Before I start, a final reminder that this is for charity as well as for fun, so please visit https://www.justgiving.com/Ben-Rapp-2014 to donate to the NSPCC. As ever, my thanks to everyone who has donated so far.
Ride London Surrey 100 10/08/2014
139.3km; 905m of climbing; 4h 13m of riding; 3,595 calories
(including there and back from home: 169km; 5h33m of riding; 1200m of climbing; 4,217 calories)
I’m still occasionally astonished by the stoicism of the English. This year’s Ride London 100 was blighted by weather in a truly Biblical sense, yet more than 20,000 people finished. Some of them, myself included, had charitable promises to keep, but many were simply there for fun. Looking at the photos of hordes of cyclists walking up hills in the rain, fun isn’t the first word that naturally comes to mind.
I don’t often get up at 04:00 to go cycling. Limited cognitive capability at that time of the morning is one good reason why. The preceding couple of days had been filled with worried conversations with fellow cyclists about the – dire – weather forecast for the weekend, and in the end I spent some time on Saturday evening fitting wet weather tyres to my aluminium rim wheels and changing brake pads. So it remains a mystery to me that, at 4 am on the Sunday morning I blearily looked at the BBC forecast – for who knows where and when, but surely not London on Sunday 10th August – and decided that it looked pretty clement, actually. So off came the alloy rims, and back on went carbon rims, narrow race tyres and carbon-specific pads. This was not the single greatest decision of my life. Nor was discarding knee warmers and shoe covers in the hall, still stung by memories of overstuffed pockets weighing down my jersey in the Alps.
Fortified with porridge I set off at 04:35 for the agreed rendezvous at the foot of Muswell Hill. I arrived in good time only to find that I had left my bidons (water bottles) at home. Starting the day with a hill repeat wasn’t in the original plan but, not being Anquetil, I would need water so back I went. I made the loop in time, just, to meet the others and we set off through the darkened streets for the Olympic Park, weaving our way between the drunks as they weaved their way between invisible obstacles of their own.
Arriving at the start it was chilly but fairly clear, and I felt vindicated in my choice of wheels and outerwear. The RLS100 involves a good deal of hanging around at the start; I was fortunate to have some friends from the Muswell Hill Peloton to chat to, keeping my mind off the chill that was beginning to bite somewhat harder as I cooled down. We traded absurd estimates of average speed and the usual cycling braggadocio, to be interrupted by the PA announcing that, after consultation with the Met Office, the organisers had decided to shorten the route, cutting out Leith and Box Hills and turning it into the Ride London 86. This was a clue that the weather was unlikely to be like the sunny forecast I’d seen – or imagined – in the early hours.
Now you’d think that a 14-mile reduction in the route, cutting out the only two serious hills – to the extent that England has such things – would turn the whole thing into a cake walk, and if middle-aged cyclists had any sense, it would have done. However, the actual effect was of course to turn it into an 86-mile flat-out sprint. We set off at 6:30, and the next 90 minutes was a glorious rush. I latched on to a fast group and we raced through the City, Westminster and Hammersmith enjoying the frankly surreal experience of familiar territory at unfamiliar speed on closed roads. Richmond Park was dismissed at similar pace, and I stayed with the pack past Ripley. At 1 hour 45 in, I’d covered 70km – an average of 40km/h, which is as fast as I’ve ever ridden over that kind of distance and significantly faster than last year.
Then, inevitably, it all went wrong. I’d spent some time on the front – never a good idea – and, more importantly, had forgotten to drink while focused on staying with the pack. Half-way down Ripley Lane, I cramped up. Not just one leg, or one muscle, but every muscle group in my legs taking turns. It was quite unpleasant. That meant game over for the fast pursuit; I had to stop briefly to let the worst subside, then crawled my way up Newlands to the 80km hub where I stopped at the St John’s Ambulance for help. After 500ml of electrolyte, a 10-minute rest and some vigorous leg rubbing (self-administered, disappointingly) I got going again, but the spark had gone out of me.
I’ve not mentioned the weather so far. It had been tolerably unpleasant, with chill clouds giving way to persistent rain after Richmond Park – enough to make me put on my rain jacket when I stopped on Ripley Lane – but as yet nothing to merit the abbreviated route or the dire predictions that had been broadcast in the days leading up to the event. As I made my way out of the hub, however, the weather gods finally made good on their threat, and the rain really started. And when I say rain, I mean downpour, tropical stair-rods, torrents, cats-and-dogs, where-the-bloody-hell’s-Noah-when-you-need-him rain. It was, frankly, ridiculous. It was also unrelenting – the rain wouldn’t stop for the rest of the ride – more than two hours to go at this point.
I started slowly, legs still wobbly with cramp, and was glad of the enforced slow-down since my rash 4am wheel choice was coming back to haunt me. Carbon rims don’t stop very well in the wet. More specifically, they exhibit binary braking – which is to say absolutely nothing at all when you first pull on the levers then, once the rims have dried, grabby deceleration that’s hard to moderate. This has two consequences: firstly, if you lack total confidence in your wet-road cornering grip – which I do, as I’ve mentioned before – you have to spend a lot of time on the brakes when descending in order to have any effect at all. This tires your hands, and slows you down – which is the idea, of course, but if you’re chasing a fast time it just adds to the ticking clock you can hear in your head. Secondly, pack riding becomes considerably more stressful as you have no way to react quickly if the person in front of you slows or changes direction – your initial grab at the levers having less effect than a muttered prayer. It’s OK if you’re riding with people you know, or up at the sharp end where the riding is predictable, but if you’ve fallen back a bit the riding standards tend to fall with you.
Still, I got my legs back under me, found some people I decided I felt comfortable following, and turned the pedals. The second half was a good deal slower, but I focused on drinking enough – and eating, although I cocked this up too and ate far too little – and dealing with the increasing number of comedy water hazards that the weather was throwing at us. I don’t much mind riding in the rain – although normally I have shoe covers and other gear, so it’s less like cycling in the bath – but this was absurd. Not only did the rain at times come down so hard you could barely see, but all the drain gratings were overflowing, meaning that any dip in the road became a small sewage-scented lake that we had to ride through. The feeling of dirty brown water sloshing up over my shoes while the wheel in front sprays it over my face is not one I am keen to repeat any time soon.
The rain eased a little as we made our way along the Embankment towards the final km into the Mall. My pace eased with it as, matches all burnt, I watched people who’d husbanded their resources better than me sail past. Still, it was gratifying to cross the line before eleven AM, and my Strava log showed a riding time of 4h 13m for 139km, which isn’t too terrible, all things considered. Nonetheless I can’t help thinking that a sub-4hr time was achievable if I’d only shown more sense in the first half. Inexperience shining through again, I suppose.
So that brings this year’s charity cycling campaign to a close. At the time of writing we’ve raised £1,909.80 – more than last year, but some way short of my (optimistic?) target for 2014. I – and the NSPCC – would be hugely grateful if any of you who’ve not given already could find the time to give even a small amount; every penny goes to help make a childhood a safer and happier time for all children. Go to https://www.justgiving.com/Ben-Rapp-2014 to donate.
Final statistics for 2014:
919km; 14,182m of climbing; 38h 58m of riding; 23,834 calories
(a little shy of the 600 miles, but 40% more climbing than I thought)