Guest post by Superbreak Marketing Director, Darren Neylon
On the weekend of 3rd and 4th August 2013, London held a new annual world-class festival of cycling developed by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, with the support of London & Partners, Transport for London and Surrey County Council. It began on the Saturday, when almost 50,000 cyclists of all shapes and sizes joined in the Free Cycle event – an 8 mile closed road route around some iconic streets, including the carriageways of Victoria Embankment, Birdcage Walk and Buckingham Palace in the west, to Tower Hill in the east. Apparently, riders came out on penny farthings, family tandems, customised trikes and sit-low choppers. Some raced, some dawdled and some tied balloons to their saddles. The organisers could not have hoped for a better turn out.
On the following day, my wife Juliette and I travelled down to London with Superbreak as guests of the event organisers, London & Partners, to experience the start and finish of the inaugural Prudential RideLondon-Surrey Classic. This professional road race is being developed as the premier one day classic road race in the UK to rival the spring one day classics in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. At 12:45 while we were enjoying a light snack and a glass of wine on the balcony of the Cavalry & Guards Club in Piccadilly with London & Partners, 150 riders started the race from Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in east London. It wasn’t long before the large peloton was storming down Piccadilly in front of our balcony with the narrow roads of the Surrey countryside ahead of them. The sheer pace of the peloton, or my ineptitude as a photographer, (or both!), made it very difficult to take a decent photo.
The race was being televised live on BBC TV so we were able to watch the race for the first hour while enjoying lunch. The sun was shining so we spent most of the time on the balcony while peering through the open window to watch the race on the TV. After lunch, we decided to head down into Green Park to soak up the atmosphere. Earlier that morning, the other major event of the day, the inaugural Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 sportive had started from Queen Elizabeth Park. Over 15,000 cyclists had set out between 6.30am and 8.00am on the 100 mile course which hosted the previous year’s Olympic Road Race. The route headed through the Capital and into Surrey to the testing climbs of Box Hill and Leith Hill before returning via Kingston-upon-Thames, Trafalgar Square, under Admiralty Arch and up The Mall to a heroes’ welcome at the finish line in front of the Victoria Memorial and Buckingham Palace. The route was completely dedicated to the event, including full road closures, bus diversions and parking restrictions.
The atmosphere at this event was absolutely amazing, with course commentators and thumping music keeping the adrenaline pumping for spectators, families and friends. Green Park was full of cyclists with beaming smiles lying in the sun with family and friends, overjoyed that they had successfully completed the cycling challenge. Many had raised money for good causes. Large crowds were parked in front of giant video screens televising the event. A massive stage broadcast live music while tented shops and food stalls fed the masses. Obviously ice cream sellers were doing a roaring trade.
Everywhere we looked, people were sharing stories of triumph with complete strangers, united on the day by a unique cycling experience. I made the ‘mistake’ of prompting a few participants with questions of whether they had enjoyed it, only to find the conversation incredibly difficult to escape from, their enthusiasm overwhelming. All were very complimentary of the organisation of the event, with no stone left unturned by the organisers to ensure it would live in the memories of all participants for the right reasons. In The Mall itself, it was a joy to watch participants ride through the final few hundred metres, high-fiving spectators who were banging on the advertising hoardings, and riding over the line with arms in the air as though they’d just won the Tour de France. Apparently the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, had completed the challenge in 8 hours and 4 minutes.
Being a keen cyclist myself, I was very jealous of everyone who had ridden the event. I really felt like I’d missed out on something special. The RideLondon-Surrey 100 sportive is destined to become one of the must-do mass-participation events in the UK. I’ve already put my name into the ballot for next year’s event. Interestingly, with the opportunity to cycle on traffic-free streets, past iconic London landmarks and through beautiful Surrey countryside, the event is already attracting a broad audience. Just 24 hours after the ballot for 2014 opened on 12th August, over 50,000 had entered, which is over three times the participation level of 2013. Apparently it had taken over 5 months to reach this entry figure in 2013. There is a cap of 80,000 on ballot entries with only 20,000 likely to get a start, although guaranteed entries also exist through various charities.
Once the final stragglers in the sportive had meandered down The Mall, most spending their last reserves of energy waving to the crowd, we were kept entertained in the grandstands by course commentary and music alongside giant video screens televising the professional road race on the same course used by the sportive in the morning. It wasn’t until after 6:00pm that the pro peloton reappeared under Admiralty Arch in front of thousands of cheering spectators to begin the final sprint for the finish. The race was won by Frenchman, Arnaud Demare, of the FDJ.fr team. Sky rider Ben Swift was the first Briton home in 10th place, while Garmin-Sharp team leader David Millar finished in 100th place. Of the other pre-race favourites, Gerald Ciolek was 11th while double Tour de France green jersey winner, Peter Sagan, had dropped out during the race. British fans went ballistic when David Millar surged to the front as they passed the Houses of Parliament, however it was the French supporters who had the last laugh as Demare turned off Horse Guards Parade and won the charge for the line in The Mall.
The organisers of this amazing festival of cycling are hopeful that tens of thousands of spectators and participants will take up regular cycling after the event. They are aiming to create massive engagement with participants, spectators and media alike. I can’t think of any other closed-road event like it that combines the fun and accessibility of a free family ride in central London with the challenge of a 100 mile sportive and the excitement of watching the world’s best professional cyclists race in the RideLondon-Surrey Classic on the Sunday and the Grand Prix the evening before.
This was one cycling event I will never forget, even though, sadly, I hadn’t been able to participate. At Superbreak, we will be exploring options to ensure as many people as possible, including cyclists, family and friends, are able to experience this unique event in London. Whatever happens, make sure you get your names into the ballot for 2014, you won’t regret it!