"I once overtook Nigel Mansell," what a great bragging line in the pub. You can conveniently leave out the bit that he happened to be on a bike rather than in the cockpit of a formula one car, but on day one of the London to Paris (L2P) I went past him on one the climbs riding out from London to Folkestone.
Mansell, like me, was riding to Paris in a peloton of around 80 riders that had entered this years Hotchillee event, run over three days. I rode it last year in group six and opted to jump up a couple of groups to group four this year. With six different speed groups ranging from group one (roughly 30k/m average), down to group six (25km/h average), it means around 450 riders make the journey in total. Quite a logistics operation.
The key thing about this event is that you have full rolling road closures from the moment you leave to the moment you arrive in Paris, it's one of the major appeals that the peloton you are in just rolls, escorted by motorbike outriders and official cars, mechanics and road captains it really gives you the feeling of what it must be like to ride in a professional event.
Speeds are controlled by a pace car at the front of the group. The way the road closures work, particularly in France, is that there are specific windows you have to arrive/depart in, and it's the job of the ride captains and the ride organisers to deliver you there exactly on time. For pacing purposes, there is simply one rule, don't pass the ride captain on the front.
From the moment you roll, to the moment you stop each day, all the detail of event is taken care of for you. This is the 10th year of the event and it was the best ever in terms of logistics from the feedback that I received from other people who'd ridden it. People travel from all over the world to ride it, I bumped into a guy - Mike - from Australia again this year, who I rode with in group six last year. He'd had such a great time, he came back to do it again.
Rather than write a three thousand word blog, I've bulleted the key moments from day one below.
Day One Memories
- There had been a threat of heavy rain all week, so we were all dressed for it. As it happened, it was dry other than a small light shower - result.
- Loved the new coffee wagon at the grand depart, really nice coffee.
- Our team kit (I was riding as a guest of Skoda) was white head to toe, so with the promised conditions it was unlikely to stay white long!
- Did a couple of hours on the front with the ride captain - Eddy - in the afternoon. Great guy with a great cycling clothing business called - Dreadnought - give them some support as a UK manufacturer.
- Cracking climb called "The Wall" on the way up to Folkestone, quickly sorted out who the strong climbers were in the group. I hit 184bpm (heart rate max), got up it OK in mid peloton.
- Assisting younger rider - Lucy Scott - who had dropped down from Group 3 at lunch. I know Lucy's dad Howard from Twitter and Lucy was riding for this very worthy cause. Only riding since earlier this year, Lucy battled cramp towards the end of the day on the bike and she absolutely toughed it out and rode through it, despite being in a lot of discomfort. She showed real determination - nice job Lucy.
- The condition of the UK roads is significantly worse than in France so all day there were calls of "hole" - there was one crash where it just wasn't called in time and a few bikes got mangled up in it, no-one was seriously hurt but for a bit of road rash and a few cuts and bruises. Fluid wise I was using High5 carbohydrate drink and High 5 zero tablets.
- I didn't need anywhere near the nutrition that I had brought with me, the pace was well within what I had trained for and I kept a close eye on my heart rate across the three days to be my leading indicator for when I needed a gel or to eat something carbohydrate rich. I actually only took three gels all event, relying on flapjack, bananas, Soreen and the occasional bite of an energy bar. I had a good breakfast each day before setting off.
- I wore compression socks for the first time on this ride to assist with recovery and gave the guys a good laugh when I came down to dinner in them, I took some good banter as the evening went on. Lesson learned, jeans tomorrow!
- I'd pre-packed a shaker with powder to make a recovery drink in my musette, as a I got the lunch stop I'd realised the top had opened and the entire contents of my bag were covered in SiS strawberry flavoured Rego. It was a bugger to clean up in the evening when I got to the room, cue a pack of baby wipes which I had in the case and lesson for next day, put it in a plastic bag!
- Transfer across the Channel this year was by train instead of ferry. It was a significant improvement on past years, making it very quick and efficient. We were at our hotel in France by 6pm, so I shot straight in for a massage.
|Stage One Profile|
When 80 riders, with different riding skills, get organised into a peloton for the first time inevitably there could be teething problems. Group riding is all about confidence, being able to closely follow the wheel in front, to create a shape which cuts through the wind and reduce the effort needed to maintain the pace.
On day one last year, the peloton was pretty messy and it wasn't much different this year. Nervous riders leaving too big a gap to the wheel in front, being too twitchy on the brakes or shouting 'hole' when it didn't really justify it. This meant the peloton was concertinaring all day which made it very hard at the back. One minute, you'd be pushing to close a gap, the next minute hard on the brakes and slowing again, it was pretty frustrating.
This generally occurs when riders go up the outside and try and push in the group causing people to brake and go backwards, less able riders being towards the front of the group and being twitchy or hitting a section where the ascent goes up and not being able to maintain a steady pace.
The ride captains were doing a sterling job of trying to keep things together, bellowing orders up and down the line, but on day one with people being excited, the peloton was pretty ragged, which led to a tiring day. The more experienced riders quickly clocked this, so after each stop or on each hill section, they all chased for the front to protect themselves from the concertina effect.
Day one over, I was pretty pleased we had missed the rain. After the evening meal, it was straight back to the room, final kit check and lights out at 10pm, ready for day two.
- I was a lot better prepared this year in terms of the things I had brought with me on my packing list. Loads of spare carrier bags, dustbin bags for dirty kit, newspaper to put inside my shoes if it was wet, flipflops in my musette for the lunchbreaks. Getting to the room at night was a lot less stressful than last year and being in a faster group this year, we had a little more time.
- Bike cleaning products company - Purple Harry - provided a bike cleaning service at night, which was a godsend. Last year, it took ages to wipe your bike down each morning, so for a tenner each night, that put more time into the mornings to do an active warm-up, drink coffee and chat.
- Pace wise I was absolutely fine, you can see all my ride data here where the point I make about speeds going up and down is clear. Average heart rate was 147bpm across the whole thing (80% of max).
- I rode my SRAM deep section wheels for this event. Descending, I was always on the brakes as they picked up speed quickly, right decision and the bike looked great. I'd had it serviced and the gears also felt very tight.
- This event is all about the people that do it. Banter was beginning to build on day one as people introduced themselves, that makes the miles much more fun.