There were difficulties before the race. Ondra had trouble with a chain, and I was not able to get used to my new clip-on pedals. I forgot to take my feet off the pedals promptly so I looked like a victim of domestic violence after our cycling tours. Two days before the race, we were about to take a little ride when one spoke on the front wheel snapped. I got so scared that I forgot to pull my foot out of the pedal again, and I rolled over hitting my face looking like a falling elephant. My knee got hurt, and I hoped that it would be fine by tomorrow though my bike was not.
Ondra had to go back home for the car and pick me up. I waited for him at the roadside, the bicycle leaning on a fence. A curious older man came out of the house. He was not accustomed to having an unknown blonde standing in front of the house. He greeted me kindly and asked me if everything was fine. This is how conversations in this country usually begin – in any situation and weather.
So even if I, for example, landed in the yard in front of the house with an aeroplane while the right engine exploded, his first question that I would probably hear would be if everything is OK. When he saw my wound, and broken spoke on the bike, he immediately took the role of the saviour. He offered me a chair to sit, disinfectant and water. Finally, he asked me carefully where I live and if I need a lift. I love this in England. I refused everything with warm thanks. Fortunately, I already have my saviour.
The knee was healed by the next day as expected, but my wheel still needed to be repaired. Because I have a rather unusual old model, nobody had the spare parts available. It had to be ordered. Luckily, my favourite family bike service saved me (thank you Senova Cycles!). They gave me a fantastic racing front wheel as a temporary replacement. They also recommended me (for my safety) to ride with regular pedals, not with clip-on. Later it turned out to be sage advice.
We prepared everything we needed the day before the race – clothes, protein bars, bottles of water and cash. All tribute goes to Ondrej who made sure everything is ready. (I became a very organised person thanks to him). We woke up very early in the morning, a quick shower with breakfast followed and then we set off to the throes of London. It’s Sunday at seven o’clock in the morning. Even though London is never asleep, it is hushed this morning. On Sunday, moreover, we can park virtually anywhere in London, so we left the car in one residential area about a kilometre from the start.
We started at Clapham Common, one of the many stunning London parks. Parks are just one of the most exceptional features in this city, and they will never stop charming me. We got to the race in time, so we started well. The first quarter of the race was wild because you get pressed between the wheels of other bikes or between cars. I’m talking not about centimetres, but millimetres. You need to concentrate not only on traffic but also on cyclists who often manoeuvre unexpectedly. I can now understand why many people do not like riding in pelotons.
Especially when riding up the hill, I became stuck with other co-riders. I never used my abdominal muscles as much as during this ride. Thanks to my jelly belly, I kept the balance even at a plodding pace. I could not afford to fall because it would trigger a domino effect. We saw several accidents along the way. I felt a great deal of respect, especially when you see how much you can hurt yourself with one accidental fall.
Once I got out of London, the ride continued through the countryside. And I love the landscape. Here in England is full of pastures where you can see mostly sheep, cows, horses or tired cyclists. In addition to typical English houses, there were supporters and cool refreshments with a great choice of food and drink. We had a good supply, but we could not resist fresh bananas. Snacks have always been a proper strengthening before a hill.
The sky without a single cloud promised a scorching day. I have applied UV50 cream on my face as I did not want to look like a lobster, but I cannot reasonably explain why I forgot to put sunscreen on my legs and especially my arms, which I felt like they were on fire, ouch. It was not easy to ride; luckily the local people regularly sprinkled the riders with cold water, which was the best thing they could do. Many have had used garden hoses or lawn watering systems. Others (especially children) had water guns. It was just great.
The race temporarily stopped before the last and worst hill – Ditchling Beacon. There was an accident again, this time more serious. I’m a little nervous about this, the longer we wait, the more I’m afraid of muscle stiffness on my legs. Beacon is famous here. A lot of people merely walk while they push the bicycles next to each other.
After a while, they finally reopened the race. I have already made it clear to Ondra that I do not want to communicate with him at this stage of the race. I’ve had 70km in my legs and had to utilise all the energy into dealing with this challenging hill. To my great pleasure, I beat Beacon! My legs have not betrayed me this time, though it hurt a lot then I suddenly found myself on the top. My reward was an awe-inspiring sight. The final stretch led uphill and flat, so we were in the finish a moment later.
Although it was a hot day and it was a crowded ride, it was one of the prettiest races, and I’m glad it went without any complications. Our bicycles were doing great as we did not have a single issue. (It is better to have troubles before than during the race). As soon as we arrived at the finish, we headed closer to the sea, which was a few dozen meters away.
Finally, I could use the swimwear I was wearing, but the water was cold as ice, and I admit – I did not dare to dive in. In the end, I gradually managed to get into the water with my legs fully immersed. The ice water pleasantly cooled my tired legs. It was very healing although a barefoot walk on hot pebbles isn’t the best combination.
After a while on the beach, we agreed that it was time to go home and set off on the promenade towards the transfer. We got some oranges from the race organisers and bought a sparkling ice cream on the way. We were looking forward to our traditional spaghetti split with cheese and ketchup. And most of all to the shower.
We were sticky and stinky and had to survive an endlessly long journey from Brighton to London on a bus and then by car from London to Hertford. The ride back took more than 4.5 hours. It has to be noted that traffic was crazy on Sunday night in London, so the trip home took twice as much time as the trip in the morning. I have not seen such crazy and aggressive drivers in my life as in London. The streets were full of life and noise. Honestly – I cannot imagine living in this city. The older I am, the more I look for quiet, ideally isolated places, however, I can survive it once a year. It was worth it, and I’m looking forward to the next year.
This article was translated from Czech, original version available here.