Later this year Karl Holbrook is taking on the 1,000 mile Deloitte Ride Across Britain challenge. In his latest monthly feature, he tests his training with a 185-mile ride around the capital.
There comes a point in the lead up to any event that dread starts to jostle with excitement as the dominant emotion.
You sign up, months before said event, full of crazy expectations and goals. Then, as the event nears and you’ve hardly lifted a muscle, the doubts start.
‘Am I fit enough?’, a voice will call out in the back of your head. ‘Don’t embarrass yourself,’ another will chirp in. As the days tick on the fears get more irrational. They do for me, at least.
And they certainly did in the run up to London Revolution, a two-day, 185-mile cycle around the capital organised by Threshold Sports, the team behind my 1,000 mile Deloitte Ride Across Britain challenge in a couple of months.
It was supposed to be the perfect prelude to the event – my first multi-day cycling challenge and the perfect warm up ahead of the big nine-day ride in September.
But, as usual, I’d not done nearly enough training, leaving me wondering how I’d cope in the Surrey hills and choppy Chilterns.
Worse still, if it’s near 200 miles chewed me up and spat me out, how would I possibly complete 1,000 miles from one side of the country to the other?
I needn’t have worried. The nerves disappeared as soon as I joined more than 1,000 cyclists north of the capital at Lee Valley Park for the start.
We set off in waves on a misty Saturday morning, sweeping into central London through trendy Shoreditch and over Tower Bridge. Over the Thames, we headed through Crystal Palace and upmarket Dulwich towards the famous Surrey hills, an area of outstanding natural beauty and stomping ground for the 2012 Olympic road race, won by our own Bradley Wiggins. It’s a fantastic route that utilised quiet country roads and there were two pitstops along the way, stocked with everything a glutton like me could want – from energy drinks and gels to sandwiches, crisps and more. A steel band brought a Caribbean flavour to an otherwise quintessentially English scene.
The early morning chill had burned off by the time I made it to the second pitstop and there wasn’t a cloud left in the sky. I spent more time than I should stuffing my face and listening to the band only to discover a killer hill a few hundreds metres up the road. Maybe I should have left that second bag of crisps.
But I climbed up and the views over the South Downs alone were worth the effort. This is perfect cycling country and the scenery made the miles go by that much quicker, even if the legs got heavier and heavier.
But after seven hours and 100 miles riding I struggled into the overnight basecamp at Ascot Racecourse. This is where Threshold events really stand above the rest.
A smoothie was thrust into my weary hand before I was ushered into the impressive camp.
It was a sight to behold. Hundreds of tents were erected for each rider. Our bags were waiting for us and there were hot, clean, individual showers for everyone.
Everything was taken care of with military precision. There were even banks of charging portals so we could charge our phones and GPS kits. After a quick change, I headed for a free sports massage – an awesome little luxury that helped restore my achy legs – and a beer before dinner.
There was tones of food. Roast chicken, prawn mac n’ cheese, shepherds pie, steamed veg, new potatoes and loads of salads. Then there were the sweets. A thick wedge of strawberry cheesecake went down a treat. The atmosphere was great too and walking around basecamp you realise how inclusive the event is. There was every type of cyclist represented – grizzled club cyclists and leg-shaving super athletes alongside timid first timers and have-a-go charity fundraisers.
Riding 185 miles over two days is no easy feat, but with a bit of effort anyone can do it. And looking around, all types do.
In the morning, breakfast was hearty and mechanics were on hand to give our bikes a quick check over.
Over the entire two days we really didn’t have to think about anything except turning the pedals.
I hit the road with a belly full of eggs and bacon and legs full of lactic acid, ready to drag myself around 85 miles to the finish. The second day may have been shorter, but was choppier than I expected over the Chilterns.
More beautiful countryside and well stocked pitstops sweetened the deal. The camaraderie, too, helped as inhibitions dissipated and weary riders supported each other over the lumps.
I ended up riding most of the day with a chap who turned out to be from Chorley and who took part in last year’s Ride Across Britain, Colin Hughes.
“It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done,” he confided. He signed up to this event to get a little taste of it again. We lost each other at the second pitstop, but I muddled on and I limped over the finish line at Lee Valley for a celebratory pint. Total time in the saddle: 15 hours, 33 minutes and 35 seconds over two days.
I’ve done quite a few events like this in the past few years, but this one is up there. What I expected to be just a taster for September’s Ride Across Britain turned out to be a brilliant event in its own right. It’s easy to see why it was named in the world’s top 10 cycling events by Active Traveller magazine. Its worth every penny of the £184 entry for the full two-day route, including overnight camp, dinner and breakfast. Day ride routes and charity entry options also available.
As for me, well, I just can’t wait for September now to do it again, bigger and, hopefully, better.