15 January 2012

Cycling the Olympic road race route

We have enjoyed a very pleasant winter in London so far, with mild temperatures, sun, and very little rain. But the forecasts for Saturday predicted below 0 degrees, although sun throughout the day.

I had signed up to join a group that was cycling the route of the Olympic road race to be held in London as a part of the Olympic games this coming summer 2012. With the only difference that we would not be circling around Box Hill for nine consecutive times! It was going to be a ~130 km (80 miles) loop from Hyde Park Corner, in central London, out to the Surrey area and back. You can see it below.

I prepared for a cold day out on the bike. Thick winter bib tights, thermal shirt, short-sleeved jersey, windstopper top, 2x Buffs, neoprene overshoes, and...long winter gloves. Set the bike up for night riding assuming that we were likely to be returning after sunset. Filled the water bottles and got the saddle bag ready. Surpringly enough, I kind of forgot the prepping routine; it's been more than two months since we did our last proper long ride!

Alarm set off at 7 am. Well, Lucy poked me to tell that the alarm was off at 7 am. Porridge was cooked and I was off to Hyde Park corner by 8:05 am. Cars had a thick layer of frost near home, and I have not seen that for a while. I was very worried about encountering black ice, but we were lucky we did not hit any. It was the coldest day of the winter so far, no doubt.

Regents Park also had some frost, and we would find the same throughout the route. Shortly after 8:30 am we departed from Hyde Park Corner and headed for Putney and Richmond. The traffic lights slowed us down considerably, and took us almost 2h to get out into the countryside. However, the views were well worth the early wake up and cold temperatures. Fingers were not so happy though. Cold turned into a lot of pain, and the fingers got swollen. I could barely break or change gears and at some point the idea of bailing out did not seem that bad...but I applied rule number 5 - "harden the f*** up, Alberto" (see this hilarious website for further details). I definitely need better gloves and/or liners. Most of the other riders wore skiing gloves. Apart from that, I was feeling ok and quite toasty!

Richmond Park at 9am is covered by frost
At some point on our way to Woking, the group decided to stop at a cafe for a quick rest. I was so glad I could feel my fingers again. Thermometers showed -1 degrees C and my water bottles confirmed it with ice floating.

Unwanted ice cubes in January!
From then on, it was actually ok. We went down the A25, with a little climb towards Newlands Corner (where we started our first 200 km Audax, and where we will be in again in a couple weeks time for another 100 km pootle), down to Shere and soon arrived in Golsham. There's a nice pub there, with plenty of space to leave the bikes and the food was really nice (and that's not so often that I say that about pub food!). It's always comforting to chat about bikes and rides, and especially to realize that I am not the only one obsessed about it. One of the riders was not too shy to admit that we has more than 10 working bikes sitting in his kitchen!

The sun in the UK winter does not go much higher than this
From here, it was a short ride until we hit Box Hill. Although it is a very gentle and easy climb, I struggled a bit. It's amazing how quickly you lose fitness. Two months without a proper ride and it feels like starting from scratch again. My quads were killing me, and I was on the lowest cog pretty much all the way. Really need to do a lot of training for our Pyrinean crossing in May!

After we took in some nice vistas from the top of Box Hill, it was an easy downhill along quiet lanes of the Surrey Hills. Soon we were crossing the M25, which meant we were back in London. Traffic picked up as we approached Kingston. Richmond Park followed, and it was a pleasure to cycle with little traffic given that the Park closes its gates to cars by sunset. However, a gigantic traffic jam formed to exit it as they only left one of the gates open. I was so glad to be on a bike. After all, I would not like to be stuck in a park at 5 pm, on a Saturday, but apparently some folk do.

Passing Putney and then Chelsea was not too bad, despite the noisy Aston Martins/Ferraris/Mercedes that are so common there. Love looking at the "smart" (i.e. posh) people in their fancy vehicles and annoyed faces, while we were all so happy after having nearly completed the ride on the coldest day of the 2011/12 winter!

Back to Wellington Arch, it felt as if we were about to start a Friday Night Ride to the Coast: blinking lights, riders, and darkness. The first of those rides is in March and we cannot wait!

Back at Wellington Arch, Hyde Park Corner
Overall it was a pleasant ride, but not particularly recommend the route as the roads are busy and slow out of London. The bit in Surrey is quite nice though, but the roads need resurfacing before the summer event, which I believe they're doing after winter.

The stats were: 140 km (door to door), 22.2 km/h average (due to traffic lights in London), 6h 20 min riding time and 62 km/h maximum speed. I reckon the professional machacas doing the race in the summer will complete it in under 4 hours...

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