As Ride London has become equivalently difficulty to get into as the London Marathon, I have had to look for other riding events.
At the start of March, a friend and I were well organised and entered Velo South, a 100-mile closed road ride with 15,000 riders West Sussex countryside including the South Downs National Park. We thought it would just be the two of us. Then three other friends got involved. One, unwillingly but a cycling enthusiast. One an “If you guys are in, I’m in” sporadic cyclist. And a mountain biker in a previous life with no bike, a new baby girl and a willingness to lose some weight. Before we knew it there were 5 of us entered with a team name that puts us all in the same starting pen.
As my life took a turn to become more active a few years ago, over the years I have tried to get friends involved in different events. Much of this was a selfish attempt for friends to join me, as running a race on your own is boring and lonely. It’s worked from time to time, but not very often. So the Velo South was another one of these attempts and an opportunity to share something with friends. The days of beers every Friday are sporadic as four of them now have young children, so going for an intermittent ride on a Saturday morning and a coffee afterwards is our new Friday night.
Velo South is an event organised by CSM Active (the people behind Adidas City Runs and the London 10 mile run) who have obviously seen the appetite for closed road bike events especially in the south and put one on. They have previously held Velo Birmingham in 2017 that garnered varying opinions. Pre-registration was required and there were apparently 30,000 entries for the 15,000 spaces so they are right about the enthusiasm. The cost is expensive. I can quite remember what the General entry cost was but I think it was between £80 to 90. We went with the Fast Track entry with was £129 (with £7.42 processing fee) that gave us an earlier start pen, the start pack posted instead of having to pick it up the day before and guaranteed car parking.
This is a lot of money, but I think we will appreciate it come the day and these events are not cheap to put on. If it goes well and we have fun together we’ll forget about the price we paid to enter.
It’s already been money well spent, though. The preparation went from 0 to 100 mph very quickly.
The other four have all bought turbo trainers and used an app called Zwift which hooks up to a computer, iPad, iPhone letting you ride with other and friends in a virtual environment that comes with a multitude of stats, power outputs and leaderboards and also links to Strava. This works for them. Cycling takes a lot of time and fatherhood has left them all time stressed and with the inability to leave their kids on their own in the house to look after themselves from 3 hours!
So everyone is back on their bikes. The initial friend (and most regular rider) I signed up with now has a project and loves it. The cycling enthusiast has got his head down and’s smashing it. The sporadic cyclist has finally got his turbo trainer Christmas present set up and running. The mountain biker now has a full road set up, entering sportives and has lost 5 kilos. My Strava followers have doubled from 4 to 8 and the feed is full of digital avatars with everyone’s training rides. The What’s app group averages about 20 messages a day full of kit talk, power outputs and general banter.
I’m doing it old skool (no room for a turbo trainer). I cycle to work. This is 7 miles each way. This is now not a commute. It’s training! Every green light is a sprint. Any hill is now a hill session. Chesnut Avenue and Lime Avenue in Bushy Park are now time trial sessions. When time allows, I slip a lap of Richmond Park in on the way home.
The weekend morning rides are ramping up. Two of them met up at 6.45am on a recent Sunday to ride Leith Hill. There are Box Hill training sessions planned (just riding up and down the same hill) and a trip to possibly ride up Mt Ventoux on the edge of the French Alps.
I have only ridden one closed road event, the Ride London 46 and loved it. I can’t wait for Velo South. Riding in a team with my four best friends. But the heat is coming on. I’m the “fit one” but they’re coming for me. No one wants to be dropped and fear is a super motivator.