Q: Did you get your place in the ballot or have a charity place? Wendy: Ballot. I got a ballot place last year too but couldn’t go. You can defer a year, but you have to be pay both years entrance fees! I didn’t get in the first year I applied. If you are applying at the same time as a friend, put in the exact same finish time, although I met one couple who’s start times were 2.5 hrs apart, despite having put in the same finish time.
Liz: Ballot. Like Wendy I got a place last year, but couldn’t, make it. Double entrance fees hurt but I know a lot of people who have applied many times for the ballot and have never been successful, so giving up a ballot place might have meant never getting another opportunity. Having said that, the minimum sponsorship for charity places is nowhere as high as for the London marathon, so is potentially an option.
Q: What were the logistics like? Wendy: You have to register on either the Thurs, Fri or Saturday before the race on Sunday at the Excel Centre. There is a small bike show on at the same time to make it more interesting. This does all add to the hassle and expense of the ride. I managed to register for a friend without all the ‘required’ documents. I registered late on the Saturday and it was quite quiet. I stayed at Queen Mary’s University Halls of Residence, which was in a great location for the early start on Sunday and very cheap. The logistics of moving around London with your bike need to be considered. At the Excel centre they did have secure bike storage whilst you registered.
Liz: A lot better organized than London-Brighton which I did last year and is my main benchmark. The overnight does add to the cost but the early starts meant that was required really anyway. Getting to the start was a bit confusing at times but there were a lot of other riders around to follow. I registered Saturday afternoon too, but know others who had done so earlier in the week while in London for work which would have been quieter and easier if you were already in the area.
Logistics afterwards were more complicated. We had stayed near the start but getting back there afterwards wasn’t easy. The friend I went with had got very held up on the route and did not want to ride back across London, plus the traffic looked scary and I was worried about getting lost. We ended up getting a cab back which was very easy to do but cost a small fortune! Strategic positioning of a car would have been a better move, had we had enough time on the Saturday.
Q: How did you find the morning of the ride? Wendy: The event is very well organised. As you ride to the Olympic Park there are signs directing you to your coloured wave start. At your start area there are several lorries to take your bag – you can only use the bag they give you, so travel very lightly! You then make your way to your holding pen. With about half an hour to go, they move your pen forward to the start line, where you get a great send off from the crew. There are toilets lining this walk through, so lots of chances for a last-minute stop.
Liz: As Wendy said, all very smooth. The pens shut a long time in advance though so be prepared for some hanging around. But time for breakfast and toilets stops. I was glad I’d taken arm warmers as I got pretty cold at this point and took a while to warm up.
Q: How did you find the ride? Wendy: I really enjoyed the ride. I started off with a friend and we rode the first 25 miles quite hard. It was reasonably busy but I maintained a good ride speed throughout. Being able to jump on pelotons helped a lot, but I was aware that I didn’t know them as riders and had to trust the rider in front to call out signals. There were a couple of nasty accidents and we did have to get off and walk around them. Leith Hill was so congested that we had to walk up the first part. After Boxhill it seemed downhill all the way back to London. The atmosphere in some of the towns was amazing and you felt like a pro-rider with the streets lined with people cheering you on.
Liz: I loved it, every minute! Closed roads through central London was amazing! Similar to running the marathon but without having to run a marathon!! The hills were busy but was lucky enough to get through before there was too much trouble. I saw 3 or 4 accidents and ambulances but nothing too serious and nothing that I had to get off and walk for. After Boxhill, and reaching the 75-mile point it felt like the home straight so I picked up the speed, but I actually found the worst congestion to be in the last 10-15 miles with lots of stop-start for pedestrians crossing.
Q: Did you have a strategy? Wendy: My plan was not to stop until at least halfway. I made it to about mile 57 when I ran out of water. I went into a drinks station and was out in minutes. I had all the nutrition I needed on me so didn’t stop again. I was aiming for a sub 6 hour ride and was delighted to have been just over 5 hours.
Liz: Having never ridden much further than 100km before and not knowing what to expect from the hills, my strategy was to go easy-ish for the first half, but also not to hang around and waste any time before the hills, knowing that that was where congestion and accidents could affect the ride. I had a problem with my knee at only 30 miles so had to ease off a lot more than I wanted to but luckily it improved and I was able to push on after that. At 75 miles after the hills and with the end in sight I stepped up the pace and hopped on some pelotons and had some fun, thinking I’d make it a race to the finish, but the last few miles then became more like a parade lap taking in the sights and just enjoying the experience.
Q: What were the aid stations like? Wendy: I avoided them as I didn’t need to go in them! I only went into a drinks station. If you want a relaxed ride with lots of stops though, they looked good.
Liz: I avoided them too but thought it was really good that they had several dedicated hubs where people wanting to meet up in groups or stop for longer could go, or if you needed any extra help or resources. That left the other toilet stops and water stations more easily accessible for very quick pit stops. I went to one toilet stop and one water refill station and was in and out very quickly. I did actually go to the last hub just out of interest and it seemed to have everything you could possibly have wanted but I just grabbed a banana and left!
Q: Any problems? The congestion at the bottom of Leith Hill was frustrating, but I wasn’t aiming for a QOM and had a great chat with my fellow cyclists! Boxhill seemed really easy and the chap next to me didn’t find it funny when I asked him when we’d start climbing! Harvey’s Take 3 Tri Camp in the Alps and the Spanish hills at the Worlds had prepared me well!
Liz: No, not really. Few places with congestion and some erratic movements from other cyclists but nothing too bad.
Q: Overall rating Wendy: I had a great day out. Logistically it was a bit of a nightmare and I probably won’t do it again, but it is an iconic ride and great to do. The organisation, support and camaraderie were fantastic and the route was lined with supporters and local residents cheering you on.
Liz: I loved every minute and so glad I did it!