A collection of articles, photos & videos covering London-Edinburgh-London 2022
London-Edinburhg-London (or short “LEL”) is probably the second most famous brevet in Europe (after Paris-Brest-Paris). It is organised by Audax UK and takes place every 4 years. With a 1 year delay, due to the Corona pandemic, I had the great pleasure to join the 2022 edition of this iconic bike challenge. Here’s my story.
By car and ferry
After careful consideration, we decided to approach London by car. We started from Tübingen at 5:30 in the morning and after a one-day ride through France - mostly on Highways - we reached the ferry port in Calais at around 2pm. This allowed us to take an earlier ferry than we originally planned and there was a good chance to arrive at the campsite in Debden before they would close at 8pm.
All went well until Google Maps wanted to route us along some forrest roads and we had to circle twice around the camp ground until we finally made it.
Pretty tired, we went to bed early this evening, after putting up Jochen’s tent and a quick dinner in the nearby city.
Check-in and registration
Riders were required to check-in on the day before the event where they got their rider material and two bags for the bag drops. Bag drops mean that you can put some stuff into a bag that will then be carried to one of the check points along the way where you can access them, take stuff from them or put something in to be transported back to the start after the event.
After signing some paper, we had our rider’s plate and some swag.
Already during the check-in the sheer dimension of the race became clear. There were 1800 registered riders out of which 1550 started on Sunday.
We took the chance to carefully inspect some of the more exotic bikes that were parked outside Devenant Foundation School and talked to many of the volunteers that supported the event.
Afterwards we went to town for lunch with some other riders from Audax Suisse.
For the evening we were invited for barbecue at the camp ground and joined another randonneur from Germany that could not join the race because of a Covid infection.
Start on Sunday
Debden to Boston
Our starting time was Sunday at 12:45 which gave us enough time to pack our bikes in the morning, put down the tent and park our car on a designated spot on the camp ground.
Due to the perfect weather forecast and warm temperatures, I decided to only put a frame bag and a saddle bag on my bike and put some more rain clothes into the bag drop - just in case. Therefore my bike was rather lightweight and compact.
After some last instructions from the volunteers, we rolled off around lunch time and started into the hilly section to the first check point in St. Ives. There was some weird road rage right at the beginning when we left the city, but traffic became calmer once we got further away from the London region.
As always, we started way to fast and made it to the control within only 4 hours. With 15 min for a quick meal we were back on our bikes in no time and started into the second section with the check point in Boston.
With only 140 km in the saddle, there was the first unplanned challenge: Jochen’s DI2 shifting no longer allowed to change gears. Took us around 30 min to figure out that the battery was empty - Jochen fully charged it before the race, so this was unexpected. With a powerbank attached to the charger he was able to use it again and we continued our ride - with a loss of around 30 min.
We also heard that Stefan - the third rider in our group - supported another rider during the first section that became unconscious and fell from the bike. So we decided to take a longer break at the second control in Boston that we reached shortly after sunset. This section was also the flattest of all sections, with only ~200m of elevation along 90 km.
Since Boston is pretty close to the sea, one could smell “salt in the air” and there was a pretty long channel along which we rode through fields and traffic-free areas. Together with the setting sun, this was a perfect scenario to end the first day.
The first night
Boston to Hessle
Despite the warm temperatures during the daytime, it turned out that the nights were still pretty cold and we put on some warmer clothes before we went off for Louth - the third check point. With some climbs this section had only 50 km and we reached Louth at around 2:00 at night. We managed to ride in a group of three until the next control in Hessle. Along the way we passed the famous Humber bridge just before the control - which we reached during the dawn of the next day. The colors of the rising sun in the sky provided the perfect stage for riding across the bridge.
Reaching check point 4 at around 5:30 in the morning Jochen and I decided to make good use of the sleeping facilities there, whereas Stefan decided to ride on after a short powernap.
We set the alarm clock to 8:30 and planned to take off at around 9:30. As always, I couldn’t sleep very well during the first night, despite proper use of ear plugs and some of the most comfortable matresses I ever experienced during a brevet.
Nevertheless, the rest was great and I felt re-energised. Hessle was also the check point where Luca - the son of one of the other Audax Suisse riders - volunteered, and it was great meeting him there. He had less sleep than we did while handing out hot beverage to the riders.
Hessle to Barnard Castle
The second day started with a section with lots of traffic on main roads. Only after a while we arrived at a silent little valley - that I count as one of the highlights of the whole route. With soft ascents and some fast decents, we quickly made it to Malton, our next check point and only after that, the battle started.
From my understanding, the section to Barnard Castle followed a deviation due to a closed road. With climbs up to 18% and a steady up and down across many many small hills, it was really hard to find a good pace and the legs got tired very soon. Due to the small and winding roads one also couldn’t make much use of the downhill sections and had to pay lots of attention to oncoming cars and potholes. We reached the secret control in the middle of the section at around 18:30 and it took us another 3 hours to make it to Barnard Castle. For me, this section was the second hardest of the whole race, with the hardest one still to come next.
We met Robert - another randonneur from Audax Suisse with whom I rode quite a few brevets - and his brother Ingo along the route. Robert didn’t do a lot of preparation and seemed to have some struggle catching up with Ingo who was quite well trained. Anyways - we rode together to Barnard Castle were Stefan was just about to get his first proper sleep of the event.
I started to feel some pain in my archilles heel and was happy to get some Voltaren creme from the medics. So after a 1 hour rest, we rode on into the night to master the most demanding stage to Brampton. Luckily we were not too late for some nearby supermarket in which we got ourselves some soft drinks and more food for the night.
Barnard Castle to Brampton
The stage to Brampton started with a soft climb towards Eggleston. What followed was a constant uphill towards a nameless pass and a very steep decent towards St. John’s Chapel. Many riders were pushing their bikes up the hill for the last steep section. There was a pop-up cafe in St. John’s Chapel that allowed for warming up and listening to some randonneur’s stories and why LEL is so much better than PBP and other strong opinions. We were not really up for it and after eating a cake with a strange texture, we were back on our bikes, tackling the second steep hill along this deviation stage.
Starting softly towards Lanehead, the road became steeper and steeper again with another “push your bike section” towards the end of the second pass. We met other riders every now and then. Even with the other participants taking a nap at different check points or even along the road, there were always riders within a distance of a few minutes.
The downhill down to Alston became really cold and we didn’t risk going full speed, since we saw so much road kill during the day that we were afraid of some rabbit or cat or whatever running into our wheels. Something you certainly want to avoid when riding above 50 km/h at night.
Since the stage took us way longer than expected, it became really late and hence we got pretty tired. The last few kilometers to Brampton became a competition in staying awake. Rumor has it that some team member even started shouting and singing just to avoid falling asleep. But the low temperatures made us think that it would be better not to sleep outside so we pushed for the end of the section and were happy to arrive at Brampton at around 5:30 in the morning.
This was also the first time for me when I had serious doubts whether we would make it back to London in time. Nevertheless, there was no way around taking another nap and we slept until 9:00 before we headed out for the next stage.
Brampton to Moffat
Other than the first night in Hessle, I had a really good sleep in Brampton. It was also a great idea to make it a little longer, since my body really needed some recovery. Felt strange to get up in a bright and empty “sleeping room” (which is usually the gym of the school that is used for the check point), but on the positive side, there were no queues anymore at the breakfast and things went pretty fast.
Not too surprisingly it was in Brampton when we met Martin again, another rider from Audax Suisse who hit the road a little harder than we did and was already on his way back. So with us having done 570 km at this time, he already pedaled 950 km and was still looking fresh.
The next stage brought us across the border to Scotland - a big sign on the side of the road made us aware that we were now on scotish ground. Unfortunately, the quality of the roads didn’t improve much and we were still facing huge potholes and rough tarmac… but after more than 2 days we kind of got used to it…
While the first section of the stage to Moffat was mostly following roads with high traffic and morale was low. I put on some music and let Jochen go ahead at a faster pace that I didn’t want to follow. Since we agreed at the very beginning that we only ride together as long as it makes sense for both of us, I thought that we would either meet again later on or just continue at our own pace. He was definitely in a better physical shape than I was - counting around 3k more on his training distance this year compared to what I cycled so far.
Cycling alone, I joined Johannes on the road - another randonnour from Germany that we met at the camp ground in Debden. It was great talking to him for a while before I let go and pedalled on my own again.
The final kilometers of the section brought us through beautiful Scotish countryside - a little appetizer of what was about to come next. The food at Moffat outweighted the anger of going along the busy road and with a properly filled stomach we made it into a long but smooth climb up to Tweedshaws followed by a never-ending decent through the Tweed River valley.
Moffat to Innerleithen
Surprisingly during the decent along Tweed river, the road was also smooth and perfectly rideable. After an almost 30 km decent, we met with two other riders from Audax Suisse, with whom we shared the ride (and plenty of ice cream in Biggar). The second half of the stage was going through lovely Scotish countryside and remote areas with smooth climbs and finally a perfect view of the Forth Road Bridge. Funny, how in both races, Paris-Brest-Paris and LEL a remarkable bridge makes the turn point - and how in both races you have to cycle quite a bit after the bridge in order to make it to the actual check point. So the Dunfernmile checkpoint was about a 1 hour drive after the bridge at which we arrived around 21:30. We once more met Stefan, who was already on his way back to London, a few km before the check point and decided to continue our ride after dinner without taking a nap because it was too early to sleep (and we were a bit short on time).
The curvey way back to the bridge and into Edinburgh was a bit annoying at first, also because it went along a frequented road with still plenty of traffic even in the middle of the night. But the last few km towards Edinburgh went along a nice cycling path and through a park so riding into Edinburgh was a pleasure at last.
While riding mostly on our own, we now met with lots of riders from all around the world, mostly from India and had some funny and some not so funny moments. Some of them went without navigation and were depending on other riders showing them the right track. Others sticked to your rear wheel because they wanted to benefit from drafting but were not willing to go into the lead themselves… others crashed into a parked car (pressumably because of being more than sleepy) and didn’t accept any help to fix their bike afterwards… others were totally nice to talk to and we shared some cycling stories and went off into the night just Jochen and me.
It was harder than expected to buy some soft drinks in Edinburgh, which we desperatly needed, since the next control in Innerleithen was quite a stretch and we knew that it was too cold to sleep outside and we needed to get there. A still-open gas station brought some relieve and with some bottles of coke and Red Bull we were sure we could make it through the night.
What followed was another demanding 400m climb, before we finally made it into a bitter-cold decent to Innerleithen. What was most impressive during this ascent, was this guy on a Fixie that pedalled most of the climb, showing a great technique, doing very small turns with his front wheel to make the climb more relaxing. One of the strongest riders I saw in the whole event.
Arriving in Innerleithen at around 5:00 in the morning was another big achievement and without any further a-do (and even without eating anything), I went streight to bed, sleeping underneath some stairs, not bothering about getting a proper bed. Before I was surprised to meet Christoph volunteering at this check point - he was one of the cyclists with whom I joined the road in 2019 at Paris-Brest-Paris.
Back to England
Innerleithen to Barnard Castle
The closer I come to the end of a brevet, the more I start calculating distances and times in my head. When we started the next morning in Innerleithen it was clear that we had 700km more to cycle in less than 60 hours. So there wasn’t much spare time anymore and yet some nasty climbs ahead of us. Nevertheless we knew that this is not a sprint distance and we tried to start it slowly, maybe reducing some unnecessarily long stops at the check points and other delays.
Although riding into the 3rd day of the brevet, I felt pretty well and could pedal at a decent speed. The landscape around Innerleithen was once again breathtakingly beautiful, which motivated us a lot and made us enjoy the ride. Also there were plenty of riders around us and we never felt alone. Thus the section to Eskdalemuir went by quickly and we managed to start into the second stage of the day at noon.
Although it was a rather short stage, it took us 4 hours to get to Brampton - the time of speeding was long gone. Arriving in Longtown, the high temperatures also became more and more of a problem and I had to make frequent stops under some trees along the route to get enough water and relax my tired legs a bit. With the first half of the day going through beautiful countryside the second part towards Brampton followed some roads with lots of traffic, which cost us some energy and motivation.
Arriving at Brampton we once again met with Stefan, Ingo and Robert and learned that Robert’s knees were hurting so badly that he decided to scratch. We planned for a longer break to wait until the temperatures dropped a bit, took a refreshing shower and headed off for the hilly section towards Alston at 17:30. With the memories of the exhausting climbs only 2 days earlier still fresh in my head, I didn’t really look forward to this section but we knew we had to push if we wanted to have any chance to still make it in time.
Nonesense-talking through the 4th night
Brampton to Hessle
The stage from Brampton back to Barnard Castle started with a gentle climb to Alston. It was great to ride the same segment during daylight that we rushed through at night only two days earlier. Only after Alston the route started to become really steep with a 17% slope towards the top of Nenthead. And we knew that this was only the first climb with another, steeper one still to come. Again lots of cyclists pushed their bike up the road, I wanted to pedal it - regarding my knee pain a day later, maybe this was not the best decision.
The following decent to St. John’s Chapel was quite rewarding. We passed an old mining site and the sunset put the landscape in a beautiful light that fit perfectly to our mood. With a last refill at the popup cafe in St. John’s Chapel we approached the final climb which was nothing but brutal. We knew from the decent that it contained slopes with 20%, luckily there were no signs from this side that reminded us of this fact. After a sheer eternity we finally made it to the top and were more than happy that this - potentially last - test piece was behind us. The downhill to Barnard Castle contained some counter climbs, but nothing could stop us now. We were in powernap mode - means we decided not to take a longer nap at the check point but only a 1 hour nap and then we went off into the cold night to push for Malton.
The southbound route was different from the hilly track that brought us to Barnard Castle - but still contained more than 1000m of uphill. First the nightride was pleasant and we made good progress, but after a while we got really really tired and it took us plenty of nonesense to talk us through the night and the many small hills until we decided that it makes no sense to cycle anymore and we took another 40 min powernap in some field with straw bales big enough to make a comfortable bed.
We woke up with the sunrise and enjoyed the sun warming up the air before we started for the final kilometers to Malton.
Arriving at the check point we realised that rush hour was over and we were at the end of the peloton - only some leftovers to eat (but luckily these contained some yummy chocolate cake) and only few people still hanging around at the controls.
The next hard cut off was Humber bridge after the Hessle control, which we knew would close for pedestrians (and cyclists) at 21:00 in the evening. We arrived in Hessle at around 15:00 and had comfortable 5 hours before the closing of the bridge. Therefore we wasted around 1 hour at a nearby supermarket where we finally bought a small USB speaker that we hoped would help us through the last night (actually we wanted to get us this gadget as a “half-way gift” in Edinburgh, but all shops were closed when we arrived there).
Over the bridge and into the (very) last night
Hessle to St. Ives
Before the next check point in Louth, we enjoyed another nap at the side of the road and arrived at Louth at 21:00. With 24 hours until the cut off in Debden and only 300 km to go we gained some confidence again that we could actually make it in time - even more, knowing that the remaining 3 stages contained no more significant climbs and were mostly flat. At the same time, my knees started to hurt quite badly - and every “getting on the bike again” after a control became super-painful.
It was around this time when we exceeded the distance of Paris-Brest-Paris and every kilometer meant a new personal distance record.
With only two smaller climbs we reached the flat section around Boston. I was looking forward since hours to reach this flat section but now that I was there, my knees were hurting so badly that I didn’t dare to push any harder - so I rather went with a slow cruising speed and tried to keep up with Jochen. For sure he could have gone much faster but we stayed together through those last kilometers to the check point and were both looking forward to a longer rest.
After a food-refill we decided to sleep outside on some blankets that were still laying around from other riders. With a 1 hour powernap until 3:00 at night we started into the next section to St. Ives that went along a channel and followed the same route as we took southbound.
It was a mystic morning with almost full moon shining while the sun slowly started to paint the sky in a dark blue color. Although being short on time we stopped several times to take pictures and enjoyed the colorful dawn of the last day of LEL.
Mastering some small climbs just before St. Ives we arrived at the very last check point at 8:25 in the morning and were looking forward to some proper breakfast. Jochen was quite upset that there was only a choice of either fried egg or bacon, I didn’t care anymore and ate whatever was served. I got used to trink lots of black tea with milk and sugar and even filled it into my drinking bottle several times. After a 1 hour refill we were off for Great Easton, the last check point that divided the first 100km stage into two smaller sections on our way back to London.
Arriving back in Debden
St. Ives to Debden
We happened to meet Stefan again in St. Ives but I had to let go along the bus lane to Cambridge since I didn’t want to overdo it with my knees. To change my position on the bike I also decided to move the saddle a bit higher so that me knees got stressed differently. At first it felt totally strange to sit on the bike but after a while the pain in my knees seemed to get better and I could even push a bit harder again.
The southbound route brought us through Cambridge and although I was pretty tired and not so much in the mood for sightseeing anymore, it was a great place to visit that only cost us a few red lights and then we were off again in the wild. With a few smaller climbs we made it to the last control at around 14:30. The temperatures on this last day climbed up to 32º and it was unbearably hot when you were not moving. So the last control was mainly rushing in, getting your stamp in the road book, filling up water bottles, taking a 10 min powernap on the floor and back on the bike for the last 45 km.
Luckily the route was different then the northbound section, so we didn’t know what would come next and were suprised how quickly we made it back to Debden. Being tired as hell and due to the high temperatures we needed another powernap along the way - it was funny how quickly one fell asleep by simply getting off the bike and laying on the ground. 1 minute later you were sleeping.
Expecting to reach the starting point following the same route as during the start we were actually surprised when seeing the road sign that said: “1 more km to go” - and all of a sudden we were guided through a small door in a fence, had to climb down a few stairs and were back at Davenant Foundation School where it all started only 5 days ago.
And we made it in time, with more than 4 hours to spare.
Last check point, last stamp in the road book, volunteers being even more excited than at the other controls to hand you a medal that made you an official finisher of London-Edinburgh-London 2022. And a vouchure for one more meal and some hot beverage.
That was it - the longest brevet I ever rode with the most climb I ever did on the worst roads I ever cycled.
Being tired as hell, it took me while to realise what we achieved. Not only did we manage to cycle the whole 1540 km and 15.000 m uphill within the (original) time limit of 125 hours - we also managed to do so as a team, staying together most of the time, cheering each other up when one of us got really tired or lacked motivation - without a single puncture or bigger defect (besides the DI2 outage which Jochen managed pretty well). We had no crash, no falling of the bike, no going on the wrong lane (besides one or two times) and no “forgot to stamp the road book at a control”.
We went all the way from London to Edinburgh and back without a single drop of rain and with very little headwinds. I was expecting plenty of both from all the rumors I heard about LEL.
We managed to get enough food and mostly enjoyed it although everyone told us that the English food will be aweful… actually I really liked it!
I realised that England has beautiful spots to offer and that it is way more than only the London area. Unfortunately I also learned that a good fraction of English car drivers doesn’t care too much about cyclists and passes them like idiots while driving like the devil.
What would I do differently next time? Well, I’d put on thicker tires. 28 mm was not really comfortable given the rough surface and the many many potholes. And I would take every chance to buy something to drink at such high temperatures. Much of the route was really remote and every now and then we passed by a supermarket, thinking that there will be another one around the corner - when there was no other one for many miles to come.
Would I ride it again if I had the chance to do so? Yes, for sure - but as always I would try to be better prepared next time :)
What remains is deep gratitude for all the people who made this event possible. Without the many volunteers LEL - and other brevets - simply wouldn’t exist. So thanks everyone in the controls and at the start who spend so many hours supporting us and the event. Highly appreciated!