Last year I failed to get a ballot place, this year I was lucky. The date had been in the diary for over half a year, and the thought of going around the Olympic Road Race course on closed roads, bathed in late summer sunshine, passing all those iconic London landmarks; well, what could be nicer?
Liz and I arrived in London on Saturday morning, she heading off into town to check out the fabric shops, me heading off to the Excel centre to register for the ride. We met up later to watch the womens criterium race around The Mall. Once that was done, it was off back to East London for dinner and an early night before the big day ahead.
At this point, it’s worth noting that while we’d had sunshine and wonderful temperatures, Sunday, the day of the ride, was supposed to herald the arrival of the remnants of Hurricane Bertha. It was supposed to be a bit epic.
Through the night I could hear rain beating down, only to discover later it was the gurgling of the aircon in the hotel room. A 5 AM alarm got me up, and I was sat outside the hotel by 5:30 AM waiting for Debs to pick me up and chaperone me to the Olympic Park. Plenty of riders heading that way, and we arrive in time for a decent coffee: though the guy running the greasy spoon next to the boutique coffee stand might have missed the point when he said “if you’re just waiting for coffee, I can do you one.”
Debs had a friend, Anna, starting at the same time as me, so we were introduced, and agreed to ride the day together. We joined the queue, and the rain began. All the waiting around at the start got us both cold, and we were glad when we were finally allowed onto the roads. The first few miles were very bizarre: riding down the A12, through the underpasses, both carriageways, and totally traffic-free. What was also strange was the amount of people puncturing, some even before the start line. Past Billingsgate Market and on towards the Gherkin, the Tower of London, along the Thames, Trafalgar Square, The Mall, Hyde Park Corner, and onwards to Hammersmith. It was like Monopoly gone mad – I’m not sure if there is a bicycle in Monopoly, but there were one-or-two today.
Around Kingston-on-Thames we catch sight of some of the earliest departees returning. We have to weave around the town centre, and due to the amount of rain coming down the dips under bridges are flooded, so much so that feet, pedals and wheel are under water. Plenty of big, deep puddles alongside the road for the rest of the day!
We crossed the Thames and into Richmond Park. At this point the rain had transformed into the promised epic proportions: I haven’t seen rain like it since we lived in China and had typhoons. Chris Boardman (who rode the event) later said the rain “went from torrential to biblical and then to just horrendous.” We, plus probably a thousand other riders, got held up due to an accident in the park. Bunched up, Anna and I had met one of her mates, Holly, and I mentioned to them “lucky the weather’s not shit,” which brought laughs from those around… until the hail started half a minute later. We cross the Thames another couple of times around Hampton Court, and then it’s down into Surrey. This part of the route is familiar to me from watching the Olympic Time Trial at Esher and doing the London-to-Windsor sportive last year.
Crossing the M25, we get to the climb to Newlands corner. The last time I rode this was on one of our work unofficial London-to-Brighton rides. I remember having one of the guys on my wheel, and me pushing to try to drop him, without success, then enjoying bacon butties at the café. This time there’s no one on my wheel and I make a personal best up the hill. Unfortunately a million other cyclists are ahead in the bacon butty queue, it’s pouring, there’s a gale blowing and we’re cold and wet. The three of us organize toilet stops, water refilling and grabbing some biscuits from the food stand, and as quickly as possible we’re back on the road.
Due to the extreme weather the organisers had cut the route short by using the shortcuts to avoid Leith Hill and Box Hill. This meant our ride was going to be 86 miles, not 100, and while I’d have happily given those hills a go, I can understand the safety aspect, as people seemed to be managing to crash even on the flat.
With the hills off the agenda, we have a fast and undulating ride along the A25 to Dorking. It’s amazing how many people have come out to cheer us on: they’re nearly getting as wet as we are. At Dorking the road turns north, and psychologically I think we’re done. Leatherhead, then back along the Thames at Surbiton and into Kingston. Anna and Holly are getting plenty of support from the locals in their Kingston Wheelers jerseys.
One final obstacle was a hill in Wimbledon. I’d heard it described as a wall. On turning the corner to the hill, I was relieved to see it wasn’t as bad as the reputation, and we had a nice spin along Wimbledon Common, and then a descent to Putney Bridge. Now we really are nearly done. Once we hit Chelsea Embankment there’s a final race alongside the Thames. The three of us take turns on the front and we get some real speed up (and Anna claims a QOM). Before you know it we’re right alongside the Houses of Parliament, onto Whitehall and turning left onto The Mall. It would be rude not to, so we turn up the speed a little more and hit the finish line. Medals are dished out, photographs are taken (with a black sky behind us), and two minutes later we are again drowned in a wall of water coming down Constitution Hill.
A great day out (despite the weather), in great company (thanks Anna and Holly) and something I hope I’ll get the chance to do again.