Boris Johnson called the 2015 Prudential RideLondon festival of cycling “the greatest mass-participation cycling event in the world”
So the idea is:
It’s basically the equivalent of the London Marathon, but for cyclists! Also much like the London Marathon, you get a total mix of people doing it, club cyclists (like me), celebrities and amateur riders (many riding for charities) and many in weird and wonderful costumes.
This was my second time doing it – I did it in 2013 when I had a lot of fun. Dodged a bullet in 2014 when I failed to get a place (it’s massively over-subscribed) – but the event was washed out by horrific weather. This year, I again failed to get a spot in the ballot, but Velosport CC had entered a couple of teams and were kind enough to give me a slot! Yay!
My preparation wasn’t the best – I hadn’t been able to ride much in the two weeks leading up to the event owing to work and then having family visiting – but I spent the Saturday prepping the bike making sure everything was laid out for an early start on the Sunday. I went to bed early but didn’t sleep much and probably only had 2 or 3 hours sleep before the 5:00am alarm went off. Oh well…
I had been given quite a late start time – 8:18am in start wave Q which meant that my wake up wasn’t as bad as it was for those starting at 6:00am! In fact, I didn’t leave home until 6:10 and it was glorious sunshine and warm enough that I didn’t need to take extra layers (this would save time dropping off/collecting clothes at the start and finish). Last time, I had driven to the start, but as I no longer have a car – and public transport doesn’t run that early on a Sunday I had decided to ride to the start line. OK, that was committing me to riding 20 miles done before the event even begins, but I couldn’t think of a better alternative. The route to the start was really well signposted all the way from central London, so there was no possibility of getting lost or stuck in the road closures and I made it there in under an hour.
The start process was considerably slower than in 2013 taking about 45 mins in total, but I think that is down to the increased numbers (I think it was 19,000 in 2013 versus 26,000 this year) – but it was well marshalled and it kept moving through to the start and I used the opportunity to eat a bit more in preparation.
As we near the start line – I fire up the Gamin GPS and despite having been plugged in all night, the battery is completely dead. CRAP! I’ve grown very used to gauging my effort by watching my pedalling cadence and heart-rate on the GPS display, and I wouldn’t be able to do that. As it turned out this wasn’t going to matter, but at the time I was cursing! Having my phone with me meant I could use Strava to track the ride, but this wasn’t going to help me on the road.
Off we go! As per last time, the first few km were a bit hectic as I tried to get past the slower people and hunt for a group at similar standard to myself to latch onto. This time I wasn’t quite so successful, mainly as being further back there were more slow people to get through, and I was held up by an accident on Putney Bridge. Even so, I managed the first 32km into Richmond Park in just under an hour so I wasn’t too unhappy.
Richmond Park sees the first “climb”, Sawyer Hill isn’t anything special, it’s short and not too steep – but it was congested as hell as the inexperienced riders slowed down massively and caused a tailback. I saw three accidents there alone as there were so many people unable to control their bikes at slow speeds /sigh. One guy fell off as I passed him and nearly took me with him! Initially I thought I might have touched him, but I was assured by some riders from Romford CC that it was all his own work.
From Richmond Park, it was onto familiar roads and I was able to make up some time as we headed to Walton-on-Thames and Weybridge before swinging south towards West Byfleet. I saw club mate Will at about the 40 mile mark (he had set off earlier) and we were able to chat for a little before I lost him in the crowd. I pushed on and hit the first proper climb at Newlands Corner. Nothing too dramatic, but the narrow lane made it difficult at times to pass so again I lost a couple of minutes.
On the descent the roads opened up again and I made decent progress towards heading towards Leith Hill. As we approached Leith, the field slowed then stopped completely – obviously there was an incident ahead and we were asked to dismount and walk on the left to allow an ambulance to pass (there were some idiots who persisted in pushing forwards). At first I thought there had been another accident, but as we walked, about 1/3 way up the hill paramedics were clustered around a man giving him CPR. Clearly it was a very serious incident, and I felt very guilty about my initial grumbling about what this was doing to my time – clearly that was unimportant.
We remounted, finished Leith and made the fast descent into Dorking. The town was very busy with spectators which was nice and lifted the mood somewhat. We turned up the A24 and made it to Box Hill, which was an easy climb – it was too busy to try and push. At the top, it was time to pause and refill the water bottles. The temperature had crept up and my biggest worry at this point was sunburn! 😀
From there, the rest of the ride was uneventful. As we headed back from Leatherhead towards Kingston I had made my way out of the “Q” wave I had started in and the majority of people I was riding amongst were from D-G waves – so people became far more predictable and as a consequence the km became steadier. At Kingston however, I suddenly bonked (sugar level dips and your legs go to jelly) which in hindsight shouldn’t have been a surprise as I had already done 100 miles by this point! I took a gel and another bottle and pushed on.
I won’t lie, the next 15km were torture and it wasn’t really until I approached the Embankment that I felt my energy levels starting to return. Bruce was spectating at Chelsea Bridge and I spotted him and gave a wave (I would have stopped to chat, but I might not have gotten going again!) From there the final 5km was plain sailing and I made it over the line in an absolutely disgraceful time of 5:29 – slower than in 2013, but given the incidents on the way, not surprising.
I decided not to hang around at the finish, and once I was through the melee hopped straight back on the bike and rode home to start some serious rehydration therapy!
It’s an amazing event – having the closed roads is a surreal experience. The marshalling and general organisation of the event is fantastic! The number of volunteers who make an event like this possible is astonishing. Couple that with sunny weather, and you’re guaranteed a fab day.
The route seemed odd this year and seemed to go up some particularly narrow roads that just couldn’t cope with the volume of cyclists. I think in future they might need to sacrifice some of the gradient to accommodate the number of riders.
Too many people taking part who have no experience in riding in groups and aren’t prepared for the event. I saw a LOT of accidents this year, and most were down to bad bike-handling (usually at slower speeds!) There were groups riding 4, even 5 abreast making it impossible for people to get past. Hopefully the %age of club-riders can be increased next time (and those clubs be given the same start times!) to form more controlled groups.
Get riding, and hopefully I’ll see you out there next year 🙂