Ride London Race Report

It’s 4.15am when my alarm goes and I roll over and punch the snooze button. It’s a dangerous move, everyone knows that nothing good ever comes of the snooze button. Five minutes later the shrill of my selected ‘natural wake up’ tune pierces the air again. Where am I? What day is it?! I remember that it is Sunday, and I’m in my friend’s flat in Stoke Newington, North East London.

Today I am joining 25,000 others to ride on closed roads through the streets of London, into the narrow lanes of the Surrey hills and back again as part of the Prudential Ride London Classic. I am taking part as one of a team of four. Joining me are two guys - Greeno and Dan – who I have ridden with a few times, clinging on to their back wheels on the commute home. And then there’s my fellow female in arms – Keri. Keri bought shoes and clips just this week and took them out for a ‘test spin’ on Wednesday. We are underprepared to say the least. 

Of course, beyond our more ‘leisurely’ team there are several more professional Le Col’ers out on the course today. In fact everyone from Le Col HQ office is out there somewhere, and a few of them are starting at the head of the course, Yanto included.

Getting ready for Ride London with Team Le Col  

A TRAFFIC JAM OF A DIFFERENT KIND

Approaching Queen Elizabeth Park in Stratford, I am far from alone. Riders funnel in from every side road like tributaries trickling into a river, until that’s all there is - one gigantic stream of people and bikes. Lights blinking, race numbers flapping on seat posts, nervous smiles and excited chatter against a backdrop of dawn light.

To see that many cyclists in one place, I couldn’t help but feel a little swell in my heart. As we near the park and the mass of riders slow, I realise that this is one traffic jam I don’t mind waiting in. 

I am in Black wave B, and so follow the signs to my appropriate colour area. There are morning hugs as I meet up with the rest of the team, more nervous smiles and a couple of confessions that some team members may have not entirely recovered from Friday night’s drinking escapades. Still we are all here - excited and ready to roll.

I note that some double standards seem to have been applied when it comes to health and safety in the start area. I look across to the baggage truck and note that the workers standing in the back of the trucks are secured in place with a harness around their waist. Hopes of being treated to an early morning performance of Cirque du Soleil are quickly dashed when I gather that the harnesses are there to prevent the baggage handlers from falling off the truck and onto the heads of the competitors as they reach for their bags.

Although I whole heartedly applaud the protection of said baggage handlers, organisers seem to have overlooked the fact that in order for the thousands of riders to get to the baggage truck, they must negotiate their way across a slippery concrete slope. Not something easily done in cleats, and undeniably entertaining to watch. Most opt to stay low to the ground, indulging in a little unexpected morning yoga, adopting a backwards crab-downward-dog-hybrid position to ensure they don’t risk injury so close to the start.

READY FOR THE OFF

By 6.15am my team and I are in our start pen. The rush to get here, the registration stress, the setting of five alarms, the last-minute bike checks – all now seems rather anti-climactic as we realise that we have over an hour until the starting gun.

We pass the time taking selfies and passing comment on one another’s kit. Dan has opted for a snugly fitting and well ventilated Pro Air Jersey, Greeno has gone for full Pro jersey and bibs attire and Keri and I are (much to our delight) sporting matching women’s Sport Jerseys.

After the obligatory ‘can you hold my bike while I pee?’ requests and various dashes to the salubrious porter-loos, we begin chatting to a 60-year-old woman who’s sporting a woollen jersey, leather mitts, tailored shoes and is riding a vintage bike with down-tube shifters. She has long silvery hair secured in a plait that runs down her back, and her blue eyes carry just a hint of mischief.

“Long ride today, eh? How are you feeling about it?” I ask her.

“Oh it’ll be okay.” She replies with a smile. “I did the Colossus last week. Have you heard of it?” All three of us shake our head (Dan’s gone for a pee at this point).

“It’s a 300 kilometre ride through the Yorkshire dales. You have 18 hours to make it round… I made it, just.” We stare back at her blank faced, all of our jaws hanging slightly lower to the floor.

At last,  we are just moments from the starter gun. Thanks to the startline MC we have endured blasts of Tina Turner, Rick Astley and a dash of ‘Highway to Hell’. We’ve even been asked to vote between Fat Boy Slim and The Beatles (how does one choose?!). Just as the MC has us all doing the YMCA, I’m starting to warm to him, but it’s too late – we’re off!

Startline selfies for Team Le Col at Ride London

FLATS AND FALLS IN THE FIRST 50

The start is frantic and everyone seems, for want of a better word, twitchy. Rider trains begin to form as people hop from one to the other, eager to get an early build-up of speed and conserve energy for the miles ahead.

I get a puncture one mile from the start (yes, one mile into a hundred-mile race!) and fumble to fix the damn thing on the central reservation just shy of the entrance to the Limehouse Link tunnel. I am surrounded by the noise of spinning rear cassettes, clunky gear changes, and catch snippets of conversation as other riders pass.

Back on the bike and back in the action, I zoom through central London. The novelty of riding carefree through Kensington is not lost on me and I am grinning for ear to ear. This has to be the cycling version of the Monaco Grand Prix, I think. Tight bends, weaving in between traffic islands, the pack splitting to take different courses across the roundabouts – it’s a sight to behold, and a joy to be in the middle of it.

Where I can, I hop on the back of those who have decided to form trains, clinging on for as long as possible before being dropped and picking up a new one. I zoom through Chiswick, then Richmond {ark, basking in the cheers of the supporters lining the barriers at the road edge, through Kingston (a quick wave from my mum and dad), onto Weybridge and out into Surrey, proper.

Yanto Barker at the starline of Ride London

YANTO BREAKS SOME COURSE RECORDS

After a second puncture at mile 30 (thanks for nothing puncture gods), I am sat on a grass verge at mile 45 just shy of Newland’s Corner, wrestling with my chain and bending my front derailleur back into position after a dodgy gear change. I am out of inner tubes and wondering whether the game is up, and so go as far as to consult Google Maps for the nearest train station.

As I check my phone, reports from the pro part of the Le Col HQ team begin to flood in. Yanto has long since finished by now. After leading the race, and breaking away from the peloton with one other rider, the puncture gods dealt him a blow on the descent of Leith Hill. The time lost to fixing the flat put him out of the running to challenge for an overall win, but didn’t stop him tearing around sections of the course in record times.

On Strava, Yanto managed to take one King of the Mountains and two course records. Against a backdrop of 30,154 attempts he claimed a King Of The Mountains on the 21.6 mile section between Newlands and Box Hill, including taking the record for the fastest descent down Newlands – in which he covered one mile in an eye watering 1 minute 35 seconds. And to add a little extra somethin’ somethin’, he claimed the Ride London Ripley segment course record – covering 19.8 miles at an average of 23.5 mph. 

Yanto Barker's Legs after Ride London 2017

I’m busy considering how on earth it’s possible to go that fast when, just then, another text comes through from a different Le Col HQ team member, James. James started alongside Yanto at the front of the race, but was now making friends with the ambulance service, after a crash at 26 miles per hour. Yikes.

It seems a sad fact of such a popular event that crashes are inevitable. And a few miles further on I get my own taste of it as a poor girl collides with the tarmac just in front of me. She’s in a bad way with what looks like a rather messed up collar bone and so I wait with her and others until a medic arrives.

CRASHES AND THE HILLS AT LAST 

Compared to the stops and starts of the first 50 miles - the second half is an absolute dream!! Thanks to the multiple hold ups, I have more energy than expected and  besides, I LOVE going uphill. The hills then come thick and fast – Abinger, followed by Leith… we are escorted by motorbike through the centre of Dorking, and the town crier yells out: ‘Welcome to Dorking!! Best Town in England. Enjoy Box Hill!” And enjoy it I did. Hailing from Kingston-Upon-Thames, Box is like an old friend, after all. I am flying up it (well, flying by my own standards, which is more like cruising to most).

Onto the flatter roads through Leatherhead, Esher and towards Kingston I go. The straight from Thames Ditton to Kingston alongside the Thames is like a TT course. The riders are spread out now so there’s space to cycle more freely.  I hunker down onto the drops, whack myself into a big gear and mash along the straight. I am teetering on the edge of going too hard and blowing myself up, but I can’t help it. I am in pedal-heaven.

The final evil climb up to Wimbledon Village approaches and there is a noticeable split in the pack. Those that still have the legs, and those that don’t. I fix my eyes on a lady in a Royal Air Force set of bibs who is still going strong and chase her to the top. The cheers of those spilling out of pubs onto the pavement spur us on. I spot a couple in the crowd I recognize – they seem as surprised to see me as I am them. They cheer. I cheer. On I go.

With six miles left, and coming out of Putney, I am delirious. Excited, riding high on adrenaline pulsing through my veins, but delirious nonetheless. I steam past a woman who I note is riding head to toe in Le Col clothing, and in my delirium decide not to filter what comes out of my mouth. I raise one hand aloft and shout “Yaaaayyy! Le Cooooollllllll’ at her as I pass. I don’t look back long enough to wait for her bemused response.

Keri at the finish line for Team Le Col

THE FINISH + PIZZA + BEER

At last the finish line comes. I thunder onto the trademark pink tarmac of The Mall and look up to see the '50 metres to go’ sign. I feel a swell of emotion amidst the crowds lining the barriers, and can’t help fall a little bit more in love with the entire human race, as I cross the line and pull on the breaks, just in front of Buckingham Palace.

Waiting in line with a sea of fellow finishers, most taking palace-selfies, or on the phone to their loved ones, I pick up messages from my immediate team mates. Greeno and Dan stormed it round in under 5 hours, and Keri absolutely nailed it on her first big ride in 5 hours 30. Everyone is finished, happy and in one piece.

After making my way to the Amstel hospitality area, inhaling some pizza and a pint of beer I begin dissecting the day’s riding with the rest of the team. I decide it’d be faster to cycle home than get on a train - so as I pedal slowly back through the streets of west London I reflect on a day that was part disaster, part pure joy and full-on urban adventure. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.

Beers at the finishline of Ride London with team Le Col

 

August 02, 2017 by Anna McNuff