A few Sundays ago, early in the morning, I rode from central London down to Epsom Racecourse. When I got there it was still chilly, about four degrees, but as clear and bright an autumn morning as you could wish for. The view from the plateau was lovely, and I was sharing the whole sweep of the Epsom Downs with just a couple of dog-walkers.
Which was kind of a pity since I was looking for 3,000 people, their bicycles, and the Box Hill Original sportive ride. I went round behind the grandstands just in case they were all hiding behind a bin going “shush!” to each other and hoping I’d go away, but all I found was a bald man masturbating in a sock. (I said it was cold.)
I took out my phone, and checked the event instructions. ‘Sandown Park Racecourse’ it said. The ride had been based at Epsom the year before, and this time I’d glanced at the email rather too casually. Sandown Park was seven miles away, across a tract of suburban South London, I had about 20 minutes to get there, and I richly deserved my fate. As Mrs Doc put it, “Only a special sort of idiot doesn’t know the difference between the Derby and the Eclipse Stakes.”
Look behind you!
I made it. It involved scorching down the hill into Epsom town centre sitting on the top tube like Tony Martin, but I got to Sandown Park in plenty of time for fresh embarrassments. (Top-tube riding top-tip: however terrified you are, don’t clench your buttocks. The bike will have to be surgically removed.)
The trouble began as I was riding away from the event start with a few others. A motorbike drew alongside. There was a photographer on the back, taking large numbers of pictures of someone just behind me. “What kind of egotistical maniac,” I said loudly, “would come to a sportive with their own photographer?”
The general reaction to this was less mirthful than I expected. In fact it was quiet enough for me to hear the distinctive voice of Sir Chris Hoy, in conversation with Cycling Weekly’s deputy editor right behind me.
Come the first substantial hill, I thought I could address my embarrassment by demonstrating the difference between an endurance road rider and a track sprinter. I would drop Sir Chris on the climb, serve up some real open-road bike handling on the descent, get back to the finish far enough ahead of him that I could scamper off into the badlands of Richmond upon Thames, and thereby never see him again.
This plan worked outstandingly well until just before the top of the hill, when I glanced over my shoulder to assess just how big the gap was, and discovered that Sir Chris was right on my wheel, sitting in the saddle, spinning along happily and breathing only through his nose.
The plan took another knock on the descent when he came breezing past me. He immediately thundered straight by a routing arrow where he should have turned left, but after my morning in Epsom, I was hardly in a position to crow about navigational errors. We ended up together in God-knows-where until we were located and put back on track by his photographer, so I couldn’t make more wisecracks about him either.
The morning did at least solve one mystery. Sir Chris and I set out more or less together from the start. And we finished together as well. Yet his credited time was several minutes faster than mine.
I suspect that this ability to bend time at will might explain some of his very considerable collection of gold medals.
This year’s seems to have been an especially horrible Tour de France for injuries that make you wince. In truth,