Sunday 30 July 2017

A Big Ride – in Every Sense (LGD -286 Days)
Sunday 30 July 2017, 100 Miles

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With the alarm on my phone set for 5:00 am I was in bed early and soon asleep. I’m usually a heavy sleeper and not much wakes me. I’ve been known to sleep through a riot kicking off, complete with breaking glass, police sirens and so forth, on the street below me. I’m also pretty good at waking up at the allotted hour – the alarm, a rather loud and annoying rooster crowing, is my safety net. Well today I woke up at 2:30 am. I was staying in my daughter Megan’s flat in north London. The bedroom I was in was on the fourth floor right up in the eaves. Immediately behind the bed is a round window, a bit like a large porthole on a ship, with views stretching northward across the city towards Epping Forest nearly 10 miles away.

Peering out of the porthole I realised that it was rain that must have woken me. Now I am not talking showers or even heavy rain. What was falling was a monsoon standard of rain. Large drops which I could see bouncing of the roof of my car and sheets of water running down the street below me. This did not bode well for what was ahead. Turning over and burying my head under the pillows I told myself that there was nothing I could do; there was no point in fretting and every point in going back to sleep. Fortunately, that is exactly what I managed to do and two and half hours later I was fully awake again and able to kill the infernal rooster before it started crowing. Peering out of the porthole, it was now daylight. Although there were grey clouds above they looked like they were thinning out. And best of all there was no water on the tarmac below – the road surface just looked slightly damp. Things were looking up.

I donned my lycra, downed my porridge and was in the car just after 5:30 am heading for the Lee Valley Ice Rink where I had arranged to park before riding the 3 miles to the start of this year’s London-Surrey 100. By the time I was ready to set off there was even a vague hint of blue sky. Knowing that I would be standing around for up to an hour before starting I had brought an old rain jacket and some trackies with me, that I could chuck away, in case it was raining before the start. But it now seemed that they wouldn’t be needed – phew!

As with last year, the start arrangements were organised with military precision. It is no mean feat marshalling close to 30,000 riders – the organisation of this part of the day was better than some much smaller sportives that I have ridden. Within 5 minutes of arriving I had dropped off my kitbag - an excellent, fully recyclable jobbie provided by the organisers. The next time I saw it should be at the finish alongside Buckingham Palace. Then I made my way down to the loading area to wait. Observing my fellow cyclists, with a sly bit of eavesdropping thrown in, while waiting around in the loading area was quite entertaining.

There are those who were full of banter and recounting their previous – and always hard – rides. They were closely followed by the experts, who have a view on every part of the route – which bit was going to be the toughest or which segment is a doddle. I heard the same segment (Leith Hill today) described in both categories. Then there were the fiddlers making some minor adjustments to something on their bikes. I watched one rider squeeze his tyres several times over the space of about 10 minutes before getting out his pump, attaching it to the valve which then followed the loud hiss of escaping air. He then frantically tried to tighten the adapter on to the valve before pumping furiously. It stuck me that this was a novel way to keep warm! I also saw three riders hastily replacing their inner tubes having already punctured. Finally, in this brief analysis there were what I call the gear wannabe’s who were eyeing up all the bikes around them to see who’d got the latest gizmos. This year SRAM Red eTap (look it up on the Interweb if I’ve lost you here) seemed to be the item of greatest envy. Amusingly I noticed one rider with eTap standing next to a rider with a rather magnificent 531 steel-tubed frame complete with lugs that were works of art, downshifters, centre pull brakes and a Brooks B17 saddle - that dates me! Anyway, enough of this. It’s time to go.

My rider card said I had start time of 07:24. I actually crossed the timing mat towards the back of my wave of 300 riders and started my Garmin at 07:25:20. Like I said, military precision. We headed out onto the A12, turned westwards and were soon passing the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf. Tower Hill, The Embankment, Trafalgar Square and Pall Mall passed in a blur. Then I did something I have never done before. I rode west through the Hyde Park Corner underpass using the eastbound tunnel! Why? Because I could! One of the joys of closed roads! Harrods and the museums flashed by and after just 50 minutes I was crossing the Thames on Chiswick Bridge.

I had already spotted several Bianchi riders and I kept my eyes open for others as I rode along. I was also mentally ticking off the different models that I saw. These included Oltres (XR1, XR2, XR4 but no XR3s), Specialisimas, Infinitos (CV and pre-CV), Nironnes (several variants including quite a few Dama Biancas), Sempre Pros, Intensos (spotted more of these than any other model) Intrepedas, Impulsos, a Freccia (I think), a couple of Eroicas and several older models that I couldn’t easily identify. Celeste in its various shades was by far the dominant frame colour. I tried to imagine having a dedicated Bianchi start pen. Now that would be a sight to behold. It was not just the bikes that got my attention. Most of the Bianchi riders who I passed or got passed by did so with a smile or grin, a friendly wave and often a few words of mutual encouragement. We are a sociable bunch. Indeed we are.

Crossing back over the Thames at Hampton Court we headed for the Surrey Hills and the hillier part of the route. I was having a quiet chuckle to myself about some of the earlier comments I had heard people make about the hills I was heading towards. But it wasn’t all fun and games. I had to concentrate quite hard though. A combination of narrower roads, wet surfaces with a few deep puddles under the trees, and catching up slower riders meant that I had to stay alert. And then there were the faster riders who had started later than me, many of who seemed to have trained in the kamikaze school of riding. Maintaining good road awareness was absolutely essential.

The first main hill was Newlands Corner. With a wide road, this was all pretty straight forward. The descent on the A25 is fast, very fast and a delight. A smooth road surface, long sweeping bends and no traffic was an invitation to wind it up a bit. Which I did. The next challenge was Leith Hill which, by my standards wasn’t particularly steep but was quite narrow. In theory, slower riders, including those who might stop and walk, were meant to stay on the left-hand side of the road leaving the right-hand side free for faster riders. I count myself as an inside right-hand side rider - work that one out!

I witnessed one incident, which was side splittingly funny. Ahead and left of me, the first rider in a group of six slowed to a standstill. Unfortunately, he couldn’t unclip in time so gently fell over onto the left-hand grass verge. This was followed by the next five following riders riding into each other and also falling over – literally like a line of dominoes. Happily, the only bruises appeared to be to their pride. As I passed, some of them were even laughing as they picked themselves up! The descent from Leith Hill was a bit more technical. The road was narrow, the surface quite rough and a lot of it was under dense dark tree cover which reduced visibility. As my speed touched 40 mph here I reminded myself that today was about enjoyment and not road rash so I backed off a tad.

Box Hill was the third main climb of the day and is much lauded for its (two) alpine style hairpins. Having ridden in the Pyrenees, Box Hill doesn’t do it for me anymore. It’s a pleasant enough ascent but not an iconic one. From Box Hill it was a fast blast back Leatherhead and Esher to Wimbledon. By now it was late morning so the streets of the various towns I passed through were full of spectators cheering us on. This always gives me a real buzz and a boost. In some places the crowds were several rows deep, all cheering, clapping, ringing cowbells and anything else that could make din.

There’s a little sting in the tail of the route at Wimbledon with a short drag up to the Common. The roadsides here were absolutely heaving with spectators cheering us on. Ahead of me I could see lots of riders struggling with this short uphill section.  It’s not especially steep (4% average) but coming at 85 miles it’s enough to test many riders and break a few. Crossing the Thames again on Putney Bridge and I knew I was in the home straight. I always enjoy the ride along the Embankment. As I sped along I passed my daughter Katie who shouted a supportive (I think) greeting and then it was up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square before turning under Admiralty Arch onto The Mall. Seeing the finishing line ahead of me with the magnificent backdrop of Buckingham Palace gave me a real thrill. There were massive crowds lining the Mall up to the finish line. Where else in the world can an amateur rider like me get such a wonderful experience?

The organisation at the finish was as efficient as it was at the start. I collected my medal, retrieved my kit bag and had put my bike into the secure bike park within 20 minutes. Apart from a couple of bike traffic jams and the scene of a crash where I had to walk for a few yards I rode the route non-stop and was quite chuffed with my finish time. For me today was all about enjoyment; a reasonably quick time was a bonus.

But which one's Geoff?
One of my mates Geoff, who’s also a member of Team Super Six, was riding and had started about an hour after me. We had arranged to meet up in Green Park after finishing and he rolled in about an hour behind me which meant that we had both completed the event in pretty much the same time. That shows consistency. Geoff doesn’t ride a Bianchi though; he uses another species which I’ve sort of come to terms with! Then after downing a fruit smoothie (thanks for that Geoff!) we both rode back to Blackfriars Pier to get a river taxi to Canary Wharf. Riding through the centre of London on now open roads was quite a challenge. I had to concentrate quite hard and remember to stop at the red lights! At Canary Wharf, with a cheery “see you later” we each went our separate ways – Geoff to his hotel near the Excel and me back to my car at Lee Valley. The see you later comment was because we met again in the evening to hit Chinatown to carb load and reminisce a bit. And some alcohol may also have been involved! Purely for celebratory reasons you’ll understand.

Today had been pure enjoyment. Ideal weather, a great route, 5-star organisation and support, lots of friendly riders including loads of Bianchistas and above all the crowds. I have to confess that from time to time as I approached a large crowd I turned up the riding style dial in the hope of getting an even louder cheer. Did I? Well, I like to think so!

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