It started well enough - it was pretty clear this morning when I got dropped off at the O2, so I did wonder whether it was all a bit of a storm in a teacup...Off we went through the Blackwall Tunnel then up some side streets to the start - unlike last year, as they were using both sides of the A12. In a taste of what we were to see repeated throughout the day, there were already people fixing punctures by the side of the road- the first one I saw was on the way to the start, the last one was at Waterloo!
I had timed it a bit better this year, and once I had dropped the bag with some dry clothes off (I forgot the dry shoes though!), I made my way to the load zone, with about half an hour to wait around. We were right by the Orbit & Olympic Park, and I soon got chatting to some of the other folk around me. There were a lot more women this year, and I got talking to Christine who had never done an event without her husband, and was quite nervous about it, so I offered to ride with her for a while.
The rumour that Leith Hill & Box Hill were cancelled went around, and was quickly confirmed - to be honest, I wasn't that bothered - the descents are bad enough when it's dry, let alone in the remnants of a hurricane - but it would have been disappointing for those folk who had trained hard to ride 100 miles and now would "only" be going 86, so I did feel for them. Before too long it had started to drizzle - not enough for me to put my windproof jacket back on, but as we got going, appropriately to the sound of Dizzee Rascal telling us we were bonkers, it started to get heavier.
Christine and I rode along at a good pace, chatting away about nothing and everything, past the chap in the cheerleader's costume riding with musical breasts, and before we knew it we were in Richmond Park, where we saw our first casualty - someone had come off and smashed his face into the road. Despite the weather, there were still plenty of idiots belting along and not paying enough attention to the conditions or the people around them.
Into Kingston, and we met our first JDRF rider of the day, while we saw the front of the race going back in the other direction, with one of the elite JDRF riders in the pack - he went on to win on the Mall, which was great, and should raise awareness of the charity. More on that victory here.
As we went along past Hampton Court, the sky got a lot darker very quickly, and the rain started to get heavier as well. By the time I decided to stop and put my jacket on, sheltering under someone's golf umbrella, I was already soaked to the skin - and the real rain hadn't even started yet! This is what it was like a bit later in Walton:
Around Weybridge the rain got laughably heavy - it was like hail at some points it was throwing it down so hard - thank goodness it was warm rain - so apart from the inconvenience & potential danger of it all, it wasn't particularly unpleasant to ride in - dare I say it was actually quite fun? Drains were overflowing, streams were running down hills, huge puddles were forming - I didn't have overshoes on (they remind me of old ladies' galoshes) so the water was bubbling out of my shoes whenever I flexed my feet. Will I get some now? No, as they still remind me of old ladies' galoshes...
As we came into one village, I heard what sounded to be an inspired choice from the live band playing - Credence Clearwater Revival, Have you ever seen the rain. Impressed with this stroke of genius, this song then stuck in my head for the rest of the ride - not I can't stand the rain (Eruption), It's Raining (Darts), Rain (The Cult), Weather with you (Crowded House), or even It's Raining Men. Nope, just Credence. The fact that the band was actually playing Pretty Woman is neither here nor there.
The next thing which suddenly occurred to me was that the people waiting in the bus stops were actually spectators! I'd been wondering where they'd wanted to go on such a day, and then remembered that there wouldn't be any buses any time soon, as the roads were closed. The proper fans were getting wet, cheering us on, and leaving the bus shelters for those people fixing punctures - and there were loads of them!
By now, after 2 months of very little bike riding, due to injury & a bit of torpor, my back was starting to act up, and I knew it was only a matter of time before the knee went. I suggested to Christine that she go on, but we were still going at a reasonable pace, so she stayed with me. As we got into the lanes, the flooding got worse, and the pace slowed, and the inevitable happened - about 30 miles sooner than it had last year, and in the other knee, just for variety! However, it was just as painful and just as hard going, and I insisted that my new friend left me to it.
Newlands Corner, now the longest hill on the route, was just not possible, so I had to walk up it. At the top I headed for the first aid tent, where they gave me paracetamol and ibuprofen, and the family phoned me to find out how it was going. There was a moment of dust when the kids came on, but I recovered my composure, took my pills and ventured outside again. There was a woman from Durham in the tent under a load of blankets but still looking absolutely frozen and possibly hypothermic - it surprised me a bit, as the rain wasn't cold, and it hadn't been that windy, but she was really suffering.
I grabbed a quick snack and some bags of sweets then set off down the descent towards Dorking - people were taking it quite easy luckily, and there were no accidents that I saw. The route to Dorking rolled a bit but was otherwise ok, and once we were through the town centre it was off to Leatherhead. I was a bit disappointed that the JDRF cheer squad weren't there, but I later found out that they'd been on Box Hill and were trying to get back to the course somewhere else! I briefly considered hopping on a train, but the thought of my daughter and all other type 1 diabetics having to plough on with finger prick tests & insulin injections all the time, regardless of how they feel about it, made me push on - even though I had now been overtaken by a bloke on a Brompton! I later found out that the track was flooded anyway, so I really had no choice but to push on!
By the time we got to Leatherhead, there were only about 25 miles left, lots of support on the streets shouting encouragement, and another lump in my throat. I thought it was better to keep going while the painkillers were weaving their magic, rather than risk a stop. There was nearly a high-fiving incident when I went along a line of people then nearly flattened the woman handing out Garmin water bottles just past them, but she jumped out of the way in time, leaving us to dodge the discarded bottles further up the road - I tell you, some of these cyclists are a bloody menace - THROW IT TO THE SIDE OF THE ROAD!
The route to Kingston was easier than last year, and the sun had come out as well, so things were definitely looking up! A tunnel under the road in Thames Ditton was flooded, so some went on the dry pavement, but I just went through the middle. I caught the guy on the Brompton and we rode through Kingston together (past one lonely JDRF supporter) before he slipped away from me going up past Norbiton. It was warm enough now to take off the jacket, though I typically injured myself trying to shove it into my back pocket!
Onwards & Upwards to the final climb of the day, the Cote de Wimbledon, up to the village. There were some JDRF supporters halfway up, shouting encouragement and telling us how far it was to the top, and then I saw a JDRF rider I'd been chatting to earlier on, Danny, and we fell into an easy distracting conversation and the last 10 miles flew by at a decent lick, in much less of a blur than last year. The kids hadn't come out this year, so there was no Parliament Square action (they were at home baking cakes for my triumphant return, which was clearly far more important).
Once we got down to the Mall, I couldn't resist giving it a bit of the old sprint finish, more successfully this year as everything was wedged in my pocket by the jacket, so nothing flew out, and last vestiges of painkiller were just about still there, and then, suddenly, that was it!
We went past the couple who had got married at Pembroke Lodge on their way around being showered in glitter, collected our medals, Danny took a picture of me, I collected the bag of crap (coconut water instead of chocolate milk, no salad cream (imagine my despair), gels, sweets, and, random item of the day, a pot of multivitamins for the over 50s!!), my dry gear (I had already dried off, so it was redundant now), and went up the the JDRF zone to meet JDRF Elizabeth and some other riders. Elizabeth had been there since 9am and must have got as wet standing under those trees than the rest of us had out on the road, so it was a sterling effort from her. We chatted for a while and I met Mossy, the oldest friend of one of my best friends, having last seen him at Ian's wedding 9 years ago! The rain came again and broke everything up - this shower was colder than the ones on the road - and I headed off with him to Waterloo and the train home.
What a day - I was faster than last year, albeit with the worst 14 miles missing. The painkillers definitely helped me get through the knee pain of the second half, as did the sense that we were all in this together with the weather, and the excellent & encouraging support from the side of the road in atrocious conditions. Christine, Danny & Brompton Man all played a part as well in getting me to the end, just by giving me the chance to chat, rather than listen to Credence in my head and think about my knee. Danny reckoned it sounded like sciatica, so I shall explore this avenue with the osteopath! The sun came out for the last 20 miles, so we had the chance to dry off just in time to get soaked again by the shower, and I must say I did enjoy the bloke who had liderally just changed in Green Park getting soaked by the shower 30 seconds later - the price you pay for flashing your meat and two veg in a public park, if you ask me.
Despite the lack of the 2 biggest hills (which I wouldn't have got over anyway with my knee problem), it was still 86 miles! I was more relaxed going into it than I was last year, and had a less traumatic time, but I was annoyed that my core fitness, which had been fine in the early part of the season, had got to me again. Maybe I really will work on this for next year!
But first, CAKE!