Would you ride London - Edinburgh - London?

Olaf Storbeck training for London Edinburgh London in the Elan Valley
Very long distance cycling isn’t for everyone, but it seems that once you try an audax there’s no turning back. As London Edinburgh London is on this weekend we asked a number of Cycling UK members why they’re getting involved in the epic 870 mile ride.

On 30 July 1,500 cyclists from 54 countries will head north from the outskirts of London heading for Edinburgh on the British audax calendar’s blue ribband event. Once every four years riders try to complete the 1,400km round trip in under 116 hours; it’s a challenge that tests mental stamina every bit as much as it challenges physical fitness.

And the whole event wouldn’t be possible without the endurance of over 400 volunteers who staff controls and rest stops up and down the country.  So what does it mean to be a part of it?

From the event’s inception in 1989, it’s involved Cycling UK members. Leicestershire and Rutland CTC member Steve Ralphs leapt at the chance to ride the first version having been forced by injury to quit on Paris Brest Paris (PBP) two years earlier.

“I wasn’t very well prepared for the first running of the event but I somehow managed to complete it and have since finished the 1997, 2005 and 2013 editions.”

Despite the scale of the challenge, like many experienced audaxers, Steve is modest about the intensity of training needed for long distance “I am slightly nervous that my longest ride this year is a single 300km although I have ridden at least two 200km rides every month for the last few years, so I hope I've done enough” he says.

Volunteers are vital

I love the inclusive spirit of audax and LEL is going to be full of interesting characters from around the world.” 

Nadjie Butler

Steve is quick to pay tribute to the organisation of the event which draws heavily on Cycling UK members like Nadjie Butler from Gants Hill. She’s excited at meeting riders from around the world.

“I love the inclusive spirit of audax and LEL is going to be full of interesting characters from around the world” she says.

Nadjie is no stranger to volunteering, helping out on events like the London Marathon and giving up her time for Crisis at Christmas. “I appreciate that events like LEL need people like us and the organisers do guarantee a place next time around to people who have got involved at the controls.”

In fact building up to the 2021 event is part of her continuing recovery from breast cancer. Shortly after rejoining the Cycling UK to rekindle her pre-children passion for cycling she was diagnosed in 2015 with the disease, but she still managed a 100km ride in 5 hours just two months after a mastectomy and her second cycle of chemotherapy.

As well as helping to register and organise the riders at the start she is an ambassador for Breast Cancer Care and was the face of their Pink Ribbon Tour. “I hope that by volunteering I will get a flavour of the event and earn my place in 2021” she adds.

Advice for LEL cyclists

Barnsley’s Julian Humphrey who is attempting his third LEL, is not intimidated by the ride despite having been through the wars himself in recent yearr: “I fractured my hip after an innocuous fall on a tight corner on the Milan San Remo Gran Fondo in 2016” he says. When he recovered, he then managed to rupture his Achilles tendon last August “It’s still an issue but not holding me back - I have just completed a 1000 mile audax in Italy in 134 hours” he adds almost nonchalantly.

Kevin Merrison from Cycling UK Merseyside is looking forward to “a great few days, spinning through the countryside and chatting to people from many different countries.”  He lines up this year for the second time relishing “the opportunity to have the shared experience with so many others … and whilst I have done it before, I am sure that this will offer different challenges and a chance to enjoy the lanes and camaraderie over a few days where nothing else except 'pedal, eat, sleep, repeat' matters.”

Kevin is not the only Cycling UK member to mention the fellowship of the long-distance scene. “The allure of long-distance riding is difficult to describe. The camaraderie en route is one factor. You get to know new people all the time, and after a few hours of riding and chatting, you feel like you’ve been knowing each other for years” explains Olaf Storbeck from London.

It’s common to hear audaxers blame each other for getting hooked on epic distances.  Olaf is named by Titus Halliwell from Reading as the cause of his mile-eating habits which include riding a Brompton all over Europe. However, Titus expects to be riding a “big bike” on LEL and he’d worried about what he needs to carry. “I have a reputation for carrying the kitchen sink” so have to make sure I’m not carrying too much non-essential stuff!”

Are these Cycling UK members nervous about anything?

“The weather” says Olaf . “I will move back to Germany in September, and riding LEL on my beloved Mercian steel frame handmade in Derby will be my grand finale so fingers crossed it will not be too grim!” he explains.

Julian Humphrey agrees about the weather but also adds “you’re up against the psychological battles you have with yourself on the road in the dark of the night”.

However, he stresses “I know exactly what I am signing up for - a balance between great cycling on quiet roads, great British scenery, mixing with like minded international cyclists, a really well organised event with great support”

You can find out more about LEL on the website www.londonedinburghlondon.com

Have you ridden the LEL? Share your thoughts using the comments box below.