Well i guess most of you reading this have probably competed in this ride at sometime, however 2014 was my first experience of participating in this ride. The London to Brighton is the British Heart Foundations premiere yearly event that this year has attracted 28000 participants. There have been 39 of these rides for the British Heart Foundation to date and this year i was determined to enter.
I applied back in March of this year, getting up at a rediculous hour to get my online application in place, and like many others a constantly crashing server kept throwing me back up the waiting list until i eventually got to number one and the entry fee of £30.00 was taken confirming my entry. Success.
The months passed and i took advantage of getting plenty of training in, either on my own or with the guys at Spokes Group who i regularly cycle with. Mileage went up until taking part in a 30 mile plus ride became the norm, no more little rides for me now! Training progressed well and before long i was prepared and the thought of a 54 mile ride was not daunting, it was now turning into an obsession where i would read up as much as possible about the trials of the course, especially My nemesis that would be – Ditchling Beacon.
Of course the serious side of this ride is that we are expected to raise some funds for the BHF and there is no issue here. I have set myself a target of £250.00 and by the 14th June this was sitting at £270.00, 108% of what i’d set out to achieve, so needless to say i was quite chuffed knowing that the next day i would be riding not only for a good cause, but for more money than i had pledged. With tax that can be claimed back i should raise in excess of £320.00.
You can visit my Justgiving page https://www.justgiving.com/David-Baldwin1/
After speaking over the months with many a participant, one thing that was starting to filter through was the logistical nightmare that it is for an individual to actually get to Clapham common in the first place. Seeing that i wouldn’t have the car on the day, i had to think how i was going to get myself and the bike to the start line. Planning for this started weeks before, and fortunately my boss at Network rail where i work at London Bridge station allowed me to bring my bike in on the Friday before and store it in his office ( No public bikestand for me, this bike is worth too much! ) So the Friday before, i took the bike to Euston, had a nice 3.5 mile gentle ride through the chaotic traffic of the Strand and the Embankment and parked up the bike securely at the Station. The only thing to worry about now was how was i going to get there!
Anyone who has attempted to use public transport, especially the train networks on Sunday, will soon realise that the Uk is not an easy option, sometimes compared to a third world country in fact sometimes a lot worse. It basically does not start before 0700 hrs on a Sunday morning. Not good if your departure time from Clapham is scheduled for 8am. “Why didnt you take your bike by train?” i here you say… Well the answer is that on the day of the race almost all the train companies refuse bike acceptance due to the shear amount of bikes participating. You can quite understand the ruling, however it doesnt help issues a great deal.
Ok so the bike is safely stored in London, it is serviced ( Thanks Watford Cycle Hub!) and has new tyres and is probably in better condition than my car, and as close to being in the same condition as when it was bought then it has ever been. Now what about me? Well, I’ve sussed out what im wearing on the day, i have all the gels and drinks prepared, my cycling wallet that has my details, British Cycling membership, a little cash and a debit card (Kind of an emergency package if im stuck in the middle of nowhere!) is all in place.
So how am i getting there?
The difficult bit is having to ask the missus if she would mind getting up on her day off, at 04:30 (Shes been quite unwell lately..) taking me to Edgware station where i can start my journey by catching an early morning night bus to Euston. She agrees to the request as i believe she just wants me out of her hair now as I’ve been a total pain in the bum regarding all this of late. So off we trot, i’m at Edgware at just after 5am for the first leg of my Journey, the N5 bus to Euston. 41 minutes later at Euston i now await the 68 bus to take me to Elephant and castle and when at the Elephant its another bus to London Bridge. Rolling in at London bridge at around 06:50 i make my way to collect the bike, say hello to a few colleagues and then i have to cycle the 3.5 miles back past where i have just been to meet up with my fellow participants at Clapham Common.
My start time was 8am, and i guess i was on the common at about 07:45, plenty of time to spare considering. At this point i’m people watching, some are in fancy dress, the amount of Lycra on show is incredible, all shapes and sizes – wish i was a share holder of Mr.Lycra! The bikes ranged from the sublime top end many thousands of pounds super bikes right the way down to old Raleigh Choppers and even Boris bikes, the range was really quite amazing. The crowd on the common was crazy, i have never seen so many people on bikes in one place in my whole life. The park was full, a similar crowd had left every half hour since 6am and there were still 90 mins or so of departures behind us, the figures were unbelievable.
We are called to the starting line, entertained by jugglers and stilt walking flamingoes when the countdown commenced. 5,4,3,2,1 and we were off….
The first real problem encountered was probably when we met with the traffic at a busy crossing in Tooting. They just weren’t expecting us, in seconds the buses and cars were surrounded by a marauding mass of about 8 thousand people all trying to get across a junction. We were here a good 15 minutes and this proved to be only the start of what would be a collection of delays to our journey down south. The second problem hit us when we hit the first real hill towards Woodmansterne at about the ten mile mark. So many people hit the hill at the same time, unfortunately not all those at the front were “Climbers” and had to take to walking, slowing the ascent of anyone else that was stuck behind. Our cycle ride, was soon becoming a hike as we seemed to be spending almost as much time off of it or in a stationary position as we were on it!
Things started to thin out as we exited the hill and we all took advantage of getting some speed up to clear the slower riders, this worked really well as we passed through Chipstead and Nutfield marsh until we came to a grinding halt outside the Dog & Duck, one of the official refuelling stops in a leafy part of Surrey. And here we stayed for Two hours.
Unfortunately there had been two very serious incidents in front of us. Just up the road a young lady had been involved in a bike collision, she had injured her head and eye from what i could gather and it proved to us all just how serious it all was when we saw the air ambulance arrive and depart. As i write this entry, the young lady is in a stable condition. The incident further on involved a 30 year old male who managed to collide with a telegraph pole, he however is in a very serious condition in a London hospital. I wish them both a speedy recovery and a quick return to cycling.
The lovely thing through all of this was that there was no complaints from the waiting masses, news was sparse as the phone signal was quite poor and we were all passing on sippets of information that were being relayed via one source or another. We were stuck outside a pub however, it was not open during the period we were there, meaning that the landlord must have lost a fortune that day.
The route and stopsFrom this point on, when we departed, the run down to Brighton was unhindered. It was a lovely run through in quite good conditions for cycling. It was overcast, no rain, some sun in places but chilly in others and even though we had been forced to stop on a couple of occasions the spirits of everyone were through the roof. As you passed through small towns people would have their arm chairs and tables out, having picnics and drinks, and one of them even had a grey parrot out on his stand. Kids would be giving high fives and most had water pistols that were aimed at us, however this was a welcome addition to the days water intake!
Now, someone at the British Heart foundation is either a sadist or has a warped sense of humour. For at 42 miles into the ride they put in what can only be called an obstacle…Ditchling Beacon. Below is an excerpt courtesy of Wikipedia:
“Ditchling Beacon is the third-highest point on the South Downs in south-east England, behind Butser Hill (270 m; 886 ft) and Crown Tegleaze (253 m; 830 ft). It consists of a large chalk hill with a particularly steep northern face, covered with open grassland and sheep-grazing areas. Situated just south of the East Sussex village of Ditchling and to the north-east of the city of Brighton, it is the highest point in the county of East Sussex. A road runs from Ditchling up and across the northern face and down into the northern suburbs of Brighton, and there are car parks at the summit and the northern base. Various charity, sporting and other events which are run regularly between London and Brighton incorporate this steep road as a challenging part of their route.”
And a challenge it is. It busted me, quite proud that i had manged to cycle every hill put in front of me that day, this one finished me. I probably made it half way before my lungs almost turned inside out. I jumped off and remember saying to someone ” Im here to help the British heart foundation, not to become someone who needs their assistance” so from that point i walked until about 200 yds from the top where i jumped back on so i could at least sail through the top where everyone was enjoying their ice creams thinking i had “beaten the Beacon”. Thats my challenge for next year.
So from the top of the Beacon, where the views are phenomenal, you can see right up to the seaside at Brighton, and thankfully the road from here is completely down hill. The town centre is very busy, however that final push on to the seafront with crowds of people on both sides is welcome and we all get to wave at loved ones waiting for us at the finish line. For me, My brother and his girlfriend and my niece and nephew were there to drive me back to Watford. I collected my finishers medal, a bottle of water and disapeared into the crowds, happy and content that id raised money for a fantastic charity, and pleased as punch that id done my first London to Brighton.
A fantastic ride that i hope many more of you get the chance to participate in. A great day out for a great cause. It doesnt get much better than that.
Dave Baldwin aka Balders