Ride London-Surrey vs. Vätternrundan: a comparison

Motivation

The reason Ollie and I decided to look for a new challenge, and in doing so found Vätternrundan, was that we were unimpressed with the way London-Surrey Ride 100 (Prudential Ride 100) was organised.We felt that too many people were released onto the course at the same time, that many of these people were not regular cyclists, and that these two factors combined to make the course high risk. Finally, we were also unimpressed with the requirement to turn up mega early, to stand in pens (typically in the pouring rain) whilst slowly being herded towards the start line.

On the plus side, London-Surrey is a prestigious event, which we have been lucky to have a chance to do (for me, on more than one occasion), due to the fact that the roads are completely closed to traffic and participants can enjoy seeing London in a completely different light; a rare opportunity. It is also, just down the road, so it is accessible to us.

Conversely, Vätternrundan is a 2000 mile round trip, it involves two ferry crossings and many, many hours of driving (or alternatively the purchase of a bike box, a flight reservation, and a hire car). It takes time and money to get to. However…

We drove into Motala (the host town), we parked in a free, designated car park and took a free bus to centre of the activities. We flew through registration and despite not knowing the language, found everything we needed. We were allowed to cycle on the course to get to the start.

Start pens

The start pens were split into three (e.g. 2154/2156/2158), and our numbers told us if we were in the left, middle or right (though we could have worked it out for ourselves based on our start time). Once your time was showing you could enter the pen. I entered my pen at the very last minute (having been sat down and using the facilities, right up to the last minute), and that was not a problem at all.

The start pens, therefore, took up a very small amount of space, there was not a maze of pens leading into the one starting area (like London – groups orange, red, black, blue, times, group numbers… all converging on the one start area, slowly…), participants could relax until their time came up… it was just so, so much better.

Participation

The two events allow the same amount of participants (around 26,000), the difference is that Vätternrundan release participants on to the course over a much longer period of time (from 1900-0700) and thus spread them out across the course.

Whilst I did see a couple of injuries, I didn’t see or hear about anywhere near as many accidents as in London, and I didn’t get held up at all due to anyone else’s actions. Vätternrundan does still have inexperienced riders on the course, but they didn’t cause an issue because everyone was so much more spread out, plus the length of the course probably does deter some individuals from applying. Lesser mileages are catered for in the weekend prior to the main event; with a half Vatternrundan and also a ladies event; so everyone gets a chance, lessening the risk. (I believe London may be introducing a shorter event, which is a good thing).

Food

London provide food stops, with the standard gels, bananas, sweets etc… pretty good but I generally only used them for the water. Thing is, I can carry sweets, gels and cereal bars in my pocket – what I need at certain distances is some savoury and some salt in there as well. And when I am cold and wet, I need somewhere dry and warm to shelter. Vätternrundan provided two indoor stops with hot meals, which were very well received. Not only that, but they had also catered for gluten free and vegetarian (I expect others too), which seemed very modern and insightful.

Other traffic

London is closed roads. No other traffic other than emergency vehicles. No access for cyclists getting to the event. Just competitors.

Vätternrundan is less strict; some roads are closed to traffic, some have a much lower speed limit than others, some they’ve transferred traffic to the other carriageway (making a dual carriageway into two single lanes) and some remain open. It worked, and I wonder whether the knowledge that the road does have other users added to the improved discipline of riders. It also meant we could get to the event without going massively out of our way. Our host in Motala, was troubled by the traffic hold-ups, but she could get through – had it of been London she would have just been denied access.

Cost 

Vatternrundan was almost double the cost of London.

For the money, London provides a e-mail and facebook comms, a magazine, posted instructions, food stations, a medal and a bag of goodies at the end. They also cage off pretty much the entire course.The course is open from the early hours until mid-afternoon. Whilst, Vätternrundan provides e-mail and facebook comms, food stations including two main meals, and a medal. They cage off the start and end of the course. The course is open for 24 hours.

So…

I wouldn’t do either again! I wouldn’t do London because I didn’t enjoy either attempt and I felt it was risky. I wouldn’t do Vätternrundan again because it was a crazy thing to do and a once in a lifetime experience! It was challenging but fun, and there were waaay more opportunities to ride as a group and really help one another getting around.

In my opinion though, Vätternrundan was much more professionally run, much smoother, efficient and safer (but it has been running for much longer than London).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A change in perceptions

I think I would generally consider America to be the home of the motor car. Why? Well, the wide roads, the drive-thru’s (banks, food, pharmacies etc…), Henry Ford, and the general necessity to own a car in a country so broad. Surely riding a bike on these large roads, with huge trucks steaming past just doesn’t happen. 

On the other hand I consider England to be one of the big cycling nations. Why? I grew up knowing about cycling; my Grandad is a cyclist, my uncle was and as he grew up my brother became the next generation cyclist. The UK has some cycling greats: Wiggins, Froome and Cav; Before them: Hoy, Boardman, Simpson and Holland. And the girls… Pendleton, Trott and Armitstead. We have the Tour of Britain and compete strongly in the Tour De France. The Olympics of 2012 brought a renewed passion for the sport, and the launch of the Ride London sportive. 

But these were just my perceptions, based on exposure.
In reality, Canada and the USA have an extensive network of cycle lanes, multi-activity lanes and cycle-specific routes. Toronto has a cycle map which enables you to plan a safe cycle route through the city and some of these lanes even have their own traffic lights. But they have implemented more than just an infrastructure, the drivers have complete respect for cyclists; they yield to cyclists at junctions, or when a cycle path crosses a road. 

Conversely, with exception to London, the cycle network in the UK is either non-existent or unreliable. Road cyclists avoid cycle tracks due to the likelihood of them turning to gravel or becoming unrideable. Cycle lanes are shared with BUSES! And outside of the main towns and cities, nothing exists. We probably have slightly quieter roads, but they are smaller and have faster speed limits. Finally there is a complete lack of understanding, and thus respect, between cyclists and drivers – probably due to them having been thrown together in uncomfortably shared circumstances. Something which has caused a vicious circle or self-fulfilling prophecy to develop in which drivers and cyclists expect each other to exhibit certain behaviours and thus act defensively or aggressively in anticipation. 

To sum up, our two holidays this year have both left me wishing we had the cycling infrastructure of our foreign cousins – extensive, pleasant, well-kept and accessible. 

I wonder how NYC deals with cycle traffic…

I love the weekend!

I finished work for the weekend, early and made my amazing Dad (who has been decorating and DIY-ing in my flat for two weeks) thank you cakes and made a cake for my Valentine – because it’s that weekend.

Happy Valentines weekend!

Happy Valentines weekend!

We aren’t really doing Valentines, though it probably may appear to others that we are. It is totally coincidental that we happen to be spending the weekend in London, because without a thought to the date we booked to go to the Bike Show at the London Excel; we are also going to see Made in Dagenham at the theatre and will have a nice Italian meal to top it off.

I am so excited.

The bike show is the beginning of my carbon bike procurement journey. Will it be the primary front runner – Giant, that I fall head over heels with or will a more competitive, good looking rival win me over? Maybe I will buy a Rose (that would be an apt choice), Canyon, Cube, Mavic, Scott….? Now is the time to get your recommendations in. I sort of know what I want but I am hoping that I will get exposure to potential choices in a way the internet spectacularly fails at. 

At the moment, as you know, I am torn about what type of brakes to get but I know that I would like 11-speed, Ultegra (full if possible) and I would like 30 or 32 teeth (I really do hate those hills).  The Giant fits the spec nicely, but is on a very long delivery time and would barely make it to me in time for our Alpy Holiday and no chance for Yorkshire. Finally, I am after an endurance fit rather than a racy style and I am moving away from uni-sex to women -specific. 

So, we will see and I am sure you will wait with baited breath!

And since tomorrow is leave from work, I will finally get out on my poor, rejected old steed and give my tired brain a rest from Uni work. I really could do with the exercise! 

Have a lovely Valentines weekend.

 ? 

xxx

p.s. hello to the Grandbeings – sorry I haven’t been able to visit recently. 

A steep and eggy learning curve

Each evening recently Ollie opens up WordPress and tuts with disappointment. So here’s a post, from lectures! The lecturer is struggling to work the IT, which is a little worrying for an Information capability course, so we have an extra 20 minute break. I can’t really be bothered to leave the room anyway, so I may as well spend the time productively.

So, what’s been going on?

I have discovered that the winter is incredibly frustrating! If it isn’t for rain, wind and the threat of snow then there’s the ice. The day can look lovely, with the sun out and no wind but the temperature won’t have risen high enough to melt the ice. Just in case anyone was wondering darkness and ice aren’t a good mix, particularly when you’ve not eaten enough carrots and can not see in the dark. Despite the frustrations, I have managed a decent amount of miles so far, though the interval training is suffering from my aversion to my turbo trainer.

Talking of discoveries, I found this eggcellent breakfast idea on several blogs recently:

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And I have further developed them into little cheese omelettes. Really quick and easy to make and they provide you with a week of breakfasts.

That’s not to say that the first few attempts were without problems! It was a bit of a learning curve to begin with; the oil must be the spray version – a pool of oil in the bottom does not combat against extreme egg sticking on the sides and much scrubbing to return the tin to a reasonable state. Furthermore, some eggs are volatile; 35 seconds into being microwaved it is possible that they will explode and coat the microwave in eggy goo. This is not what anyone wants at 0700 in the morning!

We’ve also been planning! A trip to the bike show, a bike purchase, a weekend in Yorkshire and a two week trip to the Alps and the TdF.

The bike show, in London during the (long) weekend of 12-15 February will be the serious start point of my carbon bike procurement process! A process which needs to be complete by our long weekend of hill climbing in Yorkshire and the Peak District. The bike show also combines with the Triathlon show, which will be of interest to Ollie as he is about to begin training for triathlons (crazy if you ask me). The weekend t’up North is preparation for the big European trip, to try and get me used to camping!

During the weekend, just gone, Chris, Ollie and I held a holiday summit, which was rather more successful than any of us imagined it would be. We now have a plan for all but the last two days, and as an added bonus we should see the TdF on three consecutive days. Even better is that out of the 8 nights accommodation that we have booked, seven of them are in hotels. 😊

Next post soon, with a selection of possible bikes and their plus and minus points.

Laura

A complete century

The official time isn’t out yet, not that it was really about the time, but the moving time on my Garmin is 7 hrs and 6 mins over a distance of 101.70 mi and an elevation increase of 4,193ft. The official time will be around 8hrs 30 mins.

 

I am so happy to have finally completed a century! Today was obviously the day. For weeks I have been struggling with my fitness, joints and fatigue; today the weather was perfect, my fuelling plan worked and I didn’t bonk. It has become customary for me to have a half an hour lie down as soon as I get off the bike but today I felt so good at the end of the ride that this wasn’t necessary and four and a half hours later I am still vertical.  

On the way into Warminster I commented on the fact that I had got to the 20 mile point with no punctures, and that even at such an early stage this sportive was an improvement on London. On the way out of Warminster my gears suddenly stopped working, the cable hung loosely – it had snapped. I remember the disbelief that things were going wrong again, although I have learnt the basics of bike maintenance I had no idea whether this was a significant problem – to me it looked awful. It couldn’t have happened in a more convenient place though really, we had just left the rest stop so we turned around and headed back to the bike mechanic who replaced the cable free of charge. Apparently it was a strange thing to happen – goodness knows how I managed it. 

 

Much of the rest of the ride went without incident; parents, grandparents and granddog supported as usual – thank you very much 🙂 At our final stop we realised that we were likely to do the 100 miles in just over 8 hours and we increased our pace a bit to try and get as close to the 8 hours as possible. However at the 96 mile point we came across a lad on a bike, which was making an awful noise and Ollie stopped to help him. I carried on to the 97.2 mile point, from which I blogged, where I stopped thanks to my chain coming off! The boy had a puncture and hadn’t realised, so Ollie spent around 15 minutes mending it for him, (although he had a spare tube he hadn’t got any tyre levers and had no idea how to go about replacing the tube) while unbeknown to him I waited at the bottom of the hill and Chris was desperately trying to work out where we could have got to. Finally, all reunited at the bottom of the hill, we finished off the ride – it wasn’t London, but it was great to complete it with my brother who got me into it in the first place.

For Ollie – what a journey – no bike to a century within three months! Congratulations! 

 

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Posing with my brother!

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All three of us at about 40 miles

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Pulling in for some lunch.

 

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All three of us at Crofton Pumping Mill

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Ollie and I coming in to the finish. We had discussed a photo with all three of us holding hands, but no-one was too keen to be in the middle!

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Chris coming into the finish.

 

Almost a month late, but it’s complete albeit on a more difficult course than originally intended! 

Laura

It was not the turn of the century.

The long awaited 10th August 2014 was not the day that I had planned for, trained for and certainly not the day that I have been imagining for the last 6 months. I suppose it was a cyclist’s nightmare, but a blogger’s dream. Where to start?

I think to start I need to mention the fantastic support I have had over the last week in particular: to my parents for travelling to London on the train for a mere glance of me crossing the finish line and for the pleasure of buying me an ice cream to help my recovery; to my brother for organising them (!) and for cleaning my bike; to Ollie for spending an entire week cooking for me and looking after me, for putting up with my nerves, for driving me, for getting up super early and for travelling around London alone to catch photographs of me; to Sammy and Jean for putting up with me and keeping me going; to the Public of London and Surrey, who were frankly amazing and to London Ride 100 for making the right decision. There are many others but it’s beginning to sound like an Oscar acceptance speech.

Setting off

Setting off

Shortly after I posted, first thing Sunday morning, the organisers of London 100 made the decision to cut out Box and Leith Hill making the route just 86 miles long. Initially I was extremely disappointed, having spent 6 months training and preparing for the century and avoiding completing 100 miles so that London could be the one, however having completed the 86 miles I am convinced that the organisers made the correct decision. There were several accidents along the way most probably caused by the poor conditions, Leith Hill descent would have been Leith-al!

The main cause of the day not going as planned, and resulting in me naming my ride on Strava as ‘Hellish’, was named Bertha; ex-hurricane Bertha. The Met Office describe the horrendous rainfall and wind speeds within their blog, but of particular note was their comment about the amount of rainfall:

The highest hourly total was 18.4 mm at Wisley in Surrey between 9 and 10 am this morning

As a small, novice cyclist I am yet to develop the strength or discover the skill to cycling in wind, even the most unassuming of breezes upsets my cycling and slows me down, so although I knew that the rain wasn’t going to be fun, it was the wind which was really concerning me. I couldn’t really have imagined the amount of rain which came down though, or the subsequent conditions which we would have to endure. I remember wondering, while cycling through Richmond Park with a disorientating stream of mud running diagonally across the road, whether this was a course better designed for Mountain Bikers. It was shortly afterwards, in Kingston, that we were asked to dismount in order to walk through or around the largest flood that we had faced to this point.

Flooded under the Kingston Bridge.

Flooded under the Kingston Bridge.

Having carried our bikes around the flood and remounted, we were captured on camera by Ollie:

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I heard the course being described as Toughmudder for cyclists by two girls on the TV, while Chris Boardman described the rain as being

Torrential and then Biblical and then back to Torrential again. 

There were points within the course, while cycling in the centre of the road, that I was unable to see the curbs at each side of the road, let alone what was in front of me. Although I was wearing my cycling glasses water was still pouring into my eyes; so it is from this experience that I learnt that my left eye lid is pretty inefficient… I constantly had to wipe/rub the water from my left eye or cycle with my left eye closed. 

As with most organised rides, once I am out on them I rarely know where I am so I can’t identify the locations of the two other significant floods which we went through, one of which I thought had killed my Garmin Cadence sensor as I had 0 cadence for the following 10 miles.  £££££ flashing before my eyes. Nor can I expose the location of the crazy , cyclist hating woman who nearly had me off. I think at this point it is important to stress how absolutely fantastic the public were; people of all ages, individuals, couples, families, pub parties all out cheering us on, high-fiving us and generally making us smile, in torrential rain as well as sunshine. But this one lady ignored, even fought with, the stewards and walked out into the road directly in front of me, with a look of rage in her eyes and shouted STOP! There would have been no chance for me to stop but I managed to swerve and avoid her. Her action was simply to make a point though – the road behind me was clear – she only had to wait a matter of seconds to cross safely.

The secondary cause of the day not going to plan, could also be blamed partly on the weather, in that within 7 miles of the start I had two consecutive punctures. It took around 30 minutes to replace the tube, twice, and to do an inordinate amount of pumping (Sammy kindly banned me from pumping due to my sore wrists). During this 30 minute stop we couldn’t believe that we didn’t receive a single offer of help, while on the Savernake Sizzler you’d be offered support by a fellow rider at the merest sign of a sneeze but on Sunday as three ladies struggled, competently, at the side of the road flanked by men standing around looking on we weren’t offered assistance, not even once. That’s London for you. Once we had set off again we flagged a Mavic support vehicle for their track pump. On the road once more, in torrential rain, barely able to see what was in front of us, we were flagged down by two lads who were on their fourth and fifth punctures (double puncture); they had run out of tubes and their pump had broken. We stuck around to help them and thus ended up at Hampton Court over 60-90 minutes later than anticipated. The day was barely recoverable – if we got to the end without being captured by the broom wagon we would be lucky.

 

Double puncture in torrential rain.

Double puncture in torrential rain.

Boys struggling

Boys struggling

Girls helping

Girls helping

And this leads to the third cause of the day being more difficult than it should have been; weather and maintenance distractions meant that I didn’t keep to my fuelling and drinking plan. Furthermore, my poor foresight and thus preparation meant that I hadn’t given my Fig rolls and electrolyte tablets adequate protection – at Hampton Court hub I found a pink mush, a combination of the tablets and the rolls. In case anyone was wondering, pink Fig rolls taste as bad as they look. At Newlands I bonked but there was a handy cafe selling chips which we each bought a portion of and ate like the possessed.

I’ve taken two days to reflect on a ride, which became my priority for 6 months and after so much anticipation it’s difficult to get over the disappointment of; not completing 100 miles, not enjoying the ride and the fact that the ride was punctuated with difficulties. However, I think it will become a fond memory – the crowds, the piano man singing ‘The bare necessities’, sprinting along the Mall (as instructed by my brother – in Cavendish style), the privilege of cycling on closed roads and I suppose even the weather added an element of adventure to it. 

My brother's comparison on me and the Pro's

My brother’s comparison of me and the Pro’s

And late yesterday my brother sent me this…

2 seconds slower than Vos

2 seconds slower than Vos

…so maybe I didn’t do as badly as I first thought.

The wait for the turn of the century continues and I remain defiantly novice.

For those of you who have already sponsored me – I will complete 100 miles this summer, and for those of you who haven’t – why on earth not?! I cycled through a hurricane – it’s got to be worth a fiver surely?

Laura

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Sponsor me here

The official photographs can be seen here but they are not representative of the day – I was soaked and wearing a waterproof for all but about 90 minutes of the 8 hour ride.