LONDON, UK - Last October, spurred on by the exploits of Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish in that year's Tour de France, I signed up to do the inaugral RideLondon sportive with a bunch of mates. I was in reasonable shape at the time, but thought it a great opportunity to get out more on my bike and maintain a good level of fitness, training for the epic 100-miler in a small peloton of friends.
Only to my horror, I was the only one to get allocated a place on the sportive - cue plenty of solo rides around Richmond Park. My 'training' also saw me take in a few climbs in the inner-city of Toronto where I was posted in June and I purchased a decent $800 Kona Jake cyclocross bike to attempt the 100 miles on. It probably weighs more than my Specialized I grabbed off eBay to use for commuting, but it works a hell of a lot better.
They say you should tackle 70% of the distance before setting out on a sportive, they also say you can benefit from giving up caffeine in the lead-up to the big day (can increase performance by 3%). I attempted/acheived neither. It's not that I'm a lazy caffeine addict, well maybe I am, I just didn't have the time or the training partners to really nail this. Before flying out to Canada in June I did go up Box Hill three or four times (there's a van that does great bacon cheeseburgers after the summit), and on the Monday before the big race I tackled Leith Hill and Newlands Corner - only the climb I thought was Newlands Corner wasn't actually Newlands Corner.
If that all sounds a bit amateur, it really was. This was my first sportive. My allocated start time was 7.45am on the day, so amongst the last to leave the Olympic Park, and I had a gentle 8 mile ride to the start in East London. What started as a smooth ride along Regent's Canal turned into a rat race with a bunch of other riders who also got lost near the start - it's all very well being able to see the Olympic Stadium but there was little in the way of signage. This meant I rode an extra 5 miles before the race had even started, so by the time I saw the creperie at 7am, my stomach was definitely rumbling.
The start was well-organised, plenty of motivational music to keep the blood pumping and plenty of portaloos. The first section of the ride was on motorway, then we swept past Tower Hill and then across to Knightsbridge. I am sure it was nerves but by this point I already needed to take a leak, I hadn't actually taken on that much liquid. The queue at the first loos in Chiswick was monumental, but I managed to hold out until Richmond Park (by the side of the road...). Needs must and all that.
I averaged about 18mph through the first 30-40 miles - in hindsight I went a little too hard but the excitement kept me going and I was adamant on keeping up with a woman in the full Wiggle-Honda kit. She probably dropped me near Byfleet.
My only real stop was on 50 miles, just before the fearsome Leith Hill (6.4% over 1.3 miles, but feels like 20% to me). The feeding zone was incredibly packed, but I didn't mind the crowds. At this point I just wanted to get off the saddle and nab as many of the Hobnob bars as possible.
Leith Hill is perfectly doable. Only I did it at 7mph, shouting profanities, and Geoffrey Soupe of FDJ averaged 15.7mph up it later that afternoon in the pro race, smashing the Strava record.
One rider took a very nasty tumble on the descent of Leith Hill, which I guess was inevitable - fortunately I stayed on my Kona down the back of Box Hill into Leatherhead as my front brake came to grief.
The final 30 miles were fairly tame, which I appreciated, although Wimbledon Hill was a nasty surprise near London.
All that was left for me to do on the Mall was get on someone's wheel, launch my sprint, zip up my Europcar jersey and point to the 'sponsor'. Sadly this meant coming across another rider after the finishing line and almost sending him into the barriers, but by then I was too tired to care. My finishing time was 6 hours and 28 minutes, so I averaged 16mph, which I am more than happy with.
I grabbed my medal, locked my bike and headed straight to Picadilly for a Guinness and steak frites. I wasn't too interested in the complimentary Erdinger alcohol-free beer at the finish.
The organisation was fantastic and this is definitely an event that can become as iconic as the London Marathon.