Simply divine! On Sunday I rode my longest ride to date and my first Audax UK.
The Great Escape is a cycling event organised for the second year in a row by Islington Cycling Club (ICC); a 205km loop from Look Mum No Hands! cafe in London's Old Street to Essex and back.
Look Mum No Hands!
I arrived at the starting line with way too much excitement around 7am. LMNH! was open to allow cyclists a last shot of caffeine in our blood streams. Delicious! Here I joined a group of riders from ICC who would become my teammates and heroes for the rest of the day. I am really glad to have found friendly people who offered the opportunity to ride the 205km in a group.
Epping & The Blue Egg Cafe (The first 80km)
We kicked off at around 8:15am in wonderful weather conditions. The sun was out and the group picked up from the beginning a good tempo. The way out from London is not too bad at all at this time of the morning, so we chatted our way down through Lea Valley and Epping Forest.
Around the villages of Blackmore, Good Easter and High Easter there are a few nice hills, not too challenging nor too long, but they made the group excited with some friendly hill climbing competition. I adore this feeling, as it pushes me to give 100% rather than attempting a slow-motion solo drag up a soft incline!
The first feed stop was at The Blue Egg Cafe; probably appropriate for most riders but, personally, I felt like it was coming a bit too early in the ride as when I stopped all I could think of was that I had a further 120km to go till the end, oops! Nevertheless, the cafe is a great pit stop: spacious, cycling-friendly, quick service and with plenty of healthy food options.
Group riding = Speed! (Kms 80 to 140)
At the cafe we manage to merge with another group averaging our same speed: between 27 and 28 kph (16-17 mph). Along the rolling course to Dunmow I managed to stick around the first two positions of the group quite regularly... and I loved it! Finding myself strategically riding in the front and feeling like helping the stronger riders to get some relief from the headwind was a fantastic feeling.
Needless to say that the front position almost left me out of breath just after a couple of kms, but I guess this is where persistence and determination come into play. Shortly enough though the group split between those who could keep up with an average speed closer to 30 kph, and those more wise and reasonable who kept a constant pace.
As I didn't want to lose the leading group, for a few kms I found myself trying to keep up with the fast group and, oh dear me, my legs did feel it. So I had to slow down back again to a more gentle pace ahead of our next food stop at km 160. Luckily enough I was not the only one who got caught in the excitement of the moment and I kept riding in a smaller group with three more riders until Dunmow.
Toot Hill, Buckhurst Hill and heavenly flapjacks (The last 60km)
Little did I know that at 140km into the ride I would have one of the highlights of my Great Escape. At the top of the slightly too long Dunmow Hill, the ICC guys welcomed us with (the most!) heavenly flapjacks I have ever tried (thank you Rob's nan).
By the time I was enjoying the very last bite of the flapjack, I decided to tag along with some members of the group who, I believe wisely, decided not to stop for too long. It is tricky to stop on long rides I think as it is too easy to just get cold and starting to ride again at times then feels like a real burden.
So off we went on our way back to London. Truthfully, my memories at this stage are a bit blurred due to the long effort and my energy levels starting to play funny tricks on me. Nevertheless, my Strava tells me that I have managed to take my PB on Buckhurst Hill and to survive the hills to Epping (and out of it) whilst keeping up a decent average speed on the last long stretch through Lea Valley.
Conclusion: long, pleasant and rolling
Going back to LMNH! through Hackney and Shoreditch was priceless. I felt incredibly happy and I had the feeling that we were entering London in victorious style: winner's style! The teamwork was the highlight of the day for me, as it has only been during The Great Escape that I have truly understood what this means, its benefits, its results and... the ecstasy of it.
Overall, I found the route to be less hilly than expected, luckily so, extremely pleasant, with well distributed control and food points along the way. The sun was shining all day, and my cyclist's tan is definitely coming out again.