With the 2018 Prudential Ride London ballot open today, now feels like a great time to discuss the highs, lows and the rolling roads of the Surrey hills. My thoughts on the world’s largest sportive.
Activities started on the Saturday with the Cycle Show, based in the Excel centre. With registration, lots of stands to look around and buy anything that happened to be missed off the packing list. I was excited to see so many people, all of whom I would be cycling with in the morning! It felt like I was part of something really special.
After signing on and picking up some freebies, we headed back to the hotel to sticker everything. I am not joking, my bike alone had 3 stickers. After prepping our kit, checking over the bikes and generally making sure we had everything, we went into the city centre to watch the women’s Classique. It was a tough race in the pouring rain around the streets of London, winner Corrine Rivera put in a great sprint to claim victory. Crowds of spectators were out to watch the women go head to head, despite the heavy downpour. My only comment is that the women did seem to be a warm up for the men’s road race. Maybe I am slightly biased, but as a racing woman myself, it is an area that is close to my heart. It would be amazing if the women could be given a road race and allowed the chance to take on a bigger challenge. Women's cycling is still growing and it was clear that the race was being pushed and the organisers were taking notice as there was an emphasis on the women’s race being televised and the large prize pot. It felt a little -how can we fit in a women's race? Gender equality debate aside, it was a great race, around a great circuit.
After a rather large pasta and pizza combo, it was off to bed for as much sleep as possible before the brutal alarm clock woke us at 3:45.
Starting before sunrise. We followed the flow of other sleepy cyclists on the wet roads from the night's rainfall to the start. The chill in the air made for a brisk cycle to the old Olympic park. It was great to see such a mix of cyclists, abilities and bikes. I have a lot of respect for the guy who showed up on the Boris City Bike, not sure if he managed to finish, but I really hope so! We had the challenge of different start times meaning I was an hour early and Simon had to wait an hour at the first drinks station for me. It seems a lot of people were in the same position which kind of makes the timing chips pointless. The organisers did a great job at getting everyone on the road. 30,000 cyclists were drip fed onto a beautiful course that soon dried up in the morning sunshine.
Sweeping through the closed streets of London and out towards Richmond Park, I was surprised to see how many people had turned out to watch and support. Clapping and cheering every cyclist that rode past, ringing bells and singing, the crowd defiantly gave the ride a buzz of excitement. It is funny how you feel the need to be on the right side of the road, despite it being fully closed. There were not even any parked cars!
I have ridden with a lot of cyclists, on mass events, sportives and races but this was on another level. At times there was hardly room to move but most were careful and sensible. If you intend on riding next year, defiantly try and ride in some groups, it will help your confidence. It made some a little nervous, and there was some touching of wheels. Most stayed safe but inevitably crashes did happen. The event was really well marshalled with road furniture clearly marked and lots of signs helping you to be aware of what is coming up.
Once out into the open countryside, the miles ticked down quickly as town after town turned out to show their support. Regular food and drinks stations meant that there was never a concern for supplies. Clif and Graze provided food supplies and Nuun electrolyte tabs were handed out at drink stops.
The climbs were beautiful. Leith hill, a tree covered road that climbs through the woodlands ramps up to 11% in places. It was made slightly more challenging by the amount of other cyclists all riding at different paces. As a general rule walkers stayed left and faster riders kept right meaning picking our way through was easy enough. We made our way to the winding descent that flows through the town of Dorking and up towards the infamous Box Hill. The climb is lovely, the road surface makes for smooth pedalling and the interesting artwork that was commissioned for the Olympics adds interest and history to the hill. The steady gradient doesn’t go beyond 6% and the view over Surrey is spectacular. It is easy to see why so many Londoners head out that way for a beautiful ride.
Once over the climb, the ride is essentially all downhill, 40 km of closed roads through towns and villages. Picking up speed as you can feel the finish line getting closer and closer. The ramp up out of Wimbledon hurts, rounding the corner and up the rise, you come out of town and over the bridge towards the Mall. When the tarmac turns the famous shade of red as banners and flags flash by, you begin to see how many people are watching. It is so exciting to have people banging the barriers for you and your fellow riders who after 100 miles are all pretty pleased to see Buckingham Palace.
Water, Clif bars and medals are handed out as you make your way to the bag drop. The men’s road race rolls in about 6 pm, there are screens, food vans and a secure bike park to ensure you have everything you need for the rest of the day. It felt great dropping the bikes off, chucking on my trainers and resting up in the park to watch the pros ride the same roads you have just ridden.
With the race over we had a short ride to catch a well-organised ferry that had been arranged especially for the Ride London. Overall the day is really smooth, transport was well considered and the city really embraces the weekend. We had a recovery Pizza (Papa Johns – I don't even feel bad) for dinner and got some rest. It was well worth staying the extra night as we had a really chilled out morning before the 3-hour drive home.
My Top Tips:
• Book your hotel early – as soon as you get your spot!
• Prep your bike, kit and nutrition the night before – you will be too tired first thing, make sure you can grab and go!
• Stop strategically – some stops have food, mechanics and drinks. Others just water. Plan your top up stops so you only carry what you need.
• Inner tubes – take plenty, we saw so many people puncture for no apparent reason. Check your tyres, pressure, and carry spares.
• Train with groups – it is easy to train on your own, but practice riding in close groups. Talk to other riders and be aware. Going down because of a touch of wheels or crossing lines is not fun or pretty.
• Plan your route home – after the race is over the city is really busy. Make sure you know where you are going and how to get back.
• Train – distance is not so much of a worry for me or those used to racking up the miles, but if you are not used to long hours in the saddle you will notice. Check your position, saddle comfort and practice eating and drinking on the bike. Your legs will thank you. I saw a lot of people struggling and becoming over-fatigued. Make sure you put in some long miles in the lead up to the event.
• Have fun – these are closed roads in and around London! Enjoy them, car free and with fellow cyclists. ☺
If you decide to enter next year, good luck! You will love it!