Last year I did LeMans24heuresvelo as a solo competitor. It was a great experience and I think it inspired two of my club mates to give it a shot as solo competitors this year. As part of their training they were planning a long non-stop ride from Newcastle-upon-Tyne back to London. Although I am only training for a 12hr TT this year and do not necessarily need the night training or that many miles, I am always up for a challenge, so decided to join the fun.
I spent about 12 hours in the office on Thursday, but it was all worth it to have a day off on Friday for this mad adventure. After a quick ride to Sigma Sport in Hampton Wick to get some Clif Shot Bloks with caffeine, I leisurely cycled the 19 odd miles into Kings Cross, where Mark and Alex rolled in just as I did. Checking the bikes in was pretty smooth, followed by a 3hr train ride to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. On hindsight I probably should have used the opportunity for a little power nap, but we were chatting along and soon arrived at Newcastle station where fellow Wheeler John awaited us for a chat and a coffee. After a quick burger for the guys and a flapjack for me, John advised us how to get out of town and off we went (around 14:30pm).
Riding across the Gateshead Millennium Bridge with views over the river Tyne and the impressive Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art brought back memories of a solo Coast-to-Coast adventure I did in 2011, back when I still had my triple chainrings and thought riding 90 miles in one go was a long way let alone the 300+ mile ride I was embarking on now.
We were absolutely blessed with the weather, no rain, light wind and plenty of sunshine. I didn’t realize it at first, but Mark had even planned the ride as close to full moon as possible, so we had some ambiance and more importantly a bit of light on plenty of pitch black roads throughout the night. It is always hard to judge what to pack and how much food to bring for a ride like this as you never know for sure about the weather or when and where you may be able to find food and water along the way. Because of the forecast I opted to leave any knee warmers at home (good move) bringing arm warmers only. I did have a short sleeve base layer, but really should have taken a gilet for the night. I just had the two 750ml bottles on my road bike frame (which was sufficient as we found water often enough) and had tons of energy bars and Clif Shot Bloks in my jersey pockets, plus a banana, phone, cash, spare inner tubes and the other usual stuff. For front lights I had taken double measures, running the Exposure Strada Mark 2 as a main light and having the Exposure flash as a back up. I should have done something similar for the rear light really as it turned out my Exposure Flare, bright as it may be, has a tendency to randomly switch on and off.
From the Angel of the North we pushed on along rolling/flattish roads to Northallerton where after c. 55 mile we had our first stop to refill our bottles and have a quick snack and hot drink. At this point we all still felt pretty good and spirits were up.
From Northallerton it as onwards via some steeper lumps than I had hoped for between Thirsk and Easingwold, through the picturesque streets of York for another stop around sunset in Bishopthorpe (about 100 miles into the ride) where Mark’s friends Angela and Pete kindly made some hot drinks and toast for us.
Rolling out of Bishopthorpe it was time to put our lights up and we settled into a nice rhythm taking smooth turns on the front through the dark, with the silence interrupted by not much more than the sound of our wheels and the occasional (and at times more frequent) shouts for holes. By the time we made it to Lincoln (around 12:30 if I remember correctly) we had covered 165 miles at an average speed of about 19.5 mph. There weren’t that many places open so pizzas and burgers it was. Very nice to eat some hot food after all those dark colder miles. By this point Mark was in serious pain as his back had packed up and unfortunately (despite trying to salvage it by eating a whole strip of ibuprofen) he had to withdraw from the ride and check in to a local hotel. So then it was down to just Alex and me for the second part of the ride.
From Lincoln it felt like straight on for ever along dark fairly fast roads, luckily with hardly any traffic, through Sleaford, Bourne and Oundle (those are about the only places of any size I can remember). By 6am we had been going for at least 70 mile since the last stop and both started to flag a bit, having to take shorter more frequent turns to keep the average pace up. We really fancied a hot drink and something proper to eat, but couldn’t find anything open anywhere. So we sat on bench in Oundle for a little eating just a bag of crisps from a local newsagent that had just opened and just about managed to fight off falling asleep on that bench. By 7am we made a little detour into St Neots and found a Costa that was open for a much needed hot chocolate and some pastries for breakfast.
It was after breakfast somewhere between Tempsford and Sandy on the short bit of A1 we had to cover that I had some pretty scary moments, finding myself nodding off on a few occasions whilst riding at 22-23 mile with plenty of traffic whizzing by! It wasn’t until I removed some layers (including Mark’s gilet he kindly lent me after he aborted in Lincoln – thanks Mark it was much needed and much appreciated as was the rear light), that I started to wake up a little. After that it all becomes a bit blurry. We stopped a few times, but just briefly to get some water and refill our bottles. No more sit down stops, just pushing on for London now (with Alex doing a bit more pushing than me, thanks Alex). After plenty of nice flat miles through the night, I was somewhat surprised and annoyed to find that the roads just North of London (whilst pretty) are actually continuously rolling on. By the time we hit the Barnet area the traffic got pretty busy, our average speed dropped of a bit and all I could think of was just getting the ride done and over with. Luckily it wasn’t much further to Regent’s Park, where we rolled in at midday (21 hours after setting off from Newcastle), stopped our Garmins and chilled out in the grass and in the sun for a bit. Somehow we then managed to pick ourselves up and ride the last few miles home from London at a very slow pace, feeling tired but also very pleased with a pretty epic ride.
So altogether with my ride to Kings Cross and back home from Central London, that was a 340 mile ride. The average for the 310 miles from Newcastle to London worked out at 19.1mph (total moving time 16hr13mins), which I am pretty chuffed with, especially considering that involved challenges such as traffic, navigation, potholes and lumps, not to mention fighting sleep. Actually, looking back I think in a way this ride was harder than LeMans24hr, because there I was riding on the smoothest tarmac ever, just doing loops of the same circuit, being cheered on by my family and the DJ’s tunes to keep me awake.
I wish Mark and Alex all the best for their LeMans24Hrvelo challenge this summer. Having seen how strongly Alex rode on this occasion, I really think he could challenge for the solo men win there and (fingers crossed his back holds up) Mark should be in for a great performance too. Thanks guys for inviting me to come along. Happy to have found some fellow endurance cycling aficionados, a real pleasure riding with you!
See link for Strava file and route: http://app.strava.com/activities/142445559