Milan-San Remo is the first Monument of the year, and the longest single day of racing in the pro tour calendar. We have done plenty of long, hilly, tough rides this year, but nothing as challenging as riding to the coast - the east coast for Manchester, and the south coast for London. We were greeted with our usual grey and gloomy Sunday Morning weather for this time of year, but with or gilets zipped up, we headed out for a day in the saddle.
We made our way into the Peak District via Greenfield, kicking off the day’s riding with a 5km ascent over to Holmfirth. Once we had danced our way through the Peaks, we were met with beautiful flat roads rolling towards the North Sea coast. It’s always nice to ride on roads we have never ridden on, through quaint towns and villages.
The group stopped in Gainsborough, after 125km, for a well-deserved break and a bite to eat. It was here that a group of three riders headed to Scunthorpe for an early train back to Manchester, leaving the rest of the riders to battle onto Cleethorpes for the hugely anticipated fish and chip finish. The two-hour train ride home was appreciated, allowing tired riders to relax and unwind before returning to work and normal life on Monday morning.
Further south, the day before, more than 36 riders met at CCLDN for Colombe di Pasqua – a tradintional Italian Easter cake – and a ride briefing. We wanted to mark the first Monument of the season, and the end of the winter, in both distance and terrain, so this hilly century to the coast seemed appropriate. We were aiming for the renowned Hayling Island Sailing Club, our designated Côte d'Azur for the tribute, which our host Adrian Taylor had organised.
We were encouraged by the promise of a tail wind (a myth, it transpired), but supported by much more, including the homemade ride food that members made to share; the impressive checkpoint deftly installed by Katharine; Adrian’s unflappable wife; several bottles of Jensen’s Gin; and the knowledge that simultaneously the pros were setting out on their own monumental course (280km+) that would probably take them the same time as us to complete.
Riding a century for the first time is a rite of passage for every cyclist. Riding your first of the season knowing you’ve been more than capable before is a little daunting, especially in unknown terrain. At 9:30am, we set out in earnest to battle through the outskirts of London and into the Surrey Hills. An invigorating start to the day you could say, and coming up to the 60km mark we were more worn from the assault of the city than the pockmarked Surrey roads.
The group singles out along the Puttenham Road and the need for food is tangible. At 65km, we crest onto the main road and hear the encouraging shouts of our marvellous ride support, Katharine. The sound of those familiar Rapha cowbells and the bright pink and grey of the RCC logo on the support car are warmly received, and are quickly followed by a restock of ride fuel from the car’s boot.
The landscape folds out and the hills roll back. I’m told that this is how you recognise Hampshire. The last climb, Porchester Hill, is our homage to the Poggio. Portsmouth Road into a head wind then takes every last drop of our reserves. Turning right onto Hayling Island, a rider shoots from the back and sprints onwards to claim a winning sprint time - the imagination of a cyclist is never depleted. Some sobering comments at the front as we realise there are 14km to the final spit on which the Hayling Island Sailing Club sits. A decision is made to roll in together, and the beach road sprint to the finish is neutralised. We realise that the achievement lies in simply getting round the course.
As we round the last corner, first hearing the sound of sails and links flapping in the wind, the cowbells take over, and the welcome sight of our support team. Minutes later, fed and watered, we’ve got that long stare. We’ve had showers and ale, and there are bodies sitting down wherever there is space. A group of traditional musicians are playing in the corner and our minds drift as we look to the sea.
With the day in the legs and the many landscapes in the eyes, we call a cab, load our bikes, fumble around at the station to fix our wheels, and then cruise back in a carriage to London. We still make demands on ourselves, but in retelling the stories of the day. We’ve laughed from dawn until dusk.