“That’s got to be the best event we’ve ever done”
— Darren Waering
It’s fair to say that was the view of us all when we completed last year’s 4 up team event in London. We’d all tried to get into the ride in the ballot but were unsuccessful. We therefore put a 4 man team together and entered the 4 up Team Club Challenge – basically a 4 man 100 mile TT. We came in 13th so wanted to better our time the next year.
This short report is from my perspective of the 2014 London Prudential Ride 100 Club Team Challenge and the events that led up to it. There will be three other colourful views from the strong riders who joined me.
Ballot time came around again and we all duly entered the ballot. Again none of us were successful. We got the obligatory Jim Bowen style magazine sent saying thanks but no thanks and by the way have a look at the great route, closed roads and a training programme for an event you’re not doing. Hilarious! Almost better than nearly winning a speedboat when you live in the heart of Birmingham.
I had hatched a back-up plan. We all know it’s not what you know, neither is it who you know, it’s what you know about who you know. I had kept all the emails from last year when sorting out our team and I had also “bumped into” the race director for SweetSpot – the ride organisers. I didn’t know anything about them though so perhaps my back-up plan would be flawed. I emailed the ride coordinator anyway and asked if there would be a club team challenge event this year. To my surprise I got an instant personal reply saying yes and that they would welcome our entry from Rhyl Cycling Club. Why Rhyl you ask? Well, quite simply as we raced in Rhyl colours last year. Simon Parkinson and I had since ended up doing more with Holywell and Melyd respectively but our chances of getting a repeat visit seemed to be enhanced by the fact we did so well as a team last year and they were happy to have us back. So Rhyl we stayed and we were very happy to do so.
So we were on, up for it and ready. If only that was true. One team member dropped out early, no “pass” available. Least said soonest mended and all that. That’s after I booked the places and paid for the hotel so we needed a new team member. Someone who fancied the challenge and could go hard for 100 miles with about 6,500 ft climbing with a 22mph + average. That’s what we did last year so that’s what we had to beat. No easy task.
I posted on the Melyd FB page and within a couple of minutes my phone was ringing. Dave Bell was getting onto a plane, saw my post and wanted in. He was apprehensive but with lots of Sufferfest evenings he’d be ready. Our team of four was complete, or so I thought. Time marched on and we tried to train together but our shifts and family commitments always caused issues. Not to worry though we were all training hard, well all bar one. One of the team had a new job, very busy kids and a load of building work going on. Cycling was the last thing on his mind. Now we wanted to be fast, ideally a top ten finish. That would not be easy to get as we knew there were some very strong riders last year and they too would want to be back for more. So then there were three!
It was getting very late in the day and looking like our 4 man team was no more. Without 4 men (yes it was a men’s team – they were accepting male or female or mixed teams, once specified you couldn’t change). We needed a stand in and quickly. Chris Williams stepped up to the mark. Our team was now sorted. Myself, Si Parkinson, Dave Bell and Chris Williams. We were all training well. My run up week was carefully planned having had a long conversation with Alan Overson about how I should prepare the week before. I needed some shorter rides and a good few sustained efforts and quality rest. The plan included the 2up 9 mile TT on the Tuesday before London. I was working later than I’d hoped on the Tuesday so put the TT bike in the car and drove to Denbigh, I would have preferred to ride so to be sure of a good warm-up. My warm-up consisted of a quick sprint up and down the by-pass, not ideal but it was the best I could manage. Before I knew it we were off, we (Alan and I) had a plan and we were both riding strongly. We took our respective turns, I was in more pain than usual but I expected that so put it to the back of my mind, no dramas there. About 5 miles in my right calf cramped, I sat out a turn (or two, or three) as I tried to power through it. I had no joy and it got worse, a lot worse, I was riding through the pain but I could feel the damage being caused. I shouted to Alan, that my calf was shot and I was in agony. “Stay on my wheel” came the shout back. I couldn’t let him down so again put the pain to the back of my mind though it wasn’t as easy this time. I had one goal and was wholly focussed on crossing the line within the same second as Alan so as not to let him down. Riding down the by-pass seemed like an eternity. When we crossed the line my right leg wasn’t mine but our time was good enough for second on the night. We were happy with that.
Looking back I was foolish, though I put the pain to the back of my mind I could now hardly walk as a result. This wasn’t good as I’d clearly damaged my calf. I left it a day to settle whilst icing but it didn’t heal as I has hoped. I was now worried about the 100 mile London ride on the forthcoming Sunday, this wasn’t in my plans. I wasn’t sure I could ride. I made a number of calls to Physio’s, no joy, I couldn’t get to see one. I put a call in to Holley, the sports therapist based at Saints, she saw me and got to work on it. More pain! It was Friday by now and I was thinking I would not be able to ride on the Sunday so after manipulation and ultra-sound treatment Holley strapped me up. What a top job she did, she said it was the best tape job she’d done bar strapping a rugby player’s arm back into his shoulder! She even used union flag tape so that I could show it off on the Mall. I was advised not to ride but she knew I would not listen.
Saturday soon came along and so did Hurricane Bertha. She was also booked to arrive on the Sunday but she was a gate crasher, her name was not on the starting list. The forecasters didn’t know if or when she’d arrive and we all hoped she’d pass us by. Driving down was stressful, marred by traffic jams and diversions. To top it off I booked the wrong hotel! The sat nav took me to the door of a hotel but it wasn’t the same hotel we stayed in last year and I was sure I’d booked the same one again. Clearly not. Simon and Chris were running late so dodged straight to the Excel to register whilst Dave and I jumped on the DLR hoping not to miss the registration deadline. I hadn’t planned a DLR trip as the hotel I thought we were in is next door to the Excel. More stress!
We all got there in time and registered then we were all kicked out of the centre as it was closing so didn’t get time to look at the cycle show stands. We met up with Sally who was also riding the individual event. Sally had booked the right hotel on my recommendation, I had to explain my Wallace and Grommet “Wrong Hotel” issue. Hey ho, all was not lost it was only a couple of stops away on the DLR. I got chatting to more cyclists I knew that I bumped into and then it was off into London for some quality feeding. We had fish and chips last year and we got 13th, better food = better placing, we all know that! A rice based dish was needed, oh and a couple of pints of Guinness of course.
Town was heaving, as usual, Saturday night in the centre of London is not an easy place to get the food of your choice. We managed to get a table for the 5 of us in an Italian restaurant. It was fine and we all ate well. No Guinness though, so we settled on Peroni. Shame. I had my leg strapped up and my limp was diminishing with determination to ride. I hadn’t been on the bike since Tuesday but I was feeling up for it. Everybody else was in great form, though apprehensive, and raring to go.
Our emails pinged and the word was out that Bertha was due in London on Sunday morning and that the organisers were considering taking out Leith Hill and Box Hill because of the weather. We were all gutted at the thought of that happening as we all love climbing the hills and we were confident that we would make most of our time up on other teams on the climbs, we had a team of strong climbers and we’d seen the southern contenders in action before so knew we would beat most up the hills. We all voiced our detest at the thought of the best climbs going and we all quietly hoped the storm would pass and we’d get our hills.
An early night was had and the alarm was set for 4:30 am for the first feed. I had a concoction of carbs and compounds to consume so that they took effect at exactly 06:17hrs, our starting time. We were off out and on time and all of us, bar Chris, seemed to have an eating plan of sorts. Chris munched on a pack of sugary jelly type sweets and half a flap jack. We all playfully teased him but he reassured us that he’d be fine. We got to our holding area within time and after my final feed (bananas) we were off to the line. We weighed up our competition whilst our competition weighed up my heavily strapped up, union flag clad, leg. It held out ok on the ride to the start but that was nothing in comparison to what was ahead. As we stood at the start line the weather wasn’t too bad, we all hoped Bertha had decided not to visit, there was rain in the air and the wind was light. Then came the announcement, the organisers had indeed taken the two big climbs out of the event meaning the route would be about 86 miles, safety was cited as Bertha was on her way. Gutted. 06:17 came and we were off.
We had a good start and kept a good pace through the neutralized zone and to the start of the race. This was a timed team race for us, there were lots of people there riding with friends and colleagues and alone for very worthy causes, not us. We selfishly wanted a top ten finish, we were there to prove to ourselves all our training was worthy of a decent finish position in a prestigious and highly contested event. I was worried, I was in pain hitting the running start at about 30mph, I wasn’t sure I could put it to the back of my mind for 86 miles. We took turns on the front, I didn’t take as many as I normally would hoping to preserve the calf. Chris, Simon and Dave were going well. We soon headed the peloton and set a good pace. As usual though nobody else took their turns it was down to the four of us to keep the pace. There was a team in Orange, no not a real Rhyl team, a Strava one! Four lads in the full Strava get-up. They sat on our wheels like limpets. Simon wasn’t happy so went back to their front guy behind us and had a “friendly” word with him. In-between dribbles of sweat and snot Simon shouted “If you’re strong enough to hold on you’re strong enough to do a turn, get to the front”. It was like a scene from a pantomime, your wish is my command, Strava guys went to the front in a poof of orange smoke. They were too slow though after a few miles. We let them tire themselves out then broke them. That was fun.
My leg was holding out well, we had steamed through Richmond Park and the weather was holding too. Any slight incline (Southern Hill – friendly banter) meant we pinged past riders like they were stood still. Chris was strong off the front with his Jelly sweets fuelling his legs well. He was going hard and in full race mode. We all took turns leading and popped by some of the earlier starters with ease. Just under and hour in and the winds started to hit and the heavens opened. The conditions were simply awful. I couldn’t see where I was going at times and the gullies and gutters quickly became overwhelmed with water. We tried to keep our pace but it wasn’t easy. We hit 30 miles and I got the pain I dreaded in my calf. I was second in line at this time, Si was on the front, I shouted “my calf has gone”, he acknowledged then they carried on. Club motto and all that! I moved to the right and started self massage and stretching whilst trying to keep a pace in sideways rain. I must say I really did not want to be there at this point but I had an overwhelming desire to get past the pain and not let the team down. With a few hard stretches and precision placed thumb squeezes to the calf I managed to control the pain enough to up my pace a bit and start making progress again. It took a few minutes though to get back into it so the chase was on, I was now on my own, or was I? Along came Team Strava, I am a premium member, I pay, I’m having a wheel. On I jumped. They were a bit slow but faster than I could go on my own I thought. I stayed with them for a while until they couldn’t hold the pace enough for me and I went. The stronger Starva rider jumped on my wheel and we picked up others along the way. We hit some hills and I ended up alone as I moved to the right and went past hoards of earlier starting riders. I thought that strange and hoped there would be some strong riders I could work with. As it happens my leg felt better for doing the climbs.
I was by this time soaked through and getting cold at times, my eating plan had gone to pot. I was drinking rain water, sweat and snot. Proper re-cycling. It wasn’t easy to feed in the dreadful weather, concentration had to be 100% on riding. I was 60 miles in and the tape on my leg was coming off. I hadn’t thought to look but it started feeling cold. The patriotic tape was flapping in the wind as proudly as the flags atop of Westminster Palace only the tape was in real danger of getting caught up in my drive train. That would have been fun. I frantically ripped at the tape on every up stroke, sideways rain and steamed up glasses added to the fun. This was surely a challenge befitting the cube but the was no sign of that bloke that looks like Gary Lineker to egg me on. “RIP THE TAPE OFF” was my challenge. I got most of the tape off and felt the compression go. Yes, of course the pain came back. Deep joy, more up stroke massage (now now) and sticking my fingers into my calf pushing at the pain spots. I was at my lowest ebb, I thought about quitting, the pain was beating me. I slowed up again and desperately tried to raise to the mental and physical challenge. The roads were awful and concentration needed to be at the highest, Bertha was upon us and didn’t I know it. The Strava rider came past me again, my thoughts were shifted, I was like a dog chasing a ball, his wheel was mine. I was helped by a hill, he slowed and I easily caught him. I had a quick chat with him, he was on his own, and as I went up hill with him on my wheel I set a steady pace and the pain eased. After a few miles I started to feel strong again and the pain was low so off I went. I’m not sure where I was but I’d picked up a bit of a peloton, I exaggerate, there were about 12 riders behind me. I knew they wouldn’t stay with me past the next hill though so I wasn’t bothered. We went through a town centre, the road was clad with shiny wet sets, yikes, I slowed a lot and kept the bike straight. There were no heroics coming from me. One of the riders came alongside me and we briefly chatted about the weather, very British. The tarmac reappeared and I accelerated, there were lots of people out watching and cheering, considering the weather they were fantastic. I rounded a barrier clad right hand bend, there were no cyclists in front of me and the last time I looked behind there were still about 12 or so behind me. As I rounded the bend I heard the dreaded screech of sliding rubber on wet road quickly followed by the chilling sound of carbon clatter and screams and shouts of fellow cyclists. I had a left hand bend quickly approaching and my concentration was high, I was looking where I wanted to go I could not move me my gaze. I simultaneously saw people at the barriers raise hands to open mouths whilst pointing behind me. I couldn’t look back, it wasn’t safe to do so. I got to the next bend within seconds, the rain driving into me. There was a motor cyclist and a team of stewards moving off towards the crash, they had help. I looked back as soon as I could, there were no longer any riders behind me. Not good, I do hope they are all ok.
I didn’t know at the time but Chris had popped and decided he would refuel at a feed station. We had a no-stop strategy, we had planned to do the full route without stopping no feed stations were needed. Chris’s jelly sweet breakfast had worn off, not surprising considering his pace, so he stopped and took on some gels. Chris doesn’t use gels but thought as they were there and free he’d have not one, or two, not even three. He had four concentrated banana flavoured energy gels at once. He turned his pedals, got back to the road and duly added to the road risk by spreading undigested sticky banana gel (all four of them) on to the tarmac. Refueling rejected he carried on in true form.
I had about 5 miles to go when a group of about 6 riders overtook me, this was the first strong group I’d seen and I wasn’t letting them go by, It was hard work getting the the wheel but once there I was back up to cruising at just under 30mph. I stayed three or four back and waited to be shouted at, I was happy to wait, I’d done more than enough. The shout didn’t come and I was soon heading into the centre of London. We were going well, I glanced at my stats, 80 odd miles and 23mph average. I was hoping the others were safe and ok and if they had similar times and I was the last in then perhaps we could sneak in a decent finish. I wasn’t bothered about beating last years’ position as the conditions were awful but everyone was in the same boat. So perhaps a top ten or even tenth, eleventh or twelfth could be achieved, that’s better than last year. I held on well and even took a few turns as we all powered in. It was a very strong finish. I sprinted down The Mall to the sound of thunder and the now typical sideways rain bouncing and rebounding everywhere. I was alone but very happy, I finished and with a decent speed. I heard a shout “Daz, Daz” Simon and Dave were waiting for me at the finish, they asked how I was, I asked how long they’d been back. About 5 mins they said but no sign of Chris yet. Dave and Si had a really strong ride, Dave’s Sufferfest evenings had really paid off and Si was in top race form. We waited for Chris but I hadn’t seen him unless he was in the feed station as I past. We called him and he had finished about a minute before me and was further up the road towards the Palace. I think he was hoping for a brew off Liz save the banana gel puke breath. No such luck though, he was found shivering holding on to a shaking bike.
We had our medals and our goody bags and now needed to get back to the hotel. Nightmare. Cold, wet, lost = sense of humour failure. We managed to flag a black cab down and he agreed to take two plus bikes to the hotel. Si and Chris went back first, Dave and I would flag another cab. No such luck. Two hours past, no cabs anywhere. Cold wet and miserable we queued at Victoria station for a cab. I’d already tried to use the Garmin to get back but the weather was so bad I couldn’t see the screen and the water was BB deep at junctions. We couldn’t see drain covers and grids, it wasn’t safe to ride. As the time moved on the rain eased enough for us to plot a route back to the hotel and ride so we happily dodged out of the long and never moving taxi queue. Dave and I had a steady ride back over the river and we saw the usual sights, it was quite pleasant in the end. As we got back to the hotel Si and Chris were on the way back from their dirty burger recovery meal, they were m’lovin it! We loved the fact that we saved £40 on a taxi back! Bonus, the debrief beer fund had been preserved.
Back to the hotel for a clean up then out on the town to watch the pro race. We found a pub in Soho, had food and drinks a plenty and watched the race on the TV. We met up with Sally after her ride then went to Leicester Square and then Covent Garden for a full debrief which was accompanied by another rice based meal, though this one was with copious amounts of Cobra, brandy and Baileys. The results were in and we came 7th in a field of 300 teams. Not bad considering. We were happy.
Another great weekend on the bike was had. I can highly recommend the weekend.