Sunday 31st July saw us take a step into the unknown… well, more of a pedal into the unknown! The Prudential Ride London-Surrey 100 brought upwards of 25,000 cyclists out onto the streets and roads around the capital but few with less experience in a saddle than Team TTH. If Em and I had been asked to run the 100 miles that would have been more inside our comfort zone than swapping our two sure feet for two wobbly wheels. When we say we like a challenge, we mean it.
One of the great things about the Ride London festival is that you can choose your poison. It is staged across two days with the opportunity to select from any one of four separate routes. To begin with, there is a free ride on Saturday that is open to anyone and everyone wishing to poodle around London on their Brompton, Boris or BMX. Day two is Sunday and that is when things begin to hot up with two testing amateur rides to choose from covering either 46 or 100 miles. Finally, there is the serious business of a pro race featuring the golden boys of the Tour de France like Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas. They cover 124 miles, including an extra trip up and over the Surrey hills of the Olympic road race course, before sprinting down the Mall.
The sensible route for Team TTH would have been Option 1… the poodle. The bigger challenge would have been to take on the 46-mile regular riders’ race. So we went for the full 100! As you may have guessed we would have been prepared to climb up next to Froome and co if they’d have let us. After all, we didn’t see him anywhere on our Canyon run!!
Your average participants in this kind of event are the avid club riders or cycle commuters that pull on their lairy lycra every week and actually enjoy clipping onto their pedals as a weekend social activity. This was not really a start-up for the ‘always meant to give it a go’ but ‘never got round to cycling more than 10 miles’ enthusiastic beginners. But nobody really told us that. Or perhaps we didn’t listen!
We received an invitation to compete from our friends at Speed Comms just a few days before the event date. What could possibly go wrong? It’s only like running, but with your feet off the ground, right?! Every day that we take to the streets in our trainers, we see cyclists of all shapes, sizes and ages at nothing like our super fitness levels, and they never look out of breath. It was going to be a ride in the park. And because we are a pair that never shy away from a new challenge, we accepted… er, without much in the way of thinking or planning, maybe!
So… 100 miles to go, absolutely no experience, no suitable kit and, due to an introductory tumble the day before by H, just the one bike. Tandem anyone? This might just prove a little more challenging than we’d imagined!
Thankfully we had a few key supporters on our side ready to run to the rescue of these two cycle damsels in distress.
First up, the bike… kind of essential if I had any hope of completing a bike ride (even I knew that!). Cue Ridley. Within 24 hours of securing our Ride London spots, the Ridley team had a ‘Noah SL‘ packed up and sat on my doorstep. Just a few grand’s worth of top-of-the-range racing bike all specced up and Prudential ready. It wasn’t until I got up and out on the ‘Batman’ inspired design that I realised that Ridley had kitted me out with a truly pimped up ride. Deeply envious glances seemed to be accompanying each revolution of my few short practice spins. At first, I thought the covetous eyes might even be focussed on my spandex secured butt. Wrong! No, it was the sleek monster beneath me that other cyclists wanted to get their hands wrapped around. It was certainly unlike any bike I’d ever ridden before, so smooth, lightweight, manoeuvrable and incredibly easy to get on with. So easy in fact I may just have to keep it forever and give him a name! The Ridley team did tell me that this ‘may just be the nicest bike I’d ever ride’ and they know their stuff! Leith Hill didn’t stand a chance! Write my name across the road and bring on Alpe d’Huez.
Secondly, most serious bike rides are not undertaken in the raw. Our joint wardrobes contained a grand total of no cycling garments. We definitely needed dressing if we were to convince other riders (and maybe ourselves) that we were not complete novices. If you can’t pedal good, at least look good! Brand Nation pulled out the big guns, hooking us up with some high tech, high fashion Lycra that captured the Victoria Pendleton pro-cyclist look. Every item was perfectly matched and coordinated right down to our socks. Just the way we like it! (Full blog LIVE looking at just the way it works HERE)
Thirdly, there was the unknown to prepare for! And how did we do that?… well, we opted to keep most of it unknown! It was not a challenge that either of us could compare to anything else and the nervous excitement at pushing off beyond our boundaries actually added to the experience. We had no real idea what to expect and the naivety was kind of blissful… blissful ignorance, true… but we figured we would know after the first mile whether we were going to make it or not. We are pretty stubborn once we get started and practised at postponing injuries, fear and exhaustion until after the challenge has been completed. All we knew was that we desperately wanted to do it, be it in 6 hours or 6 days… as long as we picked up a medal we were going to tick the box and be happy we took it on. And guess what? We did it! We’re like that.
A place to rest… now this was pretty key since the start line stood around 11 miles away and we were set to be sat in our pen shortly after 6am. The other slight issue was the closure of most of the main roads, and the accompaniment of two bikes meaning no tube travel allowed. Thankfully Premier Inn, Stratford came to the rescue offering up comfort and confinement (check our video on Youtube for a full tour) just a stones throw (200m to be exact) from the Olympic stadium. The room set high on the tenth floor offered the perfect pre race view, and the kind team even allowed our bikes to join the sleepover! This meant we had no worry of arriving on time, or tiring ourselves with an 11 mile ‘pre race cycle’. If you’re planning on joining the masses next year we highly recommend this as the perfect spot to pitch up before taking to the roads of London and Surrey.
And so what was the race itself like? As easy as riding a bike?… well, not quite as we pushed and plotted a zigzag route up endless Box Hill in Surrey. But we loved every mile of the ride because the atmosphere matched that of the London Marathon with crowds cheering us through every small village and town, up and (more scarily) down the hills, out across Chiswick Bridge and through Richmond Park and back across Wimbledon Common and over Putney Bridge all the way back into the city and past the stately buildings of the Mall. It was an inspirational experience. If you’ve run the London marathon, or ridden the Prudential, you’ll know this feeling all too well. It’s one that cannot be beaten, just matched. It’s accomplishment, pride and relief all packed into one as the familiar surroundings welcome you, and the city embraces your return.
And, despite being total outsiders, we were made to feel welcome. Fellow cyclists might have been shocked at our story of pedalling in at the deep end but they soon entertained us with their own tales from the road (and ditches) and encouraged us to give the world of cycling a go for good. On balance (which is kind of important!!), we are probably still a little happier on our own two feet but we cannot wait to dive back into the saddle as soon as the right opportunity presents itself. We are confirmed pedal pushers now.
So… when does the ballot open for next year?