Last weekend I was lucky enough to be a guest of ŠKODA at the epic that is RideLondon: Surrey 100, a 100-mile sportive set up as a legacy of the 2012 Olympic Games in the capital.
From route to food, drinks, mechanical assistance and more, the folks behind the cycling extravaganza ensured that the only thing we had to do was pedal whilst enjoying / challenging / torturing ourselves (delete as appropriate). What luxury!
Watch my video from the day - with guest appearance from Mariane Vos, Bradley Wiggins and Hannah Barnes...
The day began at an ungodly 4am...
... made all the worse by the fact I’d only accumulated 2 hours sleep as I’d been tossing and turning pretty much all night, eventually giving up and reading my book until 1.30am. When my alarm went off I hurled myself out of bed before I had time to question it, slid straight into my Lycra and popped a bagel in the toaster. Once up, out of the door and on to my bike, everything was fine and I enjoyed cruising through the city whilst she slept.
Upon arriving at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park I got my first impression of the scale of the event as the first of some 30,000 rode around the perimeter before filing themselves in the appropriate holding pen. Participants of all (adult) ages astride a diverse array of bicycles yawned in unison and complained about the early wake up call, whilst still looking very happy to be there.
We just couldn’t help slowing down every time we saw a red or amber light, even though the roads were closed!
Once we’d shuffled forward to the start, we readied ourselves to go whilst the compere kept us entertained by playing some dreadful tunes (Cotton Eye Joe, anyone?). After a countdown we sped off onto a flyover giving views of the city before zooming through an underpass on our way to West London and Richmond Park. With all the roads closed to traffic we made quick progress. But we just couldn’t help slowing down every time we saw a red or amber light, even though the roads were closed to traffic - it was really odd, like it was hard wired into us to stop!
The way we naturally all feel into formation made me feel like a little fish swirling around the seas in his shoal, safe from predators.
After a turn through Richmond Park – hazy morning sun, deer looking bewildered – we started to leave the city behind and settle into a gentle rhythm as our legs propelled us easily through the flat, wide streets. There seemed to be an unspoken rule that the slower riders gathered towards the left of the road leaving the far right for passing, a fine system that seemed to please all. The way we naturally all feel into formation made me feel like a little fish swirling around the seas in his shoal, safe from predators.
I’ve lived in Devon for the last five years, so I found the route remarkably flat - I’ve done rides around Dartmoor before that have seen me clock 1000m of climbing in 30km of riding – so I felt like I was flying on my way out through Surrey. Around 46 miles in we met our first proper climb, Leith Hill, which rises to the highest point in the county. At around a mile-and-a-half with a gradient of approximately 6.5% average, the climb is only as hard as you make it really. Fancying an easy day I just pootled my way up it.
What’s Hot Right Now
After replenishing our supplies of Clif Bars and water from a pretty village green manned by kindly volunteers (thank you!) we continued the ride pedaling through cute (and probably wildly expensive) villages draped with bunting. A scattering of characterful pubs caught my eye and I began making a mental note of which parts of Surrey I’d like to revisit, that turns out to be most of it.
After four hours in the saddle, I’d begun to stiffen up and started wriggling around for relief.
Out next climb was the legendary Box Hill, made famous through the 2012 Olympic road race that saw (male) riders summit nine times. At just 1.5 miles, the climb is gentle, fun but unfortunately over before you know it. Like the cycling dummies we are, we didn’t even stop for a look at the fantastic view from the top, preferring to crack on with a brilliant descent.
After four hours in the saddle...
... I’d begun to stiffen up and started wriggling around for relief. Back in London, there was one more hill to tackle in Wimbledon. By this point my back had begun to really hurt (an unfortunate but regular occurrence) so my husband gave me a ‘turbo boost,’ where he rides with his hand in the small of my back to help me go faster.
Spectators lined the roads... ringing bells and waving flags as we passed.
The next ten or so miles were slightly sore but also really wonderful. Spectators lined the roads to cheer on their families and all the riders coming through, ringing bells and waving flags as we passed. It made me realise what an incredible achievement riding a hundred miles is for some of the participants – they don’t get a sore back ten miles from the end, they’re pushing through pain every step of the way and making it to the end is not a given.
As I rode along the Mall...
... union flags draped on either side of majestic route up to Buckingham Palace I felt so very grateful to be there. To be able to devote an entire day to enjoying myself is such a privilege and something I’ll never take for granted.
If a day spent cycling through London and Surrey’s finest countryside sounds like your idea of fun too, don’t forget to register for next year’s ride – entry to the ballot is open now.