RideLondon Reconnaissance Ride (And How I Accidentally Rode my First Metric Century)

I am in pain. My knee is killing me. I’ll explain why in a bit.

The purpose of this post is to provide a bit more intelligence on the RideLondon route, specifically the two main climbs up Leith Hill and Box Hill.

You may have seen that I already wrote a post on the RideLondon route (if you didn’t, then you can read it here).

My initial analysis was mainly based on using the official summary route, plotting it into a route-planning website and then commenting on the elevation and gradient chart outputs. Helpfully this prompted a bunch of people with knowledge of the two main climbs (Leith Hill and Box Hill) to comment on their length and severity.

  Leith Hill 

That was good and I know a lot of people that hadn’t ridden Leith Hill or Box Hill were grateful for the intel (whether it terrified or comforted them).

But, dear readers, I didn’t feel that was good enough for you. You want real, live, on-the-ground information. And I want to give it to you. Ahem.

So, with a view to providing more than just a ‘cyber reconnaissance’ of the route, I set off for Surrey. Via Croydon. Unfortunately.

Monty Analyses the RideLondon Route: Redux

I may as well tell you the punchline now. You don’t have to worry about the climbs on RideLondon.

You do have to worry about something else though. More of that later.

In the meantime, let’s look at the section of the route I did, which was :

• from Abinger Hammer down towards Forest Green then looping back north up Leith Hill Road to the A25;

• the section of the A25 to Dorking; and

• up Box Hill on the Zig Zag Road and on through Box Hill village

You can see my full route here, which I plotted using RideWithGPS.com.

Climbing Leith Hill – Putting Down the Abinger Hammer

If, like me, you had concerns about Leith Hill, you may as well stop worrying.

If you seriously think you can ride 100 miles / ~160km in a day (as a RideLondon participant, I’m assuming that’s what you’re training to do), then you won’t find Leith Hill a particular problem, even with 60 or so miles in your legs.

Starting from Abinger Hammer, the route heads south through Holmebury Saint Mary. You climb around 70 metres over the course of 4km, at pretty gentle gradients, before a nice long descent to the foot of the Leith Hill climb. The longish descent gives you a chance to spin out the legs and have a little rest.

Abinger Hammer sign

The official (summary) route map suggests you climb Leith Hill from the south.

(Disclaimer: this is based on my best guess of the route – I might have read the map wrong / it might change etc).

The ascent starts on Ockley Road before quickly turning left onto Etherley Hill. Then it’s pretty much straight up for 2 kilometres, with gradients hitting 10-11% in places.

Having read the comments on my earlier post, I was expecting a long slog, but it was over surprisingly quickly.

I was passed on the climb by someone that looked as if he knew what he was doing (a cyclist, rather than a noticeably-competent rambler).

“Long way still to the top is it?”, I aspirated.

“Just round the corner and straight up”

I took this to mean that the climb started just round the corner, and sank into a depressed funk.

The next thing I knew he had turned around and was coasting back down towards me. He had meant that the top was literally around the corner and up a short ramp.

Having built the climb up in my head, I actually felt a bit short-changed. (This is of course folly – I really don’t want to have to empty myself getting up a climb when I still have 40 miles of the route remaining).

Big Fish, Little Fish, Cardboard Box (Hill)

Most people are pretty familiar with Box Hill. A quick internet search gets lots of great information.

My observations, for what they’re worth:

• The Zig Zag Road is a beautifully smooth piece of tarmac – the climb offers blissful respite from the judders and shudders of the road surface in the rest of southern England;

• The smooth surface and relatively constant gradient makes it easy to get into a nice rhythm as you climb – this certainly beats the potholes and sharp ramps that you’ll encounter when climbing Leith Hill;

• You get to enjoy the graffiti on the road, much of which was created to encourage Cav et al during the Olympic road race – without wishing to sound overly-emotional, thinking back to that period of British cycling success (albeit not in that particular race) does give you an extra bit of bounce as you make the climb;

• But be warned – the climb doesn’t finish at the National Trust Cafe or the viewpoint. The road continues to rise, albeit at a lower gradient, into and through Box Hill village. Even though I’d ridden Box Hill before, I forgot this – hilarity additional pain ensued.

Relax about the climbs, it really is all about the length

My RideLondon reconnaissance ride taught me a few things.

Firstly, if you can, it’s better to ride a route (or a section of it), than try to establish what it will be like by mapping the route on the internet. Comments from other people are helpful, but those comments are not spoken by someone at your fitness level or experience (he says, thereby negating the point of this post entirely).

Secondly, if you want to record a route on Strava for more than four hours, using your phone is not the way to do it. Trying to navigate my way home after my phone died somewhere near Epsom (the racecourse to be precise) was somewhat trying.

Epsom Racecourse

Thirdly, and most importantly, the main issue for me with RideLondon will be length of the route, not the amount of climbing. 100 miles (~160km) is a seriously long distance.

My ride out to Surrey was in fact my first ever metric century ride (Ride With GPS puts it at just over 101km). I am obviously delighted to have broken through this mental barrier – less delighted that a significant proportion of my first century took place in Croydon.

The painful knee I mentioned way back at the beginning of this post started to twinge at around kilometre 85. I had been increasing my mileage gradually, but this ride was 40km longer than my previous best. Clearly it was a jump too far. I will need to continue building gradually to the 160km target.

The impact of long distance cycling manifests itself in other parts of your body, not just the legs. The last quarter of this ride was spent with a dull ache in my neck – the sort of neck ache that tends towards making you feel sick. I certainly need to make sure I am strengthening and stretching my neck and back as part of my RideLondon training programme.

C’est Tout, Voila

It is perhaps fitting that this ride (being both my first metric century and a recon ride ahead of RideLondon) will be my last as an honorary Londoner. This week, Famille Grimpeur is making its big move out of the city and towards the green and verdant hillsides of Derbyshire.

The climbs of the Peak District and beyond await, as does (we hope) an increase in the amount of cycling we do as a family.

The next time the wheels of my mighty Dawes steed hit London’s gold-paved streets will be in August, for RideLondon itself. I’m looking forward to it immensely.

Please Retweet Me, Let Me Go

As always, if you have enjoyed this article I would really appreciate it if you could share it via Twitter or Facebook.

If you have something to add on Leith Hill, Box Hill or anything at all, leave a comment below.

Are you more worried about the climbs or the total ride length, or both?

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