Last weekend (31 July) as part of my build-up to the London Duathlon I took part in the inaugural RideLondon 46, a closed-roads cycle sportive from the Olympic Park in Stratford, down to Hampton Court and then back to a finish on The Mall.
The annual 100-mile RideLondon event has become established as an Olympic legacy event, taking part every year and heading out into the Surrey Hills. This year over 25,000 riders took part. But this was the first year that the organisers have combined it with a shorter event, too.
The only previous sportive I’ve done was on open roads, whereas the London Duathlon will be on closed roads within Richmond Park, so I used RideLondon 46 as an opportunity to get a taste of riding on closed roads, in amongst other riders of differing abilities. And at the same time I could handily avoid the climbs and the congestion that the 100-milers inevitably encounter when they head out towards Dorking and comparatively narrow lanes.
We weren’t going to leave the start area at the Olympic Park until after the 100-milers had set off, which meant I had a comparatively relaxed start to the day. I could take my time to cycle up from home in Wimbledon to Stratford, arriving with enough time to indulge in a leisurely coffee or two before my wave’s scheduled 9:13 departure time, and extending the length of my ride to a slightly more testing distance.
Caught with a flat
At least, that was the theory. I’ve been riding my road bike for a year now, and my hybrid for two years more than that, and in all that time I’d never suffered a puncture while out on a ride. Call it premonition but somehow I knew I’d get my first ever on-road puncture during this day. I’d recently bought new wheels for my bike (which incidentally bring an amazing improvement to the bike’s performance), and that coupled with my previous good luck and having to get to Stratford by a certain time ...
It happened as I played dodgem with the bits of glass kindly deposited in the gutters of Clapham by the Saturday-night out crowd. As I approached the common I realised the inevitable had happened. I found actually changing the inner tube under a degree of time pressure comparatively straightforward, although inevitably slow for my first time, but the real problem came when I came to inflate the new inner tube. My mini pump, I discovered, only exerts enough pressure to partially inflate it.
Gingerly, and with half an eye now on the time, I resumed my journey, hoping to survive as far as Stratford without suffering a pinch flat and that I would be able to find the mechanics in amongst the start-area hubbub and borrow a pump from them.
As it happened, I needn’t have worried. By asking every cyclist I came across whether they had a pump on them I eventually came across one who did – a lad off to the London docks to practise his open-water swimming ahead of the next weekend’s London Triathlon.
With fresh air in my tyre I was able to crack on over London Bridge and along the A11, putting in the occasional sprint as my concerns about the time grew. Eventually I made it with just a minute to spare before my wave’s loading window closed. Phew!
After that, the ride itself was a comparative doddle. It was great fun to ride on closed roads. The initial period along the A12 was great for allowing you to vent some initial enthusiasm, followed by a comparative easing off through central London and out towards Hammersmith during which I exchanged a few friendly words with another AFC Wimbledon supporter who was taking part in the ride.
I know the roads around Hampton Court, Kingston, Raynes Park, Wimbledon and Putney comparatively well, but it was still great to ride them without traffic and with the really noticeable encouragement of the crowds lining the street. My right-hand obliques and glute were feeling it a bit towards the end, so I was very pleased to encounter the downhill section from the A3 towards Putney Bridge – a joy to ride at speed without traffic lights interrupting the flow!
It was the final stretch from Putney Bridge to Parliament Square that I found the toughest. Psychologically I went over Putney Bridge thinking ‘nearly there now’, but in reality that stretch goes on longer than you imagine. It’s also the area with fewest spectators and the point at which even fellow cyclists have thinned out so there’s comparatively little company to keep you going.
In contrast, the crowds in Parliament Square, Trafalgar Square and on The Mall give you a real lift to help you surge over the line.
I wasn’t really aiming for a particular time but finishing in 2 hours, 39 minutes and 25 seconds wasn’t too shabby, especially considering I took in a drink stop in Richmond Park and the fact that we were occasionally held by marshals to help ease congestion and allow spectators to cross the route.
This is such a well-organised event, with friendly marshals and volunteers, and definitely one I’ll look to do again next year, regardless of whether or not I’m doing the duathlon again. But I think I’ll again stick to the 46-mile route and leave those Surrey Hills to those cyclists who are more tolerant of invasion of personal space!