There was a point yesterday when I wondered whether crucifixion may have been a more pain-free option. Actually, there were several; the first being when the knee flared up after a mere six miles on the road. But the experience of the previous week taught me to carry on and it soon responded well to the heat of work.
And work it had to, as I was putting in my first ever attempt at a ride of 100+ miles, cycling to my sister's place near Lewes and back. According to gmaps pedometer, it was a round trip of 110 miles, which is around about the distance of La Marmotte, if not the climbing. Definitely not the climbing.
But knee aside, the outward stage was conspicuous by its lack of incident, save a few annoying chain drops that I'll need to get sorted soon. I passed many cyclists along the way, including a couple of bunches of contestants in the SERRL road race, but besides inconsiderate drivers and particularly poor road surfaces, it went smoothly and quickly - 55 miles in a shade over three hours.
A brief stopover at my sisters to top up the water and sun cream and I was back on the road, retracing my wheels homeward. Now I'm fully aware of the myth of London to Lewes being downhill, something to do with it being further south I expect, but my journey back went a long way to busting that myth, it being predominantly uphill. It was also distinctly hotter and I spent many a mile hugging the hedgerows seeking shade. As I passed an ambling cyclist at Maresfield who was heading for Tunbridge Wells, my chain dropped again and he caught me a short distance later. We chatted for a few minutes before he dropped back to his own pace, a sure sign I was definitely feeling fully capable of making the distance.
North of Maresfield, however, is the Anvil. A spot of brush just out of Ashdown Forest that offers zero protection from the sun and wind, the repeat of which I'd been dreading since I'd noted it on the way down. Yet neither the blazing heat nor the stiff breeze proved my undoing. No, it was a pot-hole. Nothing huge, just big enough to cause a slow puncture in my front wheel.
It was so slow, I only noticed it after I'd passed Chuck Hatch. Presumed it was a full puncture, only to find the inner tube still inflated when I'd pulled the tyre off. To save time (error), I stuffed it back in and pumped up the tyre as best I could with my heavy, use-free pocket pump (must buy a light one that locks on to the valve). I limped down Jacks Hill at a pace unbecoming of such a descent, bimbled through Hartfield and stopped again to administer further air to the chamber.
At this point, my thoughts were of quitting. I figured I could probably get to Edenbridge without wrecking the wheel rim and get a train back to London, but I would have failed, having only clocked up around 80-odd miles. I traipsed off towards Edenbridge with resignation after the third stop in as many 10-minute periods, when I chanced upon a couple of marshals from the cycle race I'd passed earlier. I stopped and chatted with them, mainly to see if they had a track pump I could borrow but also out of curiosity about the race. In stifling heat, they told me there might be a couple of people further up the road with what I was after, so I pressed on with the new hugely flat front. And there they were. Two people sat by the roadside with drinks, toolkits, laptops and, more importantly, track pumps. I hastily changed the tube and inflated the tyre, waving them a cheery goodbye as I sped off with renewed vigour. Huge thanks to them, whoever they were.
From the journey down, I knew I had two obstacles between me and home. Crockham Hill and Westerham Hill. I'd picked up a lot of speed coming down both, so I knew they'd be tough after 90 or so miles. Now I realise neither are exactly Alpe d'Huez, but they're pretty much all I've got in my area. And they're daunting enough as it is. Crockham wasn't too bad once I'd got myself into the shade - I even slipped out of the granny gear into the next sprocket down as I ground out the yards. The reward was a descent over possibly the worst road surface I've seen in a long time and I was highly fortunate not to hit one of several potholes on the way. I stopped at the bottom of Westerham Hill for a 'comfort break' and the last of my energy gels, then head down and ready for the final assault. As each of the metres went by I felt stronger. Then the road ramped up, but I was given a target of the shaded area, so sprinted for it. I just caught it and flipped to the granny gear, climbing steadily and with a reasonable heart rate too. By the time the gradient fell away, I was ready to change down a gear or two and climb out of the saddle for the last 150 metres or so.
And that was that. Long, swooping descent from Biggin Hill all the way to Hayes, next the rolling terrain of south east London, then a long drag up Crystal Palace Park Road and it was easy pickings from there on in. First time over 100 miles in a day. And the real beauty of it? Barely any stiffness at all today.
Good job I changed that saddle.