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Wednesday, 27 June 2012

AN OLYMPIC EFFORT

When the Olympic cycling road race and TT race routes were announced I was extremely excited. I live bang in the middle of both. One of the most important races in cycling was going to be ridden near my house. Television screens would be filled with images of roads I'm familiar with, the pros will be riding my commute to work AND some of my cycling club runs' routes (Kingston Wheelers).

I wanted to try out the route, to see how they had worked out the course. It starts near Buckingham Palace, on Pall Mall, heads SW in Surrey for a wide anticlockwise semicircle to Dorking, then up Box Hill, 9 times, then back in a more direct route through Kingston and on to the finish on Pall Mall.
I knew the roads so just doing the course was not going to feel right, I needed a challenge. So I decided to ride the whole length of it, including goign up Box Hill 9 times. I needed to know how it felt to ride 250km, even though I clearly wouldn't be going at racing speed. Box Hill is not a tough climb, it is short and not more than 5% in gradient. But doing the loop which is about 16km (10miles) long and repeat that climb 9 times was clearly going to hurt, physically and mentally.
The previous longest ride I'd ever done was a couple of weeks previously, the 211km Dragon Ride in Wales and that felt epic. I was worried about the length of the Olympic route but was hoping the lack of serious climbing would balance the effort.

Since I don't have the privilege of a closed roads' circuit I decided to do the London leg first, get it out of the way early enough to miss the rush hour, especially didn't want to get in traffic while tired after 240km or thereabout. So I moved the start/finish points, to Richmond Gate, while keeping the same course and length.

The alarm went off at 6am, quick breakfast, drank an energy drink, got ready and to my dismay I realised I'd forgotten to buy chamois cream! Now, of all the blooming rides I've done in my life, that was not the right one to do without chamois cream. It was going to hurt, maybe I could stop on the way when I found a shop and buy a pot. Oh well, no matter, I set off in the direction of Richmond Gate just 1.5km down the road (with a lovely 12% little climb to it). I arrived on the starting spot, the weather was excellent, sunny, warmish. It was 7:20 am and I was about to embark in my longest ride, what was not to like?
I set off downhill through the park where I spotted some deers on the side of the road, wondering if the pros will have time to even notice them. Through Putney, Fulham Road, Harrods, V&A Museum, Constitution Hill and Buckingham Palace. Disappointingly I couldn't turn into Pall Mall as it was closed for repairs so turned around and followed the same route back to Richmond Gate. It is usually my commute to work and it was great not to have a heavy backpack and being able to really get some speed, traffic lights permitting.
Back on the starting spot I turned left out of the gate and headed downhill and then sharp turn right into Richmond. That turn is quite nasty as it is from a steep downhill and slightly banked towards the Thames.
Past Richmond Bridge, Teddington, towards Bushy Park (a little detour on the pavement for roadworks on Park Road), Hampton Court, where I could notice the preparations tor the Olympic TT finish line. Then across the bridge and right towards Walton-on-Thames, Weybridge then south to Brooklands. This part of the course is rather nice, starting to feel more open country. At Byfleet I turned West towards, well, West Byfleet, then south towards Ripley. Here I was getting closer to the first climb of the day, Staple Lane which it gets up to double digits in gradient but it is short enough not to make any damage. So after reaching West Horsley, turning right and heading for East Clandon, I turned left onto the climb. At the top is a very fast descent towards the A25. I was a bit mindful of the distance ahead and not really gunning fo it when I was past by a Kingston Wheeler who clearly was in better shape than me and gooing for it. At the bottom I turned left for the A25 stretch which would bring me to Dorking, at the base of Box Hill. The A25 was light on traffic and undulating with some fast stretches which kept my average speed up. When I reached the beginnign of the climb, the Zig Zag road, I was greeted by roadworks and signs saying Road Closed! my heart sank, all this effort for nothing...then I was waived through as they only closed it to cars, phew! Lots of lorries and workers about to resurface the Mickelham road and the bottom of the Zig Zag. Up I went and without stopping at the top I carried on round the 1st loop. It's not all downhill from there as there is a dip on the northside of the loop close to the A24 which can be taken at speed but after the legs start tiring, it can be a bit annoying to say the least. After the 3rd loop I stopped to refill my bottles and have a piece of cake, the off again. I stopped again at after the 6th climb of Box Hill. By then I was struggling not to turn off home. The legs were tired, my mind was numb by all these repetitions. I was struggling to keep motivated. That is going to be a factor for those domestiques who have no chance of glory (I kept telling myself). Anyway I carried on, no point stopping now. The workers at the bottom of the climb started looking at me as if I was a bit bonkers, or maybe they thought I was checking up on them in disguise.
I never took the climb at any speed, I kept the pedals turning on a low gear, but at a steady pace. Then, for the last time, at the roundabout at the bottom of the A24, I finally turned right towards Leatherhead, then on through Oxshott, Esher, right past Sandown Racecourse, then left towards Hampton Court.
At this point I was really tired but knowing I only had a few flat kms to ride I was really going for it and loving it. Got to Kingston Bridge, onto the one way system. Queen's Rd towards Kingston Gate in Richmond Park was closed for resurfacing so I took the parallel Park Rd, then up King's Rd and into the Park. I was so so happy I could've screamed. The little rise after Ham Gate felt harder than any other climb even though is only 3%! but I got there, proud and happy, elated and hungry. Turned left, downhill and back home.

Now, quite how the pros race these distances is beyond comprehension.
It is not a hard course per se, but at speed it will be extremely hard. The repetitions of the the loop are mind boggling, also the roads are quite narrow so tactics will play a major part more than pure strebgth.
The last 40km to the finish line from Box Hill are extremely fast so if there is a small group they will battle it out until the finish line which is probably one of the fastest finish around, with Constitution Hill taken downhill and flat stretch in the Mall.
I'm glad I've done the course, I will enjoy watching the pros even more now.

STATS: 
250.21km (156m)
9h01m +30m stopping time, 
average riding speed 27.7km/h (17.2mph), 
average ride speed 26.3km/h (16.3mph), 
2,100 meters (6900ft) climbing, 
10,100 calories

4 comments:

  1. enjoyed reading it, thanks for that - and your average speed suggests you weren't taking it too easy either!

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    1. Just wanted to get it over and done with ;-)

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  2. Great ride, well done. That is an impressive average speed with that total climb!

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    1. It was a high average (for me) getting there. Then it plummeted during the 9 laps but picked up again out of Box Hill on the way to the finish, which is a fast stretch

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