On Saturday, the day before the big day, I spent a lot of time checking over my bike and making sure it was ready for our journey together. I previously had a problem with the back wheel due to a hitting a pot hole, so I spent a lot of time truing up the wheel, for any cyclists, they would know how difficult and time consuming this job is.
Once I had finished fiddling about with my bike, I then put on my numbers on my bike and jersey and then got my bag ready for the morning. We were given stickers to put on our helmets and official baggage bag. I put a sticker on my helmet and thought ‘this is a large helmet sticker’ then when I went to put the sticker on my bag and thought ‘this is a bit small’ and then I realised I had put my baggage label on my helmet, Lol. Luckily I managed to peel off the sticker from my helmet, without ripping it and managed to stick it to my baggage bag.
I set my alarm for 4.30 on the Sunday morning as Mat Woolsten was due to pick me up at 5.15am and then Kelly Standley at 5.30am before making our way to the O2, where Mat had booked the official car parking. Once at the O2 we had a choice of cycling through the Blackwall Tunnel, as this was closed for traffic, or use the Emirates Air Line cable cars over the Thames to the Excel Centre. The cable cars were free for all riders and their bikes, so we thought we take the opportunity for a free ride. At the Emirates Air Line station we saw Laura queueing waiting for the lift, but myself and Kelly decided to carry our bikes up the stairs and then Mat and Laura followed behind.
Myself and Kelly got in one cable car, which was quite difficult to maneuver our bikes into whilst they were moving. Then whilst airborne, over the Thames, I wondered if the cars could be rocked, so I tried and it actually did. I’m not sure why I did this because I’m not the best with heights and soon stopped and then held onto the hand rail, meanwhile Kelly was in fits of laughter.
Once we landed on the other side we all slowly cycled to the start following all the signs. We knew we were getting closer and closer because the number of cyclists riding along with us grew and the car drivers were getting more and more frustrated due to all the road closures. When we arrived at the Olympic park Mat and Laura went off to their starting area and myself and Kelly had the same starting block and after dropping off our bags we made our way to our pen.
We were in the pen for about half an hour before we started moving and then joined the rest of the queues for the start, with all the other starting colours. They seemed to allow a block from each colour take in turn to move forward and reach the start line. After about another 30 mins we eventually made it to the start line.
Whilst preparing myself for the start I looked over and I recognised a couple of friendly faces, Dawn and Peter Grainger, who had volunteered to help on the baggage trucks. As I said hello to them both, Dawn quickly whipped out her camera from under her rain poncho to take a couple of quick snaps. Then the countdown begun for us to go and was soon off. Once we got over the timing mats, after a few seconds of clicking from all the riders clipping into their pedals, we said ‘good luck’ to each other and then cycled along our own pace.
It was a great feeling to cycle along the closed roads of London, it was a unique experience. The route took us along the wrong side of the dual carriage way on the A12 towards the docklands area and then we through the lime house link tunnel onto the highway and towards Tower Hill. It was nice going through the tunnels to get a break from the rain and to ride on dry roads.
After whizzing past the poppy display at the Tower of London the route took us onto the embankment and then through central London passing many London Landmarks. The rain continued to get worse and the wind starting to pick up, despite the bad weather I was going along at quite a quick pace, for myself, and was averaging about 18 miles an hours. After crossing the Thames via Chiswick we headed towards Richmond Park and then Big Bertha hit, the rain was torrential and the road through Richmond Park quickly turned into a river.
I was halfway through the park and then the dreaded puncture fairy struck, it looked like so many other participates were also struck down by her, I passed so many unlucky riders and we was only into the first 20 miles of the ride. I pulled over to the side and tried to get some shelter under the trees whilst replacing the inner tube, however the rain was so heavy I didn’t get any respite from it. It took me an age to take off the tyre, replace the inner tube and try to pump up the tyre to a reasonable pressure whilst using a tiny hand-pump. It’s times like these that I wish I could put my arm out like the pros’ and someone comes along with a new wheel in hand, replaces the wheel in seconds and then push you on your way.
After eventually fixing my puncture I re-joined the race and within minutes of getting back on my bike everyone came to a halt. Due to the adverse weather conditions the roads were completely flooded and we were asked to dismount and walk for a short distance. Once we left Richmond Park most of the roads on the route were flooded, so we had to be cautious along these roads because many times we all came to stand still.
At 36 miles we had crossed over the M25 and found the rolling countryside of Surrey. After about 10 miles of undulations we then endured the biggest climb of the route, being Newlands Corner. It may have not been Leith Hill or Box Hill but it was still a challenging climb, which maxes out at 570ft and it was on this climb that a fellow participant suffered a cardiac arrest and passed away, which was such sad news.
At the summit of the climb there was a welcome sight of the official food hub, where I stopped to consume my Jam sandwiches and to fill up my water bottles. After my pit stop I made my decent along the A25 heading towards Dorking, it was along this stretch I reached my maximum speed of 39.9 mph. The next 13 miles flew by and were soon making our way to Leatherhead reaching the 60 mile marker.
By now the rain had stopped, the sun started to come out, I was starting to dry out and I was enjoying this part of the ride. We soon passed through Esher and through the very picturesque Kingston Upon Thames, I was really enjoying the scenery. Not long after passing through the market town I stopped at the last official drink stop. I stopped for a few moments to take in extra fluids and some carbs for the final push to the finish.
After a few minutes at the drink station I saw Kelly again, we had a quick chat and as Kelly was keen to get going again before her legs seized up, so she left me at the stop. I continued to drink some more fluids, then I topped up my bottle, send Jo a text giving her an update of my progress and took off my jacket, as I was starting to get quite warm. I was now ready to take on the last 13 miles of the challenge.
Within a few minutes after getting back on the bike the heavens opened again, many riders were pulling over to put on their waterproofs, as I just took mine off I couldn’t be bothered to put it back on again. It came down so hard it felt like hail stones which made the final climb up towards wimbledon, a little bit tougher. This was the final time I saw Kelly until the finish as I slowly passed her. Whilst concentrating on the hill I didn’t get much chance to look out see the common and see if Great Uncle Bulgaria and the rest of the Wombles were at home.
By the time I got to Putney Bridge the rain had stopped and I was now at mile 80, only 6 miles to go. I felt pretty good at this stage and I could see that my average speed was increasing. I was going along at a steady pace along with few other riders and it was a great cycling along the closed roads and it was felt unusual to cycle through red lights. We were soon on the embankment and passed Battersea Bridge, now I knew I was very close to the finish. I was counting down the Bridges as I passed them, Albert Bridge, Chelsea Bridge, Vauxhall Bridge, Lambeth Bridge and then Westminster Bridge.
Once we passed Westminster Bridge we went round Parliament Square onto Whitehall, pass David Cameron’s house, towards Nelson’s column and then turned left under Admiralty Arch on to the home straight on the Mall. Whilst cycling down the Mall I quickly saw my army of fans, my wife Jo, my father-in-law Rod, my sister-in-law Amanda and my brother-in-law Nick, cheering me on. Once I past my fan club, I thought I’d stick the bike in a higher gear and pretend I’m Mark Cavendish and sprint to the line. As I crossed the line I punched the air in delight and then collected my medal.
At the finish we continued down the mall pass the Victoria Memorial and down the side of Buckingham Palace, to the baggage area. Many of my friends volunteered to work on the baggage trucks with Swanley A/C so I went over to say hello to them all. They were telling me what a tough day that they’ve had and some of them looked more knackered than me. Mathew was also here as his wife and daughter also volunteered, this was the first time I saw him since we left each other at the Olympic Park. Typically Mat’s first words were ‘where have you been?’, as he finished before me and then congratulated for finishing. Then only a few minutes later Kelly arrived and came to see her partner Steve, who also helped on the baggage.
After speaking to my friends I went to find my wife and her family. They had walked down towards Buckingham Palace to meet me and were sitting near the gardens. Jo’s sister, Amanda, had made a packed lunch for me, which I was so grateful for and scoffed it down. We sat there for a while, whilst I shared my experience with them before we slowly walked to Charing Cross station and got the train back to Dartford.
Here are my results for any cycling stat fans;
- Total Time: 6:43:59
- Riding Time: 5:45:47
- Average Speed: 15.12 mph
- Max Speed: 39.9 mph
- Elevation: 2,185 ft
On Saturday I was doubting whether I could actually ride 100 miles, which I didn’t, but to no fault of my own. However, I still felt pretty good when I finished and felt that I would have been ok completing the other 14 miles, despite probably being the hardest part of the route. I feel slightly disappointed that I didn’t get a chance to complete the full 100 mile route, however I was still pleased with myself as this was still the furthest I’ve ever cycled in one day and I was more please about that I managed to keep my average speed above 15 mph. Before I started training for the event I struggled to keep my pace above this for a 13 mile ride.
The whole day was a great experience and Big Bertha didn’t dampen the riders spirits, it just added to the adventure. I enjoyed the route, it was great to cycle along the closed roads of London and to finish on the iconic Mall. All of the volunteers did an amazing job and were so cheerful, despite the weather not giving them much to cheer about. They all have my up-most respect for giving up their day in order to make the race possible.
Don’t forget, for those who may be interested, the ballot opens for the 2015 event on Monday 18th August. So who is up for a challenge?