By this point, 4 months into it, cycling fever had hit not only me but a few of my colleagues as well, most of whom had been riding a few years already. For that reason we decided to get together and tackle our first ‘sportive’... well, charity ride, as the choice of sportives in the UK was rather poor back then.
We picked the rather tame London to Windsor Ride, starting in Richmond-upon-Thames. The course was to be around 65km, meandering through the Surrey countryside and finishing in Windsor.
We met at my place in New Malden the night before and quite obviously a few bottles of wine made the rounds. We also had a good serving of pasta as we would ‘carb up’ for next day’s feat! After going to bed rather late, of course, in the morning we prepared and faffed about with the usual rituals of finding shoes, energy bars and gels, spare tubes, etc etc.
We clearly were an assorted gang, a pick and mix of abilities, experience and attire: Mike, Sam and Phil had proper alloy bikes, Simon was on a huge yellow hybrid/mountain bike contraption and my choice of bike was a 1980s steel Bianchi, a gift from my uncle when he ‘retired’ from cycling due to his back catching up to old age. The bike was beautifully crafted but the gear levers set on the downtube turned me into a very angry cyclist, especially as they had to be set by feel, rather than the modern gears that nicely click into place, and that didn't usually go well. Another frustration was in the form of the strapped pedals. These original items would have made connoisseurs salivate but made me wince in pain as the toes slowly dug into the metal cage at the front of the pedal; and the leather shoes that came with it were clearly not thick enough to protect the toes from the force applied against the metal cage.
We set off fairly early, riding through Richmond Park towards the start at Richmond Green (yes, everything around there gets the Richmond prefix). While riding through the park between Kingston Gate and Richmond Gate (here we go again!), one could have guessed how the dynamics of the ride would pan out. Two at the back enjoying the surroundings, two at the front hammering it and me bang in the middle struggling to decide which group to follow.
After queueing for a very long time while gathered in, you guessed it, 'Richmond' Green, we finally set off in a frenzy of excitement and expectations. Neither of us had ridden in the company of thousands of other people before and the sound of wheels and cleats clicking into place was rather attractive.
At the end of Richmond (again!) Bridge we turned left towards the river and immediately right onto the towpath. Well, excitement got the better of me and had to make a sliding stop to avoid starting my very own triathlon. The following route along the towpath was in scenic terms stunning but unfortunately rather crowded. With a few detours it carried on along the river all the way past Kingston and on to Hampton Court.
From there, it was back on tarmac and traffic. We stayed all together until the first feed stop. Subsequently, a couple of ramps split us apart, mainly thanks to the various hill ‘walkers’ covering the road from side to side. This was expected as it was more a family ride than a more serious granfondo.
Half way through I started to falter a bit and getting more and more irate towards my bike.
But I wasn’t the only one getting irate as the ethos of the ride came under discussion. Simon and Phil wanted to ride together at a more social pace, Mike and Sam wanted to race ahead and, well, I wasn't too bothered as I had plenty to fight with already: my demons and my steel companion.
After leaving the forested areas behind and hitting the wider roads, the final split happened. Like in Richmond Park, Mike and Sam surged ahead and disappeared into the distance with me right behind huffing, puffing and swearing, thus losing contact with Phil and Simon. Then the pace got faster and I lost contact with the two ahead.
Entering Windsor and crossing the finish line felt amazing. It was set in Alexandra Park, just below the Castle. There were people applauding, encouraging and generally being nice to the likes of us who had struggled in their first attempt to a good time. I was told Sam pipped Mike to the line as the latter made the 'mistake' of stopping to speak to his wife at the side of the course, who had come to cheer him.
After we had all arrived and relaxed on the lawn under the warming sun, we grabbed whatever the food stalls offered us, then we proceeded to find a pub for a drink or two. We found the Royal Oak, opposite Windsor & Eton Riverside train station. After having a bit of a discussion about the different views on how we should have ridden and having agreed to disagree over a couple of pints of fresh beer, the gang headed to the station to try and catch the end of the last stage of the Tour of Britain along Pall Mall in Central London, in front of Buckingham Palace. I decided to give the train a miss and ride back home through a shorter, more direct route. I had not refilled my one bottle and the temperature had risen to 31 degrees. Also I discovered alcohol/heat/exertion don't mix.
It was in this fashion that I learnt the art of pedalling squares. That was exactly what I ended up doing after Runnymede, without directing even the most negligible of glances towards the island, site of the signing of the Magna Carta… I had my own battle to fight and I was losing it fast.
Half way through, another rider caught up with me pretty fast and asked me for directions back to Richmond and if he could follow me back. I couldn't say no but I felt compelled to hammer it as I felt the pressure of chaperoning a stronger cyclist. I proceeded to commit crimes of pride and buried myself even deeper than I had already done. Luckily, we parted ways when we reached Chertsey.
With the bottle now dry, I had to stop and sit for a few minutes, energy gone. It was a Sunday so not many shops were open and I didn’t seem to find any outlets selling drinks. Eventually, I hobbled and wobbled to a petrol station in Walton-on-Thames. I dropped my bike on the forecourt and proceeded to buy three bottles of a blue energy drink, which would not have looked out of place in an episode of the Smurfs; it hit the spot delightfully and allowed me to stagger home.
The additional 40km of riding might have gained me extra kudos, but I also understood a change of bike was in order. Old fashioned gearing was old fashioned for a good reason.
ride length: 104km
ride time: 3h57m
average speed: 27.2km/h
total elevation gain: 440 metres
highest point: 90 metres