Not many people know this, but Chris Froome, Mikel Landa and Michal Kwiatkowski actually took part in Ride London on Sunday. Looking for an attention free day, the Team Sky boys disguised themselves as London cyclists to avoid the media. They dressed all in black (imaginative guys) and entered under pseudonyms, riding for a club called Dirty Wknd CC. They had seen the website and agreed that the 'no drop policy' was a refreshing change! They decided at the beginning of the ride that they would aim for a decent 4 hour 30mins. This was so they wouldn't draw attention to themselves, but mainly so they could get to Green Park ASAP and crack open the beers nice and early. Landa, being Landa, wanted to go for a time of 3 hours, but Froomey managed to calm him down. Bloody Landa!
All 3 of the lads managed to find accommodation in East London, not too far from the start line. Team mate and local resident Tao Geoghegan Hart allowed them to camp in his back garden for the night. Not the best night sleep, it has to be said, mostly because Froomey kept farting. However, the 3am alarm call came, and the boys emerged from their tents and setoff for Stratford in the dark. It was raining pretty hard at this point, Landa clutching a soggy peanut butter sandwich and Froome a whole tub of pasta (absolute professionals). There was some sort of hold up at the start line meaning the team had to wait a whole 15 minutes to get through to their wave. Froome was going to say something, but then he remembered they were in disguise. In reality he probably would've sent Kwiatkowski to do it anyway!
Despite the compere's best efforts, none of the Team Sky...I mean Dirty Wknd...boys were up for signing along to 'Eye of the Tiger', so he called them 'the dreariest wave they've ever had' as they rolled over the start line. Chris Froome? Dreary? Come on mate! As they wound out of the Olympic Park and onto the very wet roads it was clear that this wasn't going to be the easy day out that they had hoped for. The pace was immediately high, with everyone in the wave obviously trying to smash a 4 hour time, and intending to do so by riding at 50 kph from the start. Luckily the Dirty Wknd team had managed to get into the 'deep wheel club' - the noise coming through the limehouse link tunnel was beautiful - the realisation that no one could stop in the rain wasn't so nice, but luckily everyone kept it rubber side down. Kwiatkowski got a glimpse of the kind of mood Landa was in as he rode into the wheel in front, giving him a little nudge as if to say 'speed up mate'. Froome sat behind all this, staring at his stem.
As the group wound on through Westminster, Hammersmith and Chiswick it was clear the pace wasn't going to drop at all. Pushing an average speed of about 42 kph, the 3 Dirty Wknd teammates were safely sheltering in the deep wheel gang - everything was looking good. Then they hit Richmond Park and all hell broke loose. A strong headwind going up Sawyer's Hill split the whole group, and only Landa (because he's Landa) was able to stay with the front bunch. Kwiatkowski, ever faithful servant that he is, had to watch as Landa bounced off like a dog after a ball. Froome, measuring his effort as normal, wasn't going to get riled up by Landa steaming off. Who cares about Landa anyway. Not him. No sir! A mixture of Kwiatkowski pulling like hell and the DS coming over the team radio and threatening Landa with releasing some highly questionable photos to the press allowed the team to come back together, and they exited the park fairly unscathed.
The pace refused to drop, and with the deep wheel club long gone, the boys were furiously hunting around for new (deep) wheels to follow. After the briefest of turns on the front (Kwiatkowski, of course) some fresh wheels came along and they duly tucked in. After nearly 70 km of very fast, flat terrain, the looming Newland's Corner was almost a relief. As they set off up the 8% climb, it was Kwiatkowski who raced off to take the KOM points. Landa had decided he was, after all, teammate of the year and had gone back to help Froome, whose brake was rubbing really hard apparently. It was from the top of Newland's that the team really came into their own. Kwiatkowski had gotten away on the descent and, for the briefest of seconds, had thought about breaking for it. It wasn't long however before a large peloton came looming over his shoulder and swallowed him up. Of course, Froomey and Landa were tucked nicely in the middle of it, and it dragged them all the way to the base of Leith Hill.
Leith is easily the toughest challenge on the course, but the Dirty Wknd boys ascended it like Tour de France champions. Well, apart from the actual Tour de France champion, who kind of wheezed up it like an out of shape accountant. But, as Froomey later explained to his bewildered team mates, it was all part of the disguise! He's clever is our Christopher. An interesting addition to Leith Hill this year was the transit van from 'Tanhurst Farm Shop' that was parked halfway up the steepest section. Not sure if they'd had the brilliant idea of being an unofficial feed stop, or whether the driver had missed the 50 million 'closed roads, 30th July' road signs in the area. Either way, the guy that shouted 'can I have a pasty' from behind the group gave everyone a much needed laugh. With Leith out of the way, the team knew that the end was close and the mood noticeably lifted. Froome even almost said something at one point. He sort of opened his mouth, wretched a little bit, and then tucked in behind Kwiatkowski again and put his head down. Landa rode off in the first group that came by, begging them to let him join them - normal service had resumed.
Getting nearer to Box Hill, Kwiatkowski started cramping. It was at this point he realised that, against the wishes of his mechanics and team mates; changing the bars, stem, stem height, saddle, shoes, cleats and pedals just before the ride probably wasn't the best idea in the world. However, because he actually is 'teammate of the year' he kept quiet and did his job. Landa, under a cloud of some more serious threats and dodgy Spanish swear words, had come back to the group and was doing a hefty turn on the front. Box Hill was tougher than normal; Landa and Froome actually attacked KOM Kwiatkowski, dropping him at the bottom of the hill. The squiggles of Box Hill (and the 15 photographers waiting by them) never fail to bring on a second wind, so Kwiatkowski was able to take his dummy out and catch up with his mates. The feed stop at the top of Box was confusing for the boys. Landa looked at Froome and said "what, we actually get off the bike and walk to that table to eat?" Kwiatkowski just waited at the side of the road for someone to hand him a feed bag. Old habits die hard!
A funny thing happened as the 3 disguised pros started to descend Box. There were no wheels to suck! Where had everyone gone. Were these guys going to have to actually start doing some work? As road captain Kwiatkowski took a quick vote; Landa wanted to stop and wait by the side of the road for another deep wheel club to come along, and Froome just stared at his stem some more. With the DS screaming in his ear, Kwaito pulled the three line whip and got the others to start working. That a very large group decided to turn up and sit on the wheels of our three heroes for the next 20km shouldn't have come as a surprise, or been out of the ordinary (it had been happening for the entire TdF after all), but Landa wasn't happy at all. His poker face finally dropped as he tried to shake the bunch. It didn't help though that Kwiatkowski and Froome were just about clinging on for dear life, and in no position to help him. Landa calmed down and some of the group came through to do a turn.
Coming through Wimbledon was a real joy as the crowds cheered everyone on. The 3 disguised pros assumed that the game was up and word had got out that they were riding. They began saluting the crowd, responding to the energy the supporters were giving off. Landa even stopped to sign one child's programme. As he rode away, the little girl ran back to her mother in tears, her favourite notebook scribbled defaced by a random cyclist. It wasn't until they got to the bottom of Wimbledon Hill that the realisation hit. These lovely people weren't there for them, but to cheer on all the participants. Even Froome welled up a little bit. Luckily the actual task of climbing Wimbledon Hill beckoned, clearing all of that mushy nonsense from their minds and refocusing on the bike race at hand. With Wimbledon Hill out of the way it was all downhill to home, right? Flying down Putney Hill, the little group got bigger and bigger, and the boys found their rightful place - tucked nicely in the middle of it!
At this point the strangest thing happened: Froomey actually woke up and started pulling. Whether it was the sight of the finish line, or the fact that the commentators would once again say that he only wins because of his super strong team, no one knew. But he was pulling hard! Flying along the Embankment in a group of about 50 was very cool, even for Tour de France winners. However it was at this point that the hopes of a nation were broken and Chris Froome's search for a stage win in 2017 were dashed - a puncture at mile 99. Mile. Flipping. 99! C'mon cycling gods, that's ridiculous! To add insult to injury, as he pulled to the side of a the road with his hand in the air, a small Italian man attacked under his arm. Unbelievable! As Froome began to jog along the road (again), Landa glanced at Kwiatkowski, and with a wry smile that said "finally it's my time", put his foot down! Kwiatkowski had a choice to make. Leave his team leader, jogging slowly passed the Houses of Parliament, or chase down Landa and steal the glory. He opted for the latter, and as he sped away he could hear Froome shouting 'No its cool. Yeah, you guys just leave me here... I'll change my own tube shall I? Unbelievable!"
Kwiatkowski pulled the radio from his ear, the DS had clearly google translated some Polish swear words and was bellowing down his ear canal, and made it back to Landa's wheel as they turned the corner through Admiralty Arch and onto the finish chute. The sprinter's teams had started manoeuvring into position to deliver their guys to the line, and the two climbers found themselves a bit out of water. Gaps started appearing all over the place and Landa managed to slip through them with Kwiatkowski close behind. Lo and behold, they found themselves on the front of the group. Big mistake! The wind was howling down the finish chute, and the line seemed to be getting further away with every pedal stroke. Spring finish abandoned, they finally crossed the line, arm in arm (apparently these guys can't contractually finish a bike race without doing this). The elusive 4:30 finish time that they'd aimed for had been missed by minutes, but as Froomey rolled in, puncture sort of fixed, they all agreed they couldn't have gone any quicker. Well... Landa was quick to point out that he could have actually gone much faster, but Froome shut him up with a stare. Landa slunk off muttering something about Movistar and Kwiatkowski congratulated Froome for actually managing to fix his own puncture without any help. It later transpired, thanks to the power of Instagram, that Froome had paid a teenage boy to fix it for him. Classic team leader!
After collecting their medals and bags (Froome searched in vain for a podium to stand on or lion teddy bear to hold aloft, but had to go without) they made their way through to Green Park to hang out with the rest of their Dirty Wknd team mates. It was incredible for them to meet some truly inspiring amateur cyclists who had risen to this amazing challenge and conquered it. Hearing about riders who had only picked up a bike 6 months ago, trained their socks off with the group and easily beaten all of their projected finish times was heart warming. The atmosphere in the park was electric as tired bodies congratulated each other, discussed favourite bits of the course and analysed Box Hill Strava times. Froome, Kwiatkowski and even Landa left the party with a warm fuzzy feeling, inspired by some truly remarkable stories of cycling achievement. Maybe Froome wouldn't try for another Tour de France win next year. Sounds like a lot of work. Maybe he'd join a social group and ride for fun on the weekend, stopping for all the cake and a good old natter. That sounded like way more fun!
Congratulations to everyone who took part in Ride London this year - you're all amazing and deserve all the plaudits and kudos! Whether you did it in four hours or eight hours, or whether you got diverted before the finish, it doesn't matter. You crossed the start line, and that's more than most. Entries open for the 2018 ballot on the 7th August and we'd encourage everyone to give it a go. Dirty Wknd CC (probably with Froome et al in tow) will be running weekend and mid-week rides throughout the rest of the year and would love you to join in. All levels welcome - Upcoming Group Rides
Oh, and if you're wondering which pseudonyms the Team Sky boys picked (totally at random of course) then see below:
Chris Froome = Oliver Crosby
Mikel Landa = Wilker Soares
Michal Kwiatkowski = David Bavin