A desire to raise money for charity drove Ian Rees to be first across the line at the end of the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 this morning, completing a journey of recovery for the 43-year-old Bristol-based diabetic who was inspired by watching last year’s event.
Twelve months ago the former pro stood leaning on his crutches beside The Mall watching the first ever Prudential RideLondon sportive and promised himself that he would lead the mass riders under the finish gantry in 2014 to raise money and the profile of diabetes research.
After 86 of the hardest rain-drenched miles he’s ever ridden, Rees achieved his dream with the aid of his Bristol Dymag TID clubmates Paul Merryweather and Matthew Franklin, and believes his Herculean efforts will bring in some much-needed funds for the diabetes charity JDRF.
“I couldn’t do it last year because I broke my leg, but I watched it with people from the charity and told them that I would be first across the line this year to raise their profile,” said Rees, his mud-splattered face breaking into a smile of pure relief.
“Here I am a year on, and I did it. I can’t believe it. That was the hardest ride I’ve had since I was a pro in France in the 1990s.”
Rees, who’s never done a sportive before, set up the Dymag club with Merryweather to raise money for diabetes research two years ago after being forced to abandon his pro cycling career when he was diagnosed with the condition.
“This is what we really wanted to do,” said Merryweather, who followed Rees safely across the line at the head of a 60-strong bunch of early-finishing sportive riders.”
“I helped Ian set up the team two years ago so this was all about getting him home first and giving JDRF some profile. So it’s mission accomplished; it’s all quite inspirational.”
The group had a plan to stay near the front of the pack, avoiding as far as possible any problems caused by the adverse weather, and were full of praise for the organisers’ decision to shorten the 100-mile route by 14 miles, cutting out the potentially treacherous climbs up and down Box Hill and Leith Hill.
“We worked so well as a team,”
said Rees. “The rain and the speed we were going at the front made it so hard.”
“But it was such a good decision to cut out the hills. I hit a cat’s eye at one point and nearly came off, and there were a few crashes, so I’m really glad they took the hills out because coming down Box Hill or Leith Hill would’ve been deadly.”
“RideLondon have done an absolutely brilliant job. The organisation is as good as a pro race on the continent. I was so impressed, they should do these all over the country. I will do it again next year, definitely.”
Nicola Roberts and Bella Leach were impressed too. The two London friends rode the route together and crossed the line side-by-side, the first women to complete the sportive.
“It was wet but it was great fun,” said Roberts, a member of the Dulwich Paragon club. “It wasn’t too windy so you could still ride. Everyone was just getting on with it really and smiling and chatting.”
“Some of the corners and descents were quite sketchy but people were very considerate, slowing down and talking to each other.”
“I really enjoyed it, it was really good fun to just get out there and stretch the legs,” agreed Leach, a London Phoenix rider. “Nicola and I rode the whole way together so we wanted to cross the line together.”
“I’ve never been up Box Hill or Leith Hill and after today it feels like I’m destined to never ride them!”
Wiggle Honda’s Neil Towns was also among the early finishers, completing his second Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100.
“Riding at the front was really exciting,” he said. “I did the event last year. It was slighty damper than last year but still fantastic, still good riding. It’s a lovely bike ride that isn’t too challenging so you can just get out there and ride for the fun of it.”
“There were fewer supporters than last year but the ones who were out gave it some welly. I’ll definitely be back next year.”
“This event’s like the London Marathon for cyclists – if you can get a place you jump at it. A beautiful bike ride; the spirit of the London Olympics carries on.”
Ben Knapp backed up the other riders’ support for the shortened route, relishing a ride started by three world greats of women’s cycling: world and Olympic road race champion Marianne Vos, double Olympic track champion Laura Trott and multiple Paralympic gold medallist Dame Sarah Storey.
Ian Rees – post race
“It was a bit disappointing to have the route shortened but coming across the top of Newlands was pretty nasty so everyone understood why the organisers did it. It was the right decision,” said the Dulwich Paragon rider.”
“More than a quarter of Dulwich Paragon’s 600 members were riding today so it’s a really great event for everyone.”
“Having Marianne Vos, Sarah Storey and Laura Trott starting the ride was great. We set off feeling really inspired.”
All three women then rode the sportive themselves – Vos delighted to be back on the roads where she won Olympic gold two years ago.
“I’ve never done a ride as big as this; it was really something special,” said the Dutch rider who finished second in yesterday’s Prudential RideLondon Grand Prix.
“Just to ride with all these people and see everyone coming out riding, not caring about the rain was fantastic. It was great fun.”
“It was great to back on the roads of London 2012 and to see more than 20,000 out there too was fabulous. I saw quite a lot of them, I think, and everyone was taking care of themselves and each other.”