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Sarah Barth takes on the Olympic legacy event - and comes out smiling

It's not every morning you set the alarm for a quarter to five to go and stand in an industrial wasteland with 20,000 people dressed in highly flammable materials, and it's even rarer that you do and it's actually fun.

It's oddly beautiful as the sun rises, and the chirpy stewards and baggage handlers make it all the more palatable, as well as the compere happily dissing the more colourful outfits as they pass over the start line at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford.

It's a mixed bag of riders queuing, with a prevalence of cheerful charity groups rather than your chiselled team kit types. Good start.

Lining up in start waves is remarkably efficient, given the sheer numbers in attendance, and there's plenty of nervous chatter - inevitable given this is the inaugural RideLondon-Surrey event, and no-one knows quite what to expect.

There's some sort of starting ceremony headed up by a suitably oddly-attired Boris Johnson and the first wave is off on a two-mile lead in, meeting the equivalent wave from the other side of the park on the A12. Charging down a deserted dual carriageway surrounded by the bleaker parts of east London at the crack of dawn has a surprising charm in itself, and anyone who felt the need for armwarmers or the like is pulling them off straight away.

It's a sharp left at the bottom onto the A13, just to be sure of catching the sunrise hitting the glass towers of the Wharf, and then a dip into the Limehouse Tunnel, usually forbidden to cyclists. It's airless and rather sweaty, and there's an audible sigh of relief as the group hits fresh daylight again.

Down the Embankment, along Pall Mall, Cromwell Road... the route just rolls and rolls past London's landmarks, and barely a lump in the road makes it a relaxing sightseeing tour. Suddenly it's round a corner and into Richmond Park, taking in a pleasing amount of scrubby greenery as far as the eye can see. A couple of longish shallow hills around the 15 mile mark get the legs ticking over for the first time, and widens the field out (though it's never for a moment even approaching crowded).

Out the other side at Hampton Court there's the first of 3 'hubs' serving water, various energy concoctions, bananas, crisps - again manned by faultlessly friendly and encouraging staff who're only too pleased to chat as they fill your bottles. The hubs are supplemented by more regular water stops, which would have been invaluable had the heatwave continued; luckily a more temperate breezy, sunny 24 degrees prevailed.

The route now diverts into full-on suburbia, taking in Molesey, Walton on Thames and Weybridge - but the friendly locals are out in force to shout encouragement - which is an improvement on the friendly drunks in central London.

Aesthetically, things perk up in the southern reaches of the loop, where pretty villages are making the most of the car-free weekend with fetes and family days. Less idyllic (unless that's your thing) - this is where the hills start in earnest. 

Daunting Leith Hill is first up - and there are a number of riders pushing before long. Other zip up with ease - there's a clear mix of ability here, and that's a good thing. There's a definite cameraderie with the odd push or shout of encouragement from one rider to another - giving just enough of a bosst to make it over the top to the world-famous Box Hill. Once that's out the way it's back to the fun part with a thrilling descent into Leatherhead - and the third hub, where everyone seems keen for a bit of a break.

It's worth noting that the big hills are entirely optional, with diversions that knock off one or both, taking the route to a more manageable 80 or 90-ish miles, depending on which are taken.

Most people cope fine with their own roadside punctures, but mechanics are available on course, and although there's a backlog of mechanicals causing some delays nearer the end, they're powering through all manner of breakdowns and most people seem happily back on the road in a few minutes.

There's more downhill than uphill in the final thirty miles, thankfully, and a pleasing tailwind sees decent speeds on the stretch back into the capital. Wimbledon's a short sharp climb and then a coast along the Common, then everything seems to move all too fast as the riders are back on Putney Bridge and onto the Embankment.

Parliament and Whitehall make for seriously inpiring sights if one looks up for long enough to notice, because it's time to sprint now to Trafalgar Square, where a bum-clenchingly tight left turn switches onto the red asphalt of the Mall, with thousands of spectators chanting and bashing the boards in time to the pumping of the music.

It's worth putting one's head up to enjoy the moment - and catch sight of Buckingham Palace dead ahead - but there's plenty of time for victorious photographs afterwards, wearing the unusually attractive medal with a little embossed route map on the back.

You're then efficiently funnelled through goodie bags areas, baggage reclaim, and eventually spat out into the 'festival' area, with a big screen to watch the pro race on (although they weren't working while we were there) and a welcome selection of healthy and unhealthy fast food (no prizes for guessing where the biggest queues were).

The option to stay to see how the pros do it (a lot faster, it turns out) a couple of hours later is an attractive one, and it's fun to find a TV and spot the countryside one has just huffed and puffed one's way though on a regime of minimal training and plenty of carbs.

Wandering around the course afterwards, both people who were here for the event, whether riders, friends or family, and locals and tourists who had just stumbled across it, seemed united in the view that it was a wonderful thing.

Perhaps not all, however - sharing a post-ride drink with a friend on Whitehall, we found ourselves next to a guy who as he watched riders on the closed roads go through the traffic signals on the last bend at the top of Whitehall observed sarcastically that it wasn't the first time he'd seen cyclists run a red light in London.

Maybe he was a taxi driver who had decided to take Sunday off rather than battle against the road closures?

Back to the event itself; it's the perfect ride for the laissez-faire, but there seems plenty to attract the more ambitious as well - it'll be interesting to see how the route changes based on feedback next year. But the £45 entry fee seems a price well paid for a sportive on this calibre of closed roads, with the kind of starry finish and sporting attitude it seems London has recently become incredibly good at.

Ballot registration for the 2014 RideLondon 100 opens on Monday 12th August - click here for more details.

Postscript:

While Sarah and most of the other riders were out on the course tackling the Surrey Hills, some of the keener riders were hitting The Mall and the finish; 20 or so riders contested a group sprint, 42-year-old Wladimiro D’Ascenzo from Italy taking the honour of being the first rider across the line by just half a wheel.

His time? A shade under four and a quarter hours, for an average speed approaching 25 miles an hour in old money, or 40 kilometres an hour.

But it was a rider who came across the line perhaps 20 minutes later who best typified the spirit of the event, inspired by the London Marathon whose owners helped stage it alongside Tour of Britain organisers, SweetSpot.

A little over half a kilometre from the finish, there was a tight left hand corner going from Whitehall into The Mall and under Admiralty Arch.

A rider had evidently come down there, and pushed his bike towards the finish, while clutching his shoulder in a tell-tale sign of a probable collarbone injury.

The race announcer noticed him when he was still 500 metres from the finish, and urged the crowd to give him applause and encouragement.

Approaching the line, and with a microphone picking up his words, the cyclist revealed his name was Joe.

"Is this on TV," he asked?

On being told it was, he said: "Mum? I'm fine."

 

 

After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.

44 comments

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jasecd [394 posts] 2 years ago
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The first sportive I've ever ridden and I came away smiling if a little tired. A great day and not much that I think could be improved upon.

This has really inspired me to sign up for more mass cycling events.

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koko56 [330 posts] 2 years ago
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That last shot look really special... safe to say it's one of very few sportif of this nature!

The speeds were pretty crazy for the fastest amateurs too - 39kph for the leading group!

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chrisb87 [70 posts] 2 years ago
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absolutely amazing day, recommend it for next year, great organisation and a really good route!

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Gkam84 [9086 posts] 2 years ago
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The only reason I didn't even think about trying to get a place this year was down to the hills and not knowing my fitness levels.

Be prepared to take on a recumbent trike next year if I can bag a place  4

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The Claw [8 posts] 2 years ago
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Everybody is waxing lyrical about the organisation, which I will happily say was superb except for one MASSIVE c0ck up at the very start of the event. Whilst the organisers were high fiving Boris Johnson on the start line, they had forgotten to ensure the safety of the very first group to start, and within 1km of crossing the timing mat we had been led (by the lead car and 2 lead motorbikes no less) off course and flying down the Blackwall tunnel at 50km/h into the face of traffic coming towards us in the other lane (which, thank god, had some makeshift cones separating the cars from us, but which had been pushed into our lane and were nearly hit at full pelt by several riders).

On exiting the Blackwall Tunnel on the south side we were just about to be directed head first INTO a dual carriageway of oncoming traffic, by which time even the Italians in the group were applying the brakes and wondering what this flagship event was meant to be like. So everybody (including a tandem of a Paraolympian that had been gunning it down the dual carriageway since the start with us) had to lift our bikes over the central reservation, go back northbound through the official southbound tunnel (imagine if that one had been open accidentally) and refind the race route.

There could very easily have been a fatality or serious accident, and all the good organisation and fun had by many would come to nothing. I cannot comprehend how the official lead vehicles for an event of 16,000 people does not know the course route after 1km. Leaving aside any arguments about whether it is a race or not (we are all told it isn't a race, yet the organiser has an official communique on its website proclaiming an Italian "victorious in a sprint finish down the Mall") this was an extremely dangerous incident - I have raced amateur here and abroad for many years and can't think of a more serious organisational error, even in events where there have been fatalities.

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sm [382 posts] 2 years ago
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Exceptional ride. Turning left onto the Mall is the amateur version of turning onto the Champs-Élysées (in my head at least). Fantastic!

Not a fan of sportives but this one on my home turf was too hard resist. Loved going through the Limehouse tunnel at 30 mph (thank you mini-peloton!) and the climbs were testing without being too challenging - a course for all.

Organisation was spot on from start to finish. And thank you to all who lined the route and made me smile, same too to the volunteers who got up at crazy o'clock to help make this a great day.

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mercer32 [35 posts] 2 years ago
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it was really great to be cheered from the roadsides by total strangers, especially in Dorking and the return approaches to London. Only saw 1 protester, on the A25, shouting "thats right go home, we want our road back" but he was alone so I'm not sure who the "we" was!

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awalker [29 posts] 2 years ago
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My only gripe was having to go to the ExCel to 'register' which took me nearly 5 hours and cost £15 when it could all have been sent in the post! But it still didn't ruin the whole event

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Saint Mikie 41 [56 posts] 2 years ago
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A great day all round and really pleased with my time. I rode for a charity and did 9 months of hard training and a number of sportives to make sure I was ready and it was such a buzz. Applying for next year for me, Leith Hill and I have unfinished business that we need to sort out! Salad cream in the goodie bag....bit random!!

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Global Nomad [7 posts] 2 years ago
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Agree with the comments re the great day. I started in the second wave and saw riders climbing back over the barriers as noted by The Claw above. Had no idea what had happened but the fact that this was because they had been lead the wrong way is very concerning.

I think Sarah Barth needs to consider how she describes things too - we were in the olympic park not an industrial wasteland. East London isn't so bleak and London is beautiful at 6am. Richmond Park shouldn't be described as "scrubby" either.

Had a fantastic time on closed roads with good organisation.

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andycoventry [110 posts] 2 years ago
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Does anyone know if a finishing order is published? Can only see the individual times on the ridelondon website....

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Goldfever4 [221 posts] 2 years ago
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Saint Mikie 41 wrote:

Salad cream in the goodie bag....bit random!!

That was a bit strange!

I thought it was awesome and worth the faff, the first 10 miles and last mile through Westminster were particularly epic.

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zekizeki [3 posts] 2 years ago
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What a fantastic event, the roadside spectators and supporters certainly made it special.

Riding through London on multi-lane carriageways with no traffic was a liberating experience.

I found it amusing that on the majority of the route despite the closed road 90% of riders stuck to the left handside of the left lane, habits are hard to break.

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theclaw [73 posts] 2 years ago
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zekizeki wrote:

Riding through London on multi-lane carriageways with no traffic was a liberating experience.

Lucky you weren't in my group  13

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othello [374 posts] 2 years ago
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Yesterday was my first century, having only done 70-80 mile rides before. What a great way to do it! The course was good, and the crowds were fantastic.

Apart from one small muck-up by the organisers on my start (I was in the team challenge and they put 3 of us in the black start and me in the blue start), everything else went pretty smoothly.

The first 25 miles were very fast as groups formed and it showed my lack of bunch riding. Luckily the guys in my 'team' helped me out with some tips.

Descending on closed roads was fantastic -- being able to apex the corner without worrying about traffic. Amazing experience.

We decided to be very relaxed about it, not worrying about a time, and made use of the hubs each time to grab some food, use the toilet and keep it social. We all had a great time and the finish in the Mall, with my kids on the hairpin corner watching, gave me goosebumps  1

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step-hent [722 posts] 2 years ago
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theclaw wrote:
zekizeki wrote:

Riding through London on multi-lane carriageways with no traffic was a liberating experience.

Lucky you weren't in my group  13

Heard about this from some of my clubmates (some of whom were in the same group). It sounded terrifying, and a pretty astonishing cock-up in the first few km.

Apart from that, though, the organisation was very good and the course was excellent - not too easy, but flat enough to be fast. And the crowds were awesome! I even found enough energy to lead my group round through admiralty arch and give it a showboating sprint along the barriers whilst being cheered by the crowd. We can all enjoy the fantasy, can't we?!

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Jonathan Knight [18 posts] 2 years ago
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I had an awesome day. I lost 25kg last year and this was my keep the weight off challenge, having never ridden that far before. After realizing at 80 miles I was on for sub 5:30 I was a man on a mission. According to the times online I did the last 9 miles in 19 minutes - I suspect the tail wind helped - and ended up with a time of 5:16 so well chuffed.

The crowds were amazing, especially the people who obviously came out quite early to cheer us through central London and give us plenty of encouragement up Leith Hill.

After training hard all year for this, I'm not too macho to admit there might have been a tear in the eye as I crossed the finish.

Of course, now I'm hooked so need to find some similar challenges to do.

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Dog72 [106 posts] 2 years ago
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Big Thank you to the people of Kingston who gave me a massive boost when I went through the high st, for the 2nd time. I was starting to cramp and their encouragement gave me the Kick I needed, it was moving.
The event was amazing, the closed road experience was something to behold and the Chopper count was minimal, apart from one bellend who keep weaving & cutting people up, then did a Houdini on anything more than a speed bump. I say him later with road scuffs to testify to his tooldom.

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velobetty [71 posts] 2 years ago
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Was a load of fun and I came in well under my target time with an overall of 5 hours, 21 minutes and 5 seconds. Can't wait until next year!  1

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Russkev [7 posts] 2 years ago
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Yes a thoroughly enjoyable event and itching to do it again to beat my 6h 59 min time. Only thing that spoilt it for me were the amount of energy gel wrappers left all over the road. This may cause the locals to block another event !

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Dog72 [106 posts] 2 years ago
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Russkev wrote:

Yes a thoroughly enjoyable event and itching to do it again to beat my 6h 59 min time. Only thing that spoilt it for me were the amount of energy gel wrappers left all over the road. This may cause the locals to block another event !

Fair comment. Its not hard to stow empty wrappers is it?

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richteebis [24 posts] 2 years ago
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salad cream?

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TeamCC [146 posts] 2 years ago
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The worst part of this article is the realisation that I sometimes dress like Boris Johnson.

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charlie_elise [17 posts] 2 years ago
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I went through one bit which looked like a High5 factory had exploded. Then I realised people were holding them out for people to take, and frequently they were being missed. They were being cleared up, albeit slowly.

However this wasn't the only litter: although most people pop their wrappers back in their pockets, and I know that sometimes, they blow away and it's hard to chase them down, but I'm still amazed at the amount of people who chuck them. I was astounded last weekend at the London Tri at the way a girl was throwing out wrappers as she made her way around the course (despite it being an offence risking disqualification). I overtook her but I never know what's right to do in that situation...

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Al__S [1033 posts] 2 years ago
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At least one of the slicks of Hi-5 gel wrappers I saw I reckon had been caused by a bin at a drinks station blowing over

That was huge fun. Even with the agonising pain of Leith Hill (the article fails to mention the not inconsiderable climb up to Newlands Corner). Rounding the corner into Admiralty Arch was massively inspiring, the noise at that point was a huge boost.

Applications open in a few days...

(sorry to hear about the chaos you had TheClaw, sounds like a terrible cock up that only affected your wave)

Things that could improve?
A reserve list would be good- there were supposed to be 20-25000 I thought, in the end it was under 17000 with under 16000 finishing
the bags for transfer from start to finish could be better designed- not easy to carry for a few miles by bike.
Not trying to hand gels to people going past at 17-20mph. That's the main cause of the wrapper slicks, people were trying to grab them and couldn't. Just hand them out at the hubs and drink stations to stopped riders. We're not pros, and even they wouldn't take single gels from stationary soigneurs whilst moving.

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Goldfever4 [221 posts] 2 years ago
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Al__S wrote:

At least one of the slicks of Hi-5 gel wrappers I saw I reckon had been caused by a bin at a drinks station blowing over

That was huge fun. Even with the agonising pain of Leith Hill (the article fails to mention the not inconsiderable climb up to Newlands Corner). Rounding the corner into Admiralty Arch was massively inspiring, the noise at that point was a huge boost.

Applications open in a few days...

(sorry to hear about the chaos you had TheClaw, sounds like a terrible cock up that only affected your wave)

Things that could improve?
A reserve list would be good- there were supposed to be 20-25000 I thought, in the end it was under 17000 with under 16000 finishing
the bags for transfer from start to finish could be better designed- not easy to carry for a few miles by bike.
Not trying to hand gels to people going past at 17-20mph. That's the main cause of the wrapper slicks, people were trying to grab them and couldn't. Just hand them out at the hubs and drink stations to stopped riders. We're not pros, and even they wouldn't take single gels from stationary soigneurs whilst moving.

Wise comments. Apparently those affected in the first wave will have guaranteed entry to next year's event.

Agree that it's a shame about places not being taken up - I suspect it has something to do with all the charity places which demand hundreds of pounds of fundraising committment - quite offputting.
The bags were useless, they were big enough to take a small backpack and I wish I'd known, it was difficult to get there with a stupid bag swinging about the back of my jersey the whole time.
Also I would have liked a few more portaloos at the start and the hubs, it was far too busy at those places. Other than that, extremely well organised and a good fast route.

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miuzikboy [59 posts] 2 years ago
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Amazing event, really well organised... except the chaos of Car Park C. Cars were able to enter about one per minute causing huge queues blocking Great Eastern Street in both directions. After 30 minutes queuing I was about to miss my time so I parked up in a side street rather than sitting there in frustration.

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Leviathan [1984 posts] 2 years ago
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Gkam84 wrote:

The only reason I didn't even think about trying to get a place this year was down to the hills and not knowing my fitness levels.

Be prepared to take on a recumbent trike next year if I can bag a place  4

K, I'm really sorry to tell you recumbents were not allowed. The ballot for 2014 opens again next week, it will be a scrum.

I have just gotten up after a mega sleep; need to get my head around writing an anecdote. Glad I have today off too, my legs are in pieces. It was emotional; lets just say if you turned the ride profile upside down you might get the mental rollercoaster ride I went through, but ends on a high.

Gels, lots at all the hubs and water stations (Thank you), never been into them before but really needed them, got the teeth-rip-squeeze-dump technique down by the end. Grapped a few going up hill but also some people holding them out in the last mile in London when people were going at least 35kph, they all just ended up skittering onto the road.

Salad Cream- free sachet in the goodie bag. I don't mind, I will have some chips 'French' style.

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sporran [42 posts] 2 years ago
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Really enjoyed the event, it was worth the hassle of getting down to London. Good route, well organised and great fun riding on the closed roads.

If there was one change I could make, the registration the evening before was a real pain for people travelling - with a 5pm deadline. I got stuck in a traffic jam on the way down and only made it with 15 minutes to spare. It would be better if they could post the registration packs, or failing that to have registration open until say 9pm.

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nickwadd [20 posts] 2 years ago
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I echo some of the comments above - thought it was a great event, brilliantly organised.

The crowds were brilliant but I agree that Dorking won the prize for the best bunch.

Also the transport bags were huge so I just carried all my stuff in my usual rucksack on my back, then transferred the lot to the bag. I admit though it would have been handy for that to have been clearer.

Also found out that Boris goes an OK lick (well, faster than I thought he'd be) on the flat and provides a very effective wind break.

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