Prudential RideLondon 2015: A spectacular day out – and this time I managed not to crash

How London’s post-Olympics cycling sportive has turned into a huge hit

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The Independent Online

The London Marathon is an indelible feature of life in the capital, a symbol of the city as potent as Big Ben or Buckingham Palace. But with the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 on 2 August, the marathon’s two-wheeled counterpart is well on the way to acquiring comparable status.

Arguments will continue for a long time over the true legacy of the London 2012 Olympics, but the facts surrounding the Prudential ride are incontrovertible. First held in 2013, a year on from the Olympic road race and covering the same route, the 100-mile challenge has proved to be both a spectacular feat of organisation and a spectacular hit with cyclists. And while the London Marathon is well ahead in terms of money raised for charity (£50m annually), the £12m expected to accrue from the 2015 Ride100 (up from £10m last year) is good going for an event so young. That figure can only keep rising.

Notwithstanding the atrocious weather that accompanied the 2014 ride, an astonishing 86,000 people applied to take part this year, with entrants reduced by ballot to less than a third of that number. Altogether 25,824 riders, of whom I was one, set out on the ride on the morning of 2 August from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – one of the biggest gatherings of Lycra shorts and carbon-frame bikes anywhere in the world. Even the Etape – the amateurs’ stage of the Tour de France – only has fields of around 8,000.

Simon O'Hagan was one among 25,824 riders who took part in this year's Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 race (David Cotier)

London was rendered a vast no-go area for cars, and while there will always be objections to a sporting event having such an effect, for those of us who got the chance to speed through the City, the West End and beyond on closed roads, the experience was unforgettable – surreal and faintly transgressive.

With the aim of bringing the ride within the capabilities of the regular recreational cyclist – as distinct from the hardened clubman or woman – the route was mostly flat to undulating, but it got serious in deepest Surrey when Leith Hill and Box Hill had to be negotiated. With such huge numbers the fear was that the climbs would become very congested, but when I found myself on the narrow lane that was Leith, the field organised itself in the approved manner – slower riders on the left, overtakers on the right – and kept moving.

These areas of Surrey have become cycling meccas in recent years, and tensions have built up between cyclists and locals. But there was vociferous support shown to us along the way, with enthusiastic crowds gathered in Weybridge, Dorking, Esher and elsewhere. That was great.

I’d also like to put in a word for the utterly brilliant St John Ambulance. They came to my rescue when I crashed out of last year’s ride, and from what I saw this year – no fewer than five instances of riders who had come off, all of them extremely painfully by the look of it - their presence was very much needed again.

The media centre keeps track of the big names in the Ride100

Mamils like me – middle-aged men in lycra – were conspicuous by their presence, but the ride was far from homogenous. Women riders accounted for 22 per cent of the entrants and while it was a mostly British affair, the first rider across the line in the Mall was an Italian, Francesco Cipolletta, accompanied by a London-based Austrian, Gunther Zechmann, in a time of 3hr 57min. The man who took the photograph of me with this piece – David Cotier – turned out to be French – over from his homeland having fallen in love with Box Hill during the 2012 Olympics.

I clocked 5.50 – a little behind the newsreader Sophie Raworth (5.28) but ahead of the Question of Sport captain and ex-England rugby player Matt Dawson (6.04) in a field which also included the singer Sam Bailey, the broadcasters John Inverdale and Matt Barbet, and sporting greats in rugby men Martin Johnson and Shane Williams, athlete Sally Gunnell, and cricketer Allan Lamb.

The cyclist Laura Trott took part, having competed in the women’s road race in central London on the evening of 1 August – part of a weekend of cycling festivities in which bikes were ridden around the capital by nearly 100,000 people, the sun shone,  and London’s two-wheeled transformation took another big step forward.