Adele Mitchell got her first road bike in March, having previously been an ‘off-road only’ mountain biker. Despite being a newbie, last weekend she successfully took part in the inaugural Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 sportive.
When I first wobbled up the road on my new whippet-like road bike, a Specialized Ruby Elite loaned to me for this project, I seriously doubted that I would be able to navigate a bend, never mind ride 100 miles on it. But I couldn’t let the opportunity to join more than 15,000 amateur cyclists in the biggest cycling sportive ever held in the UK pass me by.
Thankfully the Ruby is designed for long distance riding, with Zertz insert dampers that help make covering the miles more comfortable, and smooth, stable handling on the road. The main issue was fine tuning my fitness and adapting my riding skills to the road. As a mountain biker, sitting still and turning my legs for hours on end was well outside my comfort zone!
So I joined a road cycling club, got a professional bike fit, and got up early week after week for Sunday morning training rides – and believe me, I am not a ‘morning person’. I also put in miles and miles of riding the roads on my own, which sadly meant no time for mountain biking with my friends.
There were unexpected side effects, like losing 4kgs without ever actually dieting. I endlessly analyzed my performance stats on Strava and generally worried that, come the big day, I wouldn’t be fast enough.
Handily for me I live in the Surrey Hills, which meant that the two iconic RideLondon-Surrey 100 climbs on Leith Hill and Box Hill were in easy reach for my training rides.
Box Hill is ultra smooth, neither too steep nor too long. Leith Hill, however, is the sort of climb that most cyclists dread – it starts off okay and isn’t particularly long, but gets steeper and steeper round every corner. I’ve ridden up it many times both on a mountain bike (Leith Hill has some great off-road trails too) and on the road bike.
Whichever route you take, Leith Hill never seems to get any easier!
Living on the Ride 100 route did have one drawback: on the day of the event all the roads around my home were closed. That, coupled with an early start time, meant getting up at 3.15 am in order to get to the start in East London on time.
Thankfully I made it, and by 6.30 am I was standing in a very long queue of cyclists at the Olympic Park waiting to use one of very many portaloos. (Note to Ride 100 organisers: next time can the ladies have separate toilets please – and lots of them?).
Having got the grimmest part of the day out of the way I joined the queue for the start, which, unlike the toilet situation, was managed impeccably. We left the park exactly on time and were able to pick up a good pace right away.
I’d worked out that I’d probably complete the event in around seven and a half hours, perhaps a bit longer with stops. However I’d failed to take into account the flat-as-a-pancake profile of the first part of the course plus the power of group riding and was soon swept along at a fantastic (for me!) pace.
The bike swished through the miles in a flash of carbon fibre fabulousness and all I had to do was turn my legs. I was on the big ring for the first forty miles – unheard of for a mountain biker!
Riding with so many others on traffic-free open roads was truly wonderful.
The whirring echo of drivetrains as we rode through an otherwise silent Limehouse Link Tunnel in East London was unforgettable.
We could ignore traffic lights, ride on either side of the road and corner like pros – albeit more slowly. But it was challenging too – we were often tightly packed with riders overtaking on both sides.
This was especially noticeable when we hit the hills, as some riders struggled to keep up the pace or got off to walk. Thankfully my mountain biking legs – and my training – came into their own and the Leith Hill climb turned out to be the highlight of the day for me. First because of the camaraderie as we all slogged our way to the top, and second because my family were waiting at the top to cheer me on.
After Box Hill, and knowing the big climbs were out of the way, I stopped at the Leatherhead Hub for a much-needed rest which put me back on track for the rolling hills through Cobham and Esher – I don’t remember them ever feeling quite so big before – and an exciting bit of cornering through Kingston Upon Thames.
I’d been warned by one of the organizers that the final climb – up to Wimbledon Village and at the ninety mile marker – would be a real test so I managed to keep some energy (and a few emergency fruit pastilles) in reserve to get me over the top. With that out of the way, it was all ‘downhill’ to sunny central London.
Riding along The Embankment and looking across to the Thames was awesome, but the moment when I turned into the finishing straight on The Mall with the cheering crowds, the finish line and Buckingham Palace beyond it was something else. I was torn between a spot of ‘show off’ sprinting or going really slowly to absorb the experience for longer – in the end I settled for a pace that was somewhere in between (while being quietly determined that no one was going to overtake me).
I finished in six hours and twenty minutes and, frankly, I’ll never understand how I managed to go so quickly. I do know, however, that by the end riding a road bike felt more natural than walking.
Fancy having a go next year? The ballot for entry into the 2014 open on 12th August.