Sunday, 10 August 2014


The weather forecast was ominous, and had been all week. The remnants of some hurricane, blowing by the name of Bertha, were slinking across the Atlantic, scheduled to hit landfall early Sunday, reaching London later that morning. On Wednesday I'd shirked off this potential calamity, for the BBC are apt to mistake the forecast at the best of times – I often wonder why I even bother checking. Indeed, over the course of the next few days, Sunday was to be: constantly wet; a duality of sunshine and showers; fine until the later in the day, where upon it would become very wet and windy; or subject to any permutation along this theme you might be able to imagine. It was only Saturday's projection that ever really mattered, and even that was mere conjecture. But it was obvious that I needed to prepare for a saturating eventuality, although it was never going to be cold, which restricted me to a degree.
I contrived for sunshine and showers – all-encompassing weather conditions that should ensure I was appropriately dressed for at least some of the time. My torso dressed its self: a base-layer (by De Marchi), short-sleeved cycling jersey (by Etxeondo), arm-warmers (Santini), and a rain jacket (Castelli) that could be doffed and stowed in the back-pocket of my jersey.
Cycling shorts were obligatory, and any form of tight or leg warmer would be redundant anyway: if it rained hard they would soon become saturated and any warmth retaining properties would be lost.
I was more worried about the loss of traction anyway, which could have a potential effect on my choice of footwear. I considered reverting to toe-clips, removing my cleated pedals from my bike and wearing my Sidi touring shoes instead. However, the toe-clipped pedals I bought to tide me over – while I’d searched for cleats and accordant shoes – pressed down on my toes, which was tolerable over 40 miles but might not be over a 100 such measures. Further, those Sidis would not keep my feet warm or dry like my cleated pair of Mavics could, which was now the more determining factor. To be sure, I stretched a pair of toe-covers over my shoes, and to be doubly sure I applied gaffer tape over them, figuring this could be removed if and when the sun came out.

I awoke at 3.45 a.m. after four, maybe five hours’ sleep (despite hitting the hay at just gone nine – it's hard to slumber when you need to be up that early). I felt okay, actually, and there was no sign of this Bertha from out the window.
Two hours later, in the back of a cab approaching the Olympic Park, the rain was beginning to threaten, small spots of the stuff dotting the windscreen of our taxi. By the time I'd arrived, this idle precipitation had relinquished.
I had shared a cab with my neighbour, who was scheduled to start riding an hour earlier than me. That I needed to be in position to ride the LondonSurrey 100 half an hour before the start assured I had plenty of time on my hands for coffee and a bacon sandwich. And then the waiting – about an hour of it.
It remained mercifully dry for this period of lingering but became wet very soon after. It could have been worse: it was drizzle, and my rain jacket could deal with that, as could the gaffer tape wrapped around my shoes. I was more concerned at this juncture about pacing myself, yet found that I was comfortably maintaining speeds of around 20 mph without due strain or attention. My circumstances bode well.
This all changed upon reaching Hampton. I didn't want to stop at Hampton, but I needed the toilet and there were facilities there. I'd also emptied one of my water bottles already, so refilled that. Next I decided to eat another energy bar, the first of my three having been consumed out of boredom while hanging around earlier. Having done all of these things, I was just about to get back on my bike when something resembling a tropical downpour unleashed itself. Just a shower, I thought, what good timing, I'll sit it out under this here tree.
And it was just a shower. Unfortunately, the next downpour was not just a shower. I was in Molesey, barely a mile on from Hampton, and the rain that now fell upon me continued to lash down for the next three hours, pausing duplicitously every so often, but never abating.
I soon saw a crash happen in front of me – quite a nasty one wherein a toppling cyclist’s bike bounced upward into the path of another cyclist, who subsequently stacked it in a spectacular fashion. Just moments after an ambulance sped passed me to attend to someone I soon caught up with lying on the floor, unconscious and with an oxygen mask strapped to their face. The passage through Walton was a joke: water inundated every surface, the spray from my bike, and everyone else's, washed over me, and the rain harassed my face incessantly. The descent down Caenswood Hill, which I ordinarily enjoy, was treacherous, and thereafter we entered the countryside and it all became a blur. I could now see sense in the re-routing of our ride to avoid Leith and Box Hill (although on reflection I'm not sure why Box Hill had to go: its rake is so much milder than Leith's). People were attending to punctures all about me. Every person who overtook my drenched form would turn their head, offer a wry grin and make some sort of sarcastic comment about how much they were enjoying themselves.
I'd only wanted to stop the once, but found myself pausing at the next hub, again to use the toilet but also to drink a warming cup of coffee.
Somewhere after Dorking the rain eased off to an acceptable level, allowing me to up my game a little. I literally have no recollection of passing through Leatherhead, but I do recall puncturing on the approach to Esher. From there onwards it was all okay. The sun even came out as I rode up Combe Lane, persuading me it was worth the bother to stop and remove the rain jacket.
Come the finish and I still had a fair bit left in the proverbial tank: the removal of those hills, the peril of flooded roads and the poor visibility having robbed me of the opportunity and the impetus to attack this course in the way I'd intended. 5 hours and 50 minutes it took, although only 5 hours and 10 minutes of that was spent actually riding my bike. In any case, had it been dry then 4 and a half hours would not have been out of the question.
I had planned on this being a one-off but already I'm feeling a strange need to enter next year's ride; a case of unfinished business, perhaps. This is contingent on the laws of probability ruling out similar conditions, of course.

Saturday, 2 August 2014


The RideLondon Surrey 100 looms large...
I cannot really look forward to something like this: training disrupted, cleats to get used to, logistics to be surmounted, the possibility of physical collapse on the day. That final prospect has the potential to be the most devastating, but it troubles me the least. My training, such as it is, has so far just about passed muster, despite the fact that my commuting velocipede has been off the road for almost three weeks. Last Sunday I actuated a 45 to 50 mile round trip to Windsor, building upon a 35 miler I'd ridden the previous weekend. It was tough going, but might not have been if I hadn't lost my way, adding a six mile dalliance to a route that had been designed to give me options: if I felt good by time I reached Chertsey then I was to push on toward Byfleet, Cobham and Esher and ride the full 50; if I started to flag I would cut through Walton and satisfy myself with just the 45. In the event, after straying from my intended path and then attempting to regain some ground – the equivalent of sustaining a puncture and having to race back up to the peloton, maybe? – I found myself wavering through Virginia Water. My 45/50 mile dilemma had been upgraded to a 50/55 one, so I took the Walton-on-Thames route, hung off the back of a Barnes Cycling Club five man jolly as far as Hampton and covered 51 miles in just under 3 hours (not including the time that stopping at the Belvedere Arms for coffee incurred). It's not ideal, that I felt incapable of pushing on any further, but at this point in time it's not so unsettling either.
Indeed, my predicament could be trickier. I don't anticipate not being able to finish in the allotted time, or even of suffering to the degree there's the potential for. I'm injury free and there'll be little excuse for not having built enough power come the day, and I am confident I can keep the calories flowing.
Nor am I expecting any significant mechanical transgressions: my bike is relatively new, it is light and well appointed. I've had to remedy two punctures of late and replacing the inner-tube proved to be a breeze in both instances. It's nice not to have to worry about these things.
But something was troubling me still…

And then it wasn’t. It boiled down to nothing more than putting in the hours, which I subsequently did. I made Tuesday ‘3 laps of Richmond Park’ day. I followed up my Windsor excursion with a pleasant and fast 45 mile round trip to Sunningdale, and the Sunday after I rode 51 miles, again up to Staines and this time back through Addlestone, almost making my route up as I went along. Finally, on the Sunday before the event – with four consecutive Richmond Tuesdays under my belt – I rode out to Leith Hill with my fellow cyclist, Mommersteeg. Mommersteeg doesn’t go in for all this stopping for coffee business, so it was 52 miles straight, completed in well under three hours (after which I had coffee alone and added another 6, just for the hell of it).
            Most crucially of all, having finally sorted out the steel bike, I was able to return to riding cleated more than two weeks before the event: for those rides out to Addlestone and Leith Hill, and for three of my sessions up at Richmond Park. And I think this was what had really been eating away at me. After taking to cleats really rather quickly, I returned from London to Brighton with cleat fear. There is no reason why this should have been the case, but I had become wary of them. And yet, as soon as I forced them back onto my bike (in more ways than one - it was a real struggle getting the toe-clipped pedals back off), I very quickly regained my trust in them. Yes, I'm quite looking forward to riding this thing cleated, and don’t think I could now do it any other way.