The Independent London 2 Brighton Ride REVIEW
by Holly Blades
Words and Images by Caven O'Hara: The London to Brighton route is not an original one, but the opportunity to take part in a version with a new twist was something that caught my eye. From the early rise to get up to the city through the route with its additional sections to the great welcome at the finish line, this had it all.
Distances: 72 miles
Start: The O2 Arena to Hove seafront
Transport: Various London mainline stations
Signs: Black arrows on orange backgrounds
Road: A mix of London’s icons and traffic with a liberal dose of the best countryside south of the capital.
Team Sky have had a great Vuelta a Espana and have high hopes for the Tour of Britain. They didn’t have a full team, but Sky News presenter Dermot Murnaghan was on the start line.
The ride had been due to start at Battersea Power Station but I had an email through a few weeks ago advising me of the change. No big deal, yes it meant a few extra miles but it would be a novel way to begin. That was my rational and as the designated day approached I planned my route to the start line, interestinglyat the O2 Arena. Something a little fancy to get us started.
Train times sorted, leaving the house for the 05:45 was my first shock. The second was given the forecast, how mild, even muggy it felt at that time. Safely aboard, the train began to wind its way towards my destination, London Bridge station. What I hadn’t banked on was the stunning sunrise I was treated to. It was one of those moments when everything else is superfluous.
Before long I had arrived and disembarked but I was struck as to how dark it still seemed in the capital. The decision to at least bring a rear light was justified within 30 metres of my first pedal stroke, passing two Police cars. As I headed towards East London it struck me what a great mix it is. Historical buildings mingle with new developments side by side in one big sprawl.
As I turned towards the peninsula that is home to the O2 Arena and several other leisure and commercial premises, the traffic disappeared and I was left to quiet contemplation. The start was well staffed and very efficient. With only 250 riders you felt as if you were given the personal treatment as the route through the city was explained and the prep completed.
I had several minutes to wait before the official start time of 07:30, during which one of the other riders asked me to film his preparations, which tested my co-ordination at this early hour! Before long we were summoned for the briefing. With that complete we were off - the mix of unfamiliar roads and an increase in traffic made the first few miles a little tense. A group soon formed and led by one rider who knew his way, things settled down although the speed between the lights didn’t.
Riding in a group is always a mix of exhilaration and wariness, the ability to maintain speeds considered tough on your own can catch a lot of riders out. Before too long the build-up of traffic calmed things down. Crossing Tower Bridge is not something you do on many sportives but the joy was soon dispelled once we hit the queues on the Embankment. Weaving through the cars, lorries and coaches you soon begin to figuratively doff your cap towards the cycling couriers and riders who do this for a living or to journey to work.
It was soon a veritable list of London’s famous landmarks, Tower of London, The Eye, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament not to mention several others. With these behind us it was onto to one of the capital’s newest features, the Cycling Super Highway. The future is bright – blue that it is. With Boris bikes everywhere, the future does indeed look good for cycling.
Passing our original start point we eventually turned south and headed over Chelsea Bridge. For anyone who has ridden the British Heart Foundation version of this route, we soon sped by Clapham Common, which is the start of that tremendous day’s fundraising ride. Now on more familiar roads, I found myself on my own having stopped to take pictures. Signage was good and before long I was in Tooting and heading further south.
I have always associated Sutton as hitting the outskirts of the city and suddenly there was less to focus on other than riding at tempo and ticking off the miles. I picked up some companions and we made good progress. It soon became clear that some of the riders were out for an early morning ride, evident when they went one way at a junction and the sign clearly pointed the other way! The route started to get lumpier including the ten per cent climb to Longhurst View - I couldn’t see the view as my nose was pressed firmly on my front wheel.
Not long after, respite appeared in the form of the first feed station at Merstham. With 32 miles covered this was the perfect time to fill up bottles and enjoy some of the great spread provided. With such a humid start my bottles were almost empty. A coffee hit consumed, and it was time to resume my journey.
The route down to the next stop at Lindfield is pretty undulating. To make matters more challenging a pretty brutal head wind had got up. With so few riders there was no real help as you soon got strung out. At times like this it can be a welcome distraction and a real benefit to share the workload, cue the arrival of another rider decked out in the HTC colours. Jim said he was struggling but between us we shared the work up and over Turners Hill, an eight per cent climb to the crossroads.
The road from there forms part of my journey to and from work, so with intimate knowledge of every nook and cranny in the road surface, Jim and I upped the pace as we rode on. Lindfield was soon upon us, as was the second feed station. Resisting the temptation to pop home, we refuelled and set off for the day’s biggest challenge – Ditchling Beacon. On roads I use for training, the miles were steadily ticked off and before very long the Beacon was upon us.
For those who haven’t yet ridden it, do so. It is a challenge, just over a mile in length and rising to almost 250m, not a mountain but with switchbacks and the stepped nature of the narrow road it is a real achievement when you crest the ridge by the National Trust car park.
Jim by this point had found his legs and headed off, I enjoyed the view of Brighton’s fantastic new stadium and then set about completing the challenge. The descent off the Downs into Brighton in the wind was a little hairy at over 40 mph but safely down it was time to negotiate another city. Brighton is always a hive of activity and there were crowds of people enjoying the late summer sun all along the seafront.
Adjusting my speed to allow for cars and traffic lights kept things sedate. I stopped at one set of lights to witness a bride and groom cross en route to celebrate their big day. Having seen a sign on top of the Downs indicating five miles to go I was beginning to suspect foul play in the measurements!
The finish on the Lawns in Hove soon appeared and the enthusiastic greeting was very welcome. In a flash, the timing chip was removed, a goodie bag was in my hand, a medal around my neck and instructions on food and massages were taken on board. I availed myself of both, a great way to finish a thoroughly enjoyable day.
Action Medical Research is a charity that saves and changes the lives of children, whose motto is ‘We suffer so they don’t have to.’ Anyone riding the Independent London 2 Brighton today would certainly have done so but all in aid of a great cause.
Likes: Choice of route, feed stops and welcome at the finish.
Dis-likes: Although iconic, riding through the centre of London could have been avoided and therefore less stressful.
The Independent London2Brighton Ride
- 10/09/2011 - Battersea, London
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