I used to think of myself as a fair weather cyclist. Not any more, after having battled through the back end of tropical storm Bertha.
On 10 August 2014, "Team Fish-hook" (Jean Fish, Mike Hook and I), embarked on the Prudential Ride London 100 bike race. Taking in the sights of London and the Surrey hills, it is the biggest cycling sportive in the UK.
It's fair to say we had been training over the preceding 2 months in the most glorious sunshine. One barmy Sunday, I even had to stop to buy sun cream. However, the weather had different plans for race day, forecasting torrential rain and high winds.
When we registered at the Excel centre two days before the event there were countless people in a blind panic at the waterproof gear area. An amused worker told me they'd cleared their entire stock of jackets the day before and had had to get an emergency delivery overnight. Still, there was no rain to be seen outside and we were confident the forecast couldn't be as bad as predicted. With some reluctance Team Fish-hook agreed we would pack our overshoes 'just in case'. I don't think the reality of situation really sunk it until it was too late.
We arrived at the start line at 7 a.m. in Stratford and got into our allocated wave positions. The role out of 24,000 riders from the Olympic Park was seamless and impressive to say the least. There was no rain at that point and morale was high. We were however, disappointed to learn that the organisers decided to cut out Leith Hill and Box Hill from the ride and reduce the distance from 100 to 86 miles. Little did we know what a wise choice had been made.
The first 20 miles took in the sights of London, going through Stratford, the City, along the Embankment and out through Chiswick. Riding through London with no traffic lights or cars is nothing short of a privilege. It was exciting to see the Tower of London and The Eye as we sped past, and to ride under the Thames through the Blackwall Tunnel.
It was only when we reached Richmond Park that the heavens opened. The rain was so heavy we could barely see in front of us, water was streaming down our faces and into our eyes (glasses or no glasses), and the roads started flooding. We were wet to our skin in minutes and our brakes were pretty ineffectual. I was then truly grateful we would not have to tackle any large descents in these conditions. The sudden downpour caused a jam. We were made to stop and stand in the rain for 20 minutes along with the other 6,000 rides trapped in the park. You just had to laugh at the madness of what we were doing, voluntarily, and how far we still had to go…
The next 66 miles become much more of a blur in mind. Time bent to feel as though it were passing both slowly and yet extremely fast at the same time. We became acutely aware of the danger of the other swerving riders around us and our failing brakes. It was certainly novel to be cycling through puddles that were up to a foot deep and I have never avoided cycling on drain covers so intently. The aim of the day turned from racing into completing the event accident free. We devised a genius plan to locate each other in the crowd and try to stay together - by someone shouting 'Fish' and waiting for the other Team members to respond with 'Hook'. As I said, it was genius.
We did have some rest-bite from the rain and enjoyed speeding along three a breast as fast as the crowds would allow along the flat of closed dual carriageways in Surrey, and having snack breaks of ISO gels, Jelly Babies and Builder's Bars. I should say it wasn't entirely flat -the climb at Newlands Corner warmed us up nicely. There were friendly crowds cheering us on as we came back into London through Kingston and Wimbledon, allowing us to pretend (however fleetingly) that we were part of the Tour de France.
We managed to stay together to sprint up the Mall and claim victory as three of the 20,709 riders across the finish line. We may not have cycled 100 miles but we took on Storm Bertha and won. After careful thought, it was decided that none of us would attempt the double arm raise off the bike celebration (for fear of falling on our faces). We'd had enough adventure and mild peril for one day…
The ballot for Ride London 2015 opens on Monday, 18 August 2014.