Six weeks of beautiful sunshine and hot weather. Perfect weather for me to do the Prudential Ride London 46-mile bike ride on Sunday 29th. What could go wrong? Well, the weather could change dramatically, and it did.
The 100-mile ride goes from the Olympic Village across London, over Chiswick Bridge, down through the Surrey Hills, up and down Box Hill and back through London to The Mall. The 46-mile one does the same but closes the loop at Hampton Court.
The weather forecast for the day was grim – winds of up to 25mph and heavy rain. I stood forlornly at the Olympic Village starting point for an hour with my bike – and 30,000 other cyclists – in rain and wind, getting colder and wetter. Finally we set off. So much better to be riding than standing. But all my earlier good-weather training didn’t prepare me the joys of riding in heavy rain. Firstly, when you’re riding behind another bike, the spray whips up at just the right height to splatter you in the face. Secondly, waterproof overshoes aren’t waterproof. They just trap water inside them. And thirdly, however waterproof your jacket is, the rain drips down onto your bike shorts. These have soft padding in the crotch area, so the accumulating water in the padding makes you feel like you’re wearing a nappy that needs to be changed.
But there’s nothing like riding through London on traffic-free streets. Flying through East London underpasses (one inspired rider broke out into singing opera as we went through each one) and emerging to see the Shard (albeit bathed in dark cloud), the Tower of London, Trafalgar Square, Knightsbridge, along the Hammersmith flyover – usually a three-lane motorway but now heaving with cyclists. Then we get to familiar territory at Chiswick Bridge. The rain is very heavy now. Would anyone notice if I just turned right and went home? No. But if 29,999 other riders can do this ride, I can. So I plough on.
Photographs by Jon Perry
30,000 wet and windswept cyclists cross Chiswick Bridge
I’m not the fastest of cyclists. The field thins out around me. Then near Hampton Court the 46-mile route joins up with the route of the 100 miler. Which means that I’m pedalling along the same road as hundreds of matchstick men in Lycra (they don’t wear any namby-pamby waterproof jackets), on their matchstick-thin bikes, going at twice my speed. They are a different race, in more ways than one. But the great advantage of the routes combining like this is that the spectators lining the route could think I’m doing the 100-miler in a spectacularly good time for a woman of my years.
And so it goes on, up to the home stretch along the Thames up to Westminster and then up the Mall. I knew to keep a bit in reserve to do my final thunder up the finish towards Buckingham Palace. So glad I hadn’t turned right at Chiswick Bridge.
It’s a great event and we are very, very lucky to have it. It’s not without its problems though. Some friends who were volunteer marshals had a lot of flak from local people who couldn’t get across closed-off roads, or get their cars across the route. Maybe the organisers need to put more effort into that side of things. But it would be a great shame to lose the day.
I got home on Sunday afternoon and flaked out on the couch to watch the final stages of the Tour de France. Well done, Geraint Thomas – a spectacular win. But you didn’t look as wet and windswept at the end of your Sunday time trial as I did.
If you’re tempted to enter the ballot to do the ride next year, see www.prudentialridelondon.co.uk