Monday, June 17, 2013

What a difference a year makes - London to Brighton before and after training for the Etape

Me (right) a year ago, next to my "Bianchi twin" James Dickens
A year ago, when I was still playing at being a cyclist, I rode London to Brighton on the Bianchi with a couple of people from work and a couple of friends (Pez being one of them).

It was a big deal for me then - one the longest rides I'd ever done. It didn't go well. My average speed was woeful, Pez had the mother of all punctures, congestion was terrible, and it took me 7 hours 50 minutes to complete.
Pez's puncture "It sounded like a pistol going off"
I walked up most of the only serious hill on the route (Ditchling Beacon - 1.5k at 9.1%).

This year was going to be different. I'm a lot lighter, so is my bike, and I'm basically far better at cycling. To be honest, 50-odd miles (80 km) isn't really a thing now, I'd need to ride back from Brighton too if I was making it a serious training ride (I know a few people who did that).

I was riding with four guys from work, so blasting it wasn't a socially acceptable option. Especially as it was the longest ride two of them had ever attempted.

Trying to learn from last year, we decided to set off at 7:30, rather than the "gentleman's 9:30" start last time - that way we hoped to avoid some of the crashes and congestion that blighted us last year.

We failed.

Some 28,000 people rode London to Brighton this year, up 1,500 on last year. Our start time wasn't nearly early enough to get ahead of them.

Turns out a lot of people were starting before 7:30am
It took an hour-and-a-half to cover 4 miles getting out of London with thousands of cyclists competing with cars, buses, traffic lights and junctions on busy roads.

In place of last year's super-puncture, this year we had a snapped chain resulting in my second trip to the mechanics at the Dog and Duck in two years (after six of us tried, almost succeeded, then failed to fix it roadside).

Accidents on the route saw us stand still in queues for at least an hour-and-a-half on the way and despite leaving earlier to beat the rush, I actually only finished the ride a minute  and four seconds faster than last year.

Hundreds of people standing still on a road. Standard. (we were near the front of the queue).
But despite the similar trials and time - there was a difference. A big one.

I was faster than almost everyone on almost every hill I had the space to ride up. I carved my way up Ditchling Beacon, slicing through any gaps in the riders in front of me to get further ahead, flying past people on lesser climbs - not even bothering to change down on several that reduced other riders to walking (standing on the pedals is far more fun).

As a training ride it was a blow out, but as a confidence booster and crowd-riding experience it was rather well timed. I might not be a great rider, but I'm an awful lot better than I was.

There was also a hint of things to come. James Dickens (ex semi-pro footballer, big cycling fan and really rather useful triathlete) and I were riding along chatting for a good section of the ride. Now and again attacking each other for fun, climbing the hills together and generally enjoying ourselves.

James chilling at the top of the Beacon, after we rode up there together
It's not something I do normally. We just don't ride like that as a group - partly because of the nature of the rides but mostly because we're pushing ourselves training.  I've got rather good at slogging along in silence, frequently on my own. It might be useful for the Etape, but it's a shame.

Having a chat, out in the countryside, a bit of competitive fun rather than actual competitions, riding rather than training - it's a really pleasant way to spend a few hours.

Hopefully it will be how I spend the rest of the summer once the agony/ecstasy of the Etape is done.

Things I learnt
  • How to use my multi-tool to break links off a snapped chain.
  • That I don't know how to put a chain back together with my multi-tool (I've bought these in case I need them on the Etape)
  • How to carve through slower riders on a congested hill/flat road.
  • That I need to leave London far earlier if I want anything resembling a clean run next year
The view is lovely, shame about the hill.


  1. Hi James - saw the L2B-ers as they passed through Tooting. Congrats on hammering up Ditchling Beacon - must've felt good after the last attempt.

    Thought you might like this - a recce of the etape course:

    1. That's really, really useful. Thanks!

    2. Email me through my google profile and I will give you some info for this Saturday