I'm not one to sleep well. Chilled with a film the evening before, I only manage 5 hours sleep. Not the best preparation for 185 miles of cycling over the weekend. We reside in West London and the start of this adventure is in East London. We contemplated getting an uber but think negotiating with one about putting the bike in the back of their car wouldn't go down well. So Mrs Notinthepeloton seized the opportunity for me to owe her one and fortunately agreed to make the cross-city trip early Saturday morning to drop me off. We were approached by Threshold Sports a while back who offered the camping option for us to review so we had to get our cub scout uniform out and prepare to go back to our childhood by kipping it out in the wild (very exaggerated, the sleepover was at Windsor Racecourse!).
The route itself is a 'revolution' of the capital by cutting through the core of the city heading out into Kent, side-winding across Surrey then heading up to Windsor. Day 2 heads into the Chilterns, zig zags around the hills then back across East to finish where we started Lee Valley Athletics Centre. Had to navigate the wife across London, her sat nav skills are very medieval! Sorry love! Our start time was with the first wave at 6.45am. Not sure if that was my choosing or I was assigned to that but I was glad because I had mentally prepared myself to pace the 101 miles as the legs were to be seriously tested on the climbs of Day 2. So I gave the wife a kiss (she doesn't normally do PDA!), took my photo with my nomad sized rucksack and off I went to get registered. Plenty of riders were already queuing up eager to get the day going. Now we fell out of love with sportives a few years ago. Like others, we were put off by the increase in prices and questioned what you were getting for your money so we were intrigued to see what the weekend brought in terms of bang for your buck. Well one thing which was slapped onto our freshly trimmed pins (Twitter spoke so the bath is clogged up at the mo' with a big hair ball!) was a tattoo. I didn't even get the chance to accept or decline, I was branded. Quite a cool little memento if the temporary roll on didn't wear off like ours but many still had their's on their faces at the end of Day 2, did you guys not shower?!
Bag was dropped off after I mixed up the tags and ended up wearing my luggage tag for the whole two days. Straight away, you felt the staff and the additional staff like the lorry drivers taking the luggage to our overnight base knew the drill like clockwork which puts your mind at rest. Last thing you want is to create a scene because they've lost your luggage like a scene out of an airport documentary and then have to ride again in sweaty stinky gear! After a quick shoot to the loo, wave A was called up to the start line and I managed to sneak in the back before the marshall narrowed the gate as they were letting 50 go off at a time. Never been the first to roll out before and I aimed to be in Windsor by 3pm, I wanted to pace myself so I didn't hit the wall and to also conserve energy for the day's climbs and what was to lie ahead in the Chilterns. So we had roughly 8 hours for our personal cut off time. As the 'peloton' were let free, a drone was released above us so if you spot me carefully, I'm at the back of the opening group. Under the rainbow of coloured balloons and bearing right past the barriers, there was already one guy with a puncture or a mechanical. I prayed so hard that wouldn't be me this weekend. I have spent the last few months with the help of some close friends (Chris D, Mr B, the guys at Moores) to be more knowledgeable and efficient at bike maintenance. I gave the bike a look over the night before, checked the cables and gearing. We really recommend riders to get to their know their bikes as soon as they can, we are a late learner, we've always relied on others or the LBS but no more. Man/woman was not put on this earth to sit back and watch the day go by, they were put on this earth to fix bikes!
Our first little section would take us through the eastern central side of London making our way past some trendy parts such as Old Spitafields Market (side note, there's a food stall called Athenians where they make the best wraps!). Accompanying the front group was our very own safety motorcycle. It felt very pro' especially as I was either on his tail or he was just to the side to me. I was half expecting him to pull out a yellow board with a time gap back to Wave B, now that's notinthepeloton! The main group kept fracturing then coming back together because of the traffic lights. For the first 15 or so miles, it was really clip in clip out clip in clip out. It's not a proper century attempt where you're out cycling at riding pace straight away. Coolest moment though was cycling past Tower of London and crossing Tower Bridge. There was a bit of traffic about but it just felt really momentous to see this iconic monument watch you roll by. It threw me back to one of my earlier sportives years ago when taking part in the Palace to Palace Ride, the start was the Mall and it was closed off. So you had the whole road to yourself with Buckingham Palace staring straight at you. As rollouts go, that was quite impressive.
The safety bike was with us all the way up to Crystal Palace. The climb up through Dulwich College was new to me and no way did I want to push harder than I needed to here but one guy even admitted that his legs had already gone (should of read our route breakdown!). I ended up overtaking a few riders who escaped in front but a more pressing matter needed my attention. I was bursting for a pee and although we were beginning to hit the more continuous roads and break into Kent, I knew Cadence Performance was around the corner so I took a detour in there to let the taps run dry! The feeling after this natural requirement just lets the mind focus on what it needs to do, spinning those legs. Now and then I had a rider hang onto my wheel for a while which tempted me to try shake them off but we were mentally drilled into watching our average pace. In the past, we would cover a 100mile ride at a 15mph pace which for us, is respectable. If you're someone like Nick Boyle who eats miles for breakfast, that's walking pace! Layhams Road was the first major climb and we were introduced to it by the guys at Dirty Wknd who took us on a little mini tour of Kent early this year. A long but gradual climb, never really gets into any difficult gradient so it's a great opener for anyone who needs a climbing warm up. This climb actually takes you to the top of Titsey Hill, which is the neighbour of the a very feared climb in these parts, one we haven't attempted yet in the form of Chalkpit Lane. The route organisers chose wisely not to descend this as the hairpin would of caught many out. But the weather coupled with the road surface made Titsey Hill a very tricky hill to descend. The light rain created a mist which made me question if I had just wandered into a scene out of the Gorillas in the Mist?! I heard later in the day that someone had come off on this descent. The descent further on into Westerham would of been safer but would of added a few miles on, I think most might of welcomed this. We need to enjoy the descents as much as the ascents (if that's even possible!).
Pit stop 1 was down the road in a small village called Hurst Green. Your usual sportive feed stops have your usual bananas and flapjacks etc. but we were very impressed with the stock and selection on offer to keep you going. Without giving too much away for pit stop 2, the chosen food on offer was ideal for the next section of the ride, nothing too heavy, just topping up the fuel to tick the miles over. The next 40 miles or so was rolling roads with no major hills so having a choice of beef jerky (the protein option but we didn't fancy it as the rear would of had a bad day after a packet of Peri Peri Beef Jerky!). Now a regular feature at all the pit stops and it was all part of the package was having mechanics on hand to fix any issues you had. We overheard one guy on one stop having a snapped carbon spoke, not sure if the mechanics got it fixed but hearing their helpfulness really did put you at ease that these guys were the real deal and not a back alley wheeler fixer! Plenty of portaloos available and because we weren't too far behind on the first wave (remember we had a toilet stop which dropped us back!), there were no queues and we were back on our way again or so we thought....
Literally a mile or two down the road, the back tyre went soft. Are you kidding me?! I had just left the pit stop, I could of changed the tube there but no, you wait till its pointless turning around and fixing the puncture in a lovely supported environment! First place I could see to pull over was by a gate leading to some fields and I was so vexed, didn't realise that the entrance to the gate was just thick mud which lead to an additional nuisance in that my cleats were clogged up with mud preventing me clipping back in to the pedals once the tube had been replaced. I've got to be honest, this part of the ride really did put us in a foul mood. Stuck on the borders of two counties in the middle of nowhere with a flat tyre and I can't clip in! Riders were flying past and I was worried about my own personal cut off time. Luckily the pump that I've been carrying on the bike for years has been a decent companion, only a few days before I was tempted to invest in a small pocket jersey one but it's argued its case for survival. Not sure what psi it goes up to but it did the job. The Michelin tyres on the other hand have really let themselves down. I upgraded to 25s because of the new Fulcrum Quattro wheels and in the past, Michelin tyres have been good for me. I've been rolling these tyres since January and we have had at least 4 punctures on the rear and 2 on the front. The tyres still have a lot of wear in them but the nicks it creates are deep and I worry have left the tyre vulnerable. Either way, these tyres have had their last pump, not impressed with this pair and they were £60 for the pair!
After my little hissy fit, the backdrops surrounding this part of the ride were peaceful. Now and then, we would breeze through a quiet countryside village. Without blowing our own trumpet, we weren't overtaken much which we were expecting to happen often. Maybe we were fitter than we realised and was keeping a good pace. A couple of times we found ourselves leading a small peloton which upped the pace a little but created a little bit of competitiveness amongst the riders. I thought of Sam and Chris here as they wouldn't of allowed this to happen and would of probably bolted off. I just kept to my plan of pacing, listening to the legs, grasp the feeling on any little rise. It's the little rises which if you push too hard will punish you later in the ride. The rear tyre was surprisingly rolling nicely despite the drop in pressure so I tried to avoid any pothole or divet foreseen in the road but there was a lot of them. Why o why can't we have good surface roads?! Not just for cyclists, but for all road users. The half hearted fixes are even worse because what ever the councils are using (probably a mixture of breadcrumbs and blue tac!) but potholes just keep reappearing again and again. The amount of money in repairs they are probably spending is likely to have a drain on their budget, just fix the roads properly, relay them well and they shouldn't need repairing ever again. It's frustrating because our little island and it's neighbouring areas have some great backdrops and epic road trips but are let down by shoddy broken roads which just put people off exploring what our lands have to offer. Sort it out please. Love from everyone x
So as we crossed into Ockley, we were in familiar territory. To the right of us stood the 'mountain' of Leith. Some of it's steep gradients hidden in between the trees, we will not be climbing one of it's legs today. I knew of a little descent down into Forest Green so the speed demon of me took control and I pushed on a little. I was on my own for a while, not many other Revolution riders around, either they have pushed on ahead towards the pit stop or most are taking the opportunity to spend the day on the bike. We were on our own personal mission but knew how important is was to fuel up before the final third of this ride where the majority of the climbing takes place. Pit stop 2 was in Ewhurst at the cricket club. Not sure how they persuaded the groundsman to let hundreds of riders pitch up and trample on the well looked after grass with their cleats! Once again, mechanics were on hand to look at any issues and I seized the opportunity to re-inflate the tubes with a proper track pump. We invested in one this year and have kicked ourselves since as to why we have not brought one sooner! Slight different menu at this feed station, a wide range of sandwiches with sides (crisps, bars, fruit etc.) were on offer. We were very impressed. Some much needed stodgy carbs to help us through. Sugar based items can only get you so far until those run dry, the slow breakdown of carbs keeps the body happy on long rides such as this one. This is where I also met a daily friend in the form of Richard, a rider from Kingston. We would also meet again on Day 2 at Pit Stop 2, just fate mate if you're reading this! Had to drop in if he read the route breakdown we had published the week before and when he said he had read it, we had to name drop that we were the face behind the name! Not sure he was impressed or wondering why I have not been given a book deal yet?!
The 2 main climbs of the day came right after this pit stop. I felt sorry for anyone who had sat for too long and were now stiff as a plank because those muscle fibres were about to get ripped apart. Pitch Hill is a tough little cookie. It was made even worse that the rain had started to drizzle making it a misty eerie climb. Lots of MTBers around and a couple were showing off doing wheelies going up this hill, watching too much Peter Sagan guys! I really did think this hill would put me in the hurt zone, it has a couple of sections where the gradient stays in the double figures but after 70miles of riding, the legs felt good. So good in fact that I knocked 15 seconds off my PB. Someone drop something in my chicken and bacon sandwich?! Hope there's no drug testing at the finish! The descent down Houndhouse is rough, I knew this so eased off and just coasted. It's not so much the pot holes, just the surface is as rough as a face full of acne! We caught up with a few Woking CC riders, they were dotted around the ride and a couple were riding some bikeporn so we tagged along the back as we all climbed the last main climb of the day, Combe Lane. For those who did read the route breakdown, you will know it's all about the hairpin. This rain had turned the climb into a small flowing river as we reached the hairpin getting out of the saddle, the read wheel started to slip. This would be the worst place to fall off especially as one of the photographers had positioned themselves right on the turn and the gradient was about to a section nearing 20%! I managed to keep stable and one of the Woking riders was in my sights until an impatient van had overtook me meaning I had to drop back behind hoping it doesn't suddenly stopped because we wouldn't get going again.
The descent down Staple was cautious but knowing we had roughly 20 miles left, we risked pushing the pace a little. Looking at the Garmin, I reset our time of destination to 2.30pm which would give us a riding time of 6h30mins. I had overtook an older rider (sorry if this was you, 50s 60s perhaps) and he latched onto my wheel whilst commenting 'I was waiting for someone to come by!'. So I maintained a pace which both suited him and myself whilst keeping in mind my new adjusted goal. Unfortunately the small rise into Pyrford dropped the maturely aged man back and I was back to a solo rider. London Revolution had in advance organised a few towns to hold a festival to celebrate the riders coming through. So when we heard the cowbells ringing, we were expecting shouts of 'Allez allez allez' from crazy cycling fans in morph suits! But what we got was just as good. The local school had the children ring the cowbells and shout words of encouragement as the riders went past. This was a really nice touch and sounds soppy but gave us a wave of joy as we rode past, even managed to drop in a little sprint in away!
Bar one unexpected climb in Ottershaw up Row Hill (caught a few out I saw) which had a family on the green cheering people through (your support was much appreciated from everyone), it was just the little rises in the terrain to deal with. The road around Windsor Great Park had some of these which was putting my personal goal in jeopardy. Could of been even worse when a horse carriage which had patiently waited for a while up the last little rise to Woodside decided to produce a close pass just before the junction and when oncoming traffic made him squeeze across myself and another rider. Just wait mate, human first, cyclist second! We wasn't going to let this incident ruin a good ride so we upped the pace once more and was hitting some good speeds as we rolled into Windsor. Although the previous year had Royal Ascot as its overnight base, Windsor Racecourse was as beautiful. Rolling through the banners and once again rainbow themed balloons, my name was called out along with the time which was an hour more than my actual riding time. We managed to sneak in just before 2.30pm and as we looked around, we had realised we must of been within the first 100 riders in.
The overnight base was set up as a mini festival. After leaving the bike in the huge compound for her own well deserved nap time, I took a quick stroll around to see what was on offer. Want a beer? There was 2 bars with a small selection including our fav' Guinness. Need some food before dinner time? 3 different food vendors were available although the prices wouldn't of been out of place at Wembley. Want to chill out? Grab a bean bag. Need something to read? The paperboy had dropped off a range of tabloids around the site. Where's the tents you ask? Ah, you need to sneak past security for that. Strictly manned which is good to see as you don't want anyone just walking through to the sleeping area, showing your wristband which you were given at the start lets you in to the land of 1000 tents. Literally. To the people whose task it was to put them all up, hope you got a free beer out of it! We were given our tent number and a complimentary sleeping mat so you wouldn't be waking up with a stiff back. Luggage had been organised into the coloured areas depending on your band as we were one of the first wave to finish, we were nicely located in the second row just near the mobile showers. We will get to them in a mo!
The tents themselves were a good size for many, we fitted in with space. Anyone who was in the mid 6ft ranges, we would be interested to hear if your feet were hanging out. Now we were expecting changing room style showers, communal showers if you will. The organisers had hired mobile shower units all with private cubicles with hot showers and sinks. What a great opportunity to refresh. It was probably for everyone else, but we had got the shower where the water had run out of the cubicle and as we didn't think to hang our clothes, half of our night wear was properly soaked! Typical! Puncture, soaked clothes, bad things comes in 3's?! We had managed to borrow a couple of portable chargers to charge the Garmin, GoPro and Iphone. Garmin charged fine. The GoPro though didn't and neither did the Iphone. The second charger wasn't compatible for some reason. We had some battery left on the GoPro for Day 2 but would have to be stingy on what we would film. The 'festival' though came to the rescue with a very busy charging station. Plenty of ports on offer though but seemed that everyone was taking advantage of the free electricity. So we grabbed a Guinness and settled down to people watch and replay the day's ride. It was also at this point that we realised we need a notinthepeloton jersey, no point in doing all this if no one knows who's doing it?!
So Day 1 was tale of rolling roads and a couple of steep climbs, a puncture and a decent century time. It was time for the body to rest. Day 2 was waiting and it had it's own surprises in store. Now would the guy 2 tents down stop the snoring so the other 999 people can peacefully sleep?!!!