A few weeks ago I took part in my first Sportive of the year with my Dad, the London Cycle Sportive. I’d only briefly scanned the route, and had suggested it to Dad that we do it together. Box Hill is part of the Ride100, however, last year the organisers closed part of the route as the weather was too treacherous.
This race taught me some very valuable lessons about preparing. In every sense of the word.
I live in north London, very close to Kentish Town Thameslink station. The route set off from Dulwich, and in my naivety I presumed it would be possible for us to both hop on the Thameslink and 40 minutes later we’d be able to jump off at Herne Hill and cycle away into the distance. Luckily, the Boyfriend suggested that I check the train times the night before – laughing at the very thought of the trains not running, I confidently checked City Mapper. 10 minutes later there was a brief panic, as the trains didn’t start until 8am (we needed to be in Dulwich for 8.15am) and we’d have to change twice. Oh dear. With a heavy heart, and an air of optimism, we decided to cycle the 12 miles to the start line.
Something I had failed to do when signing up for the London Cycle Sportive was check the elevation of the route. Turned out there was almost 2kms of climbing in the first 20 miles. When I got to the first feed station at mile 25 (already with an extra 12 miles in the legs) I thought I was dying. Never one to lose face, I didn’t admit how rough I was feeling to my Dad, and simply stuffed my face with roast potatoes, crisps, jelly babies, energy bars… and I felt so bad I thought I’d dip my toe for the first time into the world of energy gels. Next time I sign up for a race, I’ll read the route properly so I can train accordingly.
How best to sum up in one word? EURGH. I tried two energy gels on the route, one at the feed station at mile 25 and the other about 10 miles from Box Hill, and I hated both of them. I found them very awkward to use whilst on the bike, almost as if I was trying to swallow warm custard. I also didn’t feel any noticeable benefit. However, I wonder how I would have felt at the end if I hadn’t taken them. There’s also quite a practical concern over littering. I put the empty packet back into my cycling jersey like a good citizen, however, when I got home I realised the remaining gel had leaked all over my phone, leaving it sticky for days.
Route planning: follow the flock
Sportives are great. You just follow the red arrows, try and stick to a few fellow cyclists and jobs a goodun. The one downside of the London Cycle Sportive is that it’s an open road race. This wasn’t a problem until the route took us some ten miles around south London – which is hard on the legs as you’re constantly up and down out the saddle whilst you stop at traffic lights. I’ve always been a bit nervous at cycling long distances on my own or leading a group, so I really enjoyed the feeling of knowing where I was going, without the fear of getting lost or taking a wrong turning.
I’m planning on signing up next year to the London Cycle Sportive, as it was a great day with a fab route and incredibly well organised. You finish with a lap of Herne Hill velodrome, which is an incredibly novel experience. My Dad couldn’t stop laughing at me as I freaked out when I realised I was cycling very fast, very far up the bank. The race organisers were friendly and the finishing line was buzzing with a festival atmosphere, which was a fantastic high to finish on.
For me, next time I do a sportive I’ll pay more attention to the route I’m signing up for, and I think I’ll leave the energy gels to the pros.