On a very British, very wet summer’s day in 1948, 141 men from 31 countries lined up in Windsor Great Park to compete in the London Olympics cycling road race. A hard fought 120 miles (17 laps) with no team cars, no carbon fibre and no spare wheels. Riders had to repair their own punctures by the roadside and there were plenty! The loose gravel roads caused over 100 flats! These were the real hard men of racing.
The course starts half way down the straight alongside Guard's Polo Club. In 1948 the riders were cheered on by large crowds and launched into action by a young Prince Philip. On Sundays you can often see a game of Polo taking place and if you’re lucky spot some modern royalty. Today it's just me and a handful of dog walkers. I clip in and without fanfare, ride off...
The first miles are pan flat and I settle into steady a 19mph rhythm. This is soon broken though as unlike the Olympians, I need to stop and trigger the electric gates leading into the deer park. I quickly re-clip and set off again, swooping down past flocks of deer, the famous Long Walk on my right, Windsor Castle in the distance. Lucky for me there’s very little foot traffic today, on a sunny weekend it’s a different story!
Leaving the deer park I sneak a quick glance at my average speed. Down on what I'd hoped, but not to worry. The following section is smooth, mostly flat and on a good day, fast. Unfortunately today is gusty and my steady progress is hampered by crosswinds. I'm fighting along, nudging 16mph as a couple of pheasants take a running leap out in front of me! Not close enough to cause a scare, but on previous rides through the park they've cut it mighty close so I keep my eyes peeled. Approaching Prince Consort’s Gate I’m making good time, but I feel I owe it to those great men of yesteryear to kick it up a notch!
Through the gate and I'm onto the only public road on the entire course. This is a speedy section with just enough downhill and fast corners to keep it entertaining. There's very little traffic so I stamp the pedals a little harder than I should. Not too hard! I must remember there's still plenty of course left! A quick out of the saddle incline, fly down past the rows of parked cars and before I know it I'm back inside the Queen's estate.
Turning left through an open Blackness Gate I charge forward. A short straight awaits but it’s the roughest part of the course. The ever so slightly uphill, unforgiving gravel surface is tough on the legs. Sweeping around Johnson’s Pond I spy a couple of swans, but there’s no time for sightseeing today as it's out of the saddle and up Breakheart Hill. Sure, its only a mere 90ft of "climbing" but if you've already pushed yourself into the red, gunning for the finish, it'd be a real deal breaker. Over the crest and it's back onto the start/finish straight. A quick sprint here and I'm over the imaginary line. Lap complete! I give myself a discrete cheer, take a swig from my bidon and ride on.
There's many more laps to complete yet....
My fastest lap of the day saw me haul my Specialized Sirrus around the course in 24 minutes 35 seconds at an average speed of 17.4mph. Good enough to place me 15th on the Strava leaderboard (at the time). For a windy day in January I'm happy with that. To put it in perspective, if gold medalist Jose Beyaert of France had been using Strava back in 1948, he would have posted a KOM-smashing time of around 19 minutes. That's a KOM he'd still be holding sixty five years later.
Middle Ringer is an obsessive cyclist who is still too young to be a MAMIL, but way too old to mix it with the young guns. He can often be found gasping for breath, pedalling neat little circles around the Royal County of Berkshire.
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