So after around 6 months of preparation I set off to drive to London on Thursday 14th. A relatively uneventful 200 miles until I hit the outskirts of the city and then my satnav guided me closer than I wanted to the congestion charge zone. I needn’t have worried as my Prius is apparently exempt – thanks to Steve for the hastily tweeted info – but traffic in London is obviously painful, and it was a slow drag through the Blackwall tunnel to my pre-booked parking at car park 1 at the O2 arena. Which was closed. I pulled up and phoned the helpline.
“Event? What event?” came the response. Great. Logistics, or lack of planning, was my biggest worry.
I blagged my way into car park 2 and made my way with 2 rucksacks and a large bike bag to the taxi rank, worried about whether my car would still be there and if so, whether I’d get out. The chirpy cockney cabbie (I’m being sarcastic – miserable git) took me to the Clarendon Hotel in Blackheath where I tried to relax and get an early night; something made more difficult by the usual noisiness in hotels.
At breakfast next morning I looked around the room. Who looks like a cyclist? Hard to say, but I forced some food down and wandered onto the heath outside to register.
We were given route cards, reflective armbands, a BHF jersey and instructions where to drop our bags. The weather was really nice – warm and sunny. Usually I jinx it by applying sun lotion but no, the sun stayed out. A few brief chats with people and then we trooped back into the hotel for a last cup of coffee and the pre-ride briefing. An introduction by The British Heart Foundation and then they handed over to the effective organisers, Action Challenge. There were slightly less than the advertised 300 riders – erm, 31 – and we would have 3 ride leaders, a mechanic, a doctor and several other members of the team. Average speeds on this side of the channel would be 15-17mph and on the other maybe 13-15mph. The channel crossing was booked for 7-30pm.
A klaxon sounded and we were off, weaving through the traffic. Maybe a mile in and the shout went up.
“Puncture!” Little did he know at this point that unfortunately this would be the first of 4 punctures for John.
We waited whilst it was fixed and then set off. Next problem was some emergency pipeworks that were blocking the traffic, the support vehicles, and us. It was clear that the abilities of the group differed dramatically so we’d splintered into 3 groups now – a quicker group at the front, the group I was in, and some backmarkers. Our group found a novel way of getting through by riding under the tape and through the cones, past the bemused workers.
“Is this for charity?” asked one bloke who clearly hadn’t seen salad in a long-time. I couldn’t help thinking he might need some of the pioneering research the BHF does in years to come.
“Don’t ride through the water,” said another.
“Because it’s shit,” he said matter-of-factly. Nice.
The first stop was planned at around 19 miles, simply to take on water and regroup after getting out of London. As we hit the campsite at Meopham it was clear that the traffic and various incidents (puncture and one ride leader was clipped by a car) had delayed us. We’d managed 13.2mph for the first 10 miles and had then picked up slightly as we passed the M25 and managed 14.8mph for the second 10 miles. Not really good enough and we were already up against it.
The next leg was 32 miles to Charing and I decided to join the first group this time. There were some lovely bikes on display. A couple of Cervelo’s, a Trek Madone 6.2, a lovely titanium Sabbath and a mean Planet X speed machine with full Super Record and Cosmic Carbone wheels worth more than my entire bike. I got chatting to some guys from a new Sheffield club – La Squadra – who were pushing the pace on the front, and had fantastic looking club kit of black with red detailing. These guys, and ride leader James, didn’t appear to be really trying, but were going fast. The splits for the next 30 miles were 18.2mph, 15.9mph and 18.3mph. The group sub-divided into fast-fast and fast-medium, and the fast-fast guys were racing up climbs and I was just hanging on to the back as we pulled into Kerala Spices. Bizarrely the hot food stop was at an Indian Restaurant and we were served curry, chicken and rothi/chapati. John rolled in with his second puncture and a split tyre, which the mechanic patched up. We waited for the rest to arrive. And waited. And waited. People were struggling and we’d done 52 miles. The Action Challenge guys clearly had a plan B and announced we’d get a ferry at 9pm instead.
The final leg to Dover took us over White Hill, through Wye, a wait at the world record longest level crossing, down to Folkestone, over Dover Hill and then a fast cruise into Dover, where hot food and the ferry awaited us. I got shelled 50 yards off the back of the fast-fast group going up White Hill but we regrouped at the top and pushed on. These boys were fast, and even though we’d been artificially held back at Charing we would still have made the 7-30pm ferry the pace we were going. As it was the final climb up Dover Hill and descent into Dover meant we had time to eat our food and get our kit sorted for the next leg.
Once kitted up we rode from the hotel on Marine Parade through some cycle paths and the operations manager picked up our tickets. We were directed to lane 186 and we rode through what I can only describe as a customs shed. The guy asked me if I’d packed my own rucksack. I told him I had. He asked what was in it and for a split second my mind went blank. The first thing that came to mind was gels. And clothes. He seemed satisfied and waved us through. There were lines of trucks and cars at lane 186 but we were directed straight onto the ferry. A quick sprint up the ramp and we were onto the empty deck, which was fantastic. Our bikes were stowed (that’s sailor-speak for “leant against”) on one side and we trooped up to the lounge. As the public were finally allowed on they were greeted by 30-odd cyclists in various states of undress trying to get some sleep on chairs not designed for it. The light on the harbour wall went green and we were off. I couldn’t sleep because every time I closed my eyes I felt seasick, so I decided the best thing for that was a bag of crisps and some pepsi max.
Ride Stats : 82.66miles in 5hrs and 7m @ 16.1mph average speed. 4,264ft of ascent, average HR 135bpm and 3782kcals energy used