To help us get ready for our ride from Bristol to Paris next month we decided to enter the British Heart Foundation’s (BHF) London to Brighton bike ride – a 56-mile route through Surrey and Sussex. It may well end up being our one and only decent training ride, but it was packed full of excitement, with lung-busting ascents, queues, crashes and the odd bacon sandwich and slice of cake. Read on to find out if the HarrisCosgroveSpratley team will be entering next year’s Tour…
5.5. London to Brighton bike ride – June 16, 2013
With our challenge of riding from Bristol to Paris looming large on the horizon, we felt we should get some decent practice in on the bike – or face the prospect of our legs surrendering faster than a French rugby team might race a white flag…
The BHF’s London to Brighton ride seemed like the perfect chance for some decent time in the saddle – a 56-mile ride from central London, south through the villages and towns of Surrey and Sussex and on to the coast of Brighton. Joining us for the ride was my old (oldest) and best mate Jon Spratley – our peloton lead-out rider, pedometer carrier and standby mechanic, all rolled into one.
We got lucky with the weather again, as the forecast suggested we’d be cycling in the rain for the best part of the day, but it turned into a fine day for a long (and crowded) bike ride. What we hadn’t anticipated was what it was like to cycle with 28,497 other people!
The ride started at Clapham Common – a gentle 20 minute ride away from our flat, so we got there in plenty of time for our 8.30am start. However it then took a good hour to circle around and loop back to our flat again! This photo doesn’t quite do it justice, but this is what the roads were like for the first many miles of the ride, as we weaved between other cyclists, and fought for space with the other road users, London buses and the like. Although, with so many other cyclists, we totally ruled the road. In what would otherwise be a hairy situation on London roads, it was actually quite pleasant… if tedious.
It quickly dawned on us that our estimated (hopeful) arrival time in Brighton of around 1pm was looking increasingly unlikely. In fact, it took us 4 hours just to do the first 16 miles! It took a long time to even feel like we got our heart rates up, as it was very stop-start through the traffic until we were further out of London and then we had to concentrate hard not to crash into other cyclists until we’d all spread out a bit.
The support through the small towns was amazing though – there were plenty of organised rest stops with portaloos, water and an amazing spread of food! But we decided to forego the first few stops in order to make some progress, and the countryside down through Surrey was beautiful – it sure is good to get out on a bike and get some fresh air in your lungs! We eventually stopped after about 32 miles (around half way) and had what was possibly the best bacon sandwich ever, along with a cup of tea and cake… perfect cycling fuel! There were some good hills to give both our bodies and our bikes a work out, and it was great to get some speed up on the downhills and pass a lot of people 🙂
But in the back of our minds, we all knew that the biggest challenge was going to be the mighty Ditchling Beacon just outside of Brighton – all 814ft of twists and turns. It turns out it was probably the highlight for all three of us – a damn steep hill at times, but the satisfaction from grinding our way to the top while almost everyone else walked their bikes up it was huge! It was a real tough slog, and I could certainly feel the lactic acid burn building up in my leg muscles, but every now and then there was a tiny reprieve where it flattened out a little and you could get your breath back. Although, again the sheer number of participants made it difficult… on the road up there was plenty of calls for ‘walkers to stay on the left’ or ‘coming through on the right’ as we battled onwards and upwards. The endorphins (and the view) at the top were awesome though! And we all had a massive high when we realised all three of us had made it up to the top without stopping.
Then it was the last 5-6 miles, down into Brighton and to the finish line along the sea front. There were some more backlogs of bike traffic to negotiate (and a few unfortunate serious accidents, apparently), but the ride through Brighton was great, and the crowd was fab on that home straight!
With huge crowds cheering left and right, we rode triumphantly towards the finish – and then disaster struck. Just 300m from the line, a rider in front of Cozzie lost control as he high-fived people in the crowd, tumbled over his handlebars and went down. No time for a Lizzie Armitstead-style wiggle of the hips to avoid a pile-up, Cozzie went straight into the back of him, going up over his back wheel. Down she went, chain thrown, but thanks to some kind ladies in the crowd she dusted herself off with a tissue, fixed the chain and zoomed on to the finish in one piece, more than seven and a half hours after we’d started, at 4.30pm. In glorious Brighton sunshine we had a last slice of cake, before heading to back to London.
So, massive thanks to Mr Spratley for joining us and occasionally leading the pack – I think the three of us rocked the ride. Just a couple of weeks now until we cycle to Paris – these days of 8 hours plus in the saddle a bike have gone someway to boosting our confidence of completing Challenge number 6!