I was kindly invited to join a team racing the London Rapha Prestige, this is a women’s event covering 100 miles of road and some gravel in a northern loop, from the Rapha shop in Spitalfields. I’ve only ever done one other road event, the Cumbrian Cracker last year, and in fact have barely ridden my road bike in the company of other people. It’s not been a deliberate plan, I’ve just not really looked at these, always looking at MTB racing as a goal. This was definitely an interesting new challenge.
The ethos of the Rapha race was unsupported and unmarshalled adventures across stunning terrain, calling for teams of riders to work together and more importantly, stay together over challenging courses. This translated to a mandatory three brevet marker points round a loop north of the capital, and cycling a couple of gravel sections, but otherwise, as long as you didn’t ride on the main road arteries the route was your own.
We set off at a good pace through London. It’s been almost 15 years since I biked around the city and frankly I found it terrifying. My team mates, Katie, Jo and Laura are all long term residents so nimbly led the way through. We hit the first hill at Highgate which, for some was a real challenge, but everyone in our team cleared it easily. Passing through North London it seemed surprisingly quick to the point where housing gave way to fields and crammed busy high streets to country lanes. The first ‘gravel’ section was on the opposite side of a dual carriageway meaning, in comedy style, we had to get off our bikes and run across the busy route to reach the start. This as it turns out was horrible. Not gravel but a country lane with mud and a large amount of fly tipping, not pleasant at all. We had one off, due to the mud, but that was it for the whole race. This wheeling through rubbish turned out to be the exception though. All further off-road routes were far more pleasant. It was a new experience for me having the miles tick by quickly and to have the legs constantly spinning rather than heaving up and down rocky paths.
The first brevet card stamp was at a velodrome, and we were invited to do a timed lap also. Katie, Laura and Jo kicked into the lap, tucked into each other and flew around. I missed the last wheel and found myself blowing away about 3m behind, what a great way to add a bit of extra fun into the event. The time rolled on and we cycled up and down the lanes and paths, amazing views appearing now and again as the hedges dropped away to see the undulating fields and forests. The second checkpoint, near Hitchin was the most northerly we would go, after which we headed east and south towards Stevenage and eventually our last checkpoint only 40K from the end. This last one had the coffee van, yippee. An espresso and motivation to keep ahead of the teams now gathering round Pedro pushed us to not hang around long and move off to finish the last stretch. The last section included, as I’d classify it, real gravel. With MTB racing last weekend and 28mm tyres I found this not bad at all. My team mates were on 25s and tackled it head it on, no problems at all. With open fields on either side I was strongly reminded of those sweeping shots you see on the Paris-Roubaix through farmland. I kept checking the sky for the helicopters. Eventually the city started to rise around us. Entering the east end and negotiating the busy canal paths we glimpsed the City at last confirming we were nearly there.
Our finish was greeted by the staff and fellow riders clapping and cheering, a nice touch. Rapha had put on great food and beer, fantastic. As an aside we also won Best Dressed team, what can I say, natural style.
I loved this event and format. @Rapha_uk did a very good job of creating a competitive environment while emphasizing support and teamwork. Big thanks to my team mates for making it such great fun. Katie for organising and asking me to join, Jo for being navigator, and Laura for pacing us at a great speed for most of the ride. I couldn’t have asked for a better team.
Thanks also to @cooksonscyles, my Trek Madone is still a great bike, Katie and JC for being hosts with the most, and Phil and the girls, who spent a great deal of the weekend in the car to support me.