CTC Millennium Double Century Challenge

Last updated on Saturday, January 11, 2003


June 23rd, 2000

The London to York ride was my first attempt at a century ride, let alone a double century (plus the extra 10% as it turned out)!

Organised (?) by the Cyclist Touring Club and Cycling Weekly the Double Century Challenge was to mark the new Millennium with a ride from Alexandra Palace in London to the CTC York Rally. Total distance 219.9 miles.

I've never ridden a century before, let alone a double century, and in the last few weeks training has been limited to about 80 miles maximum. I have decided long ago that it will be an interesting exercise to see how far I can get. I've no expectation that I will complete the whole ride. My best hope lies in a tail wind to speed me on my way but the forecast is not promising with 15-30mph side and head winds

Riders gather the evening before at Alexandra Palace, home of the first public TV transmissions, by the BBC, in 1936. Overnight sleeping space has been arranged in a room rather grander than the occupants. More cyclists dribble in slowly through the night until very little floor space was left in what is quite a large room

First light is expected at 4am and stirrings start at three. By four everyone is packed and ready for the scheduled off with the slight hitch of not an organiser in sight. About 60 cyclists are milling around with nowhere to go. Some try down the hill to see if there is another start and come back shortly after none the wiser.

After half an hour someone spots an organiser who's arrived with a big pile of uncollated route sheets. A general melee ensues while people try to register their names and get handed route sheets from the top, middle and bottom of the pile.

Rising tempers at the shambolic organisation by Britain's largest cycling club and leading magazine quickly blow away in the sweep down the hill from Alexandra Palace in the dawn light. Then right at the traffic lights and Muswell Hill, the first of many climbs today. Next to me a change down is accompanied by a nasty crunch as a rear derailleur is ripped out and drags along the road. Bad luck for someone.

The roads out of London are still quiet before the morning rush hour and soon it is out into the undulating Hertfordshire country lanes. The sky is bright but a strong westerly wind is blowing which is to become a feature of the day. Not the tail wind I'd hoped for but at least it's not too much of a head wind for now.

I pretty soon realise I have to make my own pace and be unsociable to those who ride either a little too fast or too slow for my comfort. There is a broad swathe of cyclists sweeping down the lanes and I am constantly catching or being caught by others and having brief chats before separating again.

Seven thirty sees the A505 of home territory sweep past and then onto to Ashwell. A quick phone call home, no more than 7 miles away, will catch the family before the school run and I can call for my wind vest for later in the day when Sue plans to drive out to meet up with me

Two miles out of Gamlingay and a red Discovery roars past and pulls in to the side of the road. Two girls are frantically waving out the back window, wind vest in hand. The school run has obviously taken a long detour this morning.

On to Gamlingay and the first feed stop at the school. Rice pudding and peaches, hot coffee and as much PSP energy drink as you can carry. Mmmmm. I top up my Camelback bladder and set off for the next leg to Peterborough.

Towards Huntingdon a mistake in the route sheets leads to a three mile back and forth. Fortunately I have cut strip maps out of a road atlas and can work out where I am meant to go. Once into Huntingdon the signs disappear completely and it is more by luck than directions that I finally convince myself I am on the right road out. On towards the America air base at Alconbury and its flying saucer McDonalds but no Big Macs today.

A long straight road runs parallel to the A1(M) motorway for miles towards Peterborough as the rain sets in. Peterborough crawls nearer at a snails pace but the thought of a rest at the feed station there keeps me going until......... a weak apologetic sign announces a closed feed station and the next one 11 miles away at Bourne (NOT)!

There is nothing for it but a long slog across the flats of Lincolnshire with a strengthening wind but no more rain. Then the phone rings. Sue is just round the corner with the Discovery and salvation for the critical mid third blues. One hundred and forty miles are broken down into 5 miles bites as we inch across the flat plains of Lincolnshire towards Bourne and the feed station several dispiriting miles beyond. This is to be the last real opportunity to stock up and the Camelback is filled right up with PSP.

On towards Sleaford with each mile taking a seeming age even though my speed is up around 15-16mph. As I crawl out of Stamford an air display unfolds in front of me culminating in a spectacular finale by the Red Arrows display team. The local air base is having its annual display but the distraction and spectacle lifts the spirits immeasurably. As far as I am concerned they are flying for me.

Coming into Lincoln at two o'clock Sue gives a last wave and peels off to get back for the afternoon school run as I pair up with another rider. We stay together to the end but I never do know his name.

Out of Lincoln is a steep climb up onto a windswept ridge running north across the plains. On the edge the wind gusts and buffets at 25-30mph sometimes from the front but thankfully mostly from the side.

Then it is time to turn east to Scunthorpe and into a strong headwind for the rest of the journey. An initial downhill off the ridge is deceptive and soon we were taking it in turns to lead into the wind. At times we are reduced to a bottom gear crawl. My spirits are picking up though. York is getting closer and my legs have not worsened for the last fifty miles and are now even starting to feel better. The mid third blues are ending - with Sue's help I've broken their back.

Round the outskirts of Goole the fish and chip shops beckon with delicious odours wafting on the wind but they have to be resisted. Now is not the time to stop.

Up across to York, the sun dipping towards the horizon, the riding automatic and mechanical. This is a game of wills. Slowly the outskirts of York come into view; the sun breaks through the clouds on the horizon throwing spectacular shafts of light across the sky. Across the race course in the fading light, round the buildings and suddenly after 219.9 miles and 17 hours 43 minutes of cycling it is all over.

A pasta meal is followed by a slow ride the last couple of miles to the hotel - no tent and airbed tonight for me; I've earned a proper mattress and deep hot bath. But not before I fall off the bike in front of the hotel. Too tired to lift my leg over the cross bar, we tumble clumsily across the pavement together. Only pride is injured and the hot bath beckons. Sore legs will not stop me sleeping tonight



Alexandra Palace, London


Impressive digs for the night


Getting ready to leave


The scrum for route sheets


Feed station 2 at Bourne


A roadside rest and restock


Past the SAG wagon near Sleaford


Last stock up before Lincoln




Did I really do that?


The York Rally








Force 4-5 westerly winds characterised the day