Day one HERE
After a half decent nights sleep I emerged from my little canvas home at around 5am to a very dreary campsite. It was so not cycling weather, cold, damp and threatening to rain. The plan was to, once again, set off early and as with the showers and dinner the night before, it turned out to be a good call as the queue for breakfast was horrendous as we wandered back to the tents having already eaten.
I felt that breakfast was better than dinner had been, although the whole school dinners like set up was not great, nor was the lack of trays so you had to juggle crockery. Still, it’s difficult to go wrong with porridge, which is my go to breakfast anyway, and scrambled eggs, bacon, beans etc. Token gesture fruit pot and a roll added to the carb load, not to mention the trickiness of getting it all to a table before going in search of a much needed coffee. How disappointing that it was instant. I wasn’t expecting a barista service but how hard is it to offer filter coffee?
Bags back on the luggage truck and bikes recovered from the secure area via the mechanics unit to once again investigate Gary’s creaky bottom bracket and allow me to top up the air in my rear tyre as I’d clearly picked up a puncture on day one. The sealant in my tubeless tyre setup had sorted it with just a little pressure lost. All set, we joined the group forming at the start point readying for the off.
Today, the leg warmers joined their arm counterparts, but I’d gambled on the rain remaining light and stuck with my water resistant gilet and left my full on rain jacket in my overnight bag. As we set out on our return leg the top notch photographers caught my level of cycling enthusiasm precisely! Those initial few miles will go down as the most uncomfortable I have ever been on a bicycle saddle, but once we got to Marlow the clouds had broken and it was looking like it was going to be a beautiful day and that makes everything better. What also probably helped my sore rear end was shortly after Marlow things started to go up and my legs then had dibs on the pain and discomfort receptors for the next few hours.
First up was Marlow Common, a 4 mile drag which although not steep certainly reaffirmed my reasoning to not push too hard on day one. With the weather clearing up nicely, albeit the roads taking ages to dry, some of the views were spectacular with gin clear visibility and technicolour scenery. We were now in the Chiltern Area of Natural Beauty and it’s hard to argue the AONB designation. They are more generally known as the Chiltern Hills, and again, that’s very hard to argue. Bedlow Ridge was the next named slope of the day and with its occasional 14% gradient it certainly made itself known. We reached the first pitstop after a couple of minor lumpy bits that were unremarkable in their surroundings but would probably be notable climbs closer to home. The pitstop was 30 miles in and mathematically about right for the first stop, but it felt a little early. My bladder will beg to differ.
We were on our way pretty quickly and less than half a mile down the road the placement of the pitstop became abundantly clear as we turned left to face the wall of tarmac that is Kop Hill. This ridiculous thing has featured in previous Tours of Britain so is seen as an appropriately tough climb to test the pros. Suddenly I was looking back at yesterday’s climbs with fondness. Almost a mile long Kop Hill is 20% for a significant distance and according to my cycle computer hit a max of 27%, that’s greater than 1:4 in old money. It was at this point my heart and lungs were trying to re-enact the infamous John Hurt Alien scene.
As I say, it was now clear why the stop was where it was, as had we not stopped, however briefly, I don’t think I’d have got up Kop Hill in one go. I also have no urge to do it again for an improved time.
Four miles further on, thankfully mainly downhill, and just as the memory of Kop was being stored in a dark corner of my mind, we paid for the descent by once again having to ascend, this time the relatively short Lodge Hill. Only half a mile with a max gradient of 15%, but at this point it felt both longer and steeper. This was, I was told, the highest point of the ride so we could now be happy in the knowledge that it was all downhill from here. A notion I questioned as two miles further along the road we were gaining height again at average of 6% for a mile or so.
The knowledge that the worst of the hills were now behind us and we would soon be back amongst the rolling landscape we are used to in Essex was a relief. I’d had my dark introspective period quite early on today, it being triggered by an upsetting incident half way up one of the earlier hills.
We missed another sign but realised pretty quickly this time and once back on route the second and final pitstop was welcome, for not just the usual stuff but I needed to ditch the arm and leg warmers as it was now hot. Feeling we were almost home, we chilled out a little longer as it was also the stop with the more substantial grub on offer. Unfortunately no falafel and mango wraps that I actually wanted this time. There was a light hearted sign next to the food station that said, quite accurately, that if you ride at 24mph you’ve only got an hour to go. I noticed it, chuckled and moved on. Gary noticed it and seemed to accept some sort of challenge.
At this point it’s worth mentioning that I had been a little quicker than my riding partner up the steeper hills. This is in no small part due to me being about a stone lighter. My bike weighing slightly less and equipped with lower gearing, also helped. Gary is, with all other factors being equal, quicker than me on flat and rolling roads. It was with this in mind that we set off on the final leg. I am convinced the next 15 miles were good natured payback for my earlier relative climbing prowess now we were on flatter terrain. At times it was as much as I could do to stay with him, even though he appeared more than comfortable at that pace. We even picked up another rider who gratefully acknowledged the tow. We rode as a three for a few miles further until like day one, a larger group formed.
We’d soon turned south back into London and could sense the finish line. We were about 2 miles out and Gary had our first proper puncture. How’s your luck. Only having one was remarkable though considering the state of the roads we’d ridden.
The final 2 miles were slow and tedious fighting through traffic. Whereas day one’s London section was early and done in relatively light traffic, day two had us fighting our way though it at 2pm on a Sunday. Not a trip highlight.
We crossed the finish line clocking up 86.6 miles and 4797ft of climbing, with much of that going up the toughest inclines I’ve faced.
Once again I was impressed with the organisation of the event as no sooner had we crossed the finish, we were met by someone who gave us a medal and congratulated us by name. It was very slick.
I did feel a huge sense of achievement when I finished but I don’t think I fully appreciated it until later in the evening. In a little under 15 months I’d gone from being non weight bearing on crutches, recovering from a high tibial osteotomy, to riding a two day event, circumnavigating London.
Bags collected, we headed back to our cars to head home for proper recovery. In my case that would be a bath, followed by guilt free pizza and beer. We hadn’t bothered with the event food at the end as it seemed once you crossed the finish line, the all inclusive nature of the event also ended.
So there we have it, a total of 193.4 miles and over 10000ft of climbing in two days, with me also raising £350 for Ehlers-Danlos Support which exceeded my target by quite a bit so that was great.
Right, what’s next…..
There was one incident that took the shine off the weekend and that was the death of one of our fellow cyclists early on the second day. A blog is not the place for details so I shall just sign off this page by saying RIP Trevor.