RLSCC riders Tim Williams and Gary Hibbert amidst the crowds of bleary eyed road warriors, although we nearly lost Henri when a quick loo stop had him consumed by the wave of riders following us!
The general plan was a fairly quick first third. Then in the middle, where the three notable hills are, it would be slower, followed by a strong push to the finish. So with that in mind we set off at a pretty good pace, easing though the capital at over 20mph.
Early Sunday morning gave us a unique view of the capital racing down deserted streets with few onlookers. We were constantly trying to find wheels to follow but a lot of the early work was done by Paul as we also tried to avoid slower groups. Richmond Park had an unusual spectator in the form of a stag with full antlers. Who knows what he made of all these cyclists charging though his living room. The early start meant that Weybridge was barely awake as we pedalled through at 8 am. We’d been in the saddle for an hour and a half by then and were wide awake.
So far so good, we’d kept together well, and had maintained a good pace But it fell apart when (according to others) I set off up a hill like Lance Armstrong on EPO and Andy got dropped. And then, unknown to us, had a puncture. You would think that RLSCCs kit is pretty distinctive, but it’s amazing how many combinations of black, yellow and white there are. We’d soft pedalled for a while expecting Andy to catch up, but it was evident something was wrong. We got Andy on the phone and his puncture had turned into a nightmare as his 2 spare tubes wouldn’t hold air. He’d managed to grab a spare off another rider, but by now he was 10 miles behind us. He gracefully said for us to carry on, and he’d see us at the finish.
The roads were busy but thankfully on Leith Hill we were able to make way at our pace and weren’t constrained by traffic. Henri was our strongest climber and was topping the hills first and had a very spirited climb of Box Hill. After Box Hill Paul was starting to feel it and had the 70 miles blues that I’d also suffered last year. So that left me and Henri. We were working together (okay I was hanging onto Henris back wheel) and gradually we upped our pace. We tagged onto a Japanese rider through Kingston as he seemed to be able to pick a line through the crowds that we could follow. We were pedalling pretty hard at this point, averaging over 20mph and from 80 miles onwards I was barely in my comfort zone. At Wimbledon, the last notable hill, we were both in the gutter shouting out for other riders to move aside for us. Henri was making the moves, I was following in his wake. The crowds were cheering right in your ear. It was such an atmosphere.
Having crossed Putney Bridge and dodged a couple of accidents we were tapping it out along the Embankment when a train of 3 riders went past. Henri looked behind, gave me a nod and we jumped onto the back of the train. Now the comfort zone was in tatters and I was riding deep in the red. Trying to hold a wheel at 25 mph with 97 miles in my legs was absolutely maximum effort. Any little bit of freewheeling, even just a couple of pedal strokes was welcome respite. It was total exertion and total exhilaration, with crowds willing you on. Eventually I threw in towel just before Parliament Square and Henri and I coasted across the line together, totally done in.
Paul came in about 5 minutes behind us having re-energised himself, and Andy venting all his frustration on the roads was about another 20 minutes back.
At the finish we had a mix of exhilaration at a cracking ride but frustrated at not having finished together and missed our 5 hour target. But when the results came out a few days later we were pleasantly surprised to find we were 48th out of 165 teams. Well into the top third.
The thing I think I noticed more than anything was that even though we ride together week after week, over 100 miles on closed roads the differences in our strengths and abilities get magnified in a way that is masked on a Saturday with the regular stops and starts for road junctions. The long descents had Paul streaking away, the climbs had Henri stamping on the pedals. I could pick a good line through the traffic.
But the other thing is, we are all just regular club cyclists. We don’t train properly, and have a strong affinity for cake and beer, yet we managed to get ourselves into the top third of the teams competing.
And most important of all, we had a blast.