July 7-8 2012: Target TB Loop – Brighton-Teddington-Brighton

Day 1 – Brighton to Teddington via Box Hill

The usual early start sees me heading for Ride2Raise HQ in Dorking early to help load up the support car for the drive to Brighton seafront and the start of the Target TB Loop, a 120 mile ride from Brighton to Teddington and back in two days.

Unfortunately we’ve had a couple of disappointments before the start of this ride. There will now only be four riders as illness and injury have caused two riders to pull out at the last minute. It’s a shame but as the riders arrive on Madeira Drive there’s plenty of enthusiasm and a good level of support from the charity – Target Tuberculosis – for the remaining members of the team.

As is often the case on a Ride2Raise challenge we are greeted by an interesting mixture of bikes and riders. On this ride we have Dave and Morris on road bikes, Phil on a hardtail mountain bike and Rich on a hybrid.

It’s a bit chilly on the seafront and riders and charity representatives who have turned up to wish them well are wearing jackets and almost shivering – and it’s July. It’s been an odd summer!

We carry out the usual checks to bikes, pump up tyres if they need it, stock riders up with water and snacks and prepare for the first photograph of the team in bright orange Target TB shirts before they can set off West along the promenade and past the pier to start the day’s ride.

However, before we can start, rider Dave remembers that he needs his pedals changed. His bike is quite new and fitted with ‘SPD’ pedals but he’ll be riding in normal trainers. Fortunately he’s brought some flat pedals along with him so my role as mechanic is called into action early.

With that and the team photograph done everyone except Dave dons their windproof jackets and off they go. Today’s ride will cover 61 miles, not too much, and include 3500ft of climbing, which is not huge compared to some of our rides but is certainly enough to make the ride quite challenging.

As we head out of Brighton’s built-up streets towards the more rural routes of a Ride2Raise challenge the first of those climbs catches riders a little by surprise. We’re heading up Hove’s Woodland Drive so haven’t reached the countryside yet and it’s steep, and tough.

We’ve used this route out of Brighton on other rides so Richard and I in the support car knew what to expect. We’ve been following riders, a short distance behind, since the start – and it’s been less than 5 miles. To give the riders a chance to make progress to the top of the road without us behind them we stop outside the house of a wealthy resident of Woodland Drive and admire the black Ferrari and McLaren sports cars which are usually parked, gleaming, on the drive. It gives us our usual chance to debate and disagree over which is the nicer car. It’s the McLaren. Richard disagrees.

Once we reach the end of Woodland Drive we’re quickly on to Devil’s Dyke and the stunning views back across the fields to Brighton and Hove way below. Unfortunately we’re also quickly hit by the first puncture of the ride. We’ve only covered 10 miles and it’s Phil who gets the light-hearted abuse from the support team as we pull in behind them.

We spring into life. I replace the tube on Phil’s bike but am a little concerned as I haven’t been able to find anything in the tyre which might have caused it. Fingers crossed it isn’t still there somewhere.

Meanwhile Richard is adjusting the saddle height on Dave’s bike. From behind we’ve noticed that Dave looks to be sitting quite a bit too low on the bike and this could cause him some major knee problems on a ride of this distance. We make a fairly large adjustment, raising the saddle by around 40mm. Dave’s impressed by the service from the support team and, keeping a straight face, asks if we think he needs his bell raised at all to match. It’s funny, and already there’s a fun atmosphere building among the group with smiles on everyone’s faces.

We set off again and it’s not easy for the riders. Not only are they facing some tough climbs early in the ride but it’s also started to rain. The weather forecast for this weekend was always looking unpleasant but we’d hoped it would stay dry for much of the day. It wasn’t to be. Any cyclist who knows the Brighton area will know that coming out of Brighton is quite hilly so that’s not really a surprise but the weather adds another level of difficulty.

Fortunately there seems to be no further issue with Phil’s tyre and we’re soon into some less challenging roads and a nice morning ride through some pleasant countryside. Ride Manager Ollie is working well with the riders, helping them to get used to riding as a group but it’s not always easy as the tougher climbs, particularly around the Hammerponds area of Horsham, tend to separate the riders.

I always have huge admiration for riders on our challenges who don’t have much long-distance experience on a bike. The determination and effort needed can be very challenging and different riders respond in different ways. The riders on the Target TB Loop are tackling this ride in their own ways and Dave, in particular, is struggling a little with the climbs. He readily admits that he hasn’t done a lot of cycling recently but having just bought a new bike his commitment can’t be questioned.

The miles pass and the rest of the morning consists of varied weather conditions – rain, then dry, then rain again – and a few stops to regroup and top up drinks bottles. All is going well so at around 30 miles from the start Richard and I head off to arrange the lunch stop at the Six Bells pub in Newdigate. We’ve pre-arranged a comfortable room for the riders to enjoy their break and a nice lunch.

Soon the riders arrive and the first thing we hear is that Phil has picked up another puncture almost exactly as they arrive at the pub. Timing couldn’t have been better so we set up the work stand and while the riders enjoy their lunch we set to work. Morris is also complaining about some noise from his bike’s front derailleur so I delegate Richard to sort Phil’s puncture while I take a look at that.

The problem on Morris’s bike is nothing more than a slight trimming issue but I also rotate his handlebars up a little to get a nicer riding position. Richard has replaced the inner tube on Phil’s bike, although he hasn’t been able to find what caused the puncture either, and we’ve also noticed a bit of play in his headset which is quickly adjusted and after a nice lunch we’re all ready to set off again. Richard is proud of his puncture repair, it’s not often he gets his hands dirty!

The second half of day 1 will include a climb of Box Hill in Surrey on the way to the overnight stop in Teddington. It’s well known for a number of reasons, in particular at the moment because it’s a major part of the Olympic road race route. It’s a big talking point among the riders and although not the toughest of climbs it’s still something to be proud of having conquered.

We have to cover a few miles before we get there though and as we cover the 8 miles or so before we get there I notice that I’ve rotated Morris’s handlebars a bit too much at the lunch stop. We stop to regroup at the base of Box Hill and quickly sort that out, with apologies to Morris. From the bottom of the hill we can see the viewing point at the top of Box Hill where they will be at the end of the climb. It looks daunting from where we have stopped so there are a few nerves showing.

We don’t want to dwell on the nerves though so we soon set off again and tell the riders we’ll see them at the top.

Richard and I park the support car in the car park and wait for the riders to arrive at the top. We’re hopeful, but unsure, if they will all conquer Box Hill but we needn’t have worried. One by one they reach the top with huge smiles of satisfaction on their faces. It may not be the steepest or toughest of climbs in the area but it’s still an achievement to be proud of for all of these riders. Phil, in particular, has enjoyed it and almost wants to do it again.

Dave has quite rightly taken it at his own pace and, again, his determination has been noticeable. Arriving at the top with Ollie making sure he’s OK he gets a big round of applause from the rest of us. Everyone is feeling good.

We congratulate them all and take the obligatory ‘top of Box Hill’ photograph, looking down on the spot where we’d been standing not very long ago. Ride2Raise MD Richard’s wife is also there to collect him. He lives nearby in Dorking, and he has other commitments for the rest of the weekend, so we say goodbye.

For the rest of the Target TB Loop I’ll be on my own in the support car. Hopefully we’ve resolved Phil’s recurring puncture problem and there won’t be any more, I don’t enjoy of repairing punctures.

With only around 20 miles until the overnight stop, and the most challenging part of the route completed, the rest of the day is relatively straightforward. There’s more rain for the riders to contend with so wet-weather gear is still needed for most, although Dave has refused any waterproof jacket all day. He must be very proud of his bright orange Target TB jersey. I’d wager he’s a bit cold too but he says not.

Fortunately we have a fantastic overnight stop lined up at the impressive Lensbury Hotel on the riverside at Teddington. With a few miles to go before the finish I head off in the support car to get the team checked into their rooms and organise the secure storage for the bikes. By the time the riders arrive the weather has improved and it’s a dry and peaceful evening by the river.

After a shower, as it’s a calm and mild evening we enjoy a drink outside on the terrace before dinner. Rider Richard’s wife has joined us at the hotel, with good reason. It’s their first wedding anniversary today. Rightly, they will be enjoying dinner alone at a nice local restaurant to celebrate – but that doesn’t stop us from giving them plenty of light-hearted abuse, for choosing to spend the evening together instead of with the rest of the Target TB team.

After dinner we enjoy a couple more drinks in the bar while watching the Williams sisters win the Wimbledon Womens’ Doubles final. The game goes on well into the night, finishing under the closed roof at around 10:45 so it’s a later night than maybe the tired riders would have liked.

We head off to our rooms to the sound of heavy rain falling outside.

Day 2 – Teddington to Brighton via Box Hill

As always seems to be the case on Ride2Raise challenges I’m up very early on the morning of day 2 of the Target TB Loop. I need to check over the bikes, top up the water container in the support car and familiarise myself with the day’s schedule.

Tyre pressures are checked and adjusted and I flip Dave’s handlebar stem to give him a more upright riding position – something we’d discussed last night. Having raised his saddle quite a bit yesterday we felt the riding position was a little extreme. This should be more comfortable.

With another hour before the restaurant opens for breakfast I take a stroll along the river outside the hotel. Although it’s a very calm morning the evidence of a night of heavy rain is clear and the river near Teddington has overflowed on to the grounds of the hotel. It’s tranquil and pleasant but rain is still hanging in the air.

Over the fantastic Lensbury breakfast everyone talks about how much they enjoyed the first day. Dave has not slept well but his enthusiasm is evident and he’s looking forward to day 2. It’s not uncommon for riders on our challenges to find sleep difficult. Adrenalin, nervous anticipation and a sense of achievement can conspire to make it difficult.

We say goodbye to Richard’s wife, who has stayed overnight to enjoy her wedding anniversary, and load up the support car ready for the off. As we present our Charity Hero award to Prabhu Jeyaprakash, Team Leader at the Lensbury, to thank them for supporting Ride2Raise and the Target TB Loop, the rain starts to fall once again.

We’ll be following the Olympic Road Race route back to Box Hill this morning, which should be fun, but the start of day 2 is a little slow and tentative as the rain continues to fall. On top of that it’s cold although that still doesn’t tempt Dave to put anything on over the top of his bright orange Target TB jersey.

We’re on the Olympic route almost straight away and the first landmark of note is Bushy Park, which provides some great sights for us to remember when the Olympic cycling is shown going through the same park on TV in a three weeks time. Particularly memorable is the large semi-circular route around the Diana Fountain.

Despite the steady start to the day the riders seem to have accepted that the weather is not going to be very nice today and they are enjoying themselves. Inside the warm, dry support car I feel sorry for them cycling in the cold and wet conditions but the smiles on everyone’s face show that they are having a good time.

My comfortable position inside the support car soon changes though as Phil suffers his third puncture of the Target TB Loop and I’m called into action for another repair.

Fortunately we have stopped next to a bus shelter so riders can hide a little from the rain. Once again I can find nothing in the tyre which might have caused the puncture which is baffling. Each time we’ve repaired a puncture on Phil’s bike we’ve found no reason for it. It’s then been fine for another 20 miles or so before puncturing again. I wonder if I’m missing something or if he has just been unlucky.

I hate repairing punctures at the best of times so I can certainly do without any more in the cold and rain at the side of the road. I cross my fingers and hope for the best.

This seems to have some effect as, for the first time today, the rain has stopped. Riders set off in good spirits with around 10 miles to go until their second attack of Box Hill in two days. We agree to stop at the top for coffee. Unlike yesterday, today they will know what to expect as they tackle the iconic Surrey Hills climb. For some of them that’s a good thing. For some others, I’m not so sure.

Any weather-based optimism is soon forgotten as, within five minutes of setting off, it’s pouring again. This continues all the way to Box Hill and as I wait at the top for riders to arrive it’s dark and grey under the overhanging trees near the top.

The climb has been tough, again, but all riders make it to the top without too much trouble. The pats on the back seem a little less meaningful than they did yesterday but all of the riders have very good reason to be satisfied at conquering Box Hill for the second time, and in much worse conditions than yesterday’s climb. They are a little spread out, all taking it at their own pace, and as the last rider reaches the top, as if taunting the riders, the rain stops.

Hot drinks at Box Hill’s outdoor café are very welcome, as are the tasty home-made flapjacks which Phil has brought along. Unusually for a Sunday it’s almost deserted, thanks to the weather. Seemingly there are days when even hard-core cyclists look out of the window at home and think… “nah, not today. Think I’ll give it a miss”. Our guys didn’t get that option. They probably thought it when they got out of bed this morning, but they’ve made a commitment to Target TB and they’re going to fulfil it.

After a decent refuel waterproofs are tucked away and we hope that maybe we’ve seen the last of the rain. As we ride away from Box Hill the sun is actually shining for the first time today. We’re hoping for a nice trouble-free run to Lower Beeding, our planned lunch stop.

Unfortunately we’ve only managed a few miles before we’re hit with another puncture, this time for Morris. At least this takes the pressure off Phil. He’s been taking a lot of stick for his regular puncture stops. All in jest, of course, but I’m sure he’s slightly relieved that it’s not down to him this time.

As I repair Morris’s puncture I notice that his back brake needs to be tightened and that there’s some play in his headset so those are rectified too. I also adjust Richard’s front brake before we’re off again.

We’ve only managed another five miles before the puncture curse strikes again. This time it’s Ride Manager Ollie who is sheepishly apologising to the other riders at the side of the road. The amount of rain which has fallen over the past few days has washed all kinds of debris into the roads and this is obviously what’s causing our problems.

The puncture is quickly repaired and we set off again but the delays mean we’ve only travelled around 10 miles in two hours. In the support car I decide to rearrange the lunch stop as I’m sure the team are getting hungry so I head to the Lamb Inn in Rusper. We’ve stopped here on previous Ride2Raise challenges so I know there’s a nice outdoor seating area where we can enjoy the unusually pleasant – at least on this ride – weather. I know the food’s good here too.

As the riders arrive and settle down for lunch Richard tells me his bike feels a bit strange since a reflector fell off and exploded in his wheel just before we reached the lunch stop.

I take a look and the problem is clearly his wheel. I’m surprised at just how bad it is. Not only are the hub bearings extremely loose causing severe side-to-side movement of the wheel, but almost all of the spokes are loose too. Clearly the reflector hasn’t caused this. I’m sure the problem has been getting worse for a while and the reflector probably fell off due the the obvious vibration the bike would have been suffering. Richard’s done well to ride it this far!

As the riders enjoy lunch I set about attempting to sort out the wheel. Tightening the hub bearings is straightforward but I only have limited experience of straightening wheels which are slightly out of true, so getting tension back in the wheel and all of the spokes evenly tight without distorting the rim is quite a challenge for me.

It takes a while but gradually working my way round the spokes and tightening a small amount at a time brings the wheel close to the right shape and straightness. As the others finish lunch I’m just about happy enough that the wheel is rideable and, after a few more minor tweaks to get it straight, Richard’s bike is put back together and is roadworthy again.

We’d hoped for a quick lunch stop as we are now running some way behind schedule, but the repair has made that impossible. I’ve been liaising with Lynne from Target TB via Twitter and by phone about what time we expect to reach Brighton seafront as several people want to greet the riders at the finish. We still have around 30 miles to go so we estimate we’ll be there in three hours. After a challenging morning we need a good run to the finish.

No such luck!

Within just a few miles I come across the riders stopped at the side of the road again. Once again Phil is the guilty party. It’s his fourth, or is it fifth, puncture of the ride and we make a big decision. We need to make good time and it seems we’re never going to get to the bottom of why Phil is getting so many punctures so I’m going to take his bike off him.

It’s not as bad as it sounds though. We carry a spare bike on all of our Ride2Raise challenges and it’s about the right size for Phil so he’ll ride the rest of the challenge on our spare bike.

He’s been riding a mountain bike and the spare is a lightweight road bike on skinny tyres so it might take some getting used to but Phil’s got a big grin on his face. I think he’s looking forward to this.

I quickly swap the pedals on the spare bike for Phil’s so they match his shoes and he’s on his way, the mountain bike pedals looking a bit odd on the Boardman Team road bike.

Once again we hope for a trouble-free ride to the finish but once again our hopes are dashed by – you guessed it – another puncture.

Just a few miles down the road Ollie gets his second puncture of the day. Phil has a Garmin navigation system on his bike with the route loaded so, to make sure we don’t lose too much time, we send the other riders off ahead while Ollie and I sort out his bike. They will be able to stay on the route and Ollie will have to catch them up once we’ve replaced the tube on his bike. The tyre is looking a little worn so we replace tyre and tube at the same time. It’s a good job we carry plenty of spares in the support car.

Puncture repaired we set off in pursuit of the others. It’s a chance for Ollie to get up a decent lick of speed and I provide a nice slipstream with the support car to help him. I can tell by looking in the car’s mirror that Ollie is enjoying himself – just a few feet behind the car – and we reach 30mph (no more, honestly officer) as we chase them down. It doesn’t take us long but Ollie’s looking slightly exhausted when we catch them. He’s enjoyed the sprint but he’s had to work pretty hard.

We’re now around 10 miles from the finish and we’d like to think it will be easy from now on but the rain has started to fall quite heavily again and the riders are showing signs of tiredness. All except Phil who is loving being on the spare bike. I didn’t think his grin could get any bigger than it was after his first climb of Box Hill on day 1. I was mistaken.

On top of the increasingly heavy rain, although the final run in to Brighton should be fairly straightforward we’ve still got to reach the high point of Devil’s Dyke before we can drop down to the seafront. It’s an exposed road which, although not hugely steep, rises steadily for a long way. If the wind is blowing from the sea towards the riders it will be particularly hard. It is.

With all that’s happened today it’s been easy, at times, to overlook what a great job the Target TB riders have done. The weather, for a large part of both days, has been awful. The route has been really tough at times with some seriously difficult climbs, and let’s not forget that cycling 60 miles in a day for two consecutive days is anything but easy.

Dave, Morris, Phil and Richard have taken it all in their stride, despite not having cycled these kind of distances before. They have worked well together and now, with just a few miles to go until the finish, they are all smiling and encouraging each other even though the wind is blowing hard and the rain is pouring down as they make the long and gradual climb towards the top of Devil’s Dyke.

Actually, that last bit’s not true. It is horrible and real discomfort is showing on the riders’ faces. They are all finding this exposed climb tough and Dave is really struggling. They try to encourage each other all as much as they can but are getting quite spread out. I’m doing what I can to help Dave but I’m not sure telling him he’s nearly at the end of the climb, just as he notices another long stretch of road climbing ahead of him, is helping all that much.

Two thirds of the way to the highest point we have no option but to stop and shelter from the rain. It’s coming down in ‘stair rods’, to use a term I remember from my childhood, and is painful and uncomfortable to ride in. We’re close to the finish – maybe four or five miles away – so it’s frustrating, but this climb has been brutal in these conditions. We shelter under a tree for a while, shivering. Dave still won’t cover the bright orange Target TB jersey he’s proudly displayed for the past two days. I’m not sure if this is foolish or admirable.

The rain eases enough for the riders to decide it’s time for the final leg of the Target TB Loop. I’ve told Dave there’s no more climbing but I’ve forgotten that some of the roads we take on the way to the seafront are quite steep. Oops!

In spite of this the final few miles are taken at a decent speed and fortunately the rain stops in time for the riders to arrive together on a busy Brighton seafront looking happy and justifiably proud of themselves. In fact it’s so busy near the pier where we finish that they don’t spot me at first and the welcoming party from Target TB don’t spot them arrive either so it’s a slightly muted finish. However, once we find each other and regroup there’s plenty of celebration and a huge amount of relief among the riders.

It’s been a fantastic couple of days for everyone involved. We’ve renamed the event the ‘Target TB Puncture Challenge’ because we’ve had so many but this never dampened the enthusiasm of the riders. They’ve been amazing. and every one of them has shown real determination to finish this ride and to do Target TB proud. I’ve had a great time.

You can view all of the photographs from the 2012 Target TB Loop HERE.

David Hopkins
Morris Lab
Phil Bennett
Richard Allen
Support Team

Ollie Kmiecik
Richard King
Tim Watling
Ride Diary and Photographs

Tim Watling