After all the preparation we almost missed it. We had decided to take advantage of the option to “ride later than our allocated start time” to make the morning a little less frantic, to avoid the crowds at the start of the event and to ensure careful coordination of our arrival with lunch in Brighton. Our plans were flawed on several fronts!
Our London to Brighton experience started smoothly. We left the house at 09.06, just 6 minutes behind schedule. Not bad! We had even had time to capture the moment for prosperity…
A “thumbs up” from “@LDNtoBrighton” (The official Twitter account for the event) reinforced our level of comfort as we set off for Clapham. How were they to know where we were? After all, there was a lot going on!
We abandoned the car (Thanks Michelle!) at the first sight of cyclists, just south of Tooting (09:46). Crossing the torrent of participants to make our way to the start line on Clapham Common spirits were high. The bubble was almost burst when we arrived at a rather deserted start area.
A few Marshalls were rounding up the stragglers, encouraging them to “Start ASAP!” It turns out the final start time was 09:30. A minor detail that had passed us by. A schoolboy error!
Fortunately it didn’t take us long to catch up with the first tail-backs, perhaps not coincidentally in Tooting.
It didn’t take us long to see the first of what turned out to be several accidents either… within a mile of the start, a chap (who, it turns out, wasn’t even participating in the London to Brighton event) managed to cycle into a stationary car at speed. The result of the collision was a cut chin and, I suspect, concussion, as well as badly damaged wing mirror (on the car). It was relief that we discovered that the carbon frame of his bike had also been broken as he was insisting that he was OK to ride on. He clearly wasn’t! We left him in the capable hands of a Marshall with Medics on the way.
Travelling through South London was a stop / start affair. The Police were doing a fantastic job of clearing the roads of cyclists by sweeping up the rear to stop traffic, maintaining momentum one junction at a time. It wasn’t until we hit the first hill however that our expectations for the rest of the day were properly set:
With so many cyclists even the smallest bottleneck can impact the flow. Bottlenecks included narrowing roads, hills, accidents, traffic controls and confusion caused by refreshment stops (“Should we or shouldn’t we?”). A combination of a narrowing road and a “steep” slope was enough to bring everything to a grinding halt. It was annoying the first time, but became less so as we relaxed into the day.
As we headed south, out of the hustle of London and into the countryside, the atmosphere changed. Communities turned out in force to “make a day of it”. Quiet villages took on a carnival atmosphere as brass bands played us on our way.
Refreshment stops were frequent and well stocked. Even private dwellings offered “a free sit down”, sweets and showers from Water Pistols, People generously came out of their houses to cheer us on our way; each cheer being greeted with a “Ping” on Philip’s bell.
It felt like we were part of something meaningful and positive. A feel-good factor was capped by the way people ascended the final climb of the day;
Ditchling Beacon had been billed as the big challenge. The most significant hill on the ride. It was all downhill to Brighton from the top, but getting to the top would take some effort. If it went the same way as the other substantial hills we’d encountered there would be no way of us cycling up it because of people walking.
Fortunately people seemed to decide to walk at an early stage of the Ditchling Beacon ascent, and then considerately moved to the left-hand side of the road. As a result, despite arriving at what was probably the busiest time of the day, we were still able to cycle all the way up.
It wasn’t without it’s hairy moments, but we both managed to stay on our bikes. For a few minutes, the other participants became vocal onlookers, like an over-enthusiastic Mountain-Top crowd in the Tour de France. It was a special feeling to get to the top!
The thousands of people at the finish on the front in Brighton were the cherry on the cake!
So, a HUGE thank you to all the people involved in organising and supporting the event, the Marshalls, the Medical Staff, the Caterers, the Mechanics, the Supporters, etc. etc. Thank you all for making it such a fantastic event!
A great way of celebrating life!