I’d not bargained on riding this year. But a last minute place became available, and I thought what the heck. I first rode the Pru 100 2 years ago, which was the year of the tropical storm. The weather was so bad that the route was shortened in order to take out the hills. Despite having the worst conditions that year I managed my fastest ride at that time (36kmh average). So 2 years on, and hopefully with better weather, I was keen to see how fast I could go.
Unfortunately I came down ill a few days before the event. Just as I started to get a bit better I went for a ride to check the legs and got badly bitten by an insect on my ankle. The bite swelled up and got very painful. I questioned if I should still start…
Preparing for the race I’d not had a chance to do any specific training. Recently most of my riding had been random short 1 to 1.5 hour rides. Only real reason being because that’s all I can fit in around family life, and that’s all I’ve needed to do for crit racing and time trials. I had managed one 100+ mile ride a few weeks before, and averaged a half decent speed, but I did suffer after 3 hours of riding. I’d also suffered badly with cramp in my last crit race, but I put that down to the heat that day. What with being ill too, I knew I wasn’t 100% physically ready, but I tried to make up for this by being as prepared as I could be otherwise. Basically I just gave the elevation chart a once over. I decided that the only real challenge was Leith Hill, which I’d only ridden up from the opposite direction before. Before this point there were no big hills to worry about. There were a few little ones, but they shouldn’t cause me too many issues. Box Hill would be soon after Leith Hill. I’ve ridden Box Hill lots, and knew that if I was feeling strong by this point I could have a bit of a sprint up, but if not I would have no issue crawling up it if necessary. Then back to London its mostly downhill, with one little kick up in Wimbledon. Simple, what could go wrong?
The day before the ride my nose was still streaming and I was hobbling about! The night before the ride I barely slept, my ankle was throbbing and itching. I got up and strapped a bandage soaked in TCP to it, which numbed the pain and let me sleep, even if it was just for an hour.
I woke up at 4am, and although I felt generally terrible, my nose was half clear and my ankle was numb – game on!
In the car by 4:30, triple strength coffee at hand. Parked up at Charlton, rode to the start. Got there with 15 minutes to spare. Didn’t bother with a kit bag, so just had to make my way through the sea of cyclists to get to my start pen. Start was delayed by a few minutes. Mark Webber was being interviewed over the PA and the ride was started to *the good bit* in The Chain by Fleetwood Mac. I was in the second wave to go (to the tune of London Calling) and about halfway back in the pen. So many people to get past, a real mixture of abilities, and probably a real mixture of people in various states of sleep deprivation, myself on one end of that particular spectrum. Eventually I got in a fast group – another fast guy and I were taking turns, motoring past everyone, when a group from Cadence Cycles jumped on our wheels then took over duties at the front for a bit. As our peloton was forming we went through the first tunnel where there had just been a crash, which woke me up. Everyone stopped then had to put in an acceleration up the slope out of the tunnel. At this point, although I was feeling OK, I could tell that today was going to hurt, it was full on! On the way out of London we were averaging over 40 kmh and I wondered if I’d be able to keep that pace up for the whole ride…
On the way through suburbia we caught some of the wave who’d left before us and a large peloton formed. We were going at near threshold for most of the time. In places the road narrowed and the group got squeezed. It was at these moments the mixed ability of the group became very obvious, with some pretty dodgy riding going on. But on the most part everyone stayed upright. There was one crash just in front of me going round a right hand bend, everyone around me had to stop, and the peloton split. I got on the front, chased down the gap and the group came together again. Once I’d recovered I decided that it would be best to be nearer the front, so I moved up the outside of the peloton and took the front (again) for a couple of minutes – I hope there is a photo of this somewhere. Just after we got outside of the M25 the peloton split again and having dropped back to take on some food I was caught out. Again I took to the front and shared the chase with one other rider. As soon as we caught the peloton it slowed, the hills were very close and I guess the guys at the front were recovering, maybe to prepare for an attack?
When we reached the smaller hill before Leith Hill I looked at my average speed and it was over 42kmh. I knew the hills would bring it down, but by how much? Am I on for a 40kmh average, i.e. a sub 4 hour time???
We started our first ascent. At the bottom I was feeling good. I put it in the right gear, spun up my legs and started going past everyone around me with relative ease. A lot of guys seemed to choose far too hard a gear and had got themselves in trouble. Everywhere was the crunching and clattering sound of gears being changed under load. When I got to the top of the incline I changed to a harder gear in order to put some power down and experienced the dreaded twinges of early cramp. Oh no, only half way and still with Leith Hill and Box Hill to go. I drank some electrolyte infused water, ate some banana and hoped that this would help keep the cramp at bay. The only liquid I had was two Camelback biddons which I was trying to ration. I was almost certainly not drinking enough. I pushed as much as I could in order to stay on the wheel of the rider in front of me, I had just enough. We got to Leith Hill and I dug in. Someone next to me, gasping for breath, asked “is this Leith Hill?” and the reply was “yeah, it starts up there”- cruel! I started seated in an easy gear, halfway up I flicked up to a harder gear and stood up trying to avoid using the muscles that were on the verge of spasm. I made it up, but I had been dropped by the fastest guys. But only just. Two other riders and I started the descent together with the faster group still in sight. When the road flattened out I tried to put some power down, but I was still blowing/cramping hard. Luckily the three of us stuck together and kept the pace respectable, but not fast enough to catch the guys out in front. We started picking up riders who had been shelled out the back of the faster groups up the road and formed our own gruppetto. I was glad not to have to brave the return leg on my own, however not many of our new friends seemed willing, or able, to take turns on the front. When they did it was only for a few seconds before their pace dropped. There were only 2 of us putting any real efforts in. Heading up to Box Hill I did the majority of the time on the front, only pulling off when the cramp made me. When we started the ascent I turned around and told the other rider from the group who’d been doing turns on the front to stick together. At this point two other riders passed us. My new ally and I put in a bit more effort and kept up with them. Knowing Box Hill well certainly helped. I was still cramping and unable to put down any real power (Strava reckons 260w), but I knew I could dig into my reserves and then recover a little bit at the top. The 4 of us crested together and started a new gruppetto picking up stragglers ahead. On the descent the pace dropped a bit too much so I took to the front and pushed on as much as I could. What I didn’t bargain for was at the bottom of the fast descent the route turned left up another short but steep incline. That hurt. I normally turn right there and head on towards Coulsdon – I should’ve checked the route a bit more thoroughly. There was one chap in Wiggle gear on a Wiggle Eastway bike (an employee maybe, maybe a team rider?) who was much stronger than everyone else. I managed to stay with him, but we were dropping riders every time the road pitched up. I was still managing to take turns on the front, but now it was just Mr Wiggle and me who were able to do so, and actually it was mostly Mr Wiggle as my cramp was becoming worse and worse. I rode up alongside Mr Wiggle and apologised that I couldn’t do more on the front. He was OK with this, and said at least I was taking turns, and wouldn’t it be good if everybody could do just 10 seconds. We did manage to coerce the group to do a bit of through and off, but it didn’t last and again it was down to Mr Wiggle and I. Heading into Wimbledon, based on a two year old memory of the route, I figured that it wasn’t far to go now so I took a big turn on the front. Then we hit the left hander into the last real gradient – up Parkside. Mr Wiggle went past me, but I managed to accelerate a bit and stuck with him all the way up. Although I was hurting pretty badly by now I knew that if I let him go up the road it’d all be over for me as nobody else wanted to take the front, so I burnt my last match keeping up with him. The crowds cheering us gave me a big boost, as did the fact that nobody else was going past us. Mr Wiggle and I crested together with the rest of the gruppetto in bits still only halfway up the climb. We had a quick word to each other, “looks like its just you and me now?”, “yup, 2-up all the way yeah?”, “I’ll try”. I looked at the computer, best part of 10 miles still to go… eek! My memory of 2 years ago was that at the start of the last run into London I was feeling strong and able to solo TT it all the way pushing very hard and feeling good. This year though I was already utterly spent, on the verge of going bang, out of water and cramping in pretty much every muscle in both my legs. I stuck to Mr Wiggles wheel for dear life, and when I could I put in a very quick turn which was more of a token gesture than anything. Coming into London we picked up a couple more stragglers, both apologised that they were unable to help on the front. One got dropped very quickly. With just 2km to go I finally went pop too. Mr Wiggle was off on his own. One of the stragglers we’d picked up towed me for a bit but disappeared when a large peloton came steaming by us at pace with 1km to go. I tried to accelerate to grab a tow, but couldn’t even muster that. Turning into the Mall and another peloton in full flight caught me. I stuck to the side to try and let them pass me safely whilst trying to put some power down. I now know what it must feel like for a breakaway group to be caught by a peloton at full gas with the finish in sight – a mixture of terror and disappointment. I crossed the line glad to have finished, hurting all over and in serious need of water. Not knowing what was going on I reset my computer before I checked my time and average speed. I got my medal and goody bag and found a kerb to sit down on. In the bag was a small bottle of water. I needed more, but I couldn’t see anywhere to get some. I’m sure that there must’ve been somewhere, but my brain was misfiring and I just needed to get home. So I drank and ate everything edible in the bag stood up in a daze and started the 10 mile ride back to the car. After 100 miles of clear roads riding in London traffic, albeit “light” Sunday traffic, was truly horrible. Found the car ate and drank the food and water I’d stowed there, got home, ate, drank water, drank tea, drank beer, bathed with a beer in hand, ate takeaway, drank beer, fell asleep.
I averaged 38.8kmh and took 4 hours and 7 minutes and came 164th. I’d found out that one of my club mates had come 6th, 10 minutes faster than me and under 4 hours, so props to him.