Liege - Bastogne - Liege, or La Doyenne (the old lady) is the oldest of the 'Spring Classics' and a very long and hilly ride indeed. Every spring the best one day riders, and often many of the GC favourites for the upcoming Grand Tours, take to the 'bergs' of Wallonia to try and win the final Classic of the spring season. It's a special time as it marks the end of Classics and the beginning of summer stage racing. For us mere mortals, it means the start of summer proper, and loads of chances to ride our bikes in the sun!
So what better way to mark LBL than with an LBL of our very own. A long, hilly and often mind sapping course, starting in London and heading south via Ditchling Beacon to Brighton, before turning around and heading back to London, with a quick visit to Box Hill. To make the event a bit more of a challenge, we made the ride 'self led', turning it into a modern auduax. More on that below. We were incredibly pleased to have our friends Wahoo sponsor the event, giving the riders the chance to try out a Wahoo ELEMNT head unit for the day.
Prep, Premise & Pre Ride
A ride like London - Brighton - London isn't one you take on lightly, so a fair bit of prep was put in to make the day as fun as possible. Sponsors Wahoo provided ELEMNT GPS units pre loaded with the route for anyone who needed or wanted one, and N+1 Bike Shop were ready and waiting in Brighton to welcome the guys. All the riders needed to do was just keep spinning!
The premise of the ride was that of an audax. A long distance 'self led' ride with checkpoints to ensure riders report in and are on course. A traditional audax requires riders to carry a brevet card which is stamped at each checkpoint. However this is 2018, and Instagram exists, so we decided to modernise our audax with the insertion of four insta selfies at famous landmarks. Balcombe Viaduct, Brighton Pier, Box Hill Viewing Platform & The Dynamo. 4 selfies to complete the course!
It was clear how keen the group were as everyone turned up 30 minutes before the start time. Those picking up ELEMNT's did so swiftly, the set up and route loading taking no time at all, and the Dynamo's coffee bar was raided in preparation for the off. Groups were free to form and leave when they were ready. Whilst the younger combatants circled each other, sniffing out possible ride mates, the wily 'veteran' rider Chris Murley slipped out of the door, stealing a march on the bunch and setting an early break away. Murley clearly had his eyes on the race win and that victory Dynamo pizza!
The peloton, realising they'd been hoodwinked, formed into groups and set off after the hard charging Murley. The groups were well balanced, the riders sensing those who suited their pace based on they type of bike they rode and how closely shaved their legs were. Some switched groups on the early part of the ride, settling into a more comfortable pace for a 190km ride. As the last group moved out of sight, the commissars retired to the Dynamo to keenly watch updates on Instagram story to follow the race. Whilst eating eggs avo and drinking coffee. It was a tough morning.
Checkpoint 1 - Balcombe Viaduct - 63km
Murley was eventually reeled in by the bunch. It took the front group reached the first checkpoint in a little over the time it takes to devour a delicious plate of poached eggs. Balcombe Viaduct is a stunning structure that begs a photo, so the first selfies appearing on Instagram of Roland, Jake, Pat and the rest of the front group was the first taste the fans got of the Tete de la Course. Not far behind was the 2nd group on the road, that of Giles, Rob, 'tall' Chris & Tom, hot on the heels of the front of the race. They too were being hunted by Judit & Nina's group, and them by Emma, Jess, Santi and Bryony. Whilst this wasn't a race...the race was certainly on!
Checkpoint 2 - Brighton Pier 92km (and lunch @ N+1)
N+1 Bike Shop is a hub, hangout space and bike shop in Brighton, and the ideal place for our mid ride feed stop. Dan and the team prepped lunch for everyone, welcomed the groups in and reenergised them for the second half of the ride. However, as the 'Roland group' uploaded selfie number 2 at the pier, the N+1 team sent photos to the commissars of David L, Rich and Gavin calmly eating lunch in the sun. In a Carlton Kirbyesque balls up, the commissars had missed a three man break away that had escaped up the road ahead of the Roland group. However, the break way caught napping (literally having a snooze on a deckchair at N+1), and the two groups came back together for the second half of the race. David L, the beacon of chivalry that he is, opted out of his pace on the front of the group, to ride with Clare who had taken the train down to meet him. What a guy!
By this point, the Maglia Nera group of London 2 Paris 24HR riders, led by Sophie herself, had passed the Viaduct (after loads of selfies and stories) and were bearing down on Ditchling Beacon like a freight train. Where Murley was at this point was anyones guess- but no doubt he would spring up at some point.
KOM / QOM Competition
It would be remiss for a ride that includes Ditchling Beacon & Box Hill not to have a mountains points competition. With 3 points on offer for the first male and female rider up each hill, the riders attacked Ditchling like wild maniacs in order to bag the points. Well, some were attacking the hill in the hope of sheer survival, with not a care in the world fornay points, and survice they did! Two points for 2nd place, and 1 point for 3rd meant that the riders who could ascend both hills equally quickly would walk away with the overall Polka Dot jersey. Without the most up to date technology to hand, the commissars had to wait for the riders to return to the Dynamo before segment time could be checked and the winners crowned. More on that below.
With the front groups tearing towards Box Hill, the L2P24 group arrived at N+1 in glorious sunshine before a quick feed and heading back out on the road. All groups were on the home straight, and who was ahead of who, was pretty much anyone's guess. Chris Murley was spotted at this point casually paddling in the surf under Brighton pier, posing for selfies and signing autographs. He'd get on his way in his own good time. Meanwhile back at race control, the sheer boredom of Liege-Bastogne-Liege had forced the commissars to turn to pizza and beer. If only the pro race had been as exciting as ours!
Checkpoint 3- Box Hill Viewing Point (155km)
Insta watch saw the front group (the 'swollen Roland group') reach the top of Box. Any seasoned race fan will tell you that this is where it was all going to kick off, and we were not dissapointed, as Young Jake put the hurt on the group, winding up the pace on the fast descent. The 'Giles group' were now nearing the top of Box, and the 'Judit group' not far behind them. The 'Emma group' was sunning themselves at Tanhouse, with the 'Sophie group' deciding a farm shop wasn't going to cut it, stopping at the local pub instead. Chris Murley was having lunch with the Mayor of Brighton, graciously accepting the keys to the city.
With all the Insta checkpoints completed, the race footage went dark. All the commissars and tens of fans that had gathered at the finish could do was, well, exactly that - wait. Gathering at the finish outside Putney Dynamo, they waited in hushed silence to see who from the front group would round the corner first. And then, barrelling out of the setting sun came the small, all black shape of Young Jake, sprinting at the head of the field. Instantly recognisable by his very distinctive gold shoes (at once hideous and glorious depending on who you spoke to). Nevertheless it was The Kid who escaped the bunch arriving at The Dynamo to the rapturous applause of the assembled crowd.
Right behind him were the chasing bunch as Rich, Jeff and Pat contested the rest of the box, with Roland and Gavin a hare's breadth behind. After posing for photos and autographs, the group skipped the press debrief and headed straight for beer and pizza. Not long later the chasing group of Giles, Chris, Tom and Rob returned, and just behind them, Judit & Nina, the first females back, along with 'little' Chris, Jon and Lee
Checkpoint 4 - The Dynamo (187km)
A couple of special mentions need to be made at this point to Adam and Mike, who had an inauspicious start to the ride. Beginning with the favourites, Adam suffered a snapped mech cable and dipped into Evans for a quick repair. At the same time, Mike lost a contact lens, and ducked into the opticians next door to beg for a spare. However, the beastly optician (clearly not a Classics fan) forced Mike to sit an eye test before he would give him a single lens! Not the most usual start to a bike ride, but we heard the same thing happened to Dan Marin in 2013, and he went onto win, so all was still to play for! Huge Kudos to both Adam and Mike for getting back on the road and finishing the ride.
Whilst the front groups were stretching and rehydrating at the bar, riders began to arrive thick and fast. Emma and Jess came back without Santi, having dropped him off at Richmond Park to do an extra lap to take his tally for the day to over 200km. Good work Santiago. Not long after Santi's return, the most unusual thing happened. The group, sitting in The Dynamo drinking beer, turned around to find Chris Murley sitting amongst them, casually sipping a beer. The wiley veteran had 'gone rouge' and solo'd the whole ride without help from anyone, and slipped back in the Dynamo unnoticed. Twitter reports of Murley being spotted 'lunching' with Liz Hurley in a pub garden near Box Hill had turned out to be false.
The final group on the road, the Maglia Nera group, loomed into view to bring about the end of the ride. Huge stamina and will power brought the group to the end of the ride, still smiling and working together. The majority of the group training for London to Paris in 24 hours with Sophie, it's clear from this performance that they are all going to smash it. Special mentions to Vic and Eddie for having just returned from a week in Mallorca, and to Cheryl for pushing through to the very end. Huge kudos to the whole group for sticking around for a beer and pizza afterwards. Because if you're going to ride 187km in a day, you need to reward yourself!
With all groups safely back, and only a couple of retirees (we missed you Bryony), it was great to listen to everyone's stories of the ride. The fun had by all (some of it type 2) and how much teamwork went into the day was inspiring. Whether they were in the front group racing for mountain points, or just riding with mates and enjoying a day in the sun, the entire field couldn't have been more awesome.
'Overall Time' competition
The intention was to have an 'overall time' competition based on Strava data, however the intricacies of Strava and the incompetence of the commissars meant that this went right out the window. Using old school 'sight' to judge the overall timings, the race winners were as below:
1st Jake Neale 1st Nina Gold
2nd Rich Kier 2nd Judit Szarka
3rd Jeff Pillon 3rd Emma Cox/Jess Robinson (tied)
Much easier to use Strava for this one! The segment's used were 'Ditchling Beacon' and 'Box Hill 2.2km'. Winners as below:
1st Jake Neale (3) 1st Nina Gold (3)
2nd Rich Kier (2) 2nd Judit Szarka (2)
3rd Giles Davy (1) 3rd Emma Cox (3)
1st Jake Neale (3) 1st Nina Gold (3)
2nd Jeff Pillon (2) 2nd Judit Szarka (2)
3rd Rich Kier (1) 3rd Emma Cox (3)
1st Jake Neale (6) 1st Nina Gold (6)
2nd Rich Kier (3) 2nd Judit Szarka (4)
3rdJeff Pillon (2) 3rd Emma Cox (2)
Rider of the Day
By far the hardest to pick, with every single rider nominating someone in their group for feats of super human strength, going the extra mile or just being blooming awesome. It could've gone to over half the riders with ease - Steve Farrell for 'sacrificing the win' to drag fellow countryman Gene back to base, Judit Szarka for covering over 225km on the day, or Scott for domestiquing an entire group and literally dragging people over the line. Patrick also rode the whole thing in the big ring, and if he hasn't mentioned that yet, you'll hear about it on the next ride! You're all wonderful and deserving of all the kudos.
However one man stood out, mostly by his absence from the spotlight. Quietly going about his business, gracefully uploading solo selfies to Instagram, shying away from the plaudits whilst simultaneously winning hearts and minds. We can only be talking about gentleman racer Chris Murley. So often the 'back marker' at the rear of the group, dishing out tips and advice to others, this was his time to really enjoy himself. The fact that 'enjoying himself' means a solo 187km ride says a lot about the man. You can believe all the rumours you want (and we do, all of them), but the fact that he managed to pace Sir Mo Farah to a British record in the Marathon before even setting off for LBL, is pretty impressive. Chapeau Chris, you're a legend.
Can't wait for next year next year! Thanks to Wahoo, N+1 and The Dyanmo for all the help, and to all the riders for being truly wonderful.