With my bike taking a well deserved rest in the garage and my array of sweaty cycling kit all washed and sweet-smelling, I thought I would capture some thoughts about yesterday's British Heart Foundation London to Brighton cycle ride.
This is the first time I have ridden the event and also the first large scale organised cycling event I have taken part in (most of my frame of reference is with running races) so I don't have a great deal to compare it with.
Overall, I am pleased I did it. As well as the fact that it is a superb fund raiser for the BHF, it was (mostly) enjoyable and the good bits were very good.
As a cycling event it does have some fundamental flaws. The first 13 miles or so out of London were ridiculously slow as we crawled along congested roads filled with cyclists and traffic and huge bottlenecks built up at each junction. I have actually run half marathons in less time than it took us to ride this stretch!
In my view (and this was echoed by a lot of others I spoke to whilst waiting in line) the event is too big to be run like this without the roads being closed. Nobody who has read the reviews online would expect to be out for a personal best time on the event, and it is billed as a "ride" rather than a race or sportive, but this does at least mean you should expect to be able to ride most of the way.
The first 1/3 of the route was more like a sponsored walk with continual dismounting and stops which made it impossible to get any rhythm going. The marshals were mainly doing a good job, but the roads are just too busy when this many cyclists are combined with traffic.
It was also frustrating so see people walking in the middle of the road on some of the narrow hills pushing their bikes so that those of us who wanted to ride up had to stop. Some of the marshals really need to be re-deployed on these sections to keep walkers over to one side.
I do have to say that the drivers all seemed to be extremely patient with the whole thing and I didn't really see any of the frustrations being taken out on cyclists or marshals.
As a side note: if you have cycling cleats which don't work well after exposure to grass / mud then it's worth noting that the start area and most of the food stops are in fields... so worth taking some covers or something for the walking around bits. I wished I had put my MTB cleats and pedals on rather than my Speedplays which are bit sensitive to dirt.
However, the really painful part was the end of the race coming back into Brighton. After a lovely run down the road from the summit of Ditchling Beacon where was an almighty queue to cross the main road and continue on down (a 30 minute wait for us) followed by a stop/start crawl through Brighton for the last couple of miles with big delays at every set of traffic lights right up to the finishing straight at Madeira Drive.
The congestion at the start seems more understandable (and you have pretty much forgotten it by this stage) but at the end of the race it is just miserable - you really want a clean run into the finish. Again, I think with this volume of riders they need a closed course route back into town.
There were also some highlights though. The other riders were entertaining and friendly and (generally) fairly sensitive to the fact that we were riding in a huge group.
The stretch through the Sussex villages was lovely with some gentle climbs and long fast descents and gorgeous scenery (I wonder if it would be a better ride overall if it just started after the M25 and took in more of this terrain!).
Despite the horror stories I had read online, the route up Ditchling Beacon was rideable as the (majority) of people who were pushing their bikes did keep over to the left. This was a big issue for me as my main objective for the day (other than finishing the ride) was to ride up the infamous "Green Monster" without stopping - which I did!
It was actually a lot easier than my first attempt (when I had to stop for a couple of breathers) as I think I am a bit fitter. It also helped a lot knowing the climb; I made sure I had an energy gel 20 minutes before and kept the pace down so that I kept my breathing and heart rate under control and just ground up at a steady speed. My tip for first-timers - the "Caution Horses" sign means you are approaching the last bend!
The very last stretch of the finish down Madeira Drive was awesome as well. Luckily this was fairly clear and left the way clear for a standing sprint down the finishing stretch in front of the crowds (although I suspect Mark Cavendish is hardly shaking in his boots).
I was also pleased that we followed our plan to stay hydrated and eat regularly and, as a result, still felt pretty good at the end.
I don't think I would do this event again; however, the London to Brighton route has some great cycling and I will certainly be revisiting parts of that. However, I wouldn't want to put people off as it is good fun - you just need to know that you are getting into something which is maybe more of a social event than a bike race.
It has left me wanting to do some slightly more serious events where the focus is on riding and I can aim for a specific target time.
One final point: we passed quite a number of fairly nasty looking accidents with riders being taken off in ambulances. I really hope that nobody was seriously hurt, but if you are going to do the L2B it definitely makes sense to ride defensively on the downhill stretches, pay attention to the "danger - slow" signs (we saw a crash right by one of these!) and wear your helmet.