Ride 100 miles for The Winch

Local cycling enthusiast Eugene has had a great idea that will get you fit and raise money for The Winch. Let me hand over so he can tell you all about it.

The weekend before last, I took part in the Ride London sportive – a 100 mile ride on most of the Olympic road race course. Now, if you’re quick, you can enter the ballot for next year’s event. We’re trying to get a Team Whamp together to raise money for local youth charity, The Winch.

[Ed: after helping put together not one but two league-winning football teams, I think a cycling team is the obvious next step for my career in sports management].

What with the who now?
At the beginning of the year, Boris Johnson and Cycling Commissioner Andrew Gilligan announced Ride London – a two-day festival of cycling in the capital. This consisted of

  • A festival in Green Park, a freecycle for 50,000 people followed by a cycling grand prix featuring Britain’s Olympic women’s cyclists on Saturday 3rd August
  • A 100-mile sportive on closed roads open to both individual and charity teams on the Sunday that included some of the tough Surrey hills from the Olympics
  • A 140 mile cycle race for professional cyclists on the same course as the sportive but with three loops of Leith Hill

I was lucky to get a place on the sportive as late as May by riding for Help the Hospices, a charity that works to help local hospices raise money to fund their operations.

Eugene leans into the corner

I was far from a professional cyclist. I had cycled to school and university but then came a time I drove far more than I cycled. Once I moved to West Hampstead I realised London is a smaller city than I thought and I started commuting on a 13-mile round trip to work thinking that would be quicker than the tube during the Olympics. That was my Olympic legacy; a short experiment becoming a first choice commute. I did not renew my annual travel card.

I signed up. Then I got a place in the ballot. “What have I done?” I thought. After all, 100 miles is a big psychological barrier and my longest round trip had been 25 miles. I also had to do it in 9 hours, including stops and using a heavy mountain bike. I trained and put slick tyres on.

I changed my commute to take in more Hampstead hills (Swains Lane, Highgate West Hill) and did long rides on Saturdays. Sometimes I’d use parts of the route. You do need to put in some training if you want to make the recovery easier. Unfortunately, that also meant cutting back on certain foods and alcohol, before giving them up entirely in the month before. No-one said this kind of glory comes easy.

The peloton
If you win a place in the ballot, you are told in February, which gives you enough time to train. A month before you get confirmation of your time. There were 15,000 cyclists in this year’s event, so we started in waves from 6am to 8am.

I confess I panicked when I read that slower cyclists would be diverted onto shorter courses or taken off the course if we did not reach certain points at certain times. This was so they wouldn’t interfere with the professionals. There were Tour de France stage winners in this race – including Peter Sagan, the winner for the past two years of the green jersey for most consistent finisher.

My start time was 7.40am, and I had to get to the Olympic Park an hour earlier. I’m sure Chris Froome doesn’t have to endure this. The course goes down the A12 before turning onto the Limehouse Link. Cue cyclists of all shapes, sizes and ability, shouting “WOOHOO!” echoing off the tunnel.

We passed Tower Bridge, Embankment, Northumberland Avenue, Trafalgar Square and St. James. Once past Piccadilly, it was smooth riding to Chiswick Bridge. Although we were able to use both sides of the road, we tended to keep to the left out of habit. After Richmond Park, we went through to Hampton Court. This was the first hub where you could get your bike looked at and refuel. There were three such hubs and multiple drinks stations with food.

The first major hill was Newlands Corner – I was keeing up a reasonable pace and worrying less about being pulled off the race by the “broom wagon”, which sweeps up the stragglers. The Surrey locals were out in force cheering us on; Union Jacks were everywhere and people had tables offering cyclists drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic).

I reached Leith Hill – the one we feared. Yes, the hill is steep, you have to grind out a low gear and climb patiently. There was no shame in getting off and pushing (though I didn’t). The descent was scary through the trees but there were so many bikes that people took care.

Finally, we got to Box Hill, which still had some of the inspirational graffiti from last year’s Olympic road race. It’s a smooth road with lots of bends and not as tough as Leith Hill. From the summit, there was a series of rolling hills before Leatherhead and the final hub. It was downhill all the way to Wimbledon, by which time I admit I was in pain. I guess that’s what happens afer 90 miles. By the time we crossed Putney Bridge, the top of the the Houses of Parliament was the most welcome site all day. I turned through Admiralty Arch and, yes, I sprinted down The Mall and met some friends in the pub for a drink.

How do you help?
The grand plan is to make this the annual cycling equivalent of the marathon. The ballot for 2014 has opened and already a few whampers have put our names down. The ballot closes when there are 80,000 entries and there are 20,000 places.

If you think it sounds like a long way, well, even Boris did it – if he can, you can!

Enter the ballot for Ride London 2014 here.

London has improved as a city to ride in but, according to the Times, there were 122 cyclists killed on London Roads in 2012. Ride London could popularise cycling in ther capital and make it seem normal – and we can raise money for charity. Only force of numbers will mean better cycling infrastructure and more consideration given to cyclists by town planners and other road users alike, hopefully reducing fatalities.

Eugene raised just over £2,000 for Help the Hospices, and his Just Giving page is still taking donations.