Adventure, noun, 1. an unusual and exciting or daring experience.
Unusual, check. Exciting, check. Daring, check. The Rapha Women’s Prestige London was devised to test the nerve of its one hundred and four female riders over a one hundred mile course, taking in all disciplines, from road riding to velodrome track laps, gravel farm trails and single track bridleways.
It all started on a sleepy Sunday morning in Old Spitalfields Market, East London. One by one, each eager rider joined the throng of cyclists greeting their teammates and making the most of the croissants and coffee on offer, knowing all too well how much it would be needed in the coming hours. The beauty was the diversity of it, women of all ages, nationalities and cycling abilities, both from London and having travelled from all over the UK to take part in the event, mostly not knowing what to expect. Armed with a brevet card and a fresh serving of enthusiasm, the twenty seven teams rolled out of the market and onto the quiet London streets, the mini peletons of coordinated wheelers distinctively up to something, yet lacking the usual race numbers or road signs of your more conventional British sportive.
Again, unlike a standard cycling event, riders were free to take whichever route they chose, provided that they had their brevet cards stamped at all three checkpoints and took in the three obligatory sections; the well-known climb of Swains’ Lane, the picturesque village of Little Offley and a section of gravel farm track. The challenging century route suggested took riders North out of London and onto the quieter, rolling Hertfordshire back lanes, through quaint villages and tranquil countryside before heading back into the city along the Lee Valley.
The Prestige riders had a treat in store from the first checkpoint. Rolling into the Gosling Velodrome in Welwyn Garden City, the challenge of the team flying lap was received gladly by each team, whether seasoned track enthusiasts or complete novices. After a warm up lap, each team of four was timed for a single circuit, from the time the first rider passed the line to the last rider completing the lap. Certainly puts the unusual into this cycling event.
An unprecedented degree of off-road riding also challenged the teams, with most experiencing four or five sections of gravel or bridleway tracks, ranging from a moderately loose surface that commanded a little extra care to what almost seemed like a MTB trail, with drop-offs and puddle-filled pot holes galore. At one point, a wide ford stretched out across the road in front of the riders. Most sensible cyclists took the footbridge to cross the river, but a couple of the more brave women went straight for it, not in every case managing to stay so dry! One thing was for sure, both the bikes and the ladies were not going to be returning to London in the same pristine manner in which they had left.
Riding back into London and battling with the late afternoon traffic after the calm of the countryside, many teams passed each other on their way back to the clubhouse. The reception awaiting them a brilliant cheer from their fellow riders and a pat on the back from the Rapha team, with a victory beer (or other celebratory beverage of choice) and a delicious and much-needed meal of calzone, salads and arancini.
Although promoted as a ride, not a race, there was a prize-giving ceremony for the fastest ladies, the 5th Floor team, but also a plethora of other team prizes, including the best dressed, fastest flying lap, best hashtaggers and of course the Lantern Rouge. The collaborative nature of the event, both on and off the bike, was such a pleasure, with ladies sharing directions, encouragement, and most important of all, plenty of laughs.
After such an unusual and thrilling experience, it got me thinking – is the sense of adventure something that people are born with, or is it something that you can develop through life experiences? What makes certain people more likely to abandon practicality and dive straight into challenge, to cast aside fears or doubts and to take the leap of faith out of their comfort zones? I certainly think that the joy of adventure comes more naturally to some than others, but with the right encouragement and positive support, individuals can cultivate their capacity for the daring, the unusual, and the exciting.
Thank you Rapha for doing exactly that.
Unsupported and unmarshalled adventures across stunning terrain, the Rapha Prestige series calls for teams of riders to work together and more importantly, stay together over challenging courses.- Rapha
Photography by Alex Wright www.alexwright.co.uk