Inside the Tour of Flanders, the World’s Toughest Bike Race
By Edward Pickering
The Tour of Flanders – known to cycling fans as The Ronde – is the biggest one day cycling race in the world.
It is a potent mix of grit, cobbles, steep climbs, narrow roads, national pride, beer, brutal weather and the maddest, most passionate fans in the sport.
Every April, up to a million fanatical cycling fans line the streets of Flanders to watch one of cycling’s most exciting and dangerous one-day races unfold. This race is the Ronde van Vlaanderen, more commonly known as The Ronde.
Such is the winding complexity of the race route that many thousands of fans enthusiastically engage in a game of the chaotically mad Belgium-Hopscotch; dashing from roadside to roadside in the hope of glimpsing their hero’s as they fly past in a whirlwind of colour. Flanders is cycling’s heartland, and the followers of cycling are among the most passionate and knowledgeable. The race itself is characterised by a series of short, steep narrow climbs, often over slippery cobbles that can and do send many a cyclist tumbling.
The Ronde though is so much more than a bike race.
The race is, as Pickering explains in this beautifully written book, inseparable from the landscape, and the people who inhabit Flanders. In writing this book Pickering has undertaken a pilgrimage of sorts. He not only provides an exciting in-depth account of the race but also entwines and enriches this sporting behemoth with an assessment on how the geography, history, culture, politics, and so much more, come to form such a vital part of Flemish identity. It is clear from the book that the race itself defines Flanders as much as Flanders defines the race. Pickering also reveals why The Ronde is such a tough race to master, one that has been targeted by the all-powerful Team Sky, but yet still remains beyond their reach. If only Team Sky had stopped trying to control every variable and ‘G’ had focused on the classics … sigh… what could have been!
This book is about cycling in its purest and most compelling form.
The Ronde is exquisitely written and its style, at least to me, is fascinating. It a mosaic of race history, anecdotes, interviews, geography, sociology, economics, politics, culture, you name it and it’s in there. If this sounds daunting, please don’t be put off as it is magically interwoven by the golden thread of the 2011 race. Won, of course by Nick Nuyens (I was there to witness this most unexpected victory thanks to Nico and his Go4cycling.com team, and The Ronde brought back so many marvellous memories.)
Interview with the author: Edward Pickering.
Late one evening, just prior to publication, I was fortunate enough to grab moment of Edward Pickering’s time to discuss the book.
As Edward stated ‘….The structure of the book is based around the 2011 race, and the chapters are the climbs as they appeared. it’s not just a blow-by-blow account of the races.’ He continues, ‘for each climb I’ve also branched out and incorporated things that have happened throughout the history of the race. So, although you could see the book as a history of the tour of Flanders it’s as much a geography of the race. In each chapter there are tangents into the history of the race… or the culture… or the geography… or the sociology… or the people of Flanders… or whatever context best served the story.’
Pickering is clearly passionate about Belgium and The Ronde.
‘I don’t think you can fully understand The Tour of Flanders unless you have an appreciation of Flanders itself as a historical, political and sociological entity, and why the race is linked to all of this. The race itself is an expression of Flemish geographical pride. To understand why this is so you have to have an appreciation of the history of the region.’
(Full interview will be published shortly on CS.)
Pickering further develops the story by interspersing each chapter with interviews and anecdotes from the main protagonists. The book is enriched by this testimony and the riders motivation for racing along with how their strategies evolved, and how they faced victory, or more often than not, crushing defeat is at times visceral. In places it’s a thriller, a real page turner.
To give you a hint of the riders mindset here’s the list, penned by Nick Nuyens and his sports psychologist, on the eve of the 2011 race;
- Small roads.
- Understanding the road/wriggling.
- Knowledge (parcours & tactics).
- Very hard race.
- Never give up/perseverance.
- Good legs needed to go hard.
- Incredible crowd/fans/arena.
To find out more – and to glimpse how and why the races unfolded as they did – read this wonderful book about the world’s greatest race. Unleash your inner Flandrian: the ten-commandments on how to be a Flandrian are revealed within: You will not regret it.
CyclingShorts.cc rating 10/10 …buy this superb book, read it, and enjoy watching The Ronde.
About the Author of The Ronde
Ed Pickering is one of the UK’s leading cycling writers, having written for a range of publications from Cycling Weekly to the New York Times & Loaded. He is the author of the critically acclaimed The Race Against Time and The Yellow Jersey Club, and is the editor of Procycling magazine.
My sincerest thanks to Ed for allowing me some of his valuable time.
The full interview will feature in the coming weeks as will a report on my attempt to ride the 2018 Ronde Cyclopsortive (don’t tell my oncologist!)
Nichiless K Dey
Nick Dey AKA Nichiless Dey AKA "The Prof" AKA....
European Cycling Correspondent
European Cycling correspondent, physics & chemistry teacher and cyclist of little renown! (his words, in truth he is a cycling god!).
Enthusiast & Optimist-ish!
A Time to Reflect
So it is New Years Eve and time for many of us to reflect on the past year and look forward to the coming year.
I often wonder what each year will bring and look back with mixed emotions on the year past. Learning from the hard moments and reminding myself of the successes and high points, both providing motivation for the coming year.
January is here and many of us will be looking forward to the warmer weather and riding on empty roads in the summer sun, I know I am. BUT I have a confession to make I am secretly hoping to get some serious snow before winter is over as I just love riding in the crisp cold that snow brings, and I think that there are few things more changeling then getting out on your CX bike on the cycle paths and bridle ways in the white stuff. I digress so back to the main point.
I have a few things on my list for the year and I am really looking forward to working hard to meet as many of my goals as possible.
First on my list has to be train more and eat less! Mind you this has been top of my list for several years but I have started to do something about this in earnest from the middle of last year onwards. I must now just keep it going. The Gym and Turbo training is going to play a big part of this. As a premium user on Strava I have just signed up to some CTS training plans so watch this space!
Next is to consider going abroad to get some early season miles in, I do not really want to head out to a full on training camp but would rather hit something I can tailor to suit mine and my friends needs. (I have a feeling that Mrs Bikeboyslim might have an impact on this goal!)
Finally, I want to make sure I hit the French Roads in the summer, for my four week block with leading rides in the Vendee, will reduced weight improve stamina and top end speed, ready to get my big block of training in before I ride the Keswick Adventure X Monster Miles.
So what better to talk to friends and hit the internet to do a little bit of research and find some possible companies and destinations that fit the bill.
Cycle San Remo
I am sure, if like me, you love getting out and about on your bike in classic cycling countries then where better than the town at the end of one of the all time best spring classics, Milan – San Remo.
Cycle San Remo offers all this and more, including riding over to the Monaco sea front for lunch or being in Italy for the Giro.
The city of San Remo, which was founded in Roman times in a large inlet on the western Ligurian coast, is known as “The Pearl of the Riviera of the flowers” and is famous throughout the world for its perfect climatic conditions.
The climate is mild all year round, due to a privileged geographic location, protected from the north winds ensuring a lowering of the rainfall quotient. Added to this, this stretch of coastline experiences temperatures which allow the growing of tropical plants in the luxuriant botanical gardens which extend the length of the “Riviera of the Flowers”.
The climate, the cafes, restaurants and the classic roads, what more could a cyclist ask for?
Cycle San Remo is run by Mark Newman and Andy Marsden.
Mark lives in Italy, near to San Remo, with his wife Julie. They moved there full time in 2006 after buying a house there in 2001. Mark has worked hard at building up contacts with businesses, politicians and locals in the area and has extensive knowledge of the terrain, roads, culture and history of the region. He is a good Italian speaker, with some knowledge of German and French too. Mark has been riding a bike since his early teens and also managed teams in various guises taking them to leading events in the UK (Girvan, Tour of Lancashire etc.) and also many European races. Mark was also the manager of Andy Marsden when he was racing on the indoor velodromes in Ghent and Antwerp. Julie runs her café bar in the mountains of the Argentina Valley behind San Remo catering to mostly local clientele who are very demanding in their quest for the best coffee in the region.
Andy assists Mark with groups of cyclists when they visit Italy, plus manning the stands at the various trade shows such as Eurobike in Friedrichschafen, Germany and Bike Motion at Utrecht, Holland. Andy has raced extensively in the UK as an elite, plus rode in Belgium for the small professional squad Asfra Flanders.
Cycle San Remo is a holiday on the bike, riding in beautiful scenery, taking in much of the Milan – San Remo final miles such as the Cipressa, Poggio and sprint finish along the Via Roma in the heart of San Remo. Cycle San Remo’s aim is to share with clients some of the culture of Italian life, with the best cafes, restaurants and the warmest hospitality in the region, including forays into the areas around Nice & Menton, which was ceded around 150 years ago from Italy, and the elegance of Monaco nestling between the two countries.
Distances covered vary, but around 100km per day is the norm. It all depends on the group dynamics and we never, ever leave anyone behind. Julie (Mark’s wife) also offers trekking in the mountains and is more than happy to take people either on a tough walk to the summit of Saccarello at 2200 metres or more gentle strolls through olive groves and chestnut forests.
Cycle San Remo use two hotels; a small family run business in the mountains, some 10km from the coast at Montalto and a much larger modern hotel directly on the beach, this too is family run. Both offer outstanding food and a fine selection of wines.
If this has whet you appetite then Andy and Mark hold an informal presentation at the Tandem House cycling café in Stockport on Friday 16th January. Guest speakers as well as Cycle San Remo will be Barry Broadbent, a former UCI commissaire and head of the anti-drugs testing at several Tours de France, Giro d’Italia and La Vuelta plus many of the top European one day classics, Ryan Bonser, Team Sky mechanic and also Darren Kenny.
If you can’t make the presentation Mark is available on UK mobile 0774 705 4293 until the end of January then on his Italian number (0039) 346 372 6542
Check the website for full details www.cyclesanremo.com. Riding in Italy is certainly on my bucket list and I am sure we will be heading over to ride with Mark and Andy in the not too distant future.
Cycle San remo’s 2015 programme starts with Milan – San Remo, flying in on the 21st March for the race the following day. Then we have Like Bike Monaco over the Easter period and the opening stages of the Giro d’Italia with the Grande Partenza opening with a team time trial along the bike path in San Remo.
This year they are also running six Darren Kenny Cycling Schools throughout the season. Darren is an O.B.E. and gold medallist in several Paralympics.
The season starts in March and runs through to the end of October so groups can book either a long weekend, flying in Friday mornings and leaving Monday late afternoons or evenings, or for a full week from Saturday to Saturday. The airport of choice is Nice, just across the border in France and just about an hour transfer time. It is served by most UK airports by several airlines, including Easyjet, Jet2 and British Airways etc.
Your Bike Travel
Your Bike Travel (YBT) was set up by cycling enthusiast Gareth Stonier in 2013. When starting the company Gareth wanted to do so alongside a current top level professional rider who could help him choose the best locations and rides for YBT’s clients, as well as being available to ride with their guests whenever possible. In fact YBT claim it is the only cycling holiday company set up with the help of a current World Tour rider.
Thus YBT began their relationship with Team Movistar’s rider Alex Dowsett. Alex helped the company choose the
locations, hotels and different rides available to meet all levels of cyclists. The company has run two annual ride with a pro events where guests get the opportunity to ride alongside Alex and gaining many handy hints and helpful riding tips from him.
I had a chance to talk to Alex about the new business at a round of Revolution in Manchester. It became very clear during our conversion that he is really passionate about making sure they are the best in the business and that they offer a wide range of opportunities for all.
YBT run holidays from two locations, Alicante and Majorca, which is no surprise as around 80% of the current World Tour cycling teams run their winter training camps at these two locations. Both locations offer great winter weather and selection of quiet training roads.
The company offers a choice of three or four star hotels along with self catering apartments for those who prefer a bit more freedom. YBT offer both guided and non-guided holidays at their range of locations. The neat things about YBT is that you can get a group of friends together or organise a bike club week away and YBT will tailor the week for you.
YBT’s packages range from non guided breaks from 3 to 14 days, guided 7 or 14 day breaks and specialist triathlete packages which include everything a triathlete could need, and of course carbon bike hire for those who don’t want to travel with their bike. Packages are available all year round and normally they can be arranged for guests within 48 hours.
YBT’s website has great information about the possible rides and includes ever important ride profile. They use some top quality hotels in each destination, all fit for a World Tour rider.
Unfortunately you won’t always be able to ride with Alex, just check the website for details of opportunities to train or ride with him. However YBT has four great riders on the ground to offer help and support:-
- GarethStonier, Cycling enthusiast and amateur timetriallist. Also works as a guide forYourbiketravel.
- Jario Armando Losasa, Ex professional rider from Colombia. Armando has ridden in Europe, South America & the US at the highest level. Great people skills and riding experience are his strengths.
- Fernando Perez, Fernando currently competes in the Lubricantes Benacantil amateur team. Another affable and intelligent guy. A real asset for Yourbiketravel.
- David Gomis, Fernando’s team mate at Lubricantes Benacantil and a great descender. Friendly and always willing to offer help and advice.
One of the bonuses of choosing YBT is that you can make travelling easier by hiring one of their bikes for as little as £69 for the week, possibly cheaper then flying/traveling with your own pride and joy.
Chatting with Gareth the other day he was very proud to tell me,
“This is only the company’s second full year since its inception and bookings are already being placed with guests who visited in 2014. Which means we must be doing something right!”
If you want to find out more then take a trip to YBT’s website at www.yourbiketravel.com planning and booking your trip is ultra simple.
Cycling Holidays Spain
“We have been training in this part of Spain year after year, its amazing”
— Mark Cavendish
If you want to train like a pro and ride where the pros ride in the winter then CHS is the company for you.
Since 2000 CHS have been providing bespoke training camps for cyclists of all levels.
Based in the beautiful marina Alta mountains of the Costa Blanca within easy reach of Alicante and Valencia airport, CHS have proved themselves as a leader in cycling training camps and holidays.
CHS is owned and run by Nozad Nawras an Englishman who with his parents moved to Spain some 20 years ago,
Nozad used to live in London and was a Special needs teacher (Science and PE teacher) covering a wide spectrum of
disabilities. His passion had always been sport and although being a footballer, when he made the difficult decision to give up football having played at almost the top level, he made the transition to endurance events, ‘which was tough as I was genetically a sprinter!’
Nozad has represented his country in Athletics, qualified for the world champs in triathlon a few years back, and regularly hooked up with the odd pro rider out in Spain as well as the Brownlee brothers who train in the region. He now races road bikes in Spain.
The first training camps started back in 2000 during his holiday times as a teacher. He saw huge potential as the conditions are the best with perfect roads and perfect weather.
It was when his dad passed away 4 years ago that he moved over full time. Nozad says ‘I owe him everything, His hard work has allowed me to continue a passion of mine and provide a great training camp and service to many cyclists who now are great friends of mine.’
So what are you looking for from a training camp? Maybe CHS might just have the answer for you. They certainly know how to make you feel at home, in fact CHS provides you with a real home from home, from the healthy home cooked food, using local fresh produce to the post ride massage and spa, everything you could want is on hand. When you are out on the road, there is no need to worry about mechanicals as the CHS team car is on hand to support all your needs on the excellently guided rides, and you never know you might just find yourself mixing it with some of the pro teams out on their winter training block.
Being able to put your passion to the test without compromise is what CHS is all about. They cater for cyclists of all levels and base their philosophy on the fact that given the right conditions and support, you can train to your max and improve every area of your cycling from fitness to technique.
The CHS model is based around how pro teams train during their winter blocks. Everything is taken care of allowing you to focus 100% of your time on riding and development, it’s all about the bike! CHS pride themselves on their outstanding reputation and client feedback. At CHS they strive to make your training experience the best it can be and they have a true passion for cycling.
So if you’re a cyclist, no matter what level and you want the best in training camps, with the extra special personal touch, then C.H.S claim that they can and will deliver.
This appears to upheld with their full, all inclusive Pro Package cost £475 for the week, offering great value for money. Just add in travel and bike transportation or hire one of CHS’s full carbon bikes for an extra £100.
If you want to find out more then visit www.cyclingholidayspain.co.uk and start planning your holiday today.
This company came to my attention via the guys a Bikechainricci in Cornwall, who have used them before and rate them very highly. Bikechainrici had invited me along on one of their trips, which sadly I could not join as it was in term time (the joys of teaching!).
Trek Travels website makes the following claim:-
TREK TRAVEL MAKES EVERY MOMENT MAGICAL.
YOU MAY NEVER WANT TO GO HOME.
Sipping wine off the coast of the Mediterranean. Lounging in the finest hotels in Europe and climbing the most epic mountain passes you could ever imagine. At Trek Travel, we’ve custom-built the perfect vacations for lovers of luxury, disciples of cycling, and families who want to see the world like they’ve never seen it before.
A Trek Travel vacation is unlike any bike trip you’ve ever taken, from first clip-in to final farewell. Why?
They claim the reason’s are simple
OUR GUIDES ARE TRAINED TO MAKE YOUR TRIP MAGICAL.
They aren’t just experts in riding; they’re trained in delivering uncompromising service in ways you won’t believe. We know that it’s the unexpected surprises that make a trip magical. That’s why our guides pride themselves on anticipating your needs before you ask. It’s their job to provide you with moments of “wow”.
WE INCLUDE MORE.
When you choose Trek Travel, you get so much more than the experience of a lifetime. Added benefits like discounts on bike purchases, special Trek jerseys or arm warmers and socks, a dedicated travel coordinator and exclusive events to connect you with your fellow travelers are just a few of the special touches to make your trip even better.
WE ARE THE BIKE TOUR EXPERTS.
One look at our travel calendar and you’ll see: travel options abound. We offer cycling trips around the globe, from Zion National Park to the Croatian coast, and everything in between. And since we’re the world leader in bicycle tours, we know the best hotels, dining, excursions and rides. All with that special “insider” twist.
TREK BICYCLES SET US APART.
It wouldn’t be the perfect vacation without the perfect bike. That’s why we’re proud to offer a complete selection of Trek bikes, from the race-ready Domane with electronic shifting to the cruiser-comfortable Trek 7.6 FX hybrid. The best part? Your perfectly tuned-and-ready bike is already included in the trip cost. Upgrades are available as well.
YOUR DAY. YOU DECIDE.
Perhaps you want to spend the day taking a quiet ride through the Tuscan hillside or touring the local village, but your spouse has always wanted to ride the famous switchbacks of Alpe d’Huez or the moonscape of Ventoux. At Trek Travel, our vacations are built to deliver the ultimate in flexibility. Our guides can accommodate the most hard-core roadies while delivering unparalleled attention to the needs of all vacationers, all at the same time. You pick your mileage, itinerary and experiences. We take care of the rest.
GUARANTEED TO RUN*.
Rest assured when you book with us your trip will run.
*For most trips this will apply, but some trips are so special we need a few more people to run them.
Some very bold claims and looking over the website Trek Travel certainly seems to much more like the Kuoni of cycling holidays. They have a multiplicity of destinations from Majorca to Moab. Just be aware when you are looking at prices on the web, Trek list the total cost and it is only when you open the specific holiday will you get an idea of the price per person. Trek certainly caters for every type of rider including some family holidays and they make it very easy to select the holiday that is right for you.
So if you want a package cycling holiday then get in touch with Trek Travel at www.trektravel.com
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions! Who would I pick? To be fair I would probably rule out Trek Travel. This is purely and simply a personal preference, I really do not like the big corporate look of Trek and to be totally honest I like going with the smaller and maybe more personal businesses, the companies where the employees have much more of a stake in what they are doing. However I know that have always had excellent service from Trek Travel.
So for me it would have to be Cycle San Remo, CHS or YBT and to be fair I just can’t split the three. For the full on chilled riviera experience it would have to be Cycle San Remo, however if I wanted to train like a pro it is impossible to split CHS and YBT. But at the end of the day, as they say, ‘The choice is yours!’.
All I can say is whoever you go with I hope you have an amazing time. Remember It’s all about the bike!
Happy Cycling Holidays.
|The exhibition was dedicated to raising funds for the Dave Rayner Fund & Yorkshire Air Ambulance.|
Yes, OK, so I bought another cycling T-shirt, and cap, and wristband… It was all for a couple of great causes.
This astonishing pop-up exhibition displayed beautifully a collection of vintage and modern bicycles. There were some true legends beautifully displayed here…
Let’s start with…
No records exist for bikes built by Woodrup Cycles before 1973 due to a fire, however both Barry Hoban – the rider, and Ian McLean – the frame builder, have verified it’a authenticity as one of those from the 1960’s finished in Mercier team colours for the Tour de France. Damaged and returned to Woodrup Cycles to be repaired, Jim, an employee at the time, rode it until it was sold to Chris Forbes in Otley. Restored to it’s present glory by Chris it was eventually sold to Bob Garside – who was very generous with his time and told me so much about the history of this beautiful bike and his astonishing collection – in 2010, its current owner. When can I visit, Bob?
Here’s Barry Hoban, dispelling a few myths, interviewed by Ned Boulting in 2012…
Beryl Burton dominated women’s cycle racing in the UK, setting numerous domestic records and as well as winning more than 90 domestic championships along with seven world titles. She set a women’s record for the 12-hour time-trial which exceeded the men’s record for two years!
Another installment to come, including the legendary and utterly charming Ken Russell, winner of the 1952 Tour of Britain whilst riding as an ‘independent’ (no team), and his Ellis Briggs racing bike.
Watch the excellent film from this years Cheshire Classic with our very own Heather Bamforth providing commentary and interviews. Awesome job Heather!
A great race and film.
With thanks to Andy Wood and all at the Cheshire Classic. Alan Sheldon for all his excellent editing and sound… and to the Cycling Shorts Team for their hard work; Heather Bamforth, Fred ‘Lightning Twitter Fingers’ Bamforth and Chris Maher.
Don’t forget to check out Chris’s Image gallery from the race here.
More info on the Cheshire Classic at: www.cheshireclassic.com
If you were to tell me last Sunday saw 16,500 cyclists enjoying 100 miles of closed roads stretching from the Olympic Park in Stratford, East London, weaving through the city and out west into Surrey, I’d think you were crazy. But this was certainly no tall story.
The Prudential RideLondon Festival of Cycling hit the capital last weekend seeing more than 65,000 cycling enthusiasts enjoy everything about the bike. A free-cycle through the city soaking in the sites, a Bike Show and the Women’s Elite Crit Race on the Saturday. And on Sunday, the RideLondon 100 followed by the Men’s Pro Race, both taking in a circuit similar to that of the Olympics.
Back in April when I found out I’d won a place to ride with #TeamSkoda, one of the key sponsors of the event, I was not only excited to be part of the UK’s largest celebration of the bike, but pretty nervous too. I’d not long moved back from Amsterdam with the goal of becoming a grimpeuse (climber), or at least a better one than I was. RideLondon was the perfect event to give me the motivational kick to get my slow-twitch muscles working and build the stamina to complete my longest ride yet.
I’d struggled at the beginning of the year to feel the love for the bike. Winter seemed to drag on and as an asthmatic; cold, damp conditions are the worst! I was struggling to enjoy club rides, knowing everyone else had to wait for me at the top of every hill. I decided the only way to deal with this was focus.
I invested in some turbo-training DVDs and started to get into the routine of coming home to a warm, dark house, shutting myself away in the attic for 90 mins. I was also attending weekly track training sessions – riding a fixed gear with intensive interval training was helping to build additional muscle and fitness. By the time I got back out on the road at the Amstel Gold Race in April, I could already see the difference in my power, completing the 125km route (including all the climbs) in just over 5 hours and with energy left over to party that evening. My longest ride yet.
Come the beginning of May, I was ready to head off to the Alps. Cycling for me has always been about social riding; particularly in windy Amsterdam. But for once I was on my own. By tackling the cols alone, I really got to know not only my physical capability, but my inner chimp. I not only came back a different cyclist, but ready to better my performance. I was finally in love with the bike again.
With lighter evenings kicking in, I was now back on the bike 3 – 4 times a week – mixing it up with long weekend rides and some challenging Cat 3 & 4 climbs in the Chilterns, track-training on a Thursday, and some fast, short interval based rides mid week.
Another week in the Alps at the end of June, and I could really see the difference. This time I wasn’t alone. But I not only felt comfortable, I knew how to pace myself and not succumb to the pressure of those that were faster around me. I came back broken, having never cycled or climbed so much in one week before, but I now knew I was capable of more.
Although I’d aimed to become a grimpeuse by the end of the 2013 season, I can happily say I’d already beaten my goal, if not bettered it. Of course, I still have plenty to improve on, but compare me to the cyclist of last year, and you wouldn’t recognise me. I don’t recognise me!
The week before RideLondon I was struck down with a chest infection and fever; my lungs collapsing on me and a course of antibiotics prescribed. My worst nightmare and one I seem to live every time I have a big cycle event coming up. Feeling particularly rubbish, all of my enthusiasm had washed out the window, more a fear that I wouldn’t be able to start, let alone complete the full 100 miles comfortably. It was only 2 days before “race day” that I decided I would start and see how I got on. And aren’t I glad I did!
My alarm rung loud at 5am on Sunday morning. I stumbled out of bed into the lycra I’d already laid out the night before, and clambered into the already loaded car trying to eat some form of breakfast – in this instance a banana, 2 boiled eggs prepared the night before and a cup of tea. Entering London on eearily empty roads, I hadn’t really anticipated the eery empty roads I would soon by cycling on.
Arriving at the Olympic park, I was shocked at the sheer number of cyclists in their pens, like patient cattle waiting for the farmer to open the gate. There were hundreds, if not thousands, and I was only seeing an 8th, maybe even a 9th of the total number of cyclists that would pass through the start line that day.
Riding for Skoda, we were welcomed into the VIP tent, brekkie thrown in. Still half asleep, I only batted half an eyelid at Laura Trott and Dani King of Wiggle-Honda Pro team sat at the table tucking into their bacon rolls.
After a quick discussion with the rest of Team Skoda about our target times, the 6 of us were directed into our wave ready to start at a very prompt 7.50am, along with other Skoda cyclists and the girls from Matrix Fitness RA.
The start was strange. Not only were we swarmed by thousands of other cyclists, all with the same intention, but we were on completely closed roads, ignoring traffic lights and riding straight through junctions. For the first 5 – 10km, the majority were keeping to the left of the road, obviously feeling out of their comfort zone encroaching ‘the other side’. Soon losing the other Team Skoda members, I stuck with the Matrix Fitness girls, Hannah Walker, Jessie Walker and Emma Grant, as we weaved our way through the cyclists, out of the city and into the countryside of Surrey.
The 4 of us had concerns that the ‘swarm’ would continue into the hills, making it difficult to complete the course in a time of our choosing. But come Newlands Corner (not long after a little crash I had as a result of a stopping peloton on a narrowing road), the masses had started to thin.
Apart from ‘lethal’ Leith Hill, the last 25km had to be the toughest. I’d lost the girls following a medic stop at 50 miles and the motivating cheers of ‘you need to beat Boris, he’s ahead of you‘ were a distant memory. Everything was hurting, I couldn’t find a wheel I felt comfortable to sit on, and I just wanted to finish. Pulling onto the Mall, the crowds roaring with support, I was able to use the last of what energy I had to pick up my speed and cross the line with a smile on my face.
6 hours and 24 minutes after starting (including the 30 minute medic stop to clean my wounds), I had finished, lungs in tact! I was particularly happy to roll up to the second Skoda tent of the day, park my bike and enjoy indulging in some proper food, a shower and the Men’s Pro Race.
If you fancy giving RideLondon 2014 a go, the ballot opens this Monday, 12th August. Good luck!
A massive thank you has to be passed on to the following people and companies:
Skoda & Cycling Plus for providing me the opportunity to take part in a fantastic event, with a big part of that thank you to Jonathan Durling for the support throughout the past few months, and the grandstand tickets!
Matrix Fitness Racing Academy, Helen and Stef Wyman for all of their support at Skoda training events, with particular mention to Hannah, Jessie and Emma for their support on the day.
Team Skoda – without the banter, training rides and comparison of notes over the past few months, the event wouldn’t have been the same without them. Well done all!
Boris Johnson, Prudential, the event marshals and St Johns Ambulance for laying on a fantastic event normally unimaginable for London and very much reminiscent of the Netherlands.
The spectators – a lot more than I was expecting – but awesome, every one of them!
And of course, my wonderful friends and family for all their support and for putting up with my moaning!
Riding since Feb 2011 Hayley is a 30 year old female who loves adventures. If she’s not on one of her many bikes or in the water on a bodyboard/surfboard, then Hayley is probably out looking for something new to keep the adrenaline pumping!