Mark: Start Line
Waking up at 3:45 in the morning is something one rarely looks forward to. I’m no different; I’m not a morning person. Especially when there’s a massive house party taking place on the other side of your bedroom wall making it pretty impossible to fall asleep. Perhaps it was the thump thump thump of the music that woke me at 3:39am. Why did I even bother to set an alarm?
Luckily I had gotten everything prepped the night before. Coffee timer set at 3:30am. Check. Big bowl of porridge with bananas, raisons, and brown sugar out and ready to go. Check. Riding kit out and ready (don’t forget the shoes!). Check! Down the street to meet JP and the cab by 4:30am to take us a bit closer to the start. What, traffic? At this hour? Of course, it’s London. There’s 25,000+ other people doing exactly the same thing this morning. Everything is taking longer than expected. After filtering through much too much traffic, we eventually arrive at Olympic Park just in time for my bin to close. Where did all the time go? Perhaps I should have gotta up earlier? You gotta be kidding.
It’s a wonderful morning. The sun is coming up, and the temperature is perfect. The coffee has kicked in, and the excitement to get to the start has finally woke me. It’s good to be here. I have a saying I tell myself, and today it seems especially appropriate, “I sure don’t like to get up, but I like being up.”
We leave the gates just after 6am. The speed rolls on as we fly down the wide A12 with no cars. It’s an amazing feeling watching the London cityscape pass by. The Tower of London, the Natural History Museum, The Shard in the distance. It suddenly feels very special to be part of this grand event. I like being up.
I latch onto what seems to be a fast group, and eventually do my first turn at the front. As I drop back everyone in the line says exactly what you want to hear: “good work”. From Tower Hill, we get to Richmond Park faster than I would have imagined was possible on a bike, 26 minutes for an average of over 42 km/h. You gotta be kidding.
I love being up.
Justin: Box Hill to The Mall.
Pretty much TT’ing along the dual carriageway is how I remember the start of the approach to Box Hill, after a speedy run through Westcott and Dorking.
With two thirds of the ride pretty much out of the way, I was feeling alright as I turned onto the start of the Zig Zag and started the ascent at a steady pace. Due to the number of riders, it wasn’t a fast climb, but sticking to the right hand side of the road, I made my way past the slower riders and once at the top, I was able to pick up the pace and make my way down to Leatherhead.
The approach to Leatherhead is a bit of a blur, I remember it being pretty rapid, and then coming in towards the town centre, turning right and seeing how many people were out to watch everyone go past.
I’ve taken part in Sportives before where you’ll get the odd spectator here and there, but this was a proper crowd, like being at a pro race. Everyone seemed to be getting into the spirit of the day, unreal. Continuing through the town and there was a band playing (or I was hallucinating) and people. People everywhere!
From Leatherhead, I have vague memories of heading towards Oxshott and then into Esher. I expected a big crowd here and wasn’t disappointed. They were absolutely having it.
Making the most of the closed roads, I made my way down towards the Scilly Isles and Thames Ditton, what an experience to ride down past Sandown Park and not get stuck in traffic!
Thames Ditton passed by in a flash, again plenty of people out, shouting encouragement and giving everyone’s morale a real boost.
Into Kingston, yet more people out, more encouragement and the feeling of being in a proper road race, passing through the centre at speed before the approach to Raynes Park, then Wimbledon and the last real test of the legs at Wimbledon Hill.
One benefit of being based locally is that I get to ride most of these roads every week, so knowing what to expect for the final climb, and feeling pretty good, I decided the best approach was to climb Wimbledon Hill slowly and get back into TT mode for the run into town through Putney. More or less a straight road followed by the descent down Putney Hill, a fast road at the best of times, faster with no cars… I was psyched, my goal of finishing in under 5 hours was well within my reach, I was going to smash it once I’d made it up that ramp.
Just before the centre of Wimbledon, there were marshals instructing everyone to slow down and expect to stop, and that’s exactly what happened, everyone ground to a halt. I have no idea what had happened, I presumed an accident, and it seemed like I waited an eternity, it was a few minutes.
Finally everyone was allowed to get moving, but the waiting around wasn’t good for my legs, nor my overall time. I made it up Wimbledon Hill, no harm done, I thought, however, looking at my Garmin, I realised that it was going to be touch and go.
Going through Putney, and it was fast, like I knew it would be. I might as well have been wearing blinkers, I don’t know what was happening around me, some guy almost caused a crash, but that’s all I remember.
At this point, I was coming towards Parsons Green, Chelsea and then along the Thames, I settled into a rhythm, put my head down and focused. I barely recall the crowd, but they were there, I don’t remember much, just that I had to push on.
The final part of the route is a complete blank, until coming into The Mall, seeing and hearing the biggest crowd of them all, a final assault on the senses before a final assault on my legs to get myself over the finish line.
Josh and Mark were there waiting, and after a few photos and congratulations, it was time to pick my way through the swarm of riders, get my medal and goody bag, retrieve my stuff and put my feet up. It felt like it took hours, while I reflected on the fact that I had just done my first century since last year. Even though I finished in 5:02:57, missing my sub 5 hour goal, I was happy.
At the risk of repeating myself, it really is the crowd that makes this such a great experience and a beautiful ride. Riding on traffic free roads in town at speed is a lot of fun, as is burning through the countryside, and the chance to take roundabouts the wrong way (and feel like you’re in a Tour de France stage, that made me smile) but when you have people lining the streets to watch you, cheering you on, that really is something special and it makes you want to dig deeper and go faster, especially in those last few metres.