Jubilant but tired around 6:00am all six riders were home and dry, the weather had been just great but the exhaustion and testing hills, yes there are many testing hills around London, were all forgotten as the lovely lady placed our medals around our necks. We had enjoyed a hearty pasta meal in Dulwich Village to build up our energy levels and by 11:00pm we were getting into our grouping and setting off. From Crystal Palace we follow the arrowed route through busy streets with traffic and buses vying for position at traffic lights and smokers outside the busy pubs clapping and screaming us on our way. It is all pretty uninteresting until we are in Greenwich and the O2 leaps into view across the Thames and we head for central London. Soon it is the run up to Tower Bridge which stands before us like some archaic time machine, swallowing cyclists by the hundreds. The magnificent lighted night time scene of the Pool of London and also downstream was breathtaking but no time for pictures as the group presses on.
Simon Pinkney and his younger brother, Julian, Steve Sprake, Luke James Stewart (only one man, not three) and myself, Stephen Hartley make the team up and Katy Sprake, Steve’s daughter, Fundraising events manager for our chosen charity, Help The Hospices has tagged along for the ride. It is early morning now and the sidewalks are thick with Saturday night revellers queuing for their favoured club and the road is a mass of buses and taxis that really could do without the rush of 3000 cyclists. We pass St Pauls, the City and Canary Wharf then arrive at Mile End Stadium for our first pit stop. Top up water and energy bars are given out freely so we refuel our stomachs and are soon away again heading for the Emirates Stadium, a thrill for all Arsenal fans I am sure. Having left the river behind us the climbs become more frequent and we pass through areas of differing affluence and then the eeriness of the run down shanty style market at Hackney. We quickly press on. Alexandra Palace is our next goal and we believe it is the half way mark but our speedometer says different and as the road begins to climb more steeply we expect it to be just around the next corner but it isn’t. Finally, at the top of the most monstrous and totally unnecessary climb we reach Alexandra Palace and close to total exhaustion’ we pull into the break area which, in the artificial lighting looks like some surreal Hollywood film set. Never, in the history of cycling, has so much energy been expelled by so few for a cup of tea but it was welcome.
Â Only slightly rested we mount our cycles again, the saddle now quite snug and the shoes more easily clipping into the pedal fastenings. A slight mist envelopes us and the temperature drops noticeably but we can only press on, for what, another long and drawn out climb ending in not one but two peaks. Following on so soon from the last hill the effort is excruciating and never ending but you cannot keep a good team down. We are now in the more upmarket suburbs of Noel Park, Fortune Green, Hampstead Heath and Camden Lock then soon we are on more level ground in Westminster. It has by now gone 4:00am and the sun is rising and London is waking and we are witnessing a totally different City with determined stern faced people heading for work or some other non recreational purpose. Having had the roads to ourselves for the last couple of hours and may I say, some of the most potholed roads that we were most surprised to come across, the traffic was by now building up again and Piccadilly was so full of rickshaws, I had to ask myself if this really was London and not Singapore. A push up Whitehall and a quick salute from Nelson only leaves us Hyde Park, the Royal Albert Hall and we are back at the Thames. We crisscross the river on famous bridges and catch the skyline in the early light but the most amazing point for me was the first view of Westminster Palace with its windows reflecting the low sun as burning gold. It was a spectacle too behold. Like home coming footballers, some WAG’s had stood on Westminster Bridge to raise a cheer and lift our spirits which, surprisingly were not flagging. Leaving the city behind we have about ten miles of less exciting streets to cover before, the final hurdle, another mother of all climbs which forces two of us to dismount before re grouping again for a two minute cruise downhill into Crystal Palace, a medal and a mighty bacon, sausage and egg roll. What a journey. Would I do it again? Yes, on foot with my camera.