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London to Brighton: Part One - The Mall to Wallington

Best Laid Schemes...

I have been bitten by the road cycling bug. It is as simple as that. I bought a £600 Specialized Allez 2013 road bike shortly after the Olympics with four simple cycling goals: get fitter, get faster, go longer and stay alive.

The decision to ride my bike from London to Brighton on 19th January arose as a result of needing to lead by example. With my students struggling with inspiration and motivation to start their fundraising projects for this year’s trip to Uganda, I figured I would show them how it was done.

My idea was simple: set up a fundraising page on BT MyDonate supporting All Our Children (UK), say that I am going to ride from The Mall, outside Buckingham Palace, and ride, via the countryside, to Brighton on the south coast, with a fundraising target of £100 for the event.

The snow came, the ride was delayed, but at least it looked pretty.
Before I knew it, I had amassed £300 of sponsorship and had some riding support in the form of two old school mates from my time at Aylesford School, Warwick, namely Simon Page and Chris 'Jonesy' Jones. 

Of course, "the best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley" and sure enough on Friday 18th January all of England and Wales was covered in a thick layer of snow. Cue a one-week delay where no training could be done. Our new start time would be 6am on Sunday 27th January.

After what seemed like not enough sleep, the 5 o’clock alarm was ringing on my phone playing Bob Marley's 'Sun is Shining'. I got up, staggered to the spare bedroom to wake Jonesy, and looked through the window to see the rain lashing down against the parked cars. So much for Marley's sunshine.

To try and counter the rain, waterproof jackets were dinned and a little invention used to protect our feet. Using a roll of cling-film, we wrapped our footwear and secured the film with sticky tape. I couldn’t imagine Team Sky doing this, and looking a little ramshackle, but with some protection for our toes, we set off, in the driving rain, towards the start point to meet Page.


The Mall to Wallington

With the rain coming down at a seemingly impossible angle, Jonesy and myself arrived having already completed an 8-mile journey from Walthamstow to the Mall. Although warm within our jackets, the rain was already beginning to take its chilly toll upon our not so waterproof cycling trousers.

Flashing in the distance, or rather his bike lights flashing in the distance, Page could be seen doing circuits around the Victoria Memorial, like a hamster in a wheel, presumably to keep warm. With a quick shake of hands, we set off, only a few minutes late, along the vast, wet expanse of the Mall, towards Trafalgar Square.

Stopping at the junction of the Mall and Trafalgar Square, a performance in itself for Jonesy who’d not quite got the hang of using his clip-in cycle shoes, we paused briefly to acknowledge the fact we were passing Uganda House and remember the reason we were even partaking in this cold, rainy madness in the first place – helping my students to get involved in an education partnership with a school in south-western Uganda.

Turning the corner, heading along Whitehall and past Big Ben we encountered what would become our biggest bugbear on this journey: an epic headwind. The ferocity of the wind became apparent the closer we got to the Thames as it battered us intermittently before we turned left onto Chelsea Bridge, crossing the immeasurable body of inky water beneath us, and headed to the relative shelter of Battersea.

Winding through the early morning London streets brought a regular smile to my face as we passed the bemused faces of the walk-of-shamers and Sunday-morning workers waiting at bus stops more in hope than expectation for a bus to arrive. What must they have thought of the sight of this sodden peloton rolling along the hitherto deserted roads?

Instagramming whilst riding, not advised and attempted only when on empty streets.
We rolled on regardless, chatting about funny incidents, and not so funny incidents, at work and home. Stories of being in the wrong part of London at the wrong time. Discussions about how you don’t have to be crazy to ride through central London in rush hour. Life seemed sweet as the relatively flat roads of Clapham, Balham and Tooting came and went.

It was shortly after Mitcham that we had our first real hitch. Jonesy seemed to be struggling, Page had slowed down, and me, being in full-on Tour de France mode, had ridden on unaware. We had a regroup by Mitcham Junction station. Jonesy said his saddle seemed a tad too low and he was taking to much pressure on his quads. A quick adjustment was made and off we went again.

A little further down the road, crossing the rail bridge at Hackbridge, Jonesy yet again disappeared. After a wait of a few minutes, Jonesy reappeared in the distance and caught up. It was clear that he was struggling, not only with energy levels, but also to get used to his brand-new, £1,200 Cannondale CAAD 10 road bike. I handed him an energy gel and figured it was best to keep him rolling to get the gel working.

Ten minutes later, and with the peloton crawling at a somewhat less than Olympic pace of 8 mph up Woodcote Road in Wallington, I was concerned we’d never get to Brighton by nightfall, let alone in less than 5 hours riding. Jonesy was out of energy and we hadn’t even reached our first ‘categorised’ hill climb of Marlpit Lane, Coulsdon.

With our peloton only as strong as its weakest man, and as the rain cleared and the sun rose over the houses, it was all looking like coming to an ignominious end in the sleeping suburbs of south London.

It's not quite too late to donate to the cause if you wish. Visit https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/ayohcee to find out more.

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