Nick Livermore and Stephen Brand take to the tandem for a spin around London and Surrey on the 2015 edition of Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100.
The Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100, part of Prudential RideLondon, set up to celebrate the 2012 London Olympics is cycling’s answer to the London Marathon.
Now in its third year, the ride – one of the world’s biggest – has firmly established itself on London’s calendar of events. And rightly so.
Pitched as ‘a perfect traffic-free ride for a range of cycling abilities’, it is attended annually by over 25,000 participants, selected by an increasingly oversubscribed ballot. To be precise, 86,001 cyclists applied for the 2015 event.
And despite being a 100 mile century, as its name suggests, the field is certainly demographically mixed. The young. The old. The fat. The old and fat. The young and fat. And tandems.
Oh, did I mention I rode this year’s edition on a tandem? Well, it’s one way to make a relatively flat century difficult.
Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 Review
Up at 05:50am, we’re not the earliest riders for the ride, but it’s early enough. Clothes on, breakfast scarfed down, tandem somehow extricated from a second floor flat in the heart of Finsbury Park.
Being the 90kg monster I am, the front of the tandem is mine for the taking. Poor guy behind me.
Off we wobble. I’ve only ridden a tandem twice – baptism of fire?
After a slow, unsteady, 6 mile ride to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in which we realise that should my partner turn his, otherwise stationary, handlebars too sharply then they would comply. This is an issue; they’re attached to my seatpost.
The scale of the operation becomes immediately apparent as we wend our way up the incorrect exit; the green starter queue. We’re yellow.
Still, we get there with plenty of time. The queue will take an hour, time we spend chatting to the surprisingly large number of tandem aficionados. Perhaps we’re all to start at roughly the same time.
Finally, the time comes. We set off to the stilted commentators choice of semi-cheesy, semi-inspirational music; Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell. The group before were treated to We Will Rock You. Marginally better.
The music did the job and I’m feeling excellent as we head past Canary Wharf towards Piccadilly and Hammersmith. It’s strange to be cycling through London on closed roads. Pleasantly strange.
Happily, given the substantial size, weight and girth of our machine the first 50 miles of the ride are flat. Almost exclusively flat. Only Richmond Park gives us a challenge. And that’s only because we’re riding a 13 year old tandem.
The first challenge of the day comes at the 50 mile mark; the slightly steep Newlands Corner. Almost a false flat on any other bike, this mound proves something of a slog.
We’ve averaged almost 20mph to this point. Not bad for a heavy, wide and treaded-tyre tandem. And though our average is about to drop – bloody hills – we manage to embarrass many a carbon wielding young man as we grapple with our beast to our first stop.
Our First Stop & Box Hill
Looking around, thousands of cyclists everywhere, there appeared to be no hope of being fed and watered. But off in the distance is a row of helpful members of the TA towards whom we make our way.
Pockets filled with gels and bananas, bottles with High5 supplements, we mount our steed and get quickly on our way.
A sharp descent, followed by a few miles of rolling flats brings us to the foot of Leith Hill. The biggest challenge of the day. But wait. Everyone’s stopped.
Rumors drifted up and down the queue. Someone’s had a crash. Someone’s ill. Cilla Black has died. I suppose all three were true.
Some poor sod had suffered a heart attack. We later discovered he passed away at the scene, a mere 55 years of age. And not the first person to die at the event. Perhaps difficult to avoid with 25,000 in tow.
Still, at the time no one around us had any idea of the severity of the situation, despite the helicopter and ambulance. Moaning was had. What could possibly have caused an hour long pause in proceedings? Would my legs wake up?
Well, they did and we eventually got on our way. Remounting half way up Leith Hill off we sped to the entirely disappointing second climb of the day; Box Hill.
Whoever labelled this climb Britain’s answer to Alpe d’Huez is kidding him/herself. Two switchbacks and a barely noticeable gradient, even on a tandem, we wondered what all the fuss was about.
Having said that, more embarrassment was dealt out to those around us, with only one particularly sprightly young man overtaking us on the entire climb. Life was going better than expected.
Other than a small lump as you approach Leatherhead, and another at Wimbledon, the remainder of the ride was more or less flat. This gave us the impetus to really push on.
As we headed back to Kingston, alongside the Thames, across Parliament Square and up Whitehall things really start getting exciting.
The crowds. The cheering. My legs turning ever faster, ever harder.
“Go tandem. Tandem. Tandem.”
More jokes about how the chap on the back isn’t pedalling. I look around, 4 or 5 guys have been in our slipstream for the past 15 miles. An ego boost.
Left through Trafalgar Square. The end is in sight. Admiralty Arch. Sprint hard. Finish on The Mall. It’s over.
The bloke on the back seems ok – more or less. I collapse in a heap. That was a hard ride; ride time? 5 hours 30 minutes. Average speed? 18.2mph. Not bad for a tandem.
I need a beer. Oh and the 2016 ballot opens this Monday!