Sunday, 18 May 2014

Tour de Penge 2014

Sunday 18th May was a glorious sunny day, so perfect for the 8th edition of the Tour de Penge. Families and riders gathered in the park from about 10, and by the time I turned up with my peloton of 16 people, the place was heaving. We signed on and joined the 300 or so others for Le Grand Depart!

Unlike last year, the local police hadn't turned out to close the roads for us, but with marshalling help from Bromley Cyclists & the adult section Penge Cycle Club, we managed fine. The ride rolled off down Maple Road, then along the high street, with passers by taking pictures of the enormous Peloton, and gathered again in Cator Park to form into smaller groups, with a marshall leading the way, and another bringing up the rear.

From there it was 8 miles along the Waterlink way via Catford, Ladywell, Lewisham and Deptford to Greenwich. The pace was languid, targetted at letting the kids keep up, or set the pace, so there was none of the usual misery today. The only slight concerns were making sure that the tan-lines were straight, and having enough money for ice cream.

Groups formed, splintered, reformed again, and there was a great atmosphere as we made our way gradually along the quiet paths to Greenwich for our picnic. Just as some of the little ones (and a few of the grown ups) were beginning to grumble, we came around the corner & the masts of the Cutty Sark hoved into view! Phew!

On arriving in the park in front of the Greenwich Mean Time brewery, there were loads of other riders having their picnics in the shade, and, given we were picnicking in front of the brewery, it would have been rude not to sample a bit of the product...

The kids all seemed to be re-energised by some food, and were really happy running around in the sun until it was time to go back. This time we went in one big group, and the children were all looking forward to ice-cream in Ladywell Fields, and a splash in the river. It was such a warm afternoon that I was also tempted to join them...but I resisted. It was lovely to see new friendships being formed, old ones being rekindled (my daughter was really happy to see a girl she'd met on last year's ride,and they played together in the creek), as well having some time to chat to people you usually see ahead of you on rides!

After an hour or so lazing in the sunshine, we headed off, over the curly wurly bridge,and back along the waterlink way to Cator Park, where Conrad, John & Helen, Liam, John & Jane were waiting to welcome us back, then it was back to ours for some refreshing beers.

It was a great day out - brilliantly organised by Penge CC, well marshalled by Penge CC & Bromley cyclists, and most importantly wonderfully supported by the community. There were bikes being ridden by people who may not be out on those bikes until the same time next year, loads of kids - and hopefully all those casual cyclists will have enjoyed it enough to do another one - be it Breeze, sky ride, or just doing the same route again in the holidays.

Thanks to all the organisers, the marshalls, all the riders, and roll on next year. I imagine there'll be a lot of kids sleeping the sleep of the righteous tonight!

PS - you'll be pleased to hear the lycra top did its job, and the sunburn is nicely symmetrical!

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Beckenham to Brighton, May 4th 2014

So today I finally broke the Brighton duck - I've been trying to cycle there for a few years,and today was the day! I went on an organised run with Bigfoot Bikes, based nearby in Hayes. Here's the route., and here's the profile:

The main club set off slightly earlier, many planning to ride back afterwards, and I was waiting with the families - where kids from 8 years old were going to ride down! They were split into groups and the faster kids were nipping at our heels all day - usually arriving at the feed stops as we were leaving, with exhausted parents in their wake.

I was joined by Martin from the club, and an old floor-mate since University, Jon "Bunny" Bunn, and we joined a group of 16 others, supposedly in the 12mph group, thinking it would a nice sedate ride down...I was going to change the name to "FAT LADS ON BIKES", but Bunny has lost so much weight his lycra was baggy, so that wouldn't be fair.

The route took us along some familiar lanes before we started following some roads I hadn't seen before, and some of the scenery was beautiful - bluebells everywhere, the sun trying to warm us up, then whizzing down the Haliloo Valley (no, me neither), before we went along what felt like a secret road which took us through the middle of Woldingham School (or Wolditz as it used to be known when Bunny's lovely wife went here a few years back), then out the other side and down to Godstone.

We were on the busy A25 for a bit but soon got back onto the quiet roads around Bletchingley, as we headed to our first feed stop at the Bell Inn in Outwood. The aforementioned Kate was there with emergency supplies - bacon sandwiches, cereal bars & support - it being their local boozer! Also saw Andy who was waiting with his youngest for his wife and 2 boys to come through on the family ride.

I'll be honest, at this point of the ride I'd decided this was going to be a pretty short post - pretty much "rode to Brighton, it was a sunny day, no alarms". Needless to say, hubris was to get the better of me eventually, but not just yet! It almost did as we swept down a fast downhill just after the first feedstop: as the road went around to the right, the corner was a bit sharper than I'd thought, I was going a bit too fast, and I had a brief vision of catapulting over the hedge Jonny Hoogerland style...

The pace was fine, and I was particularly enjoying not being overtaken on all the hills, which is my usual MO...Having gone past Mrs Bunn's fomer alma mater, we later went past another of the Bunn family schools at Worth, with amazing views across the Sussex countryside- not really done justice by this photo:

Our next stop couldn't have been more quintessentially English - country pub on a village green, cricket match taking place, vintage transport aficionados standing by the side of the road waiting for the vintage commercial vehicle rally to pass by on their way to Brighton from London.

Quick pitstop to top up on water / flapjacks / sausage rolls, followed by the now obligatory pic of the boys outside another pub, and then we set off again before we completely seized up. The one problem with riding in such a big group was we inevitably needed to have longer stops at the feed stations than you would otherwise, but it was fun to be in a big group and have people to talk to, target on the hills, support etc.

We knew that the last bit of the ride would be the toughest, and it took a while to warm up again after the stop. Bunny cramped up at the top of a hill, but there were a couple of salt tablets to hand and, with some electrolyte drink, this seemed to do the trick. There wasn't quite as much sprinting up the hills as there had been earlier in the day! Then we saw the South Downs looming ahead of us, and the ominous Devil's Dyke in the distance. Suddenly, the banter died down (apart from Martin who was quoting the miserable bits from last week's blog back at me), and people started concentrating on getting over what was ahead. Here I am looking up at it - it's off camera, because you obviously can't look directly at it.

Mr Hubris, I've been expecting you.

We got to a roundabout and started the climb. It wasn't that steep to start with, but you knew it was going to get worse, so it was a case of grinding up. We annoyingly lost some height before it ramped up, and we had to stagger into the middle of the road and turn right for a further ramp and on to the top. There were some strugglers and a few people got off to push - someone on front of me dismounted with a loud "No, that's enough" - but I carried on, and it flattened out towards the top. We went over the summit and collapsed onto a grass bank next to the golf club to bask in the achievement and the sunshine, and look at the sea!

Here's Martin, King of the Mountains, surveying his domain from his grassy throne!

Conquering Devil's Dyke had a reinvigorating effect - all the stress of the last hour was gone, the jokes were back, it was time for another selfie, and then to drag ourselves off our sunny grass bank and set off for the last 5 miles down the other side to Brighton.

By this time we were seeing groups of riders riding back to London - odd, given there was a perfectly good train service - and Martin, who had been talking about riding back all day, made a snap decision and went for it. So he missed the interesting route we took down to the beach,and the cheer that went up as we rounded the final corner!

It was over surprisingly quickly - we thanked the lead rider, who then went off to be with some friends, others were met by families, and that was that! A quick brew and an ice-cream was our recovery food, then a smaller group of us headed for the station to catch a train back.

It had been an excellent ride - thanks to Bigfoot for organising it, and throwing their doors open to everyone - it was a really good route, well organised feed stops, well led, a perfect pace (for me, at least), great weather, no misery - apart from a teeny bit on Devil's Dyke. Well done to the youngsters too - the first group of whom made it to the coast not long after us,and looked like they could go straight back again!

By the time I got home, cycling back with a few others from East Croydon, I'd ridden 110km at an average speed of 22kmh, with a max of 56kmh - probably going around Hoogerland Corner! It was great to ride with my old mate Bunny, and it seemed apposite in Skidrow-on-Sea to have a couple of tinnies on the station forecourt before we headed for home. It was also his longest ride, so he did really well, especially conquering the cramp.

We're riding again next week, with more hills, as we're building up the the ridiculous Chiltern 100 at the end of the month - something I'm NOT looking forward to! I'm sure there'll be a miserable story to tell though!