For Sheila's more informative version, read on
Ride Social - Tour of Britain Stage 8, London Criterium
GETTING TO LONDON
After discussing the logistics of getting a tandem to central London by 11 am, we decided to go up the night before. Sheila after some difficulty managed to book a reasonably-priced hotel with pre-bookable parking as central as she could find, rare as hen’s teeth in central London (it was a Travelodge out on the North Circular Road), She also booked a car park place in Welbeck Street for Sunday itself. This was only a mile’s ride, avoiding road closures, to the Rapha Café and shop in Brewer Street near Piccadilly Circus, which was to be the venue for:
In the morning we had a substantial breakfast to set ourselves up for the day, surrounded by bikers about to ride the 22nd ‘Brighton Burn-up’ from the Ace Café on the North Circular to Brighton. The weather was fine and dry, although we carried waterproofs as showers had been forecast for after lunch and possible heavy showers later. Escaping before the North Circular became impassable, we made our way to the almost deserted Welbeck Street car park (pre-booking turned out to be entirely unnecessary!) and unloaded our George Longstaff tandem.
THE RAPHA CAFÉ
On remarkably quiet Sunday roads we cruised east along Wigmore Street before turning south and zigzagging our way through one way streets to the Rapha Café, arriving soon after 10 am. The café was still closed but British Cycling staff were already busy inside with Rapha staff, preparing for the event. A few of us hung around for a while, and Kristian House of JLT Condor, who was a guest commentator on the television coverage nightly, appeared on the Condor bike he said he was going to ride that afternoon, wearing his trademark black cycling outfit but shod in casual shoes despite his Look pedals. Greeted by a girl from British Cycling, he disappeared inside the café. A Range Rover and large box trailer rolled up outside the café. From this the Sky team Jaguar was rolled out. We weren't sure what role this would have but we were invited to look it over. We were then invited to take our bikes a short way down the road to an NCP car park where supervised parking would be available. Volunteers from British Cycling’s PR company were trying to work round huge vans delivering stuff for the forthcoming British Fashion Week. Eventually we and our bikes were ushered in to a corner inside the car park, set up with crowd control barriers for securing the bikes to, and we walked back to the Café.
We got back to find a few different people waiting for the Ride Social event, including a mum and dad with 16-week old Harriet clad in a very fetching bicycle-print dress. Other cyclists arrived just wanting a coffee and were sent away until 11 am, official opening time. But we were allowed in early, were ticked off on a quite short list (50 people were said to be expected), signed our disclaimer forms and were invited to select a suitably-sized Ride Social T-shirt, as well as being given vouchers for elevenses. The café area had been cleared and sixteen little stools were set out in front of a raised area. Before these could fill up we bagged two and chatted with a neighbour who came from Newbury and had brought his Brompton. When the café area opened at 11 am, John claimed our complimentary coffee and pains au raisin – huge and quite the best we have eaten for a while. Harriet had her elevenses quietly on a settee, courtesy of mum Hannah.
Mark Beaumont then arrived with the bike he had recently cycled in record breaking time from Cairo to the Cape. Maybe he has changed tyres since, but to us they looked remarkable skinny for cycling across the Sahara desert. After a while we were told the outline of the day’s event and Mark Beaumont was introduced. He spoke briefly and then answered questions. Then six Ride Social ride leaders of varying ages were presented with proper Ride Social cycling jerseys as a reward for their efforts in organising Ride Social rides. Bob Howden, the Chairman and President of British Cycling, said a few words in support of Ride Social, and a Ride Social official did the same. Then we were invited to pick up a very rich Ride Social cup-cake as we left (making it a two cake café stop!!) and asked to go and retrieve our bikes ready to ride together to the start of our ride. There seemed to be only about 40 of us on the road – a much smaller group than we had anticipated.
CYCLING LONDON ON CLOSED ROADS - THE TOUR of BRITAIN
We whizzed downhill along Haymarket to Trafalgar Square and headed off along the Strand. Here we were very quickly led between traffic cones to short-circuit this leg of the route, and were a bit disappointed to think our 6.2 km ride was being cut short. Back at Trafalgar Square, the focus of each of the three legs of the ride, we set off down Whitehall, only to be almost immediately led back through the cones to the Square again. Round the corner and facing us at the end of Pall Mall there were penned about 150 riders in yellow Aviva cycling jerseys. We had read that there was some kind of Aviva ride in the late morning, and suspecting that we had been late starting and as it was just after 12.30 pm, we thought for a minute that we were going to be swept off to make way for them. (But no need to panic, see below.)
On the Tour of Britain start line - Click on images to enlarge
As we gathered up at the start/finish/sprint line in Lower Regent Street with a commentator already on the loudspeakers, we were asked to keep to one side. The crowds were already gathering along the barriers to see the race finish. There was some talk about ‘Chris’ (as in Boardman) and ‘Chris’s bike’ which seemed to have gone missing. The Aviva riders were released and came up to wait beside us. We were all told that we had until about 1.15 pm to ride round as many laps as we liked, but when required by crowd control people we should stop to let the public cross the route. Then we were all invited to roll off with Mark Beaumont up front, while we held back to avoid the initial crush.
The Aviva riders shot off, soon pedalling fast around the course in bunches. Before long there was plenty of space on the road and we were thrilled to be cycling at a steady pace, Sheila taking photos and waving to the crowds from the back. The dead-stop U-turns at the top of the Regent Street and Whitehall legs of the course were quite tight for the tandem and we had to use all the road to get round, but pushed hard to accelerate as we came out into the straight. On our second full circuit down the Strand we passed Chris Boardman cycling next to and chatting to a Ride Social official. Spotting Sheila looking back to take a photo, he called out ‘That’s cheating!’ for having free hands for photography. Just after the route turned back along the Strand, we stopped at a red light to allow pedestrians to cross next to Boardman and his fellow rider. The crowd control man, who had not intended to stop us, grinned and urgently waved us on. John dropped back but we soon passed Boardman and his companion again. By this time the Ride Social and Aviva riders were spread thinly round the 6.2 km route and sometimes we could see no-one in front of us.
The sights of London at (fairly) high speed from the closed roads of Tour of Britain Stage 8 - Click on images to enlarge
As we passed the intermediate sprint at the end of the first lap the commentator on the PA system said, ‘Here’s the tandem’
and there was applause and banging on the barrier banners from the already gathered crowd.
Although it was slightly uphill we attempted to squeeze a bit more speed into our sprint.
The beginning of Regent Street proper rises just enough to make it hard work, but the thought of completing a third full circuit before 1.15 pm encouraged us to go for it. The sun was out some of the time and our last circuit was delightful, with the crowds increasing and plenty of waving and applause, and the sights of London appearing at every corner. Finally we approached the end of Pall Mall again and we were ushered into the street and offered bottled water. The Ride Social riders were gathered up and led round the corner into St James’s Square for a group photo, John standing right beside Mark Beaumont, before being released to thank the organisers and go our separate ways.
THE PROFESSIONALS RIDE STAGE 8
We cycled the short distance north to the Welbeck Street car park where we stowed the bike away, changed out of our cycling shorts and walked back, picking up sandwiches en route, to the nearest point on the route, the top of the Regent Street leg. We thought that because the riders would have to slow down so much there, it would be a great place to watch. We got the last two barrier spaces and settled down to eat our sandwiches and wait for the race to start at 3.30 pm.
The race was spectacular to watch, with Wiggins and three of his team leading on the first couple of laps. Watching them wheel round the tight U-turn in front of us was hair-raising. One of the team cars got it wrong and had to reverse a bit to get round, while the red race car in front of the race managed to squeal its tyres every time to the delight of the child next to us. A breakaway of eight riders held on for a few laps but was then subsumed into the peloton again. Sometimes a lone rider would pass several seconds after the rest, trying to catch up. The rider of one of the final two police bikes following the race proved to be a cheerful chap, holding his hand to his ear and waving his arm to persuade the crowds to cheer him and his companion.
One poor rider had had a fall somewhere and continued with a bloody mouth and chin for several laps, falling further and further behind. His personal escort of two police motor bikes led him, and the cheery police rider being one of them whipped the crowd up to greater applause and cheering to sustain him. But the injured rider then disappeared, either into the peloton but a lap behind or else withdrawn – we didn’t know which. We managed to spot Wiggins with his rather diminished beard and lack of sideburns a few times in the melee, but didn’t realise what work he was doing for Owain Doull to bring him up to third place in the General Classification result.
The view from our roadside vantage point of the Tour of Britain Stage 8 (Wiggins leading the peloton in centre photo)
Click on images to enlarge
At last (we had lost count), someone said it was the final lap and the peloton passed at full tilt. The final sprint in the very narrow section before the finish in Lower Regent Street must have been chaos. Some of the crowd hung on hopefully but we headed for a café (another coffee and cake) and then back to the car. Arriving home at 8.45 pm we got the bike out of the car just as the first raindrops fell. We were just in time to watch the last lap and the sprint finish on the highlights programme on the television, and were glad to learn that Greipel had been relegated for his elbowing of his sprint rival, Viviani of Team Sky. After some supper we watched the final stage of the Vuelta – the end of an exceedingly satisfactory ‘grand day out’.