After a two-year hiatus due to Covid, RideLondon was back at the end of May with an all-new route from London into the lovely Essex countryside and back. Although there were three possible distances (30, 60 and 100 miles) my ever-ambitious husband signed us up for the rather daunting full 100 miles. And, just to spice up the challenge, almost immediately we got our places, I was injured for 4 months, only getting back on the bicycle at the start of May.
So it was with some trepidation that I arrived in Parliament Square at 7am on 29th May with my number pinned on my back and my bike chipped and ready to go. Here’s what I learnt during 6 hours of cycling (or 5 hours, 59 minutes, and 1 second, if we’re going to be precise):
What to wear
I have an abject fear of being cold, and the forecast said it was going to be between 9 and 12 degrees during the ride, so I was wearing a long-sleeve cycling jersey. Conversely, my husband hates being too hot, so he was wearing a short sleeve top. It’s definitely worth knowing what kit suits you at different temperatures, because being too hot or too cold for six hours can be pretty miserable.
I’ve only ever seen Essex on the TV advert for ‘The Only Way is Essex’, but it turns out it’s rather lovely – all green rolling hills interspersed with pretty villages. As the entire course followed a series of A roads and dual carriageways, rather than tiny, snaking country lanes, the route was generally smooth, wide, and pretty straight, with any sharp corners signposted and flagged as you approached them. This was good for me as I am terrible at taking corners at anything above snail-pace. Also, rather than steep climbs and descents, it was gently undulating, so although there was about 1,000m of climbing, it was actually barely noticeable. The last section of the ride back into London was straight and fast, although not very pretty, but finishing at Tower Bridge made for some nice photos. If you are not confident, or fairly new to cycling, I would say it is a great route to complete your first major challenge on.
Taking ‘comfort’ breaks
As well as regular portaloos along the route, there were a series of ‘Welfare Stops’ where you could refill your water bottles and grab some free snacks to keep you going – energy supplements courtesy of event partner High5, bananas and flapjacks. As I’ve learnt from previous rides, only an idiot (me) doesn’t refuel regularly. Although I had packed my own snacks, I still jammed my face with all the lovely freebies whenever I stopped. There were also mechanics at the Welfare Stops, although luckily I didn’t need them.
I did expect some camaraderie between the cyclists, maybe even to get into a group and chat with people, but everyone was cycling pretty much in silence.
In contrast to the silent cycling fraternity, I was surprised by how many people were out cheering riders on; some people had even brought deck chairs and flasks of tea. I was particularly surprised since we were passing them at speed and mainly without looking up. I made a point of waving and shouting ‘thank you’ as often as I could.
This year the finishers’ medal was made of wood. I know RideLondon are looking at how they can be as eco as possible, and I love that!
I felt fine the next day. I put this down to eating a takeaway curry when I got home, followed almost immediately by a burger and chips. I’m not sure a sports nutritionist would recommend it, but, like I said, I’m a big believer in refuelling.
Would I recommend it? Definitely! Apparently 25,000 cyclists did it this year. I reckon, like the London Marathon, it is only going to get more popular.
Can you do it? After so many months injured – at my lowest point I couldn’t even sit on the bicycle in my own sitting room without being in pain – I was not confident of completing the course, but I think the design of the route means that providing you ride regularly and have a reasonable level of fitness you should be able to finish. (Before injury I used to cycle about 85 miles a week.) I’m not saying you’ll be quick, or that it will be easy, but it’s definitely worth a go.