A couple of days ago, on 19th June 2016, I took part in my first ever organised large bike riding event, the L2B. Apart from the training at Lea Valley Velopark the other week with www.elitecycling.uk I have never ridden with more that 2 or 3 people. So a field of 23-27,000 was going to be slightly different for sure.
Before I get into the whole event and how I found it, I just wanted to say a sincere thank you to everyone who played their part in getting this event put together, from organising to marshaling on the day. Not to mention the thousands of spectators and supporters, with their cheers, refreshments, and signs for everyone. You all really made a fantastic event special.
So where shall I begin for my actual campaign? For the past few weeks I have been putting in some miles to prepare for a longer ride than I have ever done. With some miles under my belt there was not too much worrying me about the day. I know I have plenty in the tank, just got to go at the right pace. My weakness.
I having been suffering with lower back pain for a few weeks now, but cycling hasn't caused any issues. However it was something I kept in the back of my mind, being that it was a longer ride than I am used to.
The night before the ride, I decided I would give the bike a once over and a clean. Having had some friction noises from the bike on my last ride, I wanted to rule out it being anything sinister, so checked it over. Spinning things up and lubing them, the noise finally appeared then disappeared with the back wheel spun up. As that was done, I decided to give it a wipe over. With the back wheel still spinning I started..... And stopped very abruptly as my finger was hit by a spinning spoke.
Oops! Bad start.
The next morning I got up nice and early, looked out the window at the much anticipated overcast day. Weather man got it wrong again! Dogs fed, nutrition packed, and head all together, I set off on the 7 mile ride from home to the start line in Clapham. I have to say, the first couple of miles had me a bit worried as my legs were failing to launch, and just felt tired. Maybe the 22 miles on Saturday weren't such a great idea after all !
Anyway, a few miles in and I was finally firing on all cylinders. Phew!
Arriving at the starting point I suddenly realised the enormity of the event, and was somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer number of people, and this was just who was left for the later waves. Still not very good in groups, I found a nice corner to hide in until the start time ticked around. Resting my body and mind, I gazed up to see what weather we had been dealt with for the start.
Fantastic, at least it wasn't wet, but had I packed enough nutrition and fluids. Speaking of packing it all, it was my first time carrying 2 x 1 litre bottles, and first time with all my bars and gels in the pockets of my jersey. A LOT of new things for the day.
Setting off was slow, walking over the start line due to mud, then finally mounting up on the pavement and getting going. As soon as the crank started spinning, it was all real ! VERY real, I was about to do the London to Brighton Bike Ride !
Off I set, ready to go, with NO idea what to expect other than Ditchling Beacon towards the and a whole bunch of miles.
Needless to say, within a mile or so, I managed to come off, thanks to some stop start people who were unsure of how to make a bike move, one of which who fell against me at low speed. Nothing too serious, but it completing my injuries for the day.
After that, it was plain sailing really, got into a nice rhythm, and started clicking through the miles. Occasional banter with fellow riders but not much more, just head down and get there.
My first real negative arrived as we reached the first of the hills. Now before I start whinging and whining, I want to make it abundantly clear that I KNOW the L2B is a "fun ride" and an event to enjoy. However we all enter it with our own drive and goals.
All along the route before the first climb, there were small pockets of people stopped by the side of the road, and at the refreshment and stops, there were much bigger numbers gathered that I had expected. Chilled out and laying around on the grass. Nothing wrong with that, but quite a spectacle all the same. When I reached the first of the two climbs I noticed people dismounting and starting to walk. Which again is fine with me, not everyone enters with the fitness or equipment to tackle the climbs. But what would have been nice is if they had been kind enough to not take up the whole road.
Clipped in, down the bottom of your gears, and spinning to keep the momentum going, the last thing you need is a group of walkers with bikes, 4 abreast across the road, leaving no room for passing.
I am all for the social aspect of the event, and it was lovely to see the bonds people were making with fellow riders. But it would have been so nice if they had considered that just because they were walking, others would still be riding.
All along the first climb it was the same, having to almost trackstand on a slope waiting for people to leave enough of a gap for you to get through, instead of walking behind their friends, who they would still be able to talk to.
Arriving at the village at the top of the climb, it got even worse. With an official refreshments stop, and lots of locals all offering support too, the path to get through all the people milling around was almost impossible, clip out time, and walk the bike through the crowds.
Back on the open road, the field thinned out nicely due to everyone stopping off, and being held up, it was time to get the pace up and get moving again. Flying along the roads, air in my face, sun shining down, all was lovely. This is what cycling is all about. Freedom, and near peace and quiet. Passing through a few more villages, waving to the locals who were sitting out to cheer people on, all was good.
Arriving at a slight downhill section with a left hand bend, I was about to start to see another sort of stupidity. A marshal out flagging people to slow down, shouting quite clearly that there was an accident around the corner. Needless to say, as I slowed, many more idiots tore past me, banking into the corner, and arriving at a rather wide accident scene, avoiding it narrowly.
Further along , for the next few miles we rode on segregated roads, with cones down the middle. One lane for traffic (same direction as us) and the other for bikes. So why in gods name were idiots riding up the side designated for cars? For a few miles, as I passed people who were doing so, I was having to tell them there was a car just off their back wheel and to maybe move over?
It is this exact sort of behaviour that gives cyclists a bad name in day to day life. Selfish, ignorant, and stupidly dangerous.
This added to the number of people just randomly pulling out into your path as you come along side them, even when you have called out to them. Heads just not in the game
Then it was time, time for the Beacon. Ditchling Beacon was upon me !
Now the photo probably doesn't do it justice, and for car drivers who don't ride, it probably looks even easier, but trust me, it's a good challenge for sure. Especially when it is filled with the same sort of riders I had encountered on the last climb. Slow and steady was the way, no chance to get any sort of pace going, as it would be broken within 30 seconds by the next fool walking out, and stopping dead in the middle of the road.
Riding as slowly as I dared at times, while resisting the automatic response to clip out and put a foot down, I knew as soon as my foot clipped out, my climb would be over, so that was NOT an option.
As you can see from the data screens, it was no record breaking climb, but the pace and my heart rate were well controlled for the whole climb.
If nothing else, I had mastered pacing myself, and keeping everything under control. It was a nice achievement to have that one out of the way.
Reaching the top, hearing the commentator calling out peoples names as they crossed the timing line, that was a nice little boost, and enough to keep me going. As soon as I crested the hill and cleared the masses who had stopped for a celebration, it was pedals down, and back up to speed. Not far to go from this point on, and every intention to get it out of the way asap. Seeing the time on my Garmin Forerunner 230 showing under 4 hours was still within reach, I was determined.
A good bit of speed was had coming down the descent from the Beacon, hitting almost 52mph at one point. That helped my time quite a bit. Sadly as we came into Brighton, even though the lanes we had were sufficient, the manner in which people were riding was "unhelpful". I am guessing I lost a good 5-7 minutes off my final time due to everyone one doing the whole "we finish together" thing. Which I appreciate, but 5 miles out, is a bit premature to say the least. And even if not, if you see a group gathering behind you, let them through maybe. I know for a fact I was not the only one getting frustrated by this.
Of course, on the flip side to this, there were crossings to overcome too. In a busy centre, there are lots of pedestrians and other road users who wish to get around, which I respect fully. Stop for reds and marshals etc. Unfortunately there is the other tier of society that we all forget about, who are far more important, and refuse to stop for such things when riding. "Bike wankers" . You like the others ruin it for the rest of us. Play by the rules!
The last mile coming into Brighton was electric, the atmosphere was brilliant, the support and cheers amazing, but the pace, a tad slow as people soaked up their rewards. It is only fair to let people have their moment by this point, so no complaints from me.
Crossing the finish line I tried to comprehend what I was feelings, and apart from numb feet and almost out of fluids, I was fine. Legs were good, lungs were good, heart was steady and slowing. Hitting stop on the watch, and waiting for the time to update was a stressful few seconds, but in no time, the official time was in.... 3 hours 53 mins and 12 seconds. And an average of 13.7 mph. Which I honestly believe could have been a bit better. Next time eh! Nice suffer score too, getting the heart working a little harder than it has on some other rides.
I hung around for 10 mins to get some blood back in my feet, and work out where I needed to go to get out of the crowds, then headed off for a long walk down Madeira Drive to rejoin the main road.
Time to get back on the bike.
With the car parked in Shoreham by Sea, it was a 7 mile ride to get back to the car, and get changed to get home. Along the coast road I was greeted with a nice mild head wind just to make it more fun.
Within 20-25 mins I was arriving at the car park where I had left the car.
Glancing down to my Garmin Edge I noticed the total distance for the day was 106km. Something clicked in my head and made me check Strava for the Gran Fondo distance requirement for June, and sure enough it was 115km. With this in mind I realised it would rude not to clock up the last 9km, so off I went for a ride around Shoreham by Sea.
As you can see by the squiggles, I chose some roads which were straight and not too taxing to clock up the last few miles.
At the end of it, 115.2km completed, June Gran Fondo badge on Strava earned, London to Brighton completed, and a great day had.
So my final say on it.
London to Brighton. Great fun, fantastic cause, thank you to all my sponsors.
It was an eye opening experience to say the least, and one I am sure I will do again in time. But wiser to what to expect from the masses. Hopefully a better start wave next time too, just to avoid some of the hold ups. A 3.30 to a 3.45 is realistic I reckon, so lets see when I do it next.
In the meantime, a round trip from Fareham to Shoreham (return) awaits, a lap of the Isle of Wight, and of course the Pru 100 London Surrey too. Going to be a busy few months.