Hurricane turns Surrey sportive into epic challenge

Mon Aug 11, 2014 6:48am EDT
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By Mitch Phillips

LONDON (Reuters) - Exhilarating, challenging, absolutely ridiculously soaking - when the tail end of Hurricane Bertha met 21,000 amateur cyclists in the Prudential Surrey 100, a fun day out in the country was transformed into true test of man and machine.

When the riders lined up in the shadow of the velodrome in Olympic Park on Sunday, two years on from the Games that has transformed that swathe of east London, the daunting weather forecast had already made a major impact.

Faced with the likelihood of torrential rain and driving winds, organizers removed the two biggest climbs from the course - Leith Hill and Box Hill - because of the potentially dangerous descents, and although it cut the course to 86 miles (138.4 km) and deprived riders of the focal points of the whole route, it proved an eminently sensible decision.

After weeks of balmy sunshine, Sunday dawned dark and brooding and most participants had to dig out their winter gear in readiness for what was to come.

On Saturday, 55,000 participants had enjoyed endless sunshine for the Ride London freecycle event, when 10 miles of the city were given over to cyclists to potter past the sights and enjoy a festival atmosphere.

The penny-farthings and fancy dress were all packed away by Sunday, however, as the more serious matter of the country's premier cyclosportive took center stage.

For people used to commuting in and around the city, it was a surreal feeling to have major roads and bridges cleared of traffic for the day.

For the first few miles, most riders stuck firmly to the left, seemingly not quite ready to believe that all carriageways were theirs and that a white van was not about to come screaming into them around the next corner.   Continued...