London Edinburgh London 2022 was a randonnée event in the United Kingdom organised by Audax UK. We speak to some of our friends from India to hear their experiences of riding this 1500+ km route! Grab a big mug of coffee (or other beverage of choice) and read the shenanigans of these six.
“Climbing was horrible. Nobody expected that kind of climbing. It was 20-24% gradients for 3-4 km. That was the toughest climb I have ever experienced.” – Arun K
“In randonnuering we often ignore the sights because we are constantly pacing. But here it was difficult to ignore the sights, it was so beautiful.” – Grinshina K
“While coming back on the 3rd day I was drained out, and I was delayed by 3 hours at the CP. I was feeling very low, so I called up my coach.” – Kirit K
“The local riders, I don’t know what they eat and what stamina they have. They were two extreme climbs, where they would climb while talking to each other, while I would be out of breath on those climbs.” – Nayan J
“Even the food was amazing. It was different, but everything was available.” – Ripunjay G
“At LEL I underestimated a few climbs, and was using a 28-speed cassette. And on rare occasions my gear wouldn’t shift to 28. And I would be stuck in 25. I was totally screwed on the 18% gradient climbs.” – Vibhav S
This is what our friends told us about London Edinburgh London 2022…
London Edinburgh London 2022 (LEL)
For those who are unaware, randonneuring is a format of endurance cycling in which participants have to ride a designated route in a set amount of time. At the end of the ride, you either are a finisher or you are not, there isn’t a winner. So, it doesn’t matter whether you finish first or last, as long as you finish. It differs greatly from racing, since the atmosphere is more jovial amongst participants. They aren’t competitors, but all are racing against the clock.
LEL as it is commonly called is considered to be one of the toughest randonneuring events in the world. The route is 1500+ km and you have to ride it in 125 hours, that includes your stoppage time as well. It has been organised every 4 years since 1989, and the latest edition was supposed to take place in 2021, but it had to be postponed due to the pandemic. It eventually happened in the British summer of August 2022.
Before we start, we would like to thank, Arun Kumarasamy, Grinshina Kartik, Kirit Kokje, Nayan Jain, Ripunjay Gogoi and Vibhav Shinde for contributing their time and sharing their experiences.
LEL: An Intro!
LEL is an ultra-endurance bicycle ride which has participants from around the world. The route starts in London, England and goes to Edinburgh, Scotland before returning to London. Along the way the riders clocked 1540 km and climbed a mammoth 15000 metres this year, making it one of the toughest ever editions.
Yet there are relatively few who know about LEL, when compared to the holy grail of randonneuring, Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP). Which is why the organisers had a booth at PBP 2019 to attract new riders. Grinshina was one such rider who got to know about LEL when she rode PBP. Kirit on the other hand heard about it after an unsuccessful PBP ride.
Arun’s teammates had ridden the previous edition of LEL and he was keen on joining them on this occasion. Nayan on the other hand was actively searching for a challenging bicycle ride and chanced upon LEL at the opportune moment. Ripunjay was interested in volunteering for LEL, before he got to know that he could actually ride there as well.
The reason for doing this ride were many, but the aim was singular for all of them. To finish in the stipulated amount of time. But that is easier said than done. Just finishing takes an incredible amount of preparation. Every effort you make in your training is rewarded during the ride…
Preparation is Key
The pandemic threw everyone’s plans awry and training for LEL turned out to be no different. Especially as the ride got postponed to 2022, a year later than scheduled.
His preparation began in 2019 itself when his application was approved. In December of 2019, he went for a SR series starting in Nashik and ending in Amritsar, covering a 600, 200, 400 and 300 km rides consecutively. That gave him confidence for LEL. He then went ahead and did a half-everesting, rode the Ultra Spice 1200 km race and won the Himalayan Ultra 444 km race. Besides these massive rides, he spent a lot of time training indoors, as he took to it like a fish to water!
He took to the hills of Meghalaya, where he would climb from Guwahati to Shillong on weekends. He also started indoor training, but that was minimal in comparison to the time spent in the great outdoors. Ripunjay specifically worked on two elements for LEL, Cadence & Climbing. The goal was to improve the cadence and practice a lot of climbs. He also did a ride called ‘Climb ka Baap’ which starts in Sonipat and ends in Mcleodganj covering 1200 km and 10000 metres of climbing.
Nayan spent 8 long months training with his coach, Ashley in the flat lands of Gujarat. Due to the topography of the land, Nayan had no opportunity to practice climbing. His only recourse was to train indoors to practice and improve his climbing skills. He would start riding at 4 AM and end by 7, before working through a normal day. He says that his family sacrificed a lot of quality time to spend with each other in those 8 months. Those days saw him train, work and sleep only.
Kirit would ride in between his work hours. Sometimes early in the morning, midday or deep into the night. This helped him prepare for sleep deprivation and night riding! He also did a number of brevets in the rolling ghats around Pune. His biggest training block were two Everesting attempts, the first was a successful everesting attempt. The second was an unsuccessful double-everesting attempt, as he finished with 11000 metres of climbing.
Grinshina kept herself busy with doing big rides every chance she got. These included ISAN in 2020 in Thailand, G2G on a tandem from Delhi to Mumbai, Ultra Spice race and indoor everesting attempts. 2021 saw her riding as many 600+ km rides as she could, with a lot of indoor training as well.
He had a rigorous training schedule plotted out by his coach, Kandappa CH. He would be prescribed workouts and would diligently execute them. Arun doesn’t like training indoors so his riding was entirely outdoors. But like Nayan, he too faced the challenge of living in a flat land of Chennai. As such he went for multiple training rides in Ooty, Bangalore and other hilly parts of Karnataka. All this climbing practice helped him greatly in LEL.
Getting visas was quite the challenge for many aspirants. Some folks received their visas within days of applying, others got it just a day before flying out. Still others had to cancel their flight tickets and rebook, in the process losing out on a lot of money. Many Indian riders in fact cancelled their LEL dreams entirely because of a poor visa application experience.
Kirit who was supposed to fly on the 31st of July didn’t get his visa, so he cancelled his ticket. At the last moment it eventually did show up at his doorstep, so he caught a flight on the 4th of August. Not getting any time to acclimatise at all. Nayan cut it even finer, he left from India on the 5th, doing the entire ride without proper pre-ride rest, all thanks to a delayed visa.
As Grinshina told us, “I think everybody got it in the end. There was a massive push by Dr. Shashi Tharoor, as one of the riders had worked with him and he had worked with the British High Commission. Some riders were not ready to travel just 1-2 days before the event. I was impressed with Ripunjay Gogoi from Assam who got his visa two days before and he left and came there and finished the ride in time as well.”
Ripunjay received his visa on the 1st of August and flew out a couple of days later, paying a bomb for his flight ticket. With just a day’s rest he rode LEL.
Needless to say, it isn’t enough to just prepare your legs, heart and mind to ride LEL, you also need to prepare your paperwork!
London Edinburgh London 2022: Ride Experience
Riding London Edinburgh London 2022 was so ‘larger than life’, that it threw up wildly varying experiences. The riders we spoke to, unanimously agreed on one thing only, that it shockingly didn’t rain throughout the ride. In fact, UK was suffering through an intense heat wave with temperatures rocketing up to almost 40 degrees centigrade during the day.
For Grinshina it was about the scenic route, the atmosphere, the food and most importantly, the people. For Arun it was putting his training to test and meeting his goal. Vibhav was making multiple plans and adapting them on the go, as circumstances constantly changed. Kirit had to dig super deep when he saw despair, he experienced salvation with the support of friends thousands of kilometres away. Nayan had a massive challenge with sleep deprivation, climbs and finding vegetarian food. Ripunjay on the other hand immersed himself in the spirit of LEL and was overawed by the organising capabilities, the food and the spirit of camaraderie amongst the cyclists.
Another varying experience was the temperature adaptation. The riders from the south managed the heat wave, but the cold at night was tough. Riders from the north, who are used to severe cold in the winter didn’t have as much of a problem with the cold, the heat drained them out. Just goes to show, you are strong only for what you train.
According to Grinshina, she lost a lot of time at the Control Points (CP). There were 20 CPs on the 1540 km route and each being mandatory. You had to stop to get your card stamped as well as getting food and water, since there was nothing else along the way.
She savoured the food so much at the CPs that she ended up spending more time than required. At night, when the outside temperature was plummeting, inside the CP was warm and cosy. The food varied with the region she was riding through, in once case even the drink! She remembers in Scotland at one CP, they gave shots of Scotch to riders, to keep their spirits high.
It wasn’t all rosy though. Most CPs she reached had all their beds full, as such, she ended up sleeping on benches, at tables and other odd spots. Never properly rested, she found it hard to find empty women’s showers as well. These added to her overall off-saddle time.
Grinshina’s best experiences were on the saddle as she rode with different people. Which included 73-year-old 7-time LEL finisher, Kirk. She was delighted to see him grinding his gears up the climb, just as she likes to do! She also got an excellent guided tour of LEL by Kirk.
Another heart-warming experience was when she was riding with a Romanian rider. She was so sleepy that she started hallucinating. Her riding buddy suggested to take a 10-minute nap with an alarm under a tree along the road. Unfortunately for Grinshina, her power nap ended up being a 3-hour snooze. She was woken only when the same rider got worried about her, got into an official’s car and came looking for her. Bicycle camaraderie at its best.
Arun was the fastest Indian to cross the finish line at LEL, completing the ride in 102 hours and 25 minutes. An incredible achievement made possible with his serious structured training back home. And consciously executing his plan to near perfection.
The most important arrow in Arun’s quiver was that of reaching London 10 days before the start of the ride. He had enough time to acclimatise, do a few practice rides to understand the roads and traffic and be properly rested before the start.
Arun doesn’t like to make grand plans before the start, he likes to ease himself into the ride. Only after reaching the halfway mark in 38 hours, did a plan of finishing within 100 hours form. But it was not to be, as he suffered a mechanical. The crank on his bike broke and he was left stranded with no shops stocking the part he required. Finally, a friend of his from Edinburgh came to the rescue, by giving Arun the crank from his own bike. A saviour indeed.
90% of the ride Arun estimates he rode alone, only in small sections he would ride along with other riders. Which wasn’t a challenge since he is habituated to that. The challenge for him were the climbs. Unlike the climbs back home, there the gradient was going all the way up to 24% in sections, averaging 18% over 4-5 km. Killing people’s already exhausted legs. Many riders got off their bikes and walked it.
The biggest challenge for Nayan was food. Not only is he vegetarian, but he is Jain, so it became doubly difficult. After having 3 meals at the CPs, he gave up and started eating at restaurants and café’s outside. Even that was difficult as most would shut shop by 7 PM. His ride plans also included reaching towns by evening so he could find palatable food!
Nayan had a great time riding with people from different parts of the world. The experience of watching the local riders scooting up the hills was mesmerising.
In the entire duration of the ride, Nayan only got four and a half hours of sleep. Understandably he was exhausted and sleep deprived, he slept off while riding multiple times and ended up having slow speed falls.
A month after finishing LEL, his hands are still numb from the ride. A reminder of the gladiatorial effort to finish the ride.
Kirit’s ride started off badly, he had a small crash on the first day itself. A few scratches to the body and a slightly bent handlebar were his companions for the rest of the ride.
Being so far up the northern hemisphere, UK has daylight from 4 AM to 10 PM, which made sleep management much easier for Kirit. He would grab a couple of hours of sleep during the dark hours. Eventually sleeping for just 10 hours over the 5 days.
The CPs were set at varying distances, but similar time intervals of 5-6 hours. If the distance was lesser, it meant that a big climb lay ahead. Kirit had been training with 5 hours of continuous riding, so the CPs were perfectly placed for him.
A ride like LEL, drains the rider’s mental reserves. Kirit experienced that as he reached the CP 3 hours late on the 3rd day. Only a phone call with the coach could push him to continue. All the positive thoughts and messages he received from his friends in Pune helped him break through the mental barrier. The 4th day saw him gain confidence and speed, and make up decent time. A big part of endurance riding is in the head, rather than in the legs!
Ripunjay along the way learnt to channel his mental energies. At the first 2-3 CPs he would see what to eat and then enjoy the food. But he realised there was no point wasting energy on ‘selecting’ food. After that he would go to the food counter and say, “give me a bit of everything”. With food being one less thing to worry about, he could focus more on pacing out his ride.
Along with the steep climbs, Ripunjay also remembers the dastardly winds. Headwinds and crosswinds were a constant. Even on the climbs he remembers being pushed back by the headwinds. And the steep gradients hit the him hard, exacerbated with 1300 km already in the legs. Fatigue pushing him close to the limits of exhaustion.
Though Ripunjay was riding solo, he often had big groups of riders go past him. He sat in their wake and drafted behind at speeds of 35 kmph. Realising that it was too hot a pace for him to maintain, he gave up the chase.
One incredible observation of Ripunjay was that he, like many other riders, just about got 14 hours of sleep over the 5 days. While the westerners would ride hard during the day and get at least 6 hours of sleep. This was the difference between riding red eyed with fatigue or fresh as a daisy!
Bad luck and technical issues were part and parcel of the ride for Vibhav. He had gearing unsuitable to the massive gradients and a derailleur which refused to shift to the largest cog. Which meant he struggled up the climbs. The climbs threw his plans out of the window!
To top it, he found a broken spoke on his bike at the U-turn point. On realising that, he started sweating profusely, not because of the heat wave, but fearing that his ride would end then and there. Luckily he found a bicycle shop and waited a few hours for it to open. That’s where he got his repairs done and managed to buy a pair of full-length cycling shorts for the cold.
To compound his difficulties, at one CP, the medics took his temperature because he was shivering violently. They refused to let him proceed because of his physical condition. They bedded him down with blankets at the medic centre and only allowed him to proceed after he stabilised. The medics made the correct decision, as health is more important than completion of a bicycle ride.
Across the Finish Line
On the last day before the ride started, the route was changed. Due to roadwork happening on the original route. The new route had 40 extra kilometres and 1000 extra metres of climbing. To accommodate the additional pedalling, the organisers increased the cut off time from 125 hours to 128 hours and 20 minutes.
Around 220 Indians had registered for LEL, with only 150 at the start line. 7 out of whom were women. Out of the 150, roughly 55 Indians finished within the time limit.
Arun finished in 102 hours and 25 minutes. He targeted sub-100, but was unable to accomplish that due to the crank breaking on his bike. Yet, he is the fastest Indian to have ridden LEL!
Vibhav finished in 114 hours and 45 minutes with just 10 hours of sleep. Without the technical mishaps, he would have bettered it. But such is life!
Kirit finished in 124 hours and 56 minutes. In the last 48 km there were 200 bifurcations, requiring more navigation than cycling skills!
Nayan finished a shade under 125 hours. In that time, he slept a ridiculously low 4 hours and 30 minutes.
Ripunjay rode the entire stretch in 125 hours and 15 minutes. He rode the big climbs in peak noon heat and ran out of water, which slowed his progress. The final 26 hours went without sleep to reach the finish in time!
Grinshina finished in 135 hours. Her ride time was just 91 hours, the remaining 44 hours was bad time management, according to her.
Equipment for London Edinburgh London 2022
A bicycle ride is part human, part machine. Though the human element is far more important in any ride, but we cannot forget our cool steeds which keep us going. As you will see, most riders had some top quality equipment.
Arun was riding a Scott Addict 10 with aerobars. The bars helped considerably. Because the roads are super clean and motorists follow the rules, it was easy for him to put his head down into the aerobars and ride without excessive caution.
Grinshina was riding a Bottachia 8Avio Revolution Carbon bike with 650b wheels. Though it was good for the ride, she wasn’t using aerobars. That’s another thing which she feels, she needs to work on.
Kirit was riding a Canyon Endurance without aerobars. As he mostly rides brevets in India, where aerobars are not allowed. LEL has different rules compared to other Audax events, as Kirit noted, even helmets and reflective vests are not mandatory.
Nayan was riding a Giant Propel, but without aerobars, as advised by his coach.
Ripunjay was using a Java Siluro with a little bit of an upgrade. He is relatively new to road bikes, so using aerobars was out of the question. But with the amount of headwind he faced, he does feel aerobars should help!
Vibhav had the S-Works Roubaix as his companion for the ride. He did the right thing of using aerobars, which he now feels, that he cannot ride without. But a mistake he made was to carry far too much equipment for the ride. Increasing the weight and slowing him considerably.
Thanks to the lovely people who contributed to this CyclingMonks article. The community gets stronger by the day thanks to the support of amazing peeps like them.
Arun Kumarasamy is a 40-year-old working in the Chennai IT industry. He is originally from the pretty city of Pondicherry. Follow him on Instagram.
Kirit Kokje is a 39-year-old teacher from Pune. His entire cycling routine is based around his classes which happens in the morning and evening shifts. Another incredible endurance rider from the city. Special thanks to him for sharing the majority of photos in this article. You can follow him on Instagram.
Nayan Jain is a 38-year-old businessman from Ahmedabad. He has been juggling cycling, family life and 3 different businesses in the past few months! You can follow him on Instagram.
Ripunjay Gogoi is a 28-year-old network engineer who works in a cancer hospital in Guwahati. He started his cycling as a mountain biker and now rides a lot of endurance rides. Follow him on Instagram.
Vibhav is a 28-year-old from the home of endurance cycling, Nashik. He is an engineer who works for CISCO Bangalore, but is based in his hometown. Follow him on Instagram.