bikebritain Says May 30, 2015

Vive la London Revolution!

Picture the scene

I don’t remember signing up for this event. It definitely happened, because it would have been a niche and isolated episode of credit card fraud, but I don’t recall what made me decide it was a good idea.

 It seemed close to home, living in London and all but the event, although it starts and finishes and has a portion of its route in London, has little to do with London (which is why I refused to buy the commemorative jersey on principle, adorned as it is with The Shard, London Eye etc.). The event is a loop, a revolution, if you will, around the outside of London, predominantly concerned with taking in the lush countryside of the Home Counties over the course of 188 miles.

Day One

Importantly, for me if not for you, this was my first sportive or organised cycle that has been done independently of the bikebritain stable. Still, I was pretty confident I knew how these things worked by now, although I arrived at the start (and, later, the finish) point of Lee Valley Athletics Centre nice and early to make sure there was no last minute palaver. Sure enough, I registered with relative ease, did all my admin, and was waiting at the start line at 0730 to be amongst one of the first ‘waves’ let loose on the course.

Of course, there was method in my promptness. The first 15 miles were a slog through the traffic and red lights of London, broadly following the A10 and then heading for Tower Bridge, before heading through Southwark towards Camberwell (close to my flat) and out of the city via Dulwich and Crystal Palace. This being London, there was enough traffic around even at this hour to focus the mind, and I was soon putting my local knowledge to good use by going the wrong way and only correcting my error when a fellow participant yelled at me.

Onward, then, and passing Biggin Hill Airport before reaching the M25 and heading to Oxted and then further south still to Edenbridge and, 40 miles in, the first pit-stop proffered an orthodox offering – crisps, fruit, flapjack, cereal bars. I indulged after my early start, but was keen to get back on the road again, the route now beginning to work its way west, through Lingfield and then working a way across to Horley. The route zigzagged a little here, as we kept to the back roads and country lanes, but it never felt laborious or stop-start, and soon I was in Newdigate, and then Capel, following the Surrey Cycleway as it crossed the busy A24.

After a southern detour to take in Oakwoodhill and Walliswood, we headed back north, and lunch at Ewhurst. Obviously, I continued to honour the bikebritain tradition by shovelling as much food as I could lay my hands on down my neck as fast as possible. Taking as much as you wanted was definitely encouraged, but supermarket-style sandwiches and Jelly Tots were the only additions to the morning menu. Still, this only encouraged me to get back on the road quickly. 70 miles down, leaving about 30 to Royal Ascot and the conclusion of the first day.

The field was fairly strung out by now. The strong cyclists had asserted themselves, and I was in the middle group made up of slower people who had left early and quicker people who’d left later, and so was riding on my own most of the time. This meant having to pay good attention to the signage (not my forte), but it was fine with me. Conversation with other cyclists tends to inevitably turn to subjects such as bike tech or what the hell I’m doing at this event anyway, both of which get a cheerfully blank look and shrug of the shoulders from me.

It was pretty much due north now, first stop the picturesque but busy village of Shere, which clearly had scant regard in its design for several hundred cyclists passing through and several dozen tourists doing everything but, and it needed a lot of patience and a little dexterity to negotiate some tight turns and interesting driving. I had neither, but both myself and Shere remained intact and on I went, shaving the eastern tip of Woking, before working my way into Ascot via some moderate but, in the circumstances, dispiriting inclines, to arrive in camp at about 4pm, not too bad considering the London stretch took much longer than any normal 15 mile stretch should. I think the timing information has me at about 7hrs 40mins for my 100 miles on the road.

So, what of the hills of day one? The day contained over 1200 metres of climbing, much of which was contained in three major efforts. The first of these was a steady rise spread over a rough ten mile stretch in the residential roads of West Wickham, probably at an average of about 3%, which barely registered on my radar. Don’t get me wrong, all my uphill is a sweary, sweaty mess, but this was effectively just a series of slopes that followed one another and, without consulting the profile, I wouldn’t really have noticed.

The same can’t be said of the other two, major efforts both, and occurring just after the second pit stop at Ewhurst. The first, Pitch Hill, was around 3 miles long, and peaked at around 13%. I was pretty relieved to haul my full belly up there, fuelled no doubt by the whole packet of Jelly Tots I had hurled down my neck moments before, but no sooner had I made the summit, we were on to Combe Lane, just a mile long, but peaking at 11% with a vicious switchback where you were left with no choice but to take the inside of the corner.

Having not bothered with the residential package before realising I absolutely needed it, I was off to the Premier Inn in Bracknell for the evening. A night in a hotel was definitely a bonus over a tent on the Ascot out-grounds, and I awoke feeling quite good.

Day Two

I returned to Ascot to collect my bike and get going before 8am, pausing only for a little air in the inner tubes. I’m not sure if I’d missed a deluge of people who’d set off first thing, or whether most people were leaving later, but the roads were quiet, and I made good progress through Winkfield Row, Warfield, and various interestingly named villages, before skirting round the edge of Maidenhead and heading up to and through Marlow. Next we passed High Wycombe wide on the west side, through West Wycombe no less, before climbing Bledlow Ridge to Princes Risborough and the first pit stop. It goes without saying that I was a flurry of arms and food, and then straight back down to business.

Thereafter, we began to head gradually south towards Chesham. The route had been expertly kept to the minor roads on day one, but day two took this to a whole new level, with single lane tracks popping up frequently, not without their share of serious pot holes, which kept the mind focussed. A fellow rider fixing a puncture by the side of the road was an increasingly regular sight.

Latimer and Kings Langley followed, before pit stop number two at Butterfly World, just south of St. Albans. I was feeling it now, but I knew that the last leg would return us to London and, as such, we were pretty much done with serious hills. However, even the mildest or shortest incline was doing some damage now, and I didn’t even want to think about the cycle home I had afterwards, so I didn’t.

We flirted with the M25 and A1(M), ducking under and clambering over in equal measure, as if the route itself couldn’t quite decide where we wanted to be. At this point, the picturesque country lanes were a distant memory and the next step was to head south into London via the borough of Enfield. Traffic lights squashed previously isolated riders into small groups and a hardy band of about ten of us negotiated the junctions which took us back to Lee Valley, and the finish, just after 3pm, with the 88 miles of day two under our belts. Medals collected, free chocolate bar demolished, and a brief moment to soak up the satisfaction of completing the task, and then, just for a change, I got on my bike, and slogged my way home, bringing up a second consecutive 100 mile day in the process.

I was shocked to learn that day two had less ascension than day one (just short of 1100 metres), even with the 12 fewer miles. Day two certainly had a higher number of identifiable climbs. They got underway properly with Freith Road, just north of Marlow and about 17 miles into the day, which was around 5.5 miles at a rough average of 4%. Shortly after was the 3 mile climb to Bledlow Ridge, which was occasionally brutish with parts of it up around 15%. This was the first time that we saw people climbing off and walking en masse. It wasn’t elegant, but I puffed and pedalled my way past them and up to the top, where I was rewarded with some lovely vistas and a cracking descent to the pit stop.

Straight after the pit stop, we hit Kop Hill, another thuggish ascent. Only a couple of miles, but more double digit gradient, allegedly hitting anything from 16%-20% depending on where you check, all whilst navigating people pushing their bikes. Respite was brief, and next came Lodge Hill, which was less than a mile, but at an average of 7%, with parts at up to 14%. Similarly, soon after came Rocky Lane, another short, sharp shock peaking at 9%, and there were still Flauden Hill and Toms Lane (which had a very short 19% section) to come, before things levelled out as we returned to the capital.

The London Revolution was a hugely enjoyable, well-organised and rewarding event. The clement weather helped, but I had a great time and the route was well-thought out and comprehensively signposted. I was lucky, and a bit of a lone wolf, so didn’t test all of the bikebritain criteria, but have given my best approximation below. (I should add that you did have the option to ride day one or day two, and there’s another challenge which might be another (or part of) the route, however I did not check).

Closing Comments

I suppose I was left wondering what the point of it was. I guess you want your sportive to have a ‘hook’, and (sort of) circling London and naming it so gives it an allure that might inspire competitors to travel from further away (or pay a little more). But, ultimately, the London stretches are an uninspiring drag, and more dangerous for all road users and it isn’t as if the start/finish is located particularly conveniently. The most London-y thing you do is cross Tower Bridge before you’ve even woken up on day one. I guess, if you want a two-day loop event covering the sort of territory we did, the complexities of the River Thames and the Dartford Crossing to the east mean that some sort of compromise is necessary. I’m not 100% sure what my point or solution is, but once I’ve worked that out, I’ll be sure to never speak of it again.

 Vive la London Revolution!



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Words by Lukey

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