A message from James
It was a week ago that I lined up at the alarm-clock destroying time of 5.44 a.m to try and complete the Prudential Ride London in 4 hours and 15 minutes.
Since then I’ve had many naps, eaten lots of food and wept every time I had to climb more than three steps in one go.
But now I’m fully recovered and just wanted to let you know what happened on the day and to say a last thank you for your amazing generosity.
Here’s a (not at all) brief insight into my weekend.
The day before the ride I carb loaded like a crazy person (my favourite part of a long distance cycle, eating my own bodyweight in pasta) and went to bed as early as I could manage. Just as I turned my light off, a thumping bass line kicked in. My light switch didn’t normally do that. I flicked it a couple more times to see if it would stop. It didn’t. My heart sank. I had to face the truth. On that night of all nights, my neighbours were having a party.
This made me sad.
I jammed earplugs so far into my ears that I think I actually touched my brain. But it was to no avail. I could still hear the M.C (oh yes, they had an M.C) and the pounding bass. I think I managed to get a bit of sleep, but it was all too soon that my alarm went off at 3 a.m. Which incidentally was the exact time the party stopped and they turned the music off. I’d have found that funny if I wasn’t so weary.
I bet Chris Froome doesn’t have to deal with that kind of action.
Anyway, I tried to not let myself get too worried about the lack of sleep. To be honest, this was fairly easy as when I got up I was far more worried about the weather. As forecast, it was absolutely hammering it down. It was SO wet. And it wasn’t due to let up until around 6 a.m. By which time I would have been out in it for two hours cycling to the start line and then waiting for kick off at 5.44.
This also made me sad.
So it was here that I made one of the few decisions in my life that I’m 100% sure was the right thing to do.
I panicked and called a cab.
The thought of getting utterly soaked on the WAY to the start, and then riding in wet and cold kit was too much for me to deal with. I was going to arrive dry or not at all.
Driving from south east London to the Olympic park with my bike squashed in beside me, I felt guilty and a traitor to my kind by riding in a car to the start. I watched other riders heading in the same direction. None of them looked happy. Most of them looked cold. It was making me shiver a bit in sympathy. So I asked the driver to turn up the heating and I stopped looking out the window. I found I felt OK after that.
I arrived at the start, put my kit in the lorries to be transported to the finish and then made my way to the start line for my wave. I eyed up the other riders. Trying to pick out who would be the lucky few that would have the privilege of towing me to the finish. I was pretty confident of a good time if I got a decent start with a good bunch of riders. The key would be making sure that I didn’t lose them early on. I marked out some likely candidates and then settled in to wait for the off.
Some twenty or so minutes later, the commentator was counting us down and we rolled out to “London’s Calling” by the Clash. I allowed myself a moment to take a breath. I was relieved. I felt good. I’d made it to the start, I’d trained hard, I had an early start time and I was pretty sure I could get myself in a good group and speed towards the finish.
Confidence surged. I was going to do it.
And then I went round the first corner and punctured instantly.
I knew straight away. The front wheel was completely gone. I couldn’t believe it. I rolled to the side of the road, watching my group sail away from me. I looked at my Garmin bike computer. I’d been riding for less than a minute.
LESS THAN A MINUTE.
Now, I’ve been a cycle courier for many years, I’m a competent mechanic and I’ve raced and ridden bikes for a while now. I’m pretty good at changing inner tubes at speed.
But not that morning.
Its fair to say I had a minor meltdown. In my attempt to sort it out quickly, bits were flying everywhere and my fingers stopped working. I was picking stuff up and then putting stuff down. But doing nothing with it in the interim. I was flapping like I’d never flapped before. I could hear group after group go by me on the road as I struggled and tussled with my tyre. Each whir of wheels going by made me more and more anxious.
Finally I gave myself a talking to, took some deep breaths, stopped faffing, got it done and got back on the road in what felt like about four lifetimes, but was actually only about ten minutes. I re-joined the ride and hammered on the pedals to start my race against the clock. I knew that my hope for 4.15 was pretty much done for. Now it was about damage limitation. But I didn’t want to go all guns blazing and then fall apart at the end. I started overtaking people, trying to catch up to a group that were going at a decent speed. But unfortunately, it seemed like all the fast people were way ahead being fast without me.
Then, finally, before Tower Bridge, I was caught by a fairly sizeable group going at a decent lick. I jumped on the back and settled in.
I was really grateful for this group sheltering me from the wind, but I realised pretty early on, that they weren’t quite going as fast as I needed them to. They were going at a good pace (around 38kph average) but on the early sections I knew I needed to be going quicker. It was also dominated at the front by five members of the same team, that, quite reasonably, wanted to ride at the front together dictating the pace, not wanting anyone else to take a turn and disrupt their rhythm.
And this was then my dilemma.
Did I stay with this group, definitely get nowhere near 4.15, but have a fairly good ride and definitely make it to the finish? Or do I leave them and go solo in a death or glory charge to try and get the fastest time that I could in the circumstances?
I just couldn’t decide. So I did what I normally do in these kinds of situations. Nothing. I fretted and fretted but didn’t take any action or make any decisions and just stayed riding with this group for around an hour and a half. But before we got to the start of the climbs I realised that I had to make a choice.
And the choice had to be to go solo.
So I worked my way to the head of the group and then, after taking a deep breath, I attacked and left them behind me.
Straight away I felt a wave of relief. I really should have done this much earlier. I didn’t care if it meant that I might blow up before the end. I didn’t want to have any regrets. I was going to go as fast as I possibly could for the rest of the ride, even if it meant that I had to do it as a solo time trial.
I looked behind me. No one had followed. The group clearly thought that I was doing something very silly. To be honest I thought I might be doing something very silly. But I felt good. I felt pretty strong and I knew, because I’m light and fairly good at going up hills (and the next section was full of them) that I was probably going to be able to stay away and even maybe have a go at catching up with some people in front.
So I put my head down and settled in. Pushing just below my threshold to make sure that I didn’t go too hard and collapse. Sure enough I started catching people going up Leith Hill, the longest of the three climbs of the ride. I kept on pushing, going up and over the top, down the descent and then up Box Hill. By this time I’d caught a fair few riders and as we crested the top of the last long (ish) climb of the route, I’d collected a new group behind me who seemed keen to push the pace to the end.
I was enjoying myself by now. Which probably explains why I attacked off the front of this group as well. Too be honest I was probably getting a bit overexcited. I’d been riding with them for about fifteen minutes when I thought I may as well go for it and on a slight incline I put some power into the pedals and off I went again.
This was then one of the most fun parts of the ride for me. As well as the most painful. There were hardly any riders in front of me so I could properly pretend that I was in a romantic (and doomed) solo breakaway in the Tour de France. Riding as hard as I could on my own to escape the chasing pack.
And escape I did. For about fifteen miles I kept going and going. Having a lovely old time. Even though it hurt I definitely had a big old grin on my face for most of this bit. To anyone watching I probably looked like someone had dressed up a village idiot in full lycra.
But still I kept driving onwards, looking behind me every now and again to see if there was anyone in pursuit.
And around the 87 mile mark I realised that there was.
A big group, much larger than the one I’d initially left, was about twenty seconds behind me. But they were gaining fast. I quickly decided to sit up, stop pushing and wait for them. In no time they’d caught up with me and I tucked into the front of what was now a twenty strong bunch. There were some big guys at the front pulling huge turns and I did my best to join and help. There were probably only about five of us actually doing any work on the front, the rest content to follow us home, but the people that were working, were working pretty hard. We were going much faster than I would have been able to go on my own. The miles flashed by and before I knew it, we were crossing the bridge at Putney, hitting the north side of the Thames and onto the home straight. Knowing that we were close to the end gave me a new lease of life. I was hurting, but I know this area so well and so knew, with each passing landmark, exactly how close we were getting to the end. We kept the pace high, all the way down the embankment, past bridge after bridge, past Parliament square and then we hung a left onto the mall and the sweetest sight ever loomed into view.
The finish line.
I crossed the line and slowed to a stop. I’d made it. Woohoo!
I checked my official finish time. It was 4 hours and 21 minutes. My Garmin bike computer put me at 4 hours 12. So the puncture had set me back by about ten minutes or so. Its easy to say, but I know in different circumstances I could have gone faster. But 4 hours 21 was a respectable time, and even with the puncture, it didn’t put me too far over my target.
I’ve attached photos of my split times at the various checkpoints and you can see how the first half was a tiny bit too slow (that bit is very flat and should have been over 40kph average really), and how we ramped it up towards the end. There’s also a picture of my ride on strava to show that my “moving” time was under my 4 hours 15 target!
Here’s the link to my ride on strava if you fancy having a look.
So that was it. I was initially a tiny bit deflated, I really, really wanted to get under my time without having to rely on any “moving time” shenanigans, but the early puncture put paid to that. However, I was really pleased with the rest of the ride and I can honestly say that I have no regrets at all and genuinely gave it everything that I could on the day.
And the reason I was able to do that was because of the support of you guys. Thank you so much to everyone that sponsored me, everyone who sent me their support, everyone that took the time to read my stupid long emails, and everyone that took the time to have a little look early that Sunday morning at the dot that represented me on the app. It meant so much having you all in my corner and what you’ve helped raise will make a huge difference to the bike project. Your generosity will mean that the Bike Project can get more refugees on bikes, riding towards a bright future.
You’re all awesome.
Much love and happy riding
P.S my fundraising page is still active so please feel free to forward this link to any rich people that you might know…
Written on: 17 Aug 2017 | Author: Anna Chapman