The London 100 (C#27)
Sunday 31 July, 99.8+7.1 Miles
It’s 4:00am in north London and I’ve been woken up by the sound of a rooster crowing. I roll over, bury my head under my pillow but the rooster just gets louder and louder. Eventually I remember that it’s the alarm on my phone which I’ve set for 4:00am! I drag myself out of bed, have a quick wash, make and eat some porridge, gulp down a mug of tea and ease myself into the lycra. By 4:45 my bike is loaded on my car and I’m heading for the Lee Valley Ice Park about 10 miles away.
Within the first quarter of a mile I have my first sighting. Then a group of four, and then lots of ones and twos. Gradually I see more and more of them as I get closer to the Ice Park. The car park is full of them. I unload my bike, stuff my jersey pockets with gels and energy bars and grabbing my daysack, start riding the three miles to the Olympic Park. As I ride along I am joined by more and more of them – literally hundreds. Like bees returning to the hive, nearly 30,000 cyclists are converging on the Olympic Park for the start of the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100. I wonder if someone is filming this from a helicopter as it must be a spectacular sight. I am in one of many swarms all converging from every direction on a single point. The route is well signed and marshalled as I make my way to the start point to hook up with Paul and Rob. The three of us have been chosen to represent BOCUK (Bianchi Owners Club UK) for the event. We’ve never ridden together before and have only met briefly when we signed on yesterday. So apart from a little Facebook chit chat we are relative strangers. The wait for the start gives us a chance to chat a bit but each of us is also pretty focussed on the ride ahead.
|The three 'BOCUK Brothers' (l-r: Paul, Rob, me)|
All smiles at the start
Eventually, together with a couple of hundred other riders, we are out of our loading area and into the starting gate. (It will take around 3 hours to get everyone riding.) Then, with the pulsating beat of ‘Pump It Up’ by Danzel we’re off. The first mile or so is fairly steady as we get into a rhythm with each of us gauging the others’ riding technique. In no time at all we’re on the A12 whizzing past Canary Wharf and heading for the centre of London. It is a simply amazing feeling riding on traffic-free roads past some of the capital’s iconic landmarks. Even at this relatively early hour on a Sunday morning there are small groups of people on the pavements waving, clapping and cheering us on. And the speed is fast (for me at least) – well over 20mph. Nelson’s Column, Harrods and the Natural History Museum flash past as we head westwards. The three of us seem to be pretty well matched as we’re staying together without any difficulty.
|Leading the field in Richmond Park|
he North Downs beckon and the first real ascent comes soon after Newlands Corner. It’s not that steep but under a gradually warming sun, and with nearly 50 miles now in our legs it’s enough to raise the pulse rate a tad. Then we sweep down past Shere and Holmbury St Mary before turning north at Forest Green for the climb of Leith Hill. I rode up Leith Hill earlier in the year so I have a notion of what’s coming. It rises 145 metres over a distance of 2,120 metres at an average gradient of 7% (maximum 16%). On a narrow road with this many other riders I was not expecting to post a fast time. Actually getting up without having to stop could in itself be an achievement to shout about. In the event I completed it in 8:23. Simon Warren’s target time is 6:30. My ‘excuse’ for the 2-minute deficit is that I nearly got brought to a standstill by a car that somehow got out of a driveway and was also trying to go up the hill. A couple of marshals soon put a stop to that but I ‘know’ that I was stuck behind it for at least 2 minutes!!
|Paul summits Box Hill|
Paul, Rob and I had agreed that we would each do the climbs at our own pace so we regrouped at the top for the fast descent to Wescott and Dorking. A combination of dense shade, a rough road surface and lots of other riders made this quite a challenging section. Leaving Dorking we did the iconic climb of Box Hill. This is often called the Alpe d’Huez of the south east on account of its setting complete with a couple of hairpin bends. It’s a very popular climb and the last time I was here I had to wait at the bottom before I could start – it was a bit like queuing for a ski lift!
Up to this point everything had been going brilliantly. The three of us were riding well together and had even managed to have a few chats along the way. We kept spotting other Bianchi riders and tried to work out if they were BOCUK members. Rob even tried to go on a mini recruitment drive to get some new members. Once I mentioned that there were no time bonuses for this he changed tack. All this meant that the miles were slipping by almost unnoticed.
Ascending a small rise just before Leatherhead I was brought back to earth with a bump. Or rather with the grinding, gnashing sound of metal on metal. Whilst changing down to a lower gear my chain had slipped off and became wrapped round my crank arm. I managed to freewheel to a stop without falling off. No matter what I tried I couldn’t free the chain. Every attempt to shift it made it get tighter. Damn! There was only one answer. I had to split the chain, free it up and re-join it. Fortunately, I had both a chain splitter and a magic link in my bag so I was able to do the necessary. The biggest casualty of this incident was my white handlebar tape because in my haste to get going again I had forgotten to put on the disposable gloves I carry before handling the greasy chain.
I was soon underway, but pedalling carefully until I was satisfied that the magic link was securely in place. I was feeling a bit dispirited because I felt that I had let Paul and Rob down and probably wouldn’t finish with them now. So I was pedalling along in my own little world trying to work out what message I should text to them when I rode up alongside another Bianchi rider. From my jersey Jo realised that we were both BOCUK members (Jo was in disguise wearing her club jersey). We had a nice little chat which lifted my spirits considerably and gave me the strength to try a spot of pursuiting to see if I could catch up with Paul and Rob. So I set off, giving myself 15 minutes to reach them otherwise I would text to say I would finish separately. After some really hard riding I eventually caught Paul near Esher and we rode on together to link up with Rob.
|The 'BOCUK Brothers'|
From Esher we headed back towards London. By now the pavements were crammed with spectators cheering us on. It was an amazing feeling and gave us a real boost – especially for Paul who was suffering with back pain. The last 15 miles sped by in a blur, with more and more people lining the pavements. With less than 10 miles to go we crossed the Thames on Putney Bridge and were soon onto the Embankment, flashing past the Houses of Parliament, up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square before turning under Admiralty Arch and sprinting up The Mall to the finish line.
What a ride! What a day. For me, it showcased some of the best that cycling has to offer. I met loads of other Bianchi riders with a smile, or a nod, or a wave, or a few words of mutual support. Seeing other BOCUK riders was like being in a large family and greeting cousins that you knew but had never met. And as for Paul and Rob; well they were my brothers for the day. So I say to them both: “Chapeau and Passione Celeste!” And if you don’t ride a Bianchi then you won’t understand and don’t know what you’re missing.
Eagle eyed readers may have noticed that the RideLondon-Surrey 100 was actually 99.8 miles. So I’ve added the extra 7.1 miles that I rode back to my car so I can claim this as one of my 60 Centuries.