Many thanks to all who supported me in this endeavour. My fundraising page will remain open for a while yet, so if you feel moved to contribute, do please go ahead!
My main mission, of course, was to raise funds for the Cardiomyopathy Association (CMA) and I’m happy to say that the running total (including Gift Aid) stands at £626, with a trickle of donations still coming in. The CMA needs all the support it can get – it may not be a mainstream charity but it does valuable work to help those with (mainly congenital) heart muscle diseases. In recent years these have become much more widely diagnosed, which is good news insofar as it tends to reduce the numbers of people suffering untimely sudden death. There have been several high profile deaths among athletes and footballers in recent years, but there are many more in the general population that are only reported locally. The corollary of the increasing number of diagnoses is that there are many more families struggling to come to terms with a complex genetic health issue that the already overburdened NHS can’t cope with very well. The better known heart charities (e.g. the BHF) tend to focus more on various forms of heart failure which mainly involve the damage done by modern sedentary lifestyles, fast food, smoking and so forth, so for many the CMA really is a lifeline.
If you saw any of the TV coverage of the weekend festival of cycling in London, you’ll not be surprised to hear that I had a really memorable weekend. Registration for the 100-mile event was at ExCel in the Docklands over Thursday to Saturday, with the out-of-towners like me necessarily having to appear on the Saturday. It was very well organised, and the journey was made more worthwhile by a very well supported Cycle Show. With the recent high profile achieved by the likes of Pendleton, Hoy, Wiggins, Froome et al, cycling is really enjoying a boom in the UK at the moment.
My only slight problem, shared by many, was that the road closures commenced at 5.00am on Sunday morning. My hotel, paid for with long-accumulated credit card points, so it felt like a free stay, was right opposite the O2 arena, hemmed in by the river and a road due to be closed. My route from the hotel to the start at the Olympic Park was just 3.5 miles before the road closures, but a lot further and a lot more complicated thereafter. I wasn’t supposed to be at the start until 6.30am but to be on the safe side I did what thousands of others did and made my way over in the darkness before 5.00am, which was when the gates opened. As we waited in the chilly breeze, we were treated to a beautiful sunrise over the velodrome.
With 20,000 cyclists in the throng, it wasn’t possible to see what was going on at the start because the wave loading pipeline stretched such a long way. The PA system was very good though, with plenty of celebrity interviews and, from the first start at 6.00am, a running commentary on each departing wave. Just before 6.00am, we heard the unmistakeable plummy tones of Boris Johnson delivering a short opening speech which I thought was spot-on, as was his whole vision for the weekend’s events. At last it was 7.30am and time for me and a few hundred others in Wave P Black to get going. The actual timing relays for the start of the 100-mile route were two ‘warm up’ miles down the road, so that people had time to settle down and string out a bit before getting stuck in.
Past Canary Wharf and through the Limehouse Link tunnel, it felt quite surreal to be riding on closed roads. We rode on past the Tower of London, Nelson’s Column, along Pall Mall, up to Piccadilly and out to the west past Harrods and over the Hammersmith flyover towards Chiswick and on through Richmond Park.
Apart from the pleasure of riding in large numbers on closed roads, one of the most memorable things was the support of the public. From Kingston on Thames onwards, it became apparent that every village and town along the way had embraced the fact that their main road was closed for the day, and so they lined the route to watch and cheer the cavalcade from their picnic tables or from behind the barriers. There were all the more there because in the afternoon the professional race was going to come through the same route (albeit extended to 150 miles by looping six laps around Leith Hill!). I actually felt quite emotional at times because it was surprisingly encouraging to have so many thousands of people applauding and cheering everyone on. All of the major charities had quite large teams, and supporters ‘camps’ along the route where they were handing out leaflets and no doubt making collections. Every time someone came past them wearing one of ‘their’ shirts, they of course went ballistic.
The first of the three main “hubs” (food, water, medical and mechanical) was at Hampton Court and it came a bit too early at just 25 miles in. I’d decided that I was going to use all three hubs, but ignore all the drinks stops. With so many riders, these pit-stops were much more time consuming than on a normal sportive but that couldn’t be helped. I read later that the Italian who posted the fastest time, in just over four hours, didn’t stop at all and did the whole distance on just two bottles.
The route continued through Walton-on-Thames, Weybridge, Byfleet, Ripley and West Horsley until after 45 miles we got to the first decent climb at Newlands Corner. Then it was back to rolling hills again until one of the main challenges of the day, the Category 2 climb of Leith Hill at about 53 miles. Although quite steep, this was actually relatively short so those who had to get off didn’t have too far to walk! I got up it OK, but I did need my bottom gear. It’s on such climbs that I always reflect on the gulf between us amateurs and the professionals who just dance on the pedals all the way up. On to Dorking and then at 65 miles the iconic Box Hill, which I’d been really looking forward to. Among the messages chalked on the lower slopes was a picture of a cyclist with an unmistakable shock of blond hair, with written underneath “Go Chiselled Whippet!”. This was clearly aimed at the 17-stone Boris, who’d been quoted earlier in the week as saying “I have been doing a bit of training, but the chiselled whippet is yet to emerge.” Box Hill was more long than steep (I had two gears to spare) and it had a great reward at the top in the form of what must be one of the best views out over southern England.
That was the last challenging part, for the final 35 miles were back to less demanding terrain through Leatherhead, Cobham, Esher, Kingston again and then Raynes Park, Wimbledon and Putney. I’d got used to the encouragement of the crowds along the way by this time, but coming along Birdcage Walk and up Horse Guards to Admiralty Arch I really did feel a bit choked by all the cheering from the spectators behind the barriers. The final blast down The Mall to the finish line seemed unreal, as the crowds were all beating on the hoardings that lined the barriers.
The organisation at the finish was faultless, and so I was soon able to collect my commemorative medal, and my kit, and meet up with Viv and James who had been enjoying the entertainment laid on in Green Park.
I had been really well prepared, and so although it was a hard ride I felt that I’d blitzed it (by my standards). My official time was 7hrs 22mins, but that included the three hub stops. I had also lost a bit of time because there were a few unfortunate incidents where ambulances had to be deployed. With so many people of varying abilities, and speeds of over 40mph in places, it’s not surprising there were a few mishaps, but it was sad to think that some people had had a miserable end to their day.
Mishaps aside, the sheer number of charities represented had caused me to reflect a few times on just how many things can go wrong with us frail creatures. There seemed to be at least one charity for every organ of the human body, as well as for those unfortunates who simply fell afoul of the difficulties of the human condition (starvation, destitution, homelessness and so forth). These were sobering thoughts, but the uplifting part was the realisation of just how many people were willing to help – the riders on the day must have represented hundreds of thousands, if not millions, who had generously donated to one good cause or another.
I’m sure this event will go on to be as prominent as the London Marathon in years to come. I lost three stone (17kg) in preparation and gained an abiding memory of a really special day, but more importantly the CMA will be a few thousand pounds better off for simply having entered a half dozen keen cyclists like me in this landmark event.
After the event, I still had to get back to the hotel so that was still a few more miles riding. No surprise then that after a demolishing a plateful of pasta at Il Bianco, at New Providence Wharf, I slept for nine hours, like a log. (I normally get by on no more than five!) The bike enjoyed its stay at the hotel too – it’s not used to that degree of luxury…
- Achey legs but a big smile! (diaryofamosaicmentor.wordpress.com)
- A gruelling but rewarding eight hours in the saddle (thetimes.co.uk)
- RideLondon: Ten thoughts on a weekend of cycling (theguardian.com)
- I didn’t call Boris Johnson a fat b******, says cyclist labelled Gollum by Mayor (standard.co.uk)
- ‘Gollum-like cyclist’ admits hurling abuse at Boris Johnson during 100-mile bike race (telegraph.co.uk)