It was all going so well…
I really enjoy riding through London early on Sunday mornings. I always feel very disconnected with the 6am world as everyone else is making their way home from nights out, and I’m heading out on a long ride. A 5am start, however, is different story, the roads are packed with mini cabs, and this particular one wasn’t helped by the early morning drizzle. Ed and I had planned our route to take in as much of the South East as we could, along with plenty of climbing. I was getting the ride validated by Audax UK to work toward my SR series* and Ed has LEL* in a few months so good training for him. Anna was also joining us off the back of what sounded like a very wet 400.
Ed had planned the route. I’d ridden a similar route to Brighton (400kms over two days) earlier in the week. It’s hilly round those parts. We went a new way up Toys Hill and whereas I settled into a rhythm, Ed was hanging off the back. Not suprising – at 60km, we had a petrol station stop – Ed was in dire need of a sandwich and tells us he only had fruit for breakfast! He was like a new man after that, flying up the hills and we all thank the weather man for sorting us out with some nice sunshine. Quick stop to take some photos of a castle and we’re on to Battle. I should have remembered the last time I went to Battle that it’s not a good idea putting a control there and it wasn’t. It’s horrible to cycle through. It only has busy A roads leading to town and the most aggressive, purple-faced van driver I’ve ever seen left us all shaken and wondering if this was such a good idea. Vegan lemon drizzle cake (should have had beans on toast) and we pressed on West, turning the first of the two corners on the route.
Anna left us at the signs for East Grinstead so it was up to Ed and I to get the full 300km finished. Turners Hill and a plate of chips, the first real food of the day. The sun was properly out and it was lovely to just get our heads down now the lumpiness had eased, knowing we’d be climbing again when we hit Surrey. We were making good time and the last stop before the hills was at Chiddingfold where we found a shop that was open after 6pm on a Sunday (that had me worried) and came out clutching bagfuls of supplies to fuel the last push to home. At some point around here we ended up riding quite a few gravel tracks, even though Ed said he’d spent four hours on Street View routechecking. I told him he should have spent five…
On to the picture-perfect Shere, down and up through a ford and we’re into the hills proper. Beforehand Ed had made a point of how slow I was up some of the Surrey hills earlier in the week (it was really sunny and I was in touring not audax mode*) so I would have to make a good account of myself on Combe Lane which we were about to hit. I had been interested to see whether I could do a hard climbing effort at the end of a long ride and as it turns out I can. It also turned out that my bike couldn’t.
Back story, the frame was new, the rest of the parts had been taken off my Cannondale. The rear derailleur had been a bit iffy for a while, it moved in places it shouldn’t. It had been playing up a bit earlier on in the day but I put it down to a new chain/old cassette combination. A loud, metallic crunch and both pedals lock up. I looked down expecting a dropped chain caught somewhere to see my rear mech the wrong way up. “Oh shit” shouted Ed, “I’ll meet you at the top.” Lucky he’s a mechanic – his tools were out before I reached the top of the hill (on foot). He sprung into action and fashioned a make shift singlespeed, whilst I stood around thanking my lucky stars that he was here to do the five minute job I would have been panicking about on my own.
As the chain kept jumping and locking up, the “it’s only 40 kilometres home” talk quickly turned into “where’s the nearest train station?” Thankfully we’d done all the climbing and it was a case of freewheeling towards East Horsley station. About 200 metres to go and the road flattened out, leaving Ed pushing me, and then Madison* swinging me through to defeat. 300km failed. Another cornershop raid and we got on the train to Waterloo. Somehow I managed to talk my way onto a bus with my (now useless) bike to get me home. It’s weird how even though you’ve ridden 260km it feels pointless when you come up short. We had made good time and we’re on track to finish by 9pm. Ah well, time to get the bike sorted, and come back fighting.
SR Series – an award you earn through Audax UK after completing a 200km, 300km, 400km, and 600km ride in a season.
LEL – London Edinburgh London, 1400km and the main event in uk audaxing. Held once every 4 years.
Audax Mode – often described as ‘fast touring’ the time limit means you can DNF a ride. It’s not a race however, and riders only get a complete or fail at the end, even though they do write your time on the brevet card once it’s returned and you can claim bragging rights in certain cases.
Madison – The track race where two teammates slingshot each other round the track through a series of hand swings.