Prudential Ride London 2016: cycling the inaugural Surrey 46

Map of route
Map of the route, as recorded by my Garmin phone app

I needn’t have worried so much about RideLondon Surrey46. I didn’t sleep in. I didn’t miss the VIP breakfast. I got in my wave load area in good time and I cycled 46 miles without incident – no crashes, no flats, no energy lows to conquer. In fact, I did it so fast, I shaved more than an hour off my guesstimated finish time. All round, it was a superb event — well organised and fun — and I finished it feeling absolutely elated. Sign me up for the next one, please.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had a few “wobbles” along the way.

Cycling too fast

The first? The pace over the first eight to 10 miles was super-fast, catching me entirely by surprise. I initially put the speed down to nervous energy — we’d all been waiting so long in our wave zones that the tension had built up and it needed to go somewhere. (For instance, my wave loading zone opened at 7.31, closed at 8.06, and then it took an hour to move oh-so slowly and in intermittent fits and starts to the line for our starting time of 9.02, by which time we were all desperate to jump in our saddles and begin turning the pedals!)

Ride-card

But I think the fact we were cycling on closed roads had something to do with it too. For the first time ever I didn’t have to worry about the cut-and-thrust of motorised traffic – I was free to cycle across two lanes (and often more), so if I found myself getting held up by a slower cyclist I simply moved across and overtook them without fear of being run over by a van or a bus travelling at speed. While I did have to watch out for fellow cyclists coming up from behind, I never felt that I was putting myself at risk by being on the road — quite a novel experience, I must say.

That combination of excitement and freedom meant I rode at a pace far above my usual cycle commute, which tends to average around 11mph (17.7kph). In fact, I did the whole 46 miles at almost 15mph (24kph), so the fast pace wasn’t restricted to those first 10 miles.

 

Profile of Surrey 46
Profile of the Surrey 46 route, courtesy of the Ride London website

 

Climbing hills

The second “wobble” was confronting my fear of hills. If I was a professional cyclist (you can stop laughing now), I would not be a mountain climber (nor a mountain descender). I honestly don’t know how they do it without both their lungs and legs exploding. Having looked at a profile of the Surrey 46 route (see above) in the days leading up to the event, there were two hills that concerned me: Sawyer’s Hill in Richmond Park (about mid-way through the cycle), and Wimbledon Hill, in Wimbledon (just eight miles from the finish).

I’ve cycled up Sawyer’s Hill, a long sweeping incline, many a time, but I tend to avoid it wherever possible because it’s such an energy-sapper. In recent weeks I’ve made myself go up it a handful of times while on training runs — but it wasn’t something I enjoyed. As for Wimbledon Hill, I’ve walked up it a lot on my lunch-time strolls, but I’ve never cycled it. It’s short but very steep, and there’s a little kicker at the end, which I’d been warned about. I’m happy to report that on Sunday I climbed both hills without having to get up out of the saddle. I think this is largely due to Mr London Cycling Diary giving me a mini lesson on gearing the night before, so that I knew exactly which gears I should be in as I approached the hills (rather than clunking my way through them mid-ascent and losing momentum). That preparation seemed to work a treat — or maybe the sheer “high” of taking part in this event meant I didn’t even notice the pain!

Accident on the road

The third “wobble” was coming upon the aftermath of a crash in Kingston-upon-Thames, at about the 25 mile mark. There was a man lying prone on the road and he was being attended to by volunteers. It was hard to see what had happened and how serious the accident was. I remember thinking, “I hope he’s OK”. Then, having done a loop of the town, I had to go past the man again. There was no longer any question about the seriousness of his injuries: an ambulance was in attendance and a paramedic was giving him CPR right there in the middle of the road, while cyclists cautiously whizzed past and spectators lined the street. (I can still see the up-and-down nature of the paramedic’s body over the cyclist’s as they tried to pump life into him.) I told myself not to look. And even though I caught but a brief glimpse of what was going on, I got so upset I had to force myself not to burst into tears and to just concentrate on my own race.

For the rest of the event I kept thinking of the poor man. You attend a sportive to have fun in the great outdoors, you never once consider that you may die while doing it. It was a sobering thought. (I’ve since discovered the man, 48-year-old Robin Chard, had a heart attack and died later in hospital. He was raising money for cancer research and his fundraising page currently tops £63,000, a wonderful tribute that I hope his family can take some comfort from.)

Some high points

Putting that sad note to one side, how about the high points? Well, without sounding like a terrible show off, finishing Surrey 46 wasn’t as physically demanding as I had imagined it would be. My cycle training paid off, as did a positive mindset. The distance was pretty much perfect (I only stopped once, for a pee and a water top up at Richmond Park). My legs remained strong throughout, I didn’t get the usual sore bum and I never once wished the event would hurry up and end, thoughts which have entered my mind at other similar, but longer, events! I felt some soreness in my back at around mile 40, which worsened the closer I got to the finish line, but pretty much disappeared as soon as I entered the Mall for those last few hundred yards!

The best bit — aside from cycling on closed roads — was seeing so many spectators lining the route offering their support. Whether it was residents sitting in deck chairs on the footpath outside their homes ringing cow bells, or great throngs of charity workers in brightly coloured t-shirts, clapping and cheering us on, or the random people who spotted my cycling top and shouted “GO SKODA!”, or the volunteers waving their yellow flags like rhythmic gymnasts and blowing their whistles to warn us of danger ahead, it all added up to a rather wonderful and upbeat atmosphere. The people of Kingston should be given special mention, too, because they came out in droves to lend their support. It almost felt like the London Olympics all over again.

I must also thank Skoda for giving me the ticket to ride (and the top). And a very BIG thank you to all the volunteers (there must have been hundreds of them) and the organisers. Everything was so superbly managed — from the start line to the finish — that there was no need to worry about anything other than turning the pedals and keeping your eyes on the road. And the goodie bag — and medal — at the end was a lovely surprise! It made cycling the five miles home all the more easier…

And finally, thanks to Mr London Cycling Diary, who got up at stupid o’clock on Sunday morning to drive me to the Olympic Park so I could fulfil this crazy cycling challenge — and for that valuable lesson about using my gears properly!

At the finish line on The Mall © Marathon Photos
At the finish line on The Mall © Marathon Photos

Total distance: 46 miles | Ride time: 3hr 16min (including stops) | Average speed: 14.7mph