This year I got in. But none of my other cycling buddies did. So, I was on my own but was not going to give up the chance to take on the one closed road ride in London and the South East. The other 100-mile ride, Velo South in 2018 was cancelled due to poor weather and does not have a 2019 version and may happen again. LINK
My start time was 7:00 am and I had to be in my pen at 6:20 am. I decided I was going to cycle to the start. I’d heard hotels were expensive and some Airbnb’s were less than salubrious. The start in Stratford was 14 miles away from home. Building in a massive buffer, this was a 3:15 am alarm call and a 4:00 am leave the house.
Everything was laid out and my bag packed. I tiptoed around my house (as we had a house guest on the sofa). I made tea and ate my breakfast by the light of my phone torch. Following many nervous toilet visits, I flicked my bike lights on and headed out into the warm morning air.
I wasn’t long before I had the company of other riders as we moseyed past the revellers being kicked out of the clubs and bars of Tooting, Clapham and Stockwell at 4:30 am. At each set of traffic lights, the number of riders swelled and by the time we’d crossed the river, there were queues of 40 – 50 bikes at the lights.
Yes, I left the house a little early. It took around 1 hrs 20 mins to get to the Black start, so I had at least one hour to play with when I arrived. I was happy though. I prefer to be early and calm rather than late and stressed. I bought a coffee (beating the queue) and sat on a kerb whilst stuffing my pockets with inner tubes, tyre levers, a pump, gels and Clif bars. I dropped my bag at 6 am and wobbled to my start pen which was A, at the front.
I will probably come to this many times in this post This event is insanely well organised. To get 25,000 cyclists strung out at a multitude of different starts, to all file into a single start point at different times and for it to go like clockwork, is very well done. You almost don’t realise what’s going on. With more “just in case” portaloo stops and was chilling at the very back of my wave and bang on 7 am we were off.
Truth be told, I hadn’t figured out my strategy. In the two 46 miles versions, I’d gun it from the start and held on. Having only previously cycled 70 miles max (from which I got the shakes) I’d have to try some kind of pacing. Luckily, two couples in front of me were driving a nice pace (an older couple in Ballymena cycling tops and a younger couple in matching his and hers black tops). Some of the people I’d started around had also seen it as a nice train to hitch their wagon to. Quickly there was eight or so of us in two neat trains.
A big shout out to the two couples who took the stress and worry out of the first section of the ride and were obviously experienced riders pointing out drains and lids in the road (of which there was a lot – maybe every 20m) and directing riders behind when the road narrowed or cornered sharply.
The wide dual carriageways allowed enough space for us to cruise down the right-hand side of the road still leaving enough space for others to pass. I was feeling quick, but comfortable. By Richmond Park, I PR’d Sawyers Hill, then took my first gel, 20 miles and 1 hour in. I fizzed though my favourite part of Richmond Park and saw my friends Paolo and Nesh in Kingston (trademark high 5 at 20 mph for Nesh. Video below). I got a bit excited and left the Ballymena train shooting through the roads I know well, cycle every day and the shot of adrenaline from seeing my friends.
On heading past Hampton Court Palace and through Molesey and Walton on Thames, the Ballymena guys caught up with me. I thought I would slot back easily into the line, only to find others had seen the same potential and there was now a line of 20 or so. I jumped on the back and held on as best I could.
One of the things about closed road rides is that you go far quicker than you expect and you have on your training rides. On this ride, I averaged nearly 18 mph. On weekend rides I average 13 mph. Yes, there are many factors in this, mainly the lack of cars on the road and fear of being hit by one or having to react to them. There are many other things too. The number of people around you doing the same thing, preparation and rest, excitement, adrenaline, personal drive to perform, camaraderie, everyone else going faster and being driven and motivated.
From mile 35 until I got to Leith Hill (around mile 60) I was on personally uncharted roads. I was struggling to see the route profile stuck on my crossbar. The scale was so small; everything looked like it was 5 miles away. For every hill or slight rise in the road I tried to figure out where I was, with not much luck.
Newlands Corner, a climb I didn’t know, but knew was coming was the first real challenge. From my MGVS post, you may know, hills are not my strong suit. I clicked down off my big front cog and eased myself up the hill feeling hot for the first time in the day. To stay with the guys I was riding with, I had been putting off a toilet break for many miles. With my slowing on the hill and how my need for the toilet was consuming my thinking, I pulled into the hub at Newlands Corner.
Boy was it busy. I wanted to be in an out as quickly as possible. I racked my bike and negotiated a steep set of stairs to the urinals (probably the riskiest thing I did all day). I grabbed my bike, looped thought the one-way system. A lovely lady filled up my bottle with water (well done to the organisers for getting rid of plastic bottles and Thames Water for providing the water) and I was back out on the road. Two minutes door to door.
Leith Hill is soon right? At some point, I’ll turn left and the hill I‘ve done plenty of times will be in front of me. Or so I thought. It ended up being another 10 miles as my paced slowed though the rolling Surrey Hills.
Finally, the left turn arrived and I knew it was time to get my head down and keep moving until it was over. I have to thank my friend Nesh for taking me up and down Leith Hill over the last few months. I knew what was coming. It’s steep, but it doesn’t last forever. 4 lanes were formed. Walkers, riders passing them, me going around them a tiny bit faster and those coming around me up the right. My showing was not too bad, only 1 min 20 secs off my PR (having already done 55 miles). The next 8 miles were a relief. Downhill, but caution was needed along the narrow lanes.
On the ride, most people ride on the left or stay towards the left. This makes sense, as in the UK we drive on the left and this helps as the right side is the quicker/passing side. On a closed road ride, there is still the inclination to stay very left. On a right-hand bend, with the whole of the inside line of the corner available, riders still ride on the left. I can see why. It’s instinctual. During the ride, when pulling on to a road, which, in a car, you would check if anything was coming via your mirrors, I still checked over my right shoulder, even though the road (coming in) was closed.
From fairly sparse supporters dotted at the end of their driveways through Surrey, Dorking provided plenty of support with shouts of encouragement and cheers before the sprint along the A24 and on to the next climb at Box Hill.
Box Hill is the well-known climb in the Surrey Hills made famous by the London 2012 Olympic Route. It may be the longest climb on the route but it’s not the steepest. It’s a fairly gentle climb on a very smooth road surface. If you don’t go too hard, it’s a very manageable hill. Very few people were walking on Box Hill, as opposed to Leith Hill. My time from the roundabout to the top was 18 mins 41 secs. Long, but my time in the French Alps had shown me what a long climb was. The best sign I saw all day was held by a lady at the bottom, urging“Don’t be s*it”.
Five miles of downhill provided little recovery as I continued to drive on. A few lumps had me clicking up the gears as I cursing the extra body weight I was carrying.
From Oxshott at 78miles, I knew where I was again and the effort required getting to my street to see my wife and to get to the finish. My feet were really starting to hurt. Unclipping and shaking my foot gave little relief. An enforced stop for a couple of minutes next to the river before Kingston Town Centre helped ward it off for a couple of miles.
I have previously said how great the crowds have been across the 46-mile course I’ve previously done. This year, it was not so. Kingston was particularly quiet. Possibly, there’s a bit of apathy about the event, now in its 7th year or that many people still drive to Kingston and the event makes that impossible.
The Run Home
I ploughed on as hard as I could to Raynes Park, met my wife and picked up a cold drink with Wimbledon Hill looming in the distance. I hit the bend onto Wimbledon Hill Road as hard and fast as I could knowing that a 3-minute uphill effort (20 secs slower than my PR) was all that lay in the way a run down to River Thames through Putney and the flat of the Chelsea Embankment. Following the rather quiet Kingston, Wimbledon Hill was its usual cacophony of noise and support. Actually my favourite bit of the route.
I got on the drops and tried to jump on the wheel of anything going, (most of which I lost quickly) looking in the distance for the Houses of Parliament to appear. As bemused tourists looked on for queues to cross the road, I pulled in to The Mall ready to put in a sprint. Before I knew it I had passed under the finish banner, looking as bemused as those around me, wondering if that was the finish. I collected my medal after the anti-climactic finish, collected my bag (at around 1 pm, the baggage area was fairly clear) headed out Hyde Park Corner and gingerly cycled to Vauxhall Station. A shower, snooze and watching the pros beckoned.
Personally, there was very little incident
I have heard many stories of obnoxious teams of riders on expensive carbon bikes shouting “On your right” loudly as they think they own the road and have no intention of slowing for anything. Thankfully I saw none of this. My wave started at 7 am, an hour or more of quicker riders had already gone off front of me. The wave/section I was in seemed pretty much perfect for me. While it was fast in sections, riders were careful and looked out for those around them. I had no hairy moments at all. Following years where there have been serious crashes, I think people have calmed down. With the event in its 7th year, many club and quicker riders have already done the event at full speed to “get their time” on roads they cycle most weekends. Now they can enjoy the ride as a great day out with friends with the joy of no cars and traffic lights.
I did see 5 or 6 people on the deck, one with a very bloody shoulder and another with an ambulance and their head and neck immobilised. I believe there were 3 accidents that happened a few hundred metres in front of me as road captains and members of the public came to their aid and told other riders to slow down.
So well run
The event is organised by the same team that do the London Marathon. The marathon must be a doddle compared to this. I know that can’t be true, but the levels of logistics are very different. Everyone turns up with a fairly cumbersome bit of transport that takes up space. 100 miles of road need to be closed for some 12 hours. Every junction off that route needs someone to stand/sit there to stop drivers pulling onto the course. The organisation must have layers you don’t even think of and they do it phenomenally. Chris Boardman stated on the TV coverage that it’s entirely self-funded at no cost to London. Again, impressive.
I only went into one hub. It was busy, but well organised. There were plenty of toilets and loads of tables with bananas, gels, crisps and many volunteers topping up water bottles. No need to queue. Also mechanics on hand for those who needed them. There were other toilet and water stops on the route. I think over the years they have really got these hubs down well so they work efficiently.
I love the event but do feel for the people on the route
The main road off my road is closed between 7 am and 7 pm. I can drive out the other way and still get to wherever I want to go (unless it’s Kingston!). All the people on the Wimbledon Hill side, who are essentially trapped, cleverly, move the cars to our side of the road. So, yes I’m slightly impacted by the event but I love the event and having no traffic on the road for a day is really nice.
If you live directly off a lane on the route in Surrey, someone plonks a cone and a man at the end of your driveway and you’re stuck. If you have no interest in the event, yes, it’s must be highly annoying. You can make a day of it, as many did, giving great support and creating a party atmosphere. Provisions are made for those who do need to get out such as the elderly and pregnant and I think riders as high aware of this and willing to stop.
Promotes cycling and exercise
As well as the Ride London 100, there are also the 46 mile and 19-mile versions (for newer or younger riders). Freecycle on the Saturday, an 8-mile loop in Central London closed to traffic that’s great for families. The male and female professional races and the Brompton World Championships in their tweed blazers and chino shorts. It ‘s a festival of cycling and part of the London 2012 Olympic Games legacy to encourage more healthy and active travel. There’s something for everyone.
One point though. The Ride London website says
“Prudential RideLondon provides a fantastic platform to help fulfil The Mayor and TfL’s goal of encouraging more people to cycle more safely, more often”.
Whist the Ride London events may do this; the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan does not seem to be holding his end up. An article in The Guardian here explains how the provision of cycle routes has stalled. Another article here starts explaining a route at the end of my road than Khan claims to have “built” but is actually a rebranding of an existing and rather dangerous and un-cycle-able route.
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea are also doing their best to block cycle routes. More Guardian Bike blog explains here.
Other closed road events
There’s a huge appetite for these events. My group of friends are always talking about what the next event will be, but closed roads are few and far between.
In regards to commercial enterprises, I just found out Vélo North in Durham on 1st September 2019 has been cancelled due to lack of entrants. Vélo South was cancelled due to weather in 2018 and may not see the light of day again due to residents complains. Vélo Birmingham & Midlands is heading for its 3rd year in 2020.
Chris Boardman, the cycling and walking commissioner for Manchester who was part in the TV coverage said he was looking very closely at how events like Ride London take place and would be excited to take it to Manchester.