This Sunday, 25,000 cyclists will take to the roads of London and Surrey to attempt the Prudential Ride London 100. The 100-mile closed road sportive is the largest of its kind in Britain and for many, this will be there first time at riding a century. Unlike other sportives in and around Britain, many riding the Prudential will have never ridden a mass participation event and this will be their first experience of riding alongside hundreds, if not thousands of other riders for what seems a mammoth distance. In blind panic before the day, these people will scour the internet in search of direction or inspiration on how to complete this day of suffering. Many of those offering advice will be experienced veterans of the bike who have pedalled thousands upon thousands of miles, have the latest carbon framesets and are versed in the skill of riding in the wheels. Although useful, their advice usually hides the suffering that will take place, the thoughts of failure that will fill your head and the lead that sits in your legs. So here is some tips from someone relatively new to the sport. With under three years of riding experience, I have learnt what it’s like to crawl along at 15kmph when others are overtaking you and I have undergone the mind-numbing boredom of 100 mile sportives. If you are tackling the Prudential this Sunday, give this a read, and hopefully you will find it helpful.
Firstly, I must admit, although I have only ridden properly since early 2014, in that time I have entered various sportives and seen my riding come on in leaps and bounds. This Sunday will be my second Prudential having completed the course last year in a relatively average 6 hours 30. This will also be my seventh major sportive in just over a year, with prestigious races such as the Paris-Roubaix Challenge sitting proudly amongst my achievements. Technically, you could say I have moved out of the ‘beginner’ label and moved towards intermediate or even ‘weekend warrior’ however, I see myself as more than qualified to preach my tales of woe and joy to those just starting out. After all, you only improve when you put in the hours, and that is exactly what I have done, and is what I would recommend to all beginners. Granted, with the Prudential this Sunday, it is a bit late to start the base miles, but for any major event the miles have to be occurred if you have any chance of enjoying the day. For example, last year I rode a hilly 120km sportive throughout north Kent on just two to three hours of training per week. At the 70km point, the sense of excitement had firmly disappeared and this was replaced by pain and regret. Labouring the pedal strokes, I know I was ill-prepared for the sportive and to reach the finish would now be a goal upon itself. Compare this to the Wolfe of Westerham Sportive I rode this June. Exact same distance, yet 500m more climbing including the dreaded Yorks, Hubbards and Toys Hill. I completed the course in 4 hours 50 minutes, a full two hours quicker than the sportive just a year before, and all of this boiled down to time on the bike. On average, I have been riding 200km a week for over two months, compared to the 90km weeks the year before. By simply spending longer in the saddle, my base fitness rose, and my knowledge of what it felt like to ride after three hours improved. The Prudential is 100 miles, 160km, which means in the lead up to this, you need to be on your bike for at least this distance each week in the run up to the event. This can be split in to two 50 mile rides, four 20 mile rides or a mixture of the two, but one thing is for certain. If you have any ambition of riding that century you need to have many miles stored in your legs. It is pretty simple, the more hours you dedicate to your bike, the easy you will make it on the day.
If you have not been able to dedicate this time to training there are definitely a few things a beginner can do to make life easier. Firstly, make sure you take plenty of food and water. The feed zones for the Prudential are not the best, and when they have to cater for 25,000 riders, you can often find yourself hunting around for some food. Therefore, cut out the middle man and store your pockets with some treats. Go down your local Halfords or Decathlon and buy yourself a box of gels alongside some electrolyte drinks. This will be an absolute lifesaver when you are beginning to feel the knock. Also, why not pack a fun treat to have on your ride as well. Nothing is better than pulling out a tasty Twix or Mars Bar to boost morale at mile 60 when you are seriously considering throwing in the towel. That five miles of enjoyment could be enough to pull you out of your rut, get you on the next fast descent and back to enjoying your ride. You could even take with you some money, as along the route there will be an abundance of shops that you can stop in. That short five minute break in Leatherhead when you bought a can of coke and flapjack could really make the difference and should not be sneered at.
Another error that befalls new cyclists is that of the stop itself. You may get to Bushy Park, the first major hub stop, and feel that you are flying with no intentions to stop. Ignore that thought and take a minute, even if it is just to fill a bidon and grab a banana. You may be feeling good at mile 25, but by mile 45 you could be absolutely spent. There is nothing worse than wanting to stop and knowing the next hub is not for another five to ten miles. Chances are this will be your first 100 mile ride and you will not know how your body feels 70, 80, 90 miles in. Therefore, take those four opportunities to stop at the hubs, stretch your legs and back, fill your bottle, eat something and go again. This is a sure fire way of preventing yourself from blowing up on the ride and crawling to the finish at 20kmph.
Lastly, you need to ride it smart. One of the biggest things I noticed at last year’s Prudential was an aversion to riding with others. Whether this was inexperience of riding in groups or a desperation, I am not sure, but it not only makes the ride more dangerous, but it also makes it more difficult. If you are strong but inexperienced at riding with others, do not weave in and out of other riders too make up time. This will expend unnecessary energy and can be very dangerous. Instead, wait for a group to come past at a good speed and latch onto the back, offer to take your turn at the front and reap the benefits. This will increase your average speed and save you much needed energy for the hills. If you are not as fit, then try to do the same thing, just with a slower group. Slowly watch your average speed rise as you sit in the wheels and notice how fresh you feel after ten miles of riding in a bunch. Riding on the wheel of someone else can save you up to 30% energy and over 100 miles, that could be huge.
100 miles is a daunting distance, an impossibility at times, but the rewarding feeling you will feel when you turn into The Mall will be euphoric. As the 5 deep crowds batter the hoardings throughout the last mile, your mind will forget the aches and pains and suddenly it will all feel worth it. As you move up the gears and increase your speed, you find yourself emulating Mark Cavendish, reaching for the drops and preparing yourself for that last big effort. As you swing left onto the iconic straight road, Buckingham Palace will come into sight as will the finish line. 300 meters later you will pass through the finish line, arms aloft, with an ear to ear grin. You will have successfully finished the Prudential Ride London 100, probably the biggest athletic achievement of your life.