The Shark – 200km Audax 2016

I suppose I could have ridden to the start of The Shark in Greenwich – I used to commute the exact same route when I worked for a brief stretch at the Maritime Museum – but the route promised 3000m of climbing so I was aiming to minimise strain before the start.

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So I grabbed a quick train to Liverpool Street, rode past my current place of work at 6:30am, then caught the DLR at tower hill, popping out at Greenwich around seven.

A couple of minutes and Adam was signalling me into the underground carpark that forms the vault of the pedestrian platform next to the Cutty Sark.

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Photo by the man from icon. Me chatting with Nick (in red). In an underground car park. At 7:00am on a Saturday morning. As you do.

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Me (l) with Rob and Karl (r). Photo by Nick.

It was already busy down there. An early season 200 that starts in London is going to be popular. There was a 50/50 mix of Audax riders and club riders, one half carradices and mudguards, the other rapha gilets and carbon race bikes. The usual cost ratio of Audax riders to Club riders was also apparent – you can usually get three Audax bikes out of one club rider’s bike.

What was most disturbing was the smell of liniment. That’s a first for me on an Audax start line. I didn’t even smell that on the start line of PBP. It took me back to racing days. The implication is that there were people doing the ride who were _shaving their legs_. Very not-Audax!

Well it would all come out in the wash. This was the kind of ride that favoured a cautious approach. With lots of climbing (very near 3000m) it looked like the two hardest climbs were about 30 miles from home, so you’d need something left in the tank there – or have a miserable last two hours.

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Ivan gives the intro, and holds a minutes silence for Richard.

It started pretty miserably too. A minutes silence for Richard Ellis then out into a grey and wet morning, onto mostly empty south London roads, heading directly south to the M25 and the days’ first control, a long way out at 80km.

Riding in large groups of club riders was something I would rather avoid, specially when they are working their way into a frenzy at a mail van and hitting the sides of it. Maybe I am getting old but it seemed totally unnecessary at 7 o’clock in the morning.

They left me behind soon enough. I was pursuing a solo strategy – there was no point getting drawn into an unsustainable pace early on. The only way to get through this amount of hillage without driving yourselves mental was to ride by yourself or with a couple of people you know every well and are within a gnat’s whisker of your pace. Some of the usual suspects had made it down from Essex (Tom, Karl, Nic) , but they were on their own strategies and, judging from their reports, were doing a similar thing to me.

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I spent twenty minutes or so riding with a colourful gent who looked like he’d stepped out of 1988. Riding a single speed with centre-pull brakes, he was wearing an array of colourful kit and kept saying that he would give up soon. It seemed a bit early for that, but as we ground our way up the first hill, specially selceted I feel by Ivan to give you a healthy slap with a 1 in 4 final ramp, he hopped off his bike and started to push. I love Audax for it’s levelling tendencies – it genuinely doesn’t matter what you ride, what you look like or who you are, if you want to do it you are very welcome.

As if ushered in my the god of contrasts I spent the next hill side by side with a hipster on an 80s Rossin. He had the full suite of details – ginger beard, tat on the calf, retro cycling cap. Turns out he’d lost his mate already and he didn’t have a GPS or route sheet. I know some AUdaxers would have had a go at him, but he seemed like a nice guy and I let him drift along with me until he picked up a faster group and bid me adieu.

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Fixed Gear Man, goes past and then goes into the distance….

Taking a pee break as the rain started to clear after two saturating hours I saw fixed wheel man and took a photo. I’d seen him on the Chiltern grit a couple of months ago and was impressed he was taking on this ride fixed. I am aiming for a SR fixed this year, but on the flatter Essex rides.

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Photos: the man from icon (so much better than my own!)

The setup for the control at Chiddingly was lovely. Ivan, Jonah and Adam were there manically stamping, cooking warm soup and doling out bananas – a sterling effort by Audax Club Hackney! They are nominally my club but I never quite seem to have the time to make it to drinks, and I have yet to pick up a jersey that I bought 6 months ago, despite Justin living a whole one and half miles away. Such is London life.

It was amusing seeing the different kinds of riders coming in. The club riders, riding in groups of six or eight on bikes without mudguards and luxuriating in wet road grime flung up off their companions wheels, looked like they had just finished Paris-Roubaix. Then in walked Tomsk looking like he’d just ridden to the shops on a summer day, not a drop of mud on him.

Everyone looked like they were having fun though. Type-two fun, yes, but fun nevertheless.

Unfortunately I ran out of battery at this point so have no photos – I have stolen some to make the rest of this a bit more interesting.

The ride from Chiddingly to the coast at Seaford through The Weald (no, I don’t know what that means either) was a lot flatter, and I was able to latch onto a couple of club groups before their 30kph plus speeds blew me off the back on the merest climb. My tripster is a lovely bike, but it’s no match for a carbon race bike on a short stomping climb.

The irony was that it was taking club riders this long to catch and overtake me. What was happening was they would gallop past at 30kph then ten or fifteen minutes later one of them would get a puncture and they would have to stop for five minutes. Or someone would need a pee at a junction. And then someone really needs to put in a call. And so it goes on. I would catch them up at my steady 25 then count down the minutes until they passed again. I did this four times each with two groups on the way to the halfway turn.

You know when people say that North and South London are very different places? I realised as I got to the coast that all except the first 50 meters of the ride were unknown to me. So at least I hadn’t known what was coming!

After grinding up and over the South Downs (with lots of cars getting annoyed at slow cyclists) it was a nice bomb down to the coast, waving at Nic as he came up the other side.

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It still wasn’t a pleasant day so I didn’t hang around too much to look at the ocean at Seaford, instead turning promptly and relaxing a little with the gentle tailwind. On the way back up the South Downs I saw Tom coming the other way – he’s never behind me, he must have been having issues. Later on I found out he’d stopped to buy some brake pads!

I was starting to feel hungry but also didn’t feel like stopping and left a it a lot longer to stop for food at the ??? cafe. It’s a biker’s cafe, and by biker I mean the kind which needs 1200cc between their legs to feel good. With my tap tapping into the place with my cleats and lycra I felt like a ballet dancer going into a rugby club, but no one laughed (well not to my face) and I had an overdue and very nice jacket potatoe and coffee. A recommended stop for next year.

From there it was more hills, but I was feeling comfortable and had found a really good pace. I was doing my favourite hill climbing routine – spin it in a small gear – and that had kept me feeling fresh enough. Of course this wouldn’t have been an option for many riders. Personally when reviews say that a 34×28 will ‘get you up anything the UK has to offer’ I am deeply skeptical. Maybe if you are 25. Maybe if you like to mash your quads into a pulp in five minutes…. Grunting up a hill is something I try to leave to days on the fixie.

At the last stop in Mayfield I had a chat with a bunch of riders from a club I can no longer remember (Sidcup?). This was one of the groups I’d been playing catchy-droppy with previously. As we set off again I wondered if I would get to pass them again, but this time their luck must have held and they beat me into Greenwich solidly enough that were gone before before I got there.

Ivan had left the nicest two hills until late in the day. It wasn’t just that they were late – they were genuinely hard. Toys followed by Hogstrough (only in England). These were proper first-gear hills. I managed to spin most of them in my 28×28 only having to grind on the steep bit of Hogstrough. I know that plenty walked Hogstrough, and that plenty didn’t walk, but went about the same speed anyway.

From there it was moments until I was crossing under the M25 and then tumbling back down through Bromley dodging the late afternoon traffic, then over Blackheath and down the side of Greenwich park and back to base.

A good challenging early season ride, that’s for sure. A must for anyone looking to get some hills in before something like the BCM. Also a really good PBP or LEL ride. If you can get this one right – by which I mean balancing effort, taking quick controls and getting food right – then you are in pretty good shape.

I was slow on the road – 21kph average dead. But less than 10 hours on the road and a middling 90 minutes of stopping. But best of all I wasn’t ever in danger of going into the red and nothing totally killed me, so if anything I had been a little too cautious? It would be nice to have good weather, a light road bike, take the first 3/4 steady and then really have a go at those two nasty hills!

Photos stolen from (and other reports at…)

Nick Wilkinson: http://www.16inchwheels.uk/2016/04/09/the-shark-200km-audax-from-greenwich-to-the-south-coast/

The man from icon: https://themanfromicon.wordpress.com/2016/04/11/the-shark-brevet-des-grimpeurs-du-sud-2016-ride-2/

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