I entered the ballot for this ages ago and was told in February that I had a place in the inaugural event being run by the folks who do the London Marathon, with the course similar to the Olympic Road Race and the new London Surrey Classic the pros are doing. Since then there has a steady stream of emails and updates on what’s happening and when, culminating in a book, yes a book, of instructions that was issued last month, along with rider number and start instructions. This is no turn up at a village hall and sign on event, the scale is just a bit bigger. Upshot is, there were 50,000 people in the ballot for 20,000 places with start times seeded on expected time to complete and you had to provide proof of other events you have done to get a good seeding. My start time was 6:02am and I had to be in the loading pen by 5:25am – yes it is still dark at that time!
Registration was at what was being called the Cycle Show being held over 3 days at the London Excel Arena. I went along on the Friday evening and wasn’t too busy. Registration was easy, proof of ID required, and was handed a bag with numbers, timing chip and yet more instructions. All very smooth and well organised – a theme for the whole event. Then wandered around various bike related and charity stalls at the show. There were various events and presentations and pros turning up over the 3 days and lots of bling to buy. There was even a German brewery selling low alcohol recovery beer!
On Sunday, I was staying less than a mile from the start in the Olympic Park, so I could stay in bed as long as possible, but was up at 4am trying to eat along with other nutters. There has been Internet chat about how to get to the start when the roads are shut, routes being marked, etc etc but in reality even though they said you couldn’t, you could cycle on the closed roads to the start and there was a steady stream of bikes and lights leading the way (and it was signposted too). Again,excellent organisation. There are 2 start locations Black and Blue with different route in to the Olympic Park and then split into fenced off holding pens. Loads of toilets and changing facilities, coffee and food available and a van to drop off a bag for pick up at the end. As I was in the first Blue wave it wasn’t too busy and really easy to find where you needed to be and get to the start.
On exact times they published things started to happen and we were moved along to the official start line, Blue on left side, Black on right side. At exactly 6am Boris waved his flag and off we went. The first 2 miles are neutralised to make sure everyone takes it easy and gets out the park and on to the closed roads safely – a good idea with so many people.
I rolled along for the first mile then the groups started to form and at mile 2 the timing mats signified the real start and then it was all a blur for the next 50 miles 🙂
A large peloton formed (easily 100+) as we sped through quiet closed roads. As we were the lead group on the road we had a lead car, motorbike riders and pretty sure a helicopter was following for most of the way too – real pro feel to it!
I have no idea where I was or had been, except I do remember passing Harrods at one point and getting to Richmond Park. With such a large very fast moving group it was eyeballs out, staring at the road and wheels ahead, staying safe. Sometimes only the screech of someone’s brakes was all the warning you had there was a sharp bend or other obstacle. It really was a fast interval session as we were a steady 25mph on flat roads and then the elastic stretching and snapping back after every turn as you sprinted to get back on.
This frantic pace kept up all the way until the Surrey Hills, around 45 miles in. The first one was Newlands Hill which I don’t remember climbing at all, so not sure that qualifies as a hill. Then at about 55 miles in was the first real climb, Leith Hill, around 1 mile at 7% average. It does have a couple of sharp ramps and did split our group a little, but it was less taxing than a usual blast up Tully is! The lead bunch regrouped on the descent and was a little thinner now, but still 50+. The descent off Leith Hill was interesting, fast, but with so much trees over the road it was dark and wet and was like being in a very long tunnel. As soon as the descent was over, Box Hill arrived and what a fabulous piece of road, must be the smoothest tarmac in the UK. I gave this too much respect, thinking it was going to be a couple of miles of climbing, but it really is nothing, any weekend club run we do has harder, longer hills. So my decision to take it at my own pace and regroup on the descent never really happened as the lead bunch rode off never to be seen again as there was nothing to slow them up! It is a nice “climb” but it is not difficult.
There were still a good size bunch of us regrouping on the descent and then it was a very very fast frantic blast back to London. By now the crowds had appeared en route and the support was fabulous. Pretty sure we had a member of the UK Youth Team in our group, full kit, ridiculously skinny, pro number hanger on bike, but as I never got past him to see his face I can’t confirm who it was, but I could probably recognise his arse in a line up after following it for 30 miles 🙂
As the mile flew by towards the end it wasn’t until we hit Whitehall with about a mile to go I actually had any idea where I was. Then a left hand bend took us on to the Mall and the last 500 metres to the finish where the sprint kicked off as we hit the finish line with a good crowd cheering us on.
Past the finish line we got medals and shown past Buck House to pick up a goody bag and on to the bike store and meet and greet in Green Park. The goody bag actually had some good stuff in it, including recovery milk drink, water, pistachios, etc and bizarrely a sachet of salad cream? All very well organised and marshalled and went off without a hitch.
Not sure the weather could have been kinder, warm but not too hot, and a tailwind home, so can’t see me ever doing a faster 100 miles or finishing in a more iconic stretch, not in the UK anyway.
My ride time was 4:10, making me 87th fastest out of the 15,050 that seem to have completed the full 100 miles. The fastest time on the day was 4:03. I bumped into Charlie Marr afterwards while waiting for the pro race to finish, he enjoyed it too, and his time was 5:01
In summary, a fantastic well organised and run event with closed roads on a very very fast circuit. Great support out on the roads and a real pro feel to it. One for a fast time, not difficult for club riders, but also one that is “doable” for non cyclists as a challenge / charity event.
I’d recommend it for the experience, entries for 2014 open on August 14th 2013…….
Link to my photos and video clips are here.
Garmin stats here, includes 2 mile neutral zone and the 7 mile ride back to my hotel from the finish: