Ride London-Surrey 100 2014 by Daniel Slotte
Last Sunday was the 2nd edition of the Prudential Ride London-Surrey 100 event. Despite the complicated name this event is growing in size and stature, and is now the UK’s biggest sportive with 24,000 participants. It follows roughly the same route as the 2012 Olympic road race, starting in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London and then venturing south west into the Surrey hills, before returning to London for a sprint finish on The Mall, all over closed roads. The distance is 100 miles / 161km as the name implies, although it turned out not to be the case this year – more on that in a moment.
Click read more below to read Daniel’s report about the event.
Before I go into the actual report, there is an important point to address – what is a sportive? Is it a race? Known internationally as a Gran Fondo, participants start in waves, with your overall time measured between timing mats at the start and finish line. For people just getting into cycling they are the perfect event to complete a challenging distance with a number of hills and feed stops along the way. For others they are an opportunity to raise money for charity. For experienced cyclists they are a chance to put in a fast ride and test yourself against the clock. Although you don’t need a racing licence and you don’t get British Cycling points in a sportive, there is something much more important at stake – the bragging rights to your friends about your finish time. The front end of any sportive is always extremely competitive, and the beauty of the sportive format is that it caters for all abilities, from the person just starting out in cycling to the person wishing to race at the front.
I took part in the inaugural 2013 event prior to joining 5th Floor, setting off in wave B, and finished the 161km in 4 hours 17 minutes, placing 155th (out of 16,000) at the time. My goal for 2014 was to improve on this result, which I knew would be a big challenge as last year I had gone very deep, surviving on two bidons and a single stop for nature. The first challenge was getting a place for the 2014 event, which proved difficult as I didn’t get an entry in the ballot. As a London based cycling club 5th Floor get four team places, these were quickly snapped up by Rudy, Matt, Leo and George. I had been promised a place through a friend – Chris – who extremely generously gave me his own starting spot in wave A, an incredible opportunity to ride with the top riders! The other 5th Floor guys were starting together in wave B, but I decided to ride solo and make the most of my starting wave.
With everything prepared I woke to my alarm at 3.45am on Sunday morning, fully expecting the torrential downpour which had been forecast. There was no rain, however, but as I rode the 19km from Balham to the start line it started drizzling down. I saw more and more cyclists headed in the same direction, and eventually there were so many that small pelotons were forming, all headed towards the Olympic Park. At a set of traffic lights I overheard someone anxiously commenting that the event seemed to attract the Marmotte level of rider, before I realised they were actually referring to me, as I was wearing my Marmotte arm warmers. That was a nice feeling, and I got to the Olympic Park in plenty of time as dawn broke, and settled in in the starting pen for wave A, making small talk with the other riders.
About 15 minutes before the start there was an announcement that both Leith Hill and Box Hill had been removed from the route, supposedly due to the danger of inexperienced cyclists descending in the wet. I was disappointed to not hear booing from all the experienced cyclists around me, as these two hills are the centrepiece of the event, but it did mean we were on for a very fast ride indeed, with a new distance of 86 miles / 139km. As we neared our 6.00am start time I spotted someone cycling past in the World Champion’s jersey, a blatant breach of Rule #16, however this was no rule breach, as the cyclist was none other than Marianne Vos, who holds the title and is regarded as one of the best cyclists of all time, male or female. She waved us off, and the event was on!
Under steel skies wave A set off behind the motorcycle which is the head of the race, and it was clear right from the start that the peloton meant business. I’d estimate the lead group was around 150 strong, and with several ex-pros in the bunch along with the cream of London’s club cyclists, the average pace was well in excess of 40km/h. When you are ensconced in the peloton you benefit dramatically from the slipstream effect, so despite the fast speed I wasn’t under pressure, although you have to stay vigilant as you are in such close proximity to others. No further than 5km into the ride I heard a loud bang, and a rider just in front of me crashed hard as his tire blew out. I managed to avoid this and a number of other crashes, exacerbated by the wet roads. Knowing the roads would be slippery, I’d changed my tires to the grippier Continental 4 Season rubber, and had also reduced the tire pressure to 85 psi. This gave me the confidence to corner fast, which was an absolute necessity to stay in contact with the bunch. Although you get the slipstream effect when you are thundering along on the flat, as soon as you hit minor climbs, or the peloton stretches out after corners, you have to put in an enormous amount of effort just to stay in contact.
Looking down at my Garmin cycling computer it was amazing to see the kilometres tick along so quickly as we sped along closed roads out of London and into Surrey. With the one remaining hill of Newlands Corner approaching, I moved up in the bunch as I knew there could be a selection here. If the peloton split on the climb it would be almost impossible to get back to the front group. The peloton hit the climb hard – way too hard, and I let others cycle past me as I held my power at 400 watts, which I knew I could sustain the whole way. Predictably, riders in front of me started blowing up all over the climb, as the lactic acid from going too hard accumulated in their legs, and I was even able to ease off near the top off the climb as I rejoined the front of the group, now numbering less than 100. After Newlands Corner the rain really started coming down heavily, I took off my glasses as I couldn’t see properly, folded down the visor of my 5th Floor cycling cap, and just concentrated on the wheels in front of me. As long as I’m not cold I love cycling in the rain, the ride had the epic feel of one of the Sprint Classics.
The return to London was a fast affair. With the average speed still at around 40km/h even after 100km and some easy hills, the peloton sped up further. I had to constantly watch my position in the bunch, at one point I found myself around 100 metres off the back, and I had to go flat out for several minutes, putting in the biggest effort of the whole day just to get back into contact. After this I was focused on being at the front of the bunch, and at one point a breakaway went off the front, which I joined. There was 10 of us at the head of the race, we got a gap of around 15-20 seconds. It was an amazing moment knowing you are spearheading a race with around 24,000 riders behind you, but the breakaway was destined to fail, and shortly after we rejoined the main group. At this point the group was getting a lot more nervous, riders were constantly moving up in the bunch, and in a single moment of inattention I found myself on the wrong side of a split, and a massive chase by myself and several others to rejoin the lead ensued.
Unfortunately our chase was not co-ordinated enough to catch the lead group (at this point numbering no more than 50 riders), so we formed a smaller chase group. At one point I looked up and was amazed to see we were on Chelsea Embankment, only a few kilometres from the end. There was another attempt to form a proper paceline, but with the exception of myself and one other rider no-one else was willing (or able) to take the front. Riding up Whitehall I accelerated to break off the front of my group, and I quickly formed a gap which held till the finish line on The Mall, only getting passed by a single rider who doggedly stayed on my wheel and then passed me on the line. I finished in 3 hours and 26 minutes, with an average speed of 40.3 km/h (in excess of 25 mph) for the ride, no stops, and a final finishing position of 54th (out of 24,000), which I am very happy with. I even beat the time of Marianne Vos, who finished in 3:31, though I doubt she went all out. The time of the rider in first place, a former pro, was 3:23.
At this point it was still only just after 9.30am, and cycling back home the remnants of Hurricane Bertha made a proper appearance with torrential rain, and my teeth were really chattering as I got home. Following a shower for me and a good clean with Muc-Off for my trusty S-Works Tarmac SL4, it was incredible to turn on Eurosport a few hours later to watch the professionals take on (mostly) the same course in the RideLondon-Surrey Classic road race (1.HC). I’m excited about doing this sportive again next year, I had quite a bit of energy left compared with last year, so I know I could have finished with the leaders if my tactics had been a little better. In any case I feel very lucky to be able to take part in an event like this right on my doorstep. No more sportives planned for me this year, I am now focusing on the end of season hill climb events in October, where I hope to represent 5th Floor well.
– Daniel Slotte