It was an honour to have been one of the Heart Riders on the 2017 Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 sportive. Riding 100 miles in less than the maximum cut-off time of 8.5 hours was a real challenge for me as an anaemic (on a bike). Needless to say, I did it!
Here’s my observations of the event:
It’s not straightforward entering the RideLondon-Surrey 100: you can either take your chance in the public ballot or sign up for one of the charity places (I recommend the latter).
The organisers insist on riders collecting their registration pack (an A4 envelope light enough to post) at ExCel. For those who live outside London this adds another layer to the logistical planning. To have collected the pack on the afternoon of my arrival (the day before the ride) would have been cutting it fine. As it ended up, the nine hours sitting on a National Express on the Thursday before to register (a process that itself took about two minutes) was a worse endurance than the ride itself!
It’s a significant plus to be riding this event if you already live in London. For those travelling from outside the event demands additional layers of complex preparation. Despite what the RideLondon weekend promotes, London is not a cycling friendly city. Getting there with a bike, and travelling around London (safely) with a bike, is a challenge. Once in London, arriving at the starting venue in the designated time-frame involves a very early start. My tips: the trains that the organisers put on to get riders to the Olympic Park are well worth booking on to; and once you are at the park, wrap up warm, as you’ll be waiting a long while before your wave is released.
Hail the women riders!
The gender split on the ride was 80%:20% male-to-female, which is indicative of the general lag on gender equality in cycling compared to running; the latter still has a way to go too, women’s participation in marathon races in the UK is around 34%. One young girl in Surrey made it her mission to specifically cheer the female riders – how lovely! The women riding this sportive were impressive in their athleticism and determination, so definitely worthy of a special cheer.
Beware the lycra louts!
Aside from the majority of participants, Joe Shute (in a Telegraph piece from 2015 titled, RideLondon review: are brutish riders on expensive bikes spoiling cycling in Britain?) astutely observes a discernible current of cyclists who taint the event:
“There were two moments near to the end of the Prudential RideLondon event last weekend where I wondered whether my fellow cyclists really did deserve the rule of the roads. One was around Surbiton, where I saw – for the umpteenth time – an oafish man produce an energy gel from his jersey, suck down the contents and hurl the empty packet to the floor, rather than just put it back in his pocket. The other was in Oxshott, a pretty village just outside of London, where a group of cheerful residents had gathered to cheer us on as we shot past. “Stay back,” one of the peloton roared at an elderly woman who was standing on the pavement – nowhere near to any of the cyclists – as if he were Chris Froome and she a raging Frenchman on Alpe D’Huez ready to douse him in urine. Now I don’t want to give cyclists or the event – which was wonderful in so many ways – a knock, but what a joyless bunch some of those taking part were. They turned up on £4,000 aero road bikes that whirred like rowing machines, wore Team Sky jerseys and acted as if the thousands of spectators who lined the route from London to Surrey and back again were paying for the pleasure of seeing them (and, of course, the privilege of sweep up those gel wrappers afterwards). They were as highly-charged as their electric gears and careered down hills at breakneck speed to make up precious seconds on personal bests. […] Perhaps, I wondered at some of my riders in the peloton, you might be better suited to racing Porsches around Belgravia rather than bikes in a mass-participation event. These turbo-charged lycra louts are not the cyclists I want to represent my sport.”
The over-hyped Box Hill is definitely not a challenging climb – go into your low gear and spin away with relative ease. However, Leith Hill is! The point with the ascending on the RideLondon-Surrey 100 is that it is climbing with tired legs and, if you’re riding smart, with legs that need to conserve some energy to complete the remaining miles within the maximum time-frame. For me, it wasn’t the official hills that were an issue but rather going hard on the flat in a high gear and then hitting an incline while not knowing how low to drop. There’s the headwind too, but given the built-up nature of much of the course and the volume of riders, I wouldn’t say this is a significant impediment (unlike cycling in Norfolk).
The RideLondon-Surrey 100 sportive is a fast route. The hills come in the second half, so to avoid missing the various time cut-offs along the way, riding at a good speed for the first half is smart but if you go off too hard, too fast, that’s not smart as you will pay for it when you hit the hills… Riding 100 miles within a set time demands not simply sound physical fitness and a determined, stubborn mind (never under-estimate the latter vis-à-vis endurance) but sound intelligence too: pacing yourself, taking breaks, and taking on the right nutrition is critical.
The organisers insisted this year that the sportive is ‘not a race’ (they have undoubtedly put out this line in response to criticisms of the 2016 event which witnessed a number of serious crashes), however the time cut-offs make it precisely ‘a race’, if not against other cyclists then against the clock itself.
There’s no cycling event in the UK quite like this one for a route that attracts so many cheering spectators, who undoubtedly lift the performance and make the ambience. The crowd also consists of other cycling participants – very many of them – and that makes the official feeding stations overcrowded and overwhelming to negotiate. It also means one needs to be constantly aware of who else is around you on the road to avoid accidents. RideLondon-Surrey 100 seems to operate at a dangerous limit in terms of numbers and capacity: the crowd both makes and potentially breaks this event.