On 31st July, 11 riders represented Brighton Excelsior in the country’s highest profile sportive. We helped a few to gain club entries and attracted excellent charity deals for some of the others. Normally a blog about 100 mile bike ride would feature the highs and lows of people’s training stories but we’re cyclists so there is none of that, although 4 of the 11 did the BECC Night Ride and 2 attempted the ESCA 100 mile TT in the previous weeks. Here is what 3 of our riders had to say about the event.
The Build Up
I'd like to thank the Club and The HTF Charity for giving me the opportunity to ride the Pru100. I completed the 160km in 5hours 5mins. This included 2 stops. Anyone who’s ridden Sunday Club Rides with me will be amazed that this only included 1 wee stop! (The other being to refill water bottles). My preparation involved spending the day as a tourist walking around the sites of London and having minimal sleep, up at 4.30am and having the fire alarm go off twice in the overnight accommodation.
I managed to enter via the ballot but I raised £150 for Alzheimers anyway. Driving up the day before it was apparent that cyclists had occupied the town. Every time I entered the hotel lift there was a carbon bike in it. For long rides I never know whether to fuel up the night before, on the morning or during the ride - so I did all 3. My sleep was apocalyptically bad, partly due to nerves and also to the boy racers thrashing around the empty streets. Just as I was telling myself to try for 2 more hours the alarm went off. The hotel laid on a cyclist’s breakfast after which I followed the bleary eyed hordes to the Olympic Park, you can’t get lost. I managed to complete the course with just 2 bottles and no stops, except 10 minutes or so for the crashes, heart attacks etc.
This was my second Ride London, though last year I rode it at a very leisurely pace as I turned it into a double century by riding to and from the event. So this year I was geared up to ride it at a brisker pace. Unfortunately, I was also working at the Ride London Expo on Friday and Saturday, so two days on my feet was the not the best preparation for a fast 100.
There are six colour coded start streams on 2 sides of the park. On arrival you can leave a bag to be collected at the finish and there are plenty of toilets too. Everyone has to enter holding pens with the faster riders generally having the earlier slots. It's never boiling hot before 6am. 2016 was a warm year but it's worth being prepared. You queue up to be released in batches and as you get closer to the Copper Box arena you hear the celebrities being interviewed at the start. Finally the MC asks the group to nominate a song to roll out to and the DJ does his best to oblige.
Once away from the start alongside the Velodrome at the Queen Elizabeth park, the wide roads into London were fast and I covered the first 68km in 2 hours. Grab a wheel, jump to the next train - it keeps you ticking along at a good speed, you don't want to stop.
My legs felt a little tired on Sunday morning so I rode with a couple of my work colleagues for the first 10 miles. Shortly after that I found a nice fast train to latch onto and so my pace soon increased. This was to be my tactic for the rest of the morning and I ensured I was always in a group for the flat sections and did my turn when required. On two occasions I had to drop out of the group I was in due to some inexperienced riders moving off their lines without looking and I was concerned that I was going to be brought down. But I managed to get around the course without incident and was also fortunate to only witness a couple of minor spills.
It’s a long wait at The Olympic Park but very well organised. The amazing thing about the speed right from the start was that it was everybody and it was sustained. Although the traditional 5 hour target was on my mind I was just out to enjoy myself so instead of jumping on every chain I spent a lot of time enjoying the space on the “wrong” side of the road. The speed of the other riders still drove me onwards. I thought I might run out of energy at some point but apart from a slight lull early on in Richmond Park I think I got stronger if anything.
The course takes a 6 mile southern detour so that the peloton can swing back round and climb Leith Hill before rolling on towards Box Hill. There is another drag a bit earlier on and a couple of sharper rises later on around Wimbledon. For South Downs cyclists there's nothing to worry about.
I didn't expect to be able to hold an average of 20 miles an hour for 5 hours but I did and now I'm hoping to ride next year and beat that time. The climbing is in the middle part of the ride from about 70km, gently up to Leith Hill and along to Box Hill at about 115km in. To be honest the climbs aren't difficult. The hardest part is negotiating slower riders on the right hand side of the road, they’re supposed to stick to the left, one rider caused me to stop as I was about to pass him on the climb up Leith.
I knew the hills were easy enough from riding them before. I was worried about being brought to a standstill on the climb and dangerous cyclists on the descent. I found that, although slower riders held me up on the ascent, the whole group was doing pretty well. So, although I could have gone quicker on Leith and Box Hill, I was surprised to find I had PBs for both. There was dangerous, selfish cycling to be seen on the downhills, Alan saw someone doing a full "Froome" top tube descent through the crowd. I stayed to the left out of harm’s way. Out on a descent on the A25 after Leith there was a 5 minute hold up for a horrible looking crash.
The final 10 miles, when I got past the last stoppage, were great. (My 10 minutes of standing time were annoying but you can see from Scott’s intervals that he came off way worse. I hope that the injured parties who were the cause of the delays are recovered now.) I blasted along the Embankment and picked off a rider I’d targeted on The Mall. I felt like a real cyclist having that much left at the end and think I could have sustained it for the last 25 if I’d had a clear run. My 5:11 could have been very close to 5 hours on the day without the stops and that's the hook; it’s almost inevitable that I’ll have another go. I wouldn't want to ride it in the wet though.
Heading back towards London, Leatherhead was a fast section. My legs (and backside) were starting to feel it as I came along the Embankment alongside the Thames. “Stop looking at the Garmin, keep going, nearly there!” It was a great feeling and sense of achievement when I finally crossed the line. I thought I was struggling in the last hour but it seems I did equal speed to the 2nd hour. The Club Night Ride was a great warm up to the event, having ridden further and in the saddle for a longer time, although a much slower ride. Bring it on 2017!
I was aiming for under 5:30, so I was very pleased with my 4:52. Would I do it again next year? I’m not sure. Whilst it’s wonderful to ride on closed roads, they aren’t the type of roads I would usually choose to ride on. And whilst the danger of being knocked off by a car is removed, the likelihood of being bought down by a rider with no experience of riding in a bunch seems to be high.
Highlights for me were riding on the closed roads of London, passing The Tower of London, Hampton Court, Richmond Park, Westminster and coming through Admiralty Arch onto the packed Mall with the finish line and Buckingham Palace in front of me. Plus, I can't say this too often: I overtook Mark Webber!
My favourite thing this year was seeing the chap on the Boris Bike 30 miles in. Also the camaraderie with the other riders after the event. There were plenty of riders to chat to and share stories on the train home.
I loved the whole closed road experience and the Blackwall Tunnel right near the start was a brilliant, surreal moment. There’s a phase early on where you race past several world famous sites one after the other which is brilliant and it makes a change to have the public cheering instead of swearing at you. I was worried I’d never find my Docklands hotel afterwards but I went in a pretty straight line after bumping into Paul 200m from my London office. (Even better that Richard made such a Horlicks of getting back to his!) I chatted with loads of other riders on the way back out there, it’s an uplifting, shared experience.