Viva la revolution! Riding the London Revolution sportive
Tom Owen takes on a weekend-long circuit of the capital
The Dulux Trade London Revolution is something of an anomaly. A two-day sportive ride that sees participants circumnavigate London, 185 miles starting and finishing at the Lee Valley Athletics Centre, using some of the most beautiful country roads around the city to create an extremely taxing parcours. For riders based in the metropolis, it’s an event full of contradictions - an idea that shouldn’t really work, but emphatically, gloriously does.
Mostly running through Kent, Surrey, Berkshire and Hertfordshire, these will be familiar roads to any cyclist who has lived or spent any time in London – and yet, there’s something about the Revolution that turns the familiar into the strange. London rides are almost always bookended by a long, boring slog through suburbia. They are loops that get you back to where you began. The Revolution is strange because there’s no sense of coming back on oneself to get home.
And yes, it’s a strange idea to start a sportive weekend with 20km through central London. There’s no getting around the fact that Saturday morning is not the nicest time to cross through Walthamstow and Southwark. Oh how the drivers honked, oh how the lights turned red just at the wrong time. Every time. It felt like a long 20km getting to Dulwich, before the first hill of the day – College Lane up to Crystal Palace.
Heading to the country
From there, things begin to get greener quickly. Layhams Road, the gateway to the lanes, giving way to the beautiful rolling hills of Kent and the North Downs. A long grind to the top of Titsey Hill is followed by a smashy descent and the first feed zone. Feeling fresh, I decide to go past without stopping and try and put as much tarmac under the wheels as possible.
In retrospect, I probably deprived myself of a treat. When I did stop at the second feed zone, I found a veritable cornucopia of delicious treats. From ubiquitous energy products to actual sandwiches and fresh fruit – real food, at a bike event. Again, surprising at every turn.
With one of the biggest climbs of the day, Pitch Hill, placed immediately after the food stop, and the rain beginning to fall, it felt like a turning point. I was no longer smashing it and the ride was smashing me. However, with that last major unpleasantness – a 20 per cent incline on a hairpin bend, with 100km in the legs and two BLT sandwiches in the belly – put aside, it just remained to crack on for the day one finish at Windsor racecourse and the promise of a hot shower, warm dinner and a massage.
I was among the first 200 to finish the first day, so I hurried through the brilliant shower facilities and hopped it over to the massage area, trying to beat the rush. After a firm but restorative mauling by a chap called George, I slunk off to the beer tent to watch from under a warm blanket the other riders flowing over the finish line. Eventually, somewhere around halfway down my pint of lager, the first ‘Ultra’ finisher was announced. These maniacs had begun the day in Windsor, ridden the weekend’s entire route in a day, and got back to their point of origin just a couple of hours after I arrived having done half.
Other finishers were clearly in a bad way at the end of a hard, 100-mile day. I saw some riders wrapped in foil blankets and huddling around the heaters in the beer tent. After a very, very satisfying dinner – ample in both portion size and choice – I slunk off to my cosy little tent with (provided) sleeping mat. The final slivers of dusk light were draining out of the sky as I walked to brush my teeth, past the showers and 'the pamper zone'.
"The final slivers of dusk light were draining out of the sky as I walked to brush my teeth, past the showers and 'the pamper zone'"
The latter was filled with men, all crouching over their shoes, hairdryers in hand, trying desperately to dry out their kit for the next day. It seemed a fairly futile gesture given the rain was forecast to continue through until noon – that last bit of information having been transmitted like a virus around the campsite, built by the event organisers, earlier in the day.
Embracing the spirit
I awoke feeling fairly rested, despite the best efforts of a very loud snorer a few tents away. Red 61, you know who you are. Another brilliant meal later and I was off for the second epic day in the saddle, this time on an 85-mile course. Flowing out of Windsor and towards Marlow I saw plenty of things to make me smile. Groups of riders working as a team, offering help to the victims of early-doors punctures, and the cheeky grin and nod from a bloke who had stopped for a quick espresso just 20km into the second day. Clearly not bothered about getting the thing done in any sort of hurry.
Entries now open for 2019 event
The 2019 edition of the Dulux Trade London Revolution sportive will take place on May 11-12. Entries are now open on the event website
Perhaps I might have benefited from a more relaxed approach myself. A niggling injury that had been making its presence felt the day before re-emerged in earnest about an hour into day two. I pressed on for a bit but was making things worse, the kind of niggle that become a persistent nag and, ultimately, can’t be shaken off. With a long summer of riding ahead of me, I reluctantly pulled up a route to the nearest railway station on my Wahoo Elemnt GPS and limped home.
In the end, the London Revolution defeated me. But more than that, it surprised me. I thought I’d seen all that sportives in London had to offer, but I was quite happy to be proven wrong by this most contradictory of events.
Website: Dulux Trade London Revolution