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RideLondon Essex 100 – should be cancelled in 2023
RideLondon Essex 100, 2022 finished yesterday and I didn’t feel safe.
I personally witnessed two accidents, one quite serious. Other people I know well saw a rider given CPR when their part of the ‘race’ was halted. That person is now recovering.
RideLondon is a series of races and rides that started as a legacy of the successful 2012 Olympics.
The total number of riders each year in a series of events is largely unchanged at around 100,000. So the whole weekend represents a significant profit opportunity, a great PR opportunity and a potential safety hazard with huge numbers of inexperienced cyclists.
The 2023 course is entirely different to every previous event. All previous events went through the hills of Surrey, to the South West of London. Following public complaints and objections from petty local councils, the route shifted to the undulating roads of Essex to the North East of London. Each year’s events have started and finished at landmark London locations and this year was no different with a finish on Tower Bridge.
What Went Wrong
The competence of those in charge was highlighted before the event even started as every rider was told that there would be a lead car that would travel at 22mph and which must not be overtaken. Even I can average over 22mph and there are many significantly better cyclists doing this than me. Anyway, the organisers quickly relented.
Next came pre-Sunday stories of tacks thrown on the roads. That can be a considerable annoyance for some riders and a cause of serious injury or, to sensationalise, even death for faster riders. A bit of ‘fun‘ throwing tacks on the road to ‘teach cyclists a lesson‘ could lead to something a long way from ‘fun‘ for both the perpetrator and victim.
I had a good day with a great time although the return half was marred by the return of the cramps I thought I’d long-since banished.
On the negative side, these incidents are those I either personally witnessed or heard about from good friends who were further back than me. No doubt there are horror stories I’ve not heard about too.
- At the start, we headed off directly into the rising sun for many miles. Many were riding blind at top speed, whilst full of adrenaline and that is a recipe for accidents. Indeed, I saw the after-effects of one minor tumble within the first mile or two of the start.
- London’s roads are far from well maintained, the course was on typical London roads in that sense. I saw one guy next to me slow for a speed hump he hadn’t seen because of cyclists ahead and fall off at a reasonable speed but he was probably OK. Not so the guy immediately behind him who ploughed into the fallen bike, catapulted through the air and landed on his head. Not good for me to see and not good for him.
- It was early in the morning and clearly some marshalls had either not yet arrived, were asleep on the job or simply didn’t know their job. There were several pedestrian ‘refuges’ in the middle of the road left unmarshalled. As the peloton splits to go left or right of that, someone a few riders back and not paying attention could go straight on. I never saw or heard of that happening this year but it is negligent of the organisers to fail to have those hazards correctly marshalled. In previous years, such hazards were correctly marshalled (although still with crashes into refuges near Walton, IIRC).
- Road debris. Putting aside the tacks, which I didn’t encounter, several flat-out corners had gravel and road debris on them. That’s just a crash waiting to happen. I went really wide on one corner to avoid leaning on gravel and got close to the farside kerb. Every corner should have had the attention of a motorised road sweeper prior to the event.
- I talked to one guy who hit a traffic cone that had strayed onto the course, I saw the cone and heard the guy swear and chatted to him later once he’d remounted.
- Funnelling of riders at some points of the course was needed to get everyone onto the correct side of the road for an upcoming hazard. Fair enough. However, to have two people holding a bit of tape is comical, dangerous and negligent. A bit of tape is not visible.
- I saw two cars travelling towards cyclists albeit slowly and on the other side of the road ie the correct side of the road for them IF the road were open, which I thought they weren’t
The Inherent Danger
I’m a relatively cautious, relatively fit and relatively experienced rider. I race TTs, race triathlons and do the occasional Sportive. However, like me, virtually none of yesterday’s riders ride in high-speed pelotons on any sort of frequent basis. Sure many or even all of us will do group rides with a couple of mates or maybe even with over 10 club mates and we’ll go fast on Sunday mornings. However, that’s just not the same as riding in groups of many 10s of people. The leading waves at RideLondon are all full of fit enough people who can and do go dangerously fast and who look to do Sub-4 hour times for 102 miles – but who are not experienced enough to know how to ride in such large groups at over 25mph – I include me in that. Well, the first part…I can’t do sub-4, sub 4-30, yes, but not sub4.
But it is a blast if you make it around in one piece and I recommend it albeit with some reservations.
My main reservation was that I just didn’t feel safe compared to previous years. Maybe I’m 5 years older and 5 years more nervous than my last RideLondon. I don’t think so. There was clearly inadequate course preparation and marshalling. Marshalling riders travelling in large groups at 30mph is not about waving and encouraging them on but rather about warning them of impending injury.
Will I do it again? Probably.
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