Our first port of call was The Excel Centre to register and pick up our itinerary for the ride. This was a relatively painless process, despite the crowds, we were in and out within 15 minutes having picked up our ride numbers and goody bags.
We were staying at the Premier Inn, Ilford - ideal for what we needed, comfortable room and a handy bar/restaurant right next door. After checking in and taking our bikes and other stuff into the room we retired to the bar for a relaxing drink and a bite to eat. After that Gary and I drove up to the Olympic Park to check out where we needed to be the following morning. Our target was the Olympic sculpture - a tangled mess of iron that looked like the left-overs from a theme park ride. Once there and whilst driving back, we decided that the easiest option for next morning was to ride our bikes from the hotel to the start point, not a massive journey and would save the girls the effort of having to get up to ferry us - besides, it was only about 6 miles.
In the evening we were joined by the blonde's friends, Janet and Paul who live in Romford - we had an enjoyable meal and Gary and I managed to keep off the alcohol! - then it was an early night ready for an even earlier start in the morning.
I was awake at 4.00am - the room was hot and humid. I got up and made some porridge and ate a croissant. I lay on the bed for around an hour unable to get back to sleep and finally decided to get up and get ready. I was out in the street at 5.15am riding the bike around the block, just to make sure everything was in order. Gary emerged at 5.50 and we were off. The main roads approaching the Olympic Park were all closed to ordinary traffic, riding along the dual carriageway was a bizarre and somewhat surreal experience. As we approached the Park we paused outside the Olympic Velodrome (the pringle) for a photo. Then, as we followed the signs and weaved our way through roads jammed with cyclists our first problem occurred - Gary had a puncture. This elicited a state of mild panic, Gary fumbling to get a new tube onto his wheel and all the time the clock ticking... he made it and we split up at that point. I didn't know it at the time but that was the last I'd see of him before we met up outside Buckingham Palace at the end.
Gary was starting half an hour before me, so I had to hang around. The gate to my 'wave' wasn't even in place. I found a flight of steps leading down to a canal and sat there playing a game on my phone. At 7.15 my gate was opened and I pushed my bike into line with around two hundred other riders. Still we had 50 minutes to wait until our allotted start time. There was a man next to me in the queue, older than me, probably mid sixties, he lived in France close to Alpe d'Huez, he said the mountain was his training ride, but that he wasn't really a cyclist, he was a runner, but his body had started to fall apart with all the impact of running so he'd moved to cycling instead. Then there was a woman in a pink waterproof - again, 60s, up from Birmingham to do the ride, her husband had challenged her when she bought her bike about a year ago - and here she was, hubby had dropped her off that morning, they'd set off from Birmingham at 2.00am.
It started raining at around 7.45, just a gentle trickle, but after ten minutes I decided to pull on the waterproof. we'd been standing around for over half an hour, people were rocking from foot to foot, stretching, generally looking restless. A few were taking the chance to eat, stocking up on calories for the miles ahead. Suddenly we started moving forward, the start line came into view, the countdown began, we were off.
We made our way steadily through the wet streets, just our wave at the moment, we would converge with everyone else after a mile or two and make our way through central London, The Tower, Trafalgar Square, Kensington, The London Eye, we passed many of 'the sights' on empty, traffic free roads. By now the various 'waves' had joined up into one continuous snake, filling the width of the roads and heading out through Chiswick towards East Sheen and Richmond Park.
The rain continued to fall and the roads proved slippery, I saw many riders skid off and crash and also many, many punctures - every few yards there was someone at the roadside wrestling with a bike wheel and inner tube. At Richmond Park we came to an abrupt halt. There was a long hill and a narrow road to the top, but no movement. The entire peloton ground to a halt with everyone craning to see what the hold up was. As we all stood around the rain increased in ferocity - this was a proper storm now, soaking. Up ahead was the sound of sirens and the sight of flashing warning lights - there had been a serious accident and we had to wait for the emergency services to do their stuff. All told we were standing around for half an hour, no cover at all and soaked just as though we had taken a bath. Finally we were allowed to walk slowly to the junction where the accident had happened, clear now but the rain had created a lake, there was water gushing into it from a breached drain, 'Bloody hell, I didn't realise it was a Triathlon' said someone.
Gradually the gathered mass set off again and fell into a natural order. Up ahead I saw the first water stop and pulled over hoping to find Gary - no sign of him. I tried calling on the mobile but no answer. I guessed he had carried on. I grabbed a banana and set off again heading through Walton on Thames and Byfleet and then to Ripley. Then I felt the dreaded wobble in my back wheel - a puncture.
I pulled over and set about the process of removing the wheel, releasing the tyre from the rim, extracting the punctured tube and replacing it with a spare - all hindered by the constant soaking rain, hands slippery wet, rain running into my face, fingers offering no grip on tricky screws and tyre levers, and all the time thousands of riders getting ahead of me. Finally I'm confident it's done, I get enough pressure into the tyre and set off again, a steady upward climb now and I seem to be flying along, passing so many who seem to be almost stationery. On through West Horsley and towards Newlands Corner the first serious climb of the day - this sorts people out. The left hand side of the road is filled with people off their bikes and walking - to be fair it is steep in places and I need all my gears to creep to the top. A seriously scary descent in the rain and another collection of punctured cyclists along the edges and we're heading now to Forest Green - then I get puncture number 2. Unbelievable - I've ridden thousands of miles in the past 12 months without a single puncture - now two in an hour. The snag here is that I don't have another spare tube. I stand at the roadside just looking at the bike and wondering what to do. At least the rain has stopped and there is a hint of sunshine. I know that there are support vehicles making constant loops of the circuit - I just need to wait.
|It's done - Outside Buck Palace -|
Finishers medals on display!
It's a pity the weather was so bad but overall it was still a most enjoyable experience. Riding on closed roads in a big group was something I hadn't done before. It has to be said that this event is fastidiously organised - I have no idea how many marshalls were involved but it must have been thousands. A big thanks too to Kate and Val for all there support with the logistics. Chapeau. And see you all next year.