Event Review

Prudential RideLondon REVIEW

by Jennifer Trotman

Prudential Ride London

Essentials:

Date: Sunday 4th August.
Distance: 100 miles with a few shortcut options.
Entry fee: £48 or through charity places.
Start: Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London.
Feed stops: 3 Hubs, 7 Drinks stops.
Participants: 20,000.
Timing: Chip in bar number.
Signs: Closed roads, marshalls, hazard signs, outriders...the works!
Photos: Marathon-photos.com
Goody bag:  Medal. Bag with drinks (choc milk, water, cranberry juice), freebies, samples, etc.


The Ride: 

If you're a cyclist and haven't heard of Prudential Ride London by now, then where have you been? Around 20,000 of us were actually there for starters!

Having said that, hardly anyone I knew seems to have gotten a place in the ballot...and I did, which I have to assume is because I'm female. Still, I'm not complaining, right? Nevertheless, if I'd realised how complicated it was going to be, I might have had second thoughts... For starters, it doesn't start and finish in the same place, it's in London (I'm not!), and you can't register on the day. I had to get up to the Big Smoke the day before, find my hotel, find my way from my hotel to ExCel, and find my way back again!

It may have been a palaver, but once there the whole registration process, considering the numbers of people being dealt with, was remarkably easy and queue free. I handed over my paperwork, showed my passport, and was given my entry pack. I know they want you to attend the cycleshow that goes alongside it, but it would have been simpler all around for most folk if they'd just posted the packs out. However I suppose it did ensure that the people who were riding were the people they were supposed to be, and were likely to actually turn up the next day too!

Registration
Registration

Numbered Up
Numbered up

After a few beers in the bar the night before, and a somewhat restless night, the big day had finally come. My alarm went off at 5:00am, giving me 45 minutes to get my act together, pack everything up, and meet my mate Guy in the lobby. He is familiar with the area so he knew how to get where we were going. Just as well, as I was clueless! The roads we were using might not have been closed, but at 5:45 am they were still pretty empty. The nearer we got to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park the more cyclists we came across doing the same as us, and then there were official signs, and then a steadily growing stream of us were following those same signs, as relevant to us, into the Olympic village start venue.

Bagging Up
Bagging up

Which brings us to start times. Now there's a mystery. Every rider was allocated a set of times - to arrive at the Park by, load into our pen by, and to actually start at. And then a colour and a wave. Which for me meant 6:10, 6:34, 7:10, Blue wave L. How they worked it out I have no idea. There were far faster cyclists than I starting both earlier and later. No-one I knew had the same time as anyone they knew. However the whole start thing was all really well organised. Nowhere was heaving, the queues for the many, many toilets were perfectly tolerable. Large lorries were collecting the official numbered, labelled, bags given to riders at registration, to carry belongings from the start to the finish. I've been at events with far fewer entrants that were far more chaotic, so I guess the system was working!

Toilets
Toilets

Loading Waves
Loading waves

There wasn't much to do before they started processing Wave L, so I did what I was told by the cheerful and persistent tannoy guy. So. Stand outside the pen for a while. Pass through to the pen, having handed in your rider card to a marshall to prove you were in the right place at the right time. Stand inside the pen for a while, where there were yet more toilets. Eventually move along to the start line. Stand by the start line for a while. Finally it was our turn. The same tannoy guy counted us down, the air horn went off, and we were on our way as scheduled, past the TV cameras, to roll our way out for the first couple of miles to the starting mat proper. Various cyclists peeled off to stand by the side of the road and wait for their friends before we got to that point, pretty much the only way to sort things so that you could ride with your mates. 

Waiting for my wave
Waiting for my wave

The Start Line
The start line

Cycling through a city is a weird thing for me, as I live out in the sticks. Especially London with closed roads, thought it is no doubt infinitely preferable to doing the same on open roads! Cycling down dual carriageways. Through tunnels where bikes are usually banned, like Limehouse. Ignoring traffic lights completely. All before the city has done much by way of waking up. Fascinating. Past the Gherkin, seeing the Shard, past the Tower of London. And so on. There had been a lot of pre-event talk and worry about the sheer number of riders doing it and therefore on the road at one time, but it didn't really work out like that at all. I guess the pen/wave system logic worked. After the initial rolling out period even my wave spread out, and with the roads fully closed, there was plenty of room to get on with what needed to be done. Paying attention was more for road furniture, pot holes, man hole covers, and that kind of urban hazard, than for other riders. Apart from the odd fancy dress rider the majority turned out, at least around me all day, to be far more professional and well behaved than expected - which was a very pleasant surprise.

On our way
On our way

Gherkin
Gherkin

It all passed by so fast that it was tempting to slow down to try and appreciate it a little more. Which wasn't really going to happen as it was far too early in the day for dawdling. Everyone was clearly enjoying the novelty of it all though, as landmark after landmark flew by. Our first trip past Trafalgar Square gave a hint of what was to come at the end of the day, with spectators and photographers all over the place. Tantalising... Then we were heading out of London, through the posh streets of Knightsbridge, and out along roads I've only ever driven down and that rarely. Can you imagine an empty A4?  Surreal!  

Harrods
Harrods

Every junction was marshalled. Every serious road obstacle - such as traffic lights and road islands - had a marshal standing on it waving a yellow flag and blowing a whistle, albeit some more enthusiastically than others. Big arrows pointed out that you should go round one side or the other...but that wasn't always enough. I can't quite remember where, but as we came down a straight road that then had a wide 90 degree left turn, riders were spread out everywhere to take the corner and to take others on the corner...and one of those obstacles was right in the middle as we straightened up. I made it around the corner fine, but behind me? Not so good. There was that horrible noise, the sound of panicked voices, and I looked behind me to see, a little way back, a cyclist mid air and about to land on his/her left hand side. I'm guessing that was a broken collarbone at least...

Richmond Park
Richmond Park

Carrying on, everyone was somewhat chastened and subdued for a little while. I saw two other ambulance-requiring accidents out there during the day which I guess, considering the number of people involved, wasn't surprising. 

The early miles seem to tick by amazingly quickly. By the time we reached the (well padded!) gates to Richmond Park we'd already done twenty miles. Lots of my city cycling friends talk about it, I think it's as close as they can easily get to countryside, and I was starting to feel a little more at home now. It was all fairly green and pleasant, with grass, trees, birds singing, all totally fenced off from us. 

Hampton Court
Hampton Court

Today's ride had stops in abundance. Three Hub stops with everything - food, drink, mechanics and medics - and lots of Drink stops. Every one of them was well, and repetitively, stocked, so you could go to any point of them to get what you wanted, eliminating the need to queue. Every stop had portable toilets, and there were also portable toilets at random points along the route. I decided to stop at the first hub, because I fancied a brief stop, and I needed to stuff my gilet in the saddle bag. As I turned left into the one way system to lead riders in, I had no clue where I was...and to discover that I was at Hampton Court was awesome, and if you didn't stop, you missed out. I've not had many food stops at royal palaces! The toilets were fairly posh too. I've no idea how they managed to keep all the toilets fairly clean and well provisioned everywhere all day, but they did - most impressive.

Surrey Lanes
Surrey lanes

We headed out through Kingston, into the Surrey country side. I wasn't feeling that great. There was a strong headwind. It was getting warmer, I was probably paying for the less than orthodox race prep the night before, and the lack of sleep. Actually I was starting to feel properly weird. And it occurred to me that this might well be a sign of bonking to come... Time for a gel and a little while taking it a little easier until I'd had chance to settle down somewhat. It wasn't long before the next hub where I made sure to drink, top up my bottles, and eat banana too - way easier than bars.

All over the road
All over the road

Outside the box
Outside the Box

Think of this as a ride of three thirds. A flat third, a lumpy third, and a flat third. The middle lumpy bit has three Surrey Hills. Newlands Hill, Leith Hill and Box Hill, in that order. It was almost a relief to go up for a change though it took quite a while to get into my rhythm and I did momentarily worry that I wasn't going to...but I did. Unlike some, who were already walking. Newlands was ok, Box Hill held no fear for me as I've done it twice before and (not to disparage it but...) it's pretty easy. I had been a little worried about Leith Hill but although it was hard work, being steeper than the other two, it was doable. Thanks to the way the riders had spaced out, although there was traffic there wasn't enough to get in the way. Walkers kept out of the way, the talented hurtled up on the outside and the rest of us plodded up as necessary in the space left in between.

Riders behind me
Riders behind me

Traffic climbing
Traffic climbing

The great thing about ups is the downs of course, and there were some crackers today, especially when you can go down 'em any way you want, past as many people as you want, without meeting anything coming the other way. I knew that this wasn't a hard ride, per se, so I felt justified in going fast in when I could, and there's no better way to gain some momentum to maintain right? Even though I'd like to go downhill all day, I was still kinda looking forward to Box Hill. It's pretty, it wiggles, and it's iconic. 

Road graffiti
Road graffiti

Top Views
Top views

And I enjoyed it. I pootled and actually found it pretty easy, as I certainly wasn't pushing it. No point with all the other riders around, the views to enjoy, and plenty of photo opportunities to be taken. Both by me, and of us no doubt. 

Right. Some more downhill, yippeeee.........a kick up, and time to head for home. I stopped at the next drink stop to top up though, it being important to keep hydrated when it's hot. It was time to put my head down and allez allez! 30 or so fairly flat miles ahead, with wide open roads, the kind of riding I can do, and a sneaky feeling that if I pushed it maybe I could make it back in under 6 hours ride time.

Battersea
Battersea

So I went for it. I overtook. I pushed. I tailgated, wheelsucked, hitched rides. I took the racing line, went the "wrong" side of road furniture, and generally had a blast. No time for photos, time for having fun. It was hard work, but oddly enjoyable. Plenty of spectator support along the way had helped keep morale and momentum up all day, especially now, although there was a noticeable drop in their enthusiasm as we got back into London. There were are few minor climbs that my legs still didn't like, but they didn't last long, and it was always back to the fun bit. The sprint for home. I felt proper pro racing my way through busy towns, with all the supporters, stopping for no-one and nothing, the bit well and truly between by teeth. Especially I was overtaking people rather than vice versa for a change. A girl could get a taste for this.

Westminster
Westminster

Whitehall
Whitehall

Before I knew it we were back in landmark central. Battersea, Westminster, up Whitehall again, a sharp left to go under Admiralty Arch, and then finally we were riding down The Mall to the sound of hordes of spectators banging on the hoardings and cheering. Time for a gratuitous sprint finish no? Of course! Shame not everyone felt the same way, the guy next to me and I had to slow down a little just before the finish line, but it was with a wry grin rather than any real sense of disappointment. Now that was fun! Ride London 2013 done!

The Mall
The Mall

Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace

My official time was 5:58 - so I was sub 6 hours both in riding and overall, which I was extremely happy with. All the worrying beforehand turns out to have been completely unwarranted. This was a superbly run event, and thanks to the weather, the nature of the course, the supporters, and the organisation, I had a seriously good day at the office. The one improvement that I would like is some way of allowing friends to sign up and ride together - it would make it a much more sociable affair.

The ballot for the 2014 Ride London-Surrey opens on Monday 12th August - you should sign up now.

Medal Front
Medal front

Medal Back
Medal Back


Official Review

1. Feed Stops (correct foodstuffs and energy drinks, the right many, well spaced) 10 out of 10
2. Timing (correct and easy to use) 10 out of 10
3. Signage (Clear, concise, maps, profiles, route card) 10 out of 10
4. Facilities (HQ, Parking, Toilets) 10 out of 10
5. Support (Sag Wagon, Outriders) 10 out of 10
6. Friendliness / Professionalism (Sign-in, marshals, support) 10 out of 10
7. Website - ease of use (Online and postal entry, clear concise) 9 out of 10
8. The Course (Area of outstanding beauty/scenic, quiet roads, cleverly designed?) 10 out of 10
9. Would you recommend it. (Would you ride again?) 10 out of 10
Overall Rating 98.9%




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2 Comments

Nick G
9th August 2013 6:35pm Nick G wrote:

"...hardly anyone I knew seems to have gotten a place in the ballot"? Less of the nasty American English please.

norm
11th August 2013 8:59pm norm wrote:

excellent review Jennifer, I did the ride also through a charity place and your review is spot on.
it was a great day all round.


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