Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Saddle-sore, sleep deprived and celebrating: My first multi-day event

In late June I'm riding back to back Tour de France stages in, er, Yorkshire. So as a taster, this weekend I rode the two-day, 185 mile (300+km), London Revolution.

REV 2014 Map
It was meant to be a flat spin, a century ride through quiet country lanes followed by an easy 80-miler back home. But they lied.

The day one "flat route" had more than 2,000 metres of climbing. British climbing, which means shortish climbs (not normally longerthan 2km) with sections of 10-20%. And lots of them. Oh, and there was an extra 5 miles thrown in on day two too (which was another 1,600m of climbing).

Day 1 profile
Day 2 profile
But first we had to get there. Four of us were riding, last year's Team Etape members of Me, Pez and Paul, and our friend Dan. Who's new to road cycling but commutes 125 miles a week on his hybrid so is in good shape.

Or, well, should be - but managed to drink two ciders and three bottles of wine on his own the night before, woke up at 4am on the sofa, and was almost certainly still a bit drunk on the drive to the start.

Partly as a result of Dan's, er, impeded state we were really late to start. Rolling out at 9:35, when the gates officially closed at 9:30 (there was a group of about 10 of us for the late exit).

In theory this meant we'd be overtaking people all day - but we were so late, it took us 30 miles to catch anyone. At all.

Half the group we rolled out with split ahead of us after a climb - I bridged across to try and keep the mini-peleton (is there such a thing as a "break-away" that's at the back?) together, but no one came with me so I dropped back to our four (plus another of the late starters, who we lost when Pez punctured).

It's rubbish at the back even on a day like this

There's something a bit depressing at being at the very back, even on a day almost with almost perfect weather for riding. Trying to keep the group together as a mechanical would see someone thoroughly lost, riding at the slowest man’s speed while trying to complete a 100 miler before the course closed - especially as at different points we were all struggling (except, inexplicably, Dan).

There were also no groups to ride with. Anyone our speed had long gone and there were no slightly quicker groups to latch onto as they came by us.

It wasn't until the second break stop about 70 miles into the ride our isolation truly came to an end.

I responded to the long slow grind by trying to focus on my pedalling. Squeezing the top and bottom of the pedal stroke to even out power, trying to be as smooth as possible, keeping a cadence in the 80s and working my calfs as well as my hams and quads. I'm not sure it helped.

I also discovered that while feeling very pro-like in my Bodyfit kit (form-hugging, aero, de-branded Saxo-Tinkoff team wear, basically), the pad that's been wonderful on rides of up to 50 miles really isn't good enough after about four hours in the saddle.

But there was no choice now - because they had taken our luggage hostage.


An organised multi-day ride involves a fair few changes to a normal sportive, race, long weekend ride or touring. Firstly, you start and finish in very different places. That means accommodation (in our case tents) and getting kit/luggage both to the day one finish and then back to the start where you've parked.

The London Revolution was pretty slick at this. Your luggage was tagged with your rider number and colour coded to find it. Tents were allocated on the same colour code and you had a wristband with this on too.

Overnight riders got a hearty meal after they were done (chicken, lasagne, bread, rice, vegetarian options, pudding etc) and there was a big cooked breakfast (if you wanted it) before you rode out the next day.

So once tagged and dropped off, your bag was waiting for you near your tent, your bike was securely parked overnight and could only be retrieved by you - but you were, nonetheless, trapped.

Pez suffered the worst. He was feeling awful, but had to make it to the end of at least day one to get his stuff back. Once he had it, he was too encumbered to get home, so rode day two to get to the end to get his stuff back again so we could drive home.

Any normal ride, you could peel off and either ride or get a train home with few problems. Or switch to a shorter route and still get back to the start (which I've done in the past while feeling bad). The format effectively took these options away.

And then there was the camping. I hadn't slept in a tent since I was at school. They'd done their best, with individual hot showers, plenty of loos, and relatively spacious tents allocated per person. But, well, tents.

Not warm, no real mattress (we had a sleeping mat, but it’s not the same), and every car, conversation, plane and animal noise reaching you as if you were in the room. Sunrise (currently 5am in London) was your alarm clock and a trip across the campsite to the loo in the dark is not for the faint hearted.

I'm still baffled that people do this voluntarily (and incredibly happy that the Tour-de-Yorkshire has us staying in a hotel).

Day 2

So after a far harder day than anticipated, we hit the hay early to try and get a good night's sleep in before an early start on day two. Breakfast started at 6:30 with the ride beginning at 7:30. We were aiming for the start of both of these.

No one slept well. We were all up at the crack of dawn anyway thanks to tents, but we'd failed to realise how many others would be too.

Starting so late on Saturday meant we weren't prepared for the number of people getting ready to leave. We didn't manage to leave until around 8:30, but riding in the middle of the pack had advantages too.

There were riders and wheels all around us all day. Carving past people, seeing people in front to catch were great motivations. I even caught the back of a couple of groups as they were passing and grabbed a wheel.

My legs (with no more treatment than a quick foam roll on my ham strings) felt strong all day, but other parts of my body were protesting at a second long day in the saddle in a row.

As the day went on my saddle soreness got worse. I found myself longing for descents, where I could take the pressure off my saddle by putting weight through my legs. I was coming out of the saddle a lot too. Now, this is one of my favourite ways to ride anyway, but I was taking it to extremes.

My left shoulder made a horrible noise when signalling to turn left after being locked in position for so long. My back wasn’t overly impressed either, but far more manageable than it had been before my bike fit.

The day started with 40km of flat, followed by two hills (one of them Box, again), rolling for a bit then a beast of a climb.

Box Hill. Again.

Starting at a few percent, the gradient ramped up to 7-8%, which was fine, then – turning a corner – it spiked into the late teens (or more). Again, fine, but it didn’t slow down again. I was in my bottom gear, standing on the pedals, with a cadence of about 50, and it didn’t slacken off. For about 750 metres the gradient just stayed somewhere between 14 and 25%. The left of the road was full of walkers, a car came the other way. I had nowhere to go but into them. I dismounted (determined to not walk on the ride), waited for the car to pass, then tried to get back on.

At the fourth attempt I managed to remount on the hill and pedal – with one foot only. I didn’t clip in first time and there wasn’t enough of a break in gradient to have time to take my left foot off and re-clip in. Another car came by with the same results. Both in forcing me off the bike and leading to huge problems re-mounting.

I gave up after the third time this happened, and walked until the gradient was a more manageably 10% or so and I could actually remount my bike. Would I have made it if the road was clear? Hard to say.

We pulled back into London 60 miles or so in, with a final break stop in Crystal Palace before 20 miles through London traffic to the end. By this point Pez was done with the whole thing. His cleat had broken on his right foot, meaning he was pedalling one legged and he was still feeling awful. He went off alone (for the second time) with a mumbled “catch me up”.

And then, after a brief tour of Peckam, Dalston, Stoke Newington and Tottenham and many, many hours in the saddle I recognised where we were.

The day before we had a long, flat, straight drag (1.6km), followed by a right turn then 300m slightly uphill to the finish. I pulled out of the group I was in and hit “time trial” mode.

Spinning up to 40kph I pushed, dropping the entire group I was riding with (who, to be fair, weren’t racing). Waiting to turn right, Paul caught up with me. So then there were two.

I’ve never had a sprint finish to a race, but as we pulled into the finish straight it was absolutely clear of traffic and other riders and I stepped on the gas. Spinning up to a maximum cadence of 137 I went through the gears, passing 40kph somewhere along the way but not looking down at any point to check. Snapping my head left and right to check where Paul was as he charged after me then, with 20m or so to go to the line and a bike length clear *. I sat up, opened my chest to display the sponsor’s logo and raised an arm in celebration (being very careful not to do this).

After two days, 190 miles, 3,800m of climbing, 6,000 calories burnt and 14 hours in the saddle I crossed the line victorious and smiled for the camera.

 Me and Paul re-united with our bags at the end

*Paul said we weren’t racing, this picture seems to suggest otherwise

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