It’s been a tramadol zombie week. and this morning revealed that today was starting off as a red hot poker weepie day. Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman… Etc., etc. Moan, winge, pity party, etc. It did mean I wasn’t in the best frame of mind this morning. But I’d taken the pills, the sun was shining, I was due to be riding with George, and if sometimes the drugs don’t work, sometimes riding the bike does.
George had errands to do in Street, so we rode over to Glastonbury for coffee, in companionable fashion as she was laden down things needed for shopping trips, and besides, we had chatting to do. We weren’t the only ones out there, I was quite envious of this guy’s blue and white kit – it went very well with the sky and water and clouds…but it didn’t stop us chasing him down and leaving him for dust. OK, so he turned out to be old enough to be my father, but that’s not the point .
It took 53 minutes to get to my favourite café, in the somewhat windy sunshine, at an average of about 15.1mph. Why am I telling you this? Patience, O Best Beloved. The first person I saw in Glastonbury was tall, wearing layers of flowing purple and had flowers in her hair. As ever, Glastonbury lived up to expectations, which is what I love about it. We sat in the suntrap on the corner outside, watched a huge variety of humanity go to and fro’, and talked ourselves in circles.
But time ticked by, and ran out, and it was time to get home. Work and tide wait for no woman. Time for the wheels to go round instead of the conversation. So while George headed south for the debatable joys of shopping in Street, I sprinted for home. I did. For no other reason than because I felt like it. I put my head down, went as fast as I could, apart from those moments when an internal twist would take my breath and legs away, got home in 39 minutes, and increased my average overall speed to 17.0mph . What’s more I enjoyed it too! A little demon chasing can be a good thing. Once again: two wheels good .
Cycling time: 2:08 hrs.
Distance: 27.12 miles.
Avs: 17.0 mph.
ODO: 1713.48 miles.
Bet you didn’t know I have a favourite manhole cover? Well I do…and this is it ,
I think the ACG has outgrown me. Even though Strava says I was having a good day, it was not good enough for me to me able to keep up with the Group. OK, so I held my own, and did my share, for the first hour’s TT race to coffee but, even caffeine enhanced, on the way home, with Ebbor Gorge (Deer Leap) and a head wind across the top of the Mendips thrown into the mix, I got dropped like something very heavy. Which has been known to leave a girl a tad grumpy.
Here’s the rogues’ gallery – you guys know who you are…
Cycling time: 2:08 hrs.
Distance: 34.1 miles.
Avs: 15.9 mph.
ODO: 16471.19 miles.
This should cheer me up though…
Here’s hoping next week’s Somerset 100 goes somewhat better!
The legs on the bike went round and round…
Cycling time: 1:43 hrs.
Distance: 27.0 miles.
Avs: 15.6 mph.
ODO: 16438.09 miles.
1: he’s not slow. not any more, even if he ever was!
2: enough with the wind already…
3: it was nice out there
Cycling time: 2:18 hrs.
Distance: 37.7 miles.
Avs: 16.3 mph.
ODO: 1686.36 miles.
Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head… Well it would have gone something like that, except it went got up, got out of bed, and yelped! I have no idea how, or why, but somehow I managed to do my lower back in between the last time pre-sportive nerves woke me up twixt night and day to go to the loo, and actually getting up. Maybe the cat slept on it? I know she was around at some point, as she’s particularly good at burrowing beneath the covers and then happily squelching with her claws on bits of your anatomy that were not designed for such things. Since none of my body is designed for such things, and her claws are predatorily sharp, it tends to wake you up, at least far enough to discourage her! And she does like sitting on my back while I sleep…
I woke up with the alarm. It was 5:10am, and walking was tricky. Getting dressed, usually such a carefree thing, was done sitting on the floor as I couldn’t stand up to do it. Marvellous. I even resorted to doing the Cat stretch to try and loosen things up which did actually help a bit. But it turns out there’s an upside to my other ailments. Having had a pill free week – go me! – that happy state of affairs came to an end on Friday night, so I had been back on the shiny green and yellow pills ever since. My back was not the only thing hurting that morning. So I took the pills, ate porridge, drank coffee – same old, same old – just with more pain for the pills to deal with! Having posted on Facebook as to my predicament, since clearly I can’t live my life without telling the world about it, I loaded up the car, and headed off.
HQ for the Forest of Dean Spring Classic is the Monmouth Showground near, unsurprisingly, Monmouth. This means a drive of around 1.5 hours from here, including a brief stop off at Portishead Services. I’m considering compiling a list, possibly a pamphlet, maybe even a small book, entitled “Service stations I have known and loved”. Or not loved, since some of them are weird, and some of them time has completely forgotten… Anyway, it was a fairly pleasant drive, barring my brain’s wish to go back to sleep again. I love going across the Severn Bridges – either of them – and since last week’s sportive meant using the new one, it was quite nice that this one used the old one. It’s an equitable life, ‘n all that. Not only do you get many rivers to cross on your way to where you’re going, you also get to enjoy the lovely, empty, wiggly road along the Wye Valley, and past Tintern Abbey which is still gorgeous. The Abbey that is, not the ability to take the racing line around all the corners. Though that was fun too .
HQ neared, according to the GPS, though I might have twigged anyway, thanks to the other cars that were quite clearly going to the same place I was and then, closer still, by the black arrows on green background that were pointing in the direction of Hill 15 that I was going to be climbing later. They also pointed me to HQ and parking which was more useful. I have to say I’d expected bigger things from a Showground. It’s a large field, with parking, one permanent structure, and then the marquees and portaloos of the event. Still, what more do you need?
So I parked. It being a short trek to HQ I decided to get sorted and walk over there with the bike, rather than to-ing and fro-ing, and wasting energy that I was sure to need on the bike later. I’d opted not to bring too many kit options with me – in fact the only real decision to be made was which gilet? In my usual fashion, here’s the outfit choice for the day: new shoes, toe covers, leg warmers, shorts, heavier s/s Italian Rapha jersey (which I love), arm warmers and…hm, ah, hm…Maratona gilet. Which is a heavier weight than my Cyclosport one and also has three lovely pockets in the back. So there you go, decision made, time to head off and register. There were lots of brightly coloured cyclists buzzing around the tents as I arrived. You hang your bike up on the rack for the time slot you’d like to start in, in my case 8:20-8:30 as the other earlier slots were full, and are then free to do what has to be done. There’s a lot to be said for organised bike parking!
Sadly they had no record of me on the registration lists, unlike the other 600 or so other riders, but I explained my presence, filled in a form for insurance purposes, and was duly given a number, complete with integral timing chip, and two ties. Come to think of it, that’s probably why I didn’t get any pre-event emails…
That was registration done. I met Jeannie, and then Mark, the ACG tri-athlete contingent, whilst faffing, and also using the portaloos. I think there were more loos in the building, but since the queues for the two sets of the outdoor variety were fairly short, I didn’t trek over there. No need! Jeannie and Mark were planning on riding together, and there ain’t no way I can keep up with her, so that was out! Faffing complete, I was sorted, and the start line was fairly empty, so I set off in that direction earlier than scheduled, and was on my merry way, tout seule, at 8:10am or thereabouts. Well, once we’d ridden over the field and then a nasty gravelly track to get to the road that is…I hope no-one punctured on that, because I know how cross I’d be!
I may steer clear of Wales from hereonin. Or possibly get “ARAF” tattooed somewhere. It’s hilly over there! There were 18 named climbs on the route – marked and counted down in reverse. This is not to say there are only 18 hills – ha ha – it just means the rest of them are nameless. Although I spent quite a lot of time, as you do when going up such things, trying mentally to convince myself that what I was going up wasn’t an up at all because if it didn’t have a name it couldn’t be, right? Which presumably makes it a hillock, an incline, a positive gradient, maybe even a climb…but definitely not a hill. Oh no, not a hill. Talking of hills, as we clearly are, the first one, Lydart, is long, slow and a real slog because it comes only 2 miles in, well before you’ve warmed up. To be honest, it would be a slog whenever you met it, and at least we were all definitely much warmer by the time we reached the top that we had been at the bottom!
The first 30 miles passed relatively pleasantly. Lots of climbing up roads lined by trees. Apparently it’s not called a Forest for nothing. There wasn’t a great deal to distinguish one climb from another, other than the counting downs of signs in between. Frequent was the “surely this is one of the hills?” comment amongst passing riders…only to discover that no, this one is, that last one you were just imagining . The weather was changeable. Some wind, though nowhere near as much as last weekend. In fact on one of the hills it was hard to decide whether it was annoying because it was a headwind, or nice because it was cooling you down! It was a case of clouds with sunny breaks in between. You’d get almost too warm going up whichever big hill it was and be just starting to contemplate layer removal, having unzipped as far as is prudent, before descending and having to pull all those zips back up again.
The first food stop came at a village hall around 30 miles in, and it was once again equipped with bike racks, making that whole “where do I put my bike” thing that much easier. There were the usual cake and banana options, Clif drink and water, and Clif bars on demand, to save the greedy stashing them one presumes – seems like a good idea to me. The Ladies was blocked off, leading to some amusing use of the Gents as unisex…not entirely pleasant, and possibly a tad unnerving for the gents I disturbed on my exit. I promise I kept my eyes averted!
Here was where I met Mark again, him having sadly been dropped by the powerhouse that is Jeannie. I think this worked out quite well for both of us though, as we hung together for the rest of the ride, which took the edge off somewhat. Plus he was as patient as Chris was last week when it comes to my having to stop for whatever reason – bit in contact lens (ow!), pills to take, bottle decanting, gel taking, layer stashing, etc. I am quite possibly a nightmare to ride with!
(if you sit behind me without taking your turn or joining in our erudite and stimulating, do my ears look big in this helmet, conversation, I will take your photo! The guy in front of us was eavesdropping and thought we were hilarious…as he informed us when we finally passed him ).
I’ve decided 90 miles is a good length for a sportive. It makes breaking it into chunks easier. 30 miles – stop – 30 miles – stop – 30 miles – Finish! I also like the counting down the hills bit and, for the most part, they were my kind of hills. Still, life clouded over for the middle section. Not just did the weather do that, but there was about 20 miles or so that were on roads that, although smoother, were altogether more main and far too busy, full of Bank Holiday weekend folk not wishing to share the roads with cyclists, and getting infuriated by having to queue behind them and then taking stupid risks to get past. You know the drill, you’ve all been there.
The second food stop, 60 miles in, was once again at a village hall, and came as quite a relief from that. We parked up on the grassy slope and took a moment to eat bananas and Clif bars (respectively me and him), having topped up the bottles. Well it was getting sunnier, the hills were taking a toll, my back and other parts were waiting for the second dose of pills to cut in, and Mark was having a lack of PMA moment. At least I didn’t have to share the loo this time – proper subdivision was in place, and order restored . Whilst sitting outside I was engaged in conversation by a nice gentlemen who, having spotted the Maratona gilet, wished to talk to me about it and him doing it this year. Since he did the Marmotte this year, I think he’ll be just fine! As for his plan to do the Marmotte again the week after the Maratona…I don’t care if he is celebrating a big birthday, he must be mad! Good luck if that was you! .
That left one more section to do, which mentally I was feeling pretty good about. 3o miles just sounded doable, even with the hills, and the looming final hurdle of the day – Symonds Yat. As we set off again, at 13:10 – which I know because someone in the group behind me asked if anyone knew what the time was, the weather was improving all the time. Various bits of kit vanished away as we went, until yes, madly, my arms actually saw the light of day for the first time this year! Not my legs – you’re not ready for that yet – but hey, it’s a start!
I’ve lost track of the hills. Mostly they were long slow slogs with occasional steeper bits. Bulls Hill Climb was particularly tough and long, and Broadwell was just as long, we went up Ruardean Hill from two sides (gratuitous!), and Soudely Hill A and B. We reckon it’s like Hinckley Point, and that Soudely Hill C is probably under construction as we speak . (I may have spelt all of these wrong!). The penultimate hill, English Bicknor, was proper steep and came after a lovely descent so it killed the thighs. Well, mine anyway. Mark was having calf problems instead. But by now it was sunny, and green, and we were getting the views we were earning, and it all felt much nicer. And quieter, and with some patches of truly ‘orrid road surface, but that’s the trade off isn’t it? It had turned into a much better day at the office, that’s for sure .
To be fair the signage was very good throughout – not just the arrows marking out the route, but also big red warning triangle signs marked accordingly for descents, hairpins, gravel etc as well as smaller signs for potholes, so at least we were forewarned, and we didn’t get lost either! I had been dreading this ride somewhat, after suffering during last week’s Tour of Pembrokeshire. It may be 18 miles shorter but it has nearly the same amount of climbing – ie a lot!. Whereas the ToP seemed to always be going up, or down, and felt like a slog, today there was a lot more flat/rolling than I was expecting, and some truly enjoyable long and not technical descent – bloomin’ lovely they were. Man I love downhill and, not wishing to be immodest but…if it’s not too technical, I’m quite good at it . Amazing how much difference the lack of a 30mph headwind makes to your mood too! Talking of blooming, sadly due to this year’s awful spring weather, the bluebells that usually carpet the Forest for this event were sadly missing – they’re late this year. There were a few patches early on, and one later, and very pretty they were too. Shame though, because when I did this in 2009 – my first ride in Cycling Mayor kit – they were truly beautiful. Shall I demand a refund? .
Right, English Bicknor was now behind us. That just left Symonds Yat, which apparently is 25%. Well it’s definitely steep. In some respects the worst bit is negotiating the traffic that is trying to negotiate it – it’s a single lane with passing points, quite a lot of cars, ramblers, and then of course cyclists. I think by then they were resigned to our presence so it was all a fairly polite affair, which is just as well as losing momentum by stopping was the last thing I wanted to do! The last section is the steepest, and I ground my way up there, zig zagging a little, and then there it was, the bridge over the top, and it was done. Even though I’d been up it before, I was kind of expecting more, or worse. So yes, probably the steepest hill of the day, but in some respects not the hardest. Maybe that’s just me though. In fact the most annoying bit was the fact that the up continued for a while afterwards, and even then there were a couple of not hills before we reached the final glorious fly downhill to the end few miles of the course. Practically a sprint finish…right up until the cyclocross section to take us back over the start line again that is .
Jeannie had been there for hours, and was waiting for us in the sun, looking fresh as a daisy. Sickening really We parked the bikes on the racks again and headed off for refreshment. The advertised free meal afterwards, the “famous Bean Goulash”, was nowhere to be seen and it turned out to be more of a help yourself to nibbles thing – peanuts, pretzels, cakes, bits of pasty and pork pie etc, the latter of which seemed to be just the right thing even if it’s not great for me. Maybe they’d run out by the time we got in? There was also free tea, coffee, and water, and a cup of coffee was just what we were after. As for the “generous goody bags”, well there were free water bottles with Clif recovery shots in, if that’s what they meant. I’m not sure that qualifies, and I didn’t bother grabbing one. There were also supposed to be timing certificates, but I didn’t see any sign of those. I get the feeling the ride description on the website was a cut and paste job and that no-one had actually checked to see if they were doing what it said, but I could be wrong. What they did have was a team of Nuflex massage folk doing massages for donations and just for once, I did. Jeannie and Mark headed for home, and I went and let some nice man work all the knots out of my shoulders as best he could – sports bras do not aid and abet such things and I sure as hell wasn’t taking it off in public! He did a good job too – usually across the top there is numb for days after a ride and, though it’s still a bit ouchy, it’s all there today .
Time to call it a day, and head back to the car to de-faff in the sunshine. The nice gentleman in the car next door and I exchanged pleasantries whilst doing so – mostly because the sheep in the field behind us wouldn’t shut up and it was quite funny. As he was leaving, in a waste not want not sense, he offered me a celebratory cup cake. Again, I shouldn’t, and I mostly didn’t, but it would have been rude to refuse such a lovely offer, and besides which, the icing tasted nice .
In conclusion… It was a good event, that didn’t quite live up to its advertising when it came to the trimmings. However I would do it again; it’s not stupidly long, and it’s a good route, with a nice balance of challenge to fun, and some of the scenery is lovely. It might have been different on a different day, given wind, rain whatever, but on a fairly nice spring day, with the addition of bluebells, it’s a pretty good way to spend a Sunday.
Cycling time: 7:05 hrs.
Official time: 7:40 hrs.
Distance: 90.9 miles.
Avs: 12.8 mph.
ODO: 1648.66 miles.
So why did today feel so much better? Weather? Lack of wind? More sleep? I’d like to say I was good and ate more on the ride…and to be fair I did make an effort to eat more this week in the run up to the event. But as for the ride itself, well I’d tell you what I ate, but you’ll only tell me off, so I won’t. For whatever reason it all worked, and I feel ok today too. Funny ole world, ain’t it? According to the Facebook replies that were waiting for me on my return, from those more sensible than I, I should have bailed, gone back to bed, taken it easy and looked after myself. B*gger that for a game of monkeys, right? .
I was in a foul mood this morning, for many varied and no doubt not that important really reasons. I was supposed to be riding with George, but she had to cancel, but proffered coffee at her place as a silver lining. So I went for a ride on my own, with that as my goal. In order to try and ride the grumpy away, I decided that in the absence of George, there should instead be a Gorge.
Yep. Cheddar Gorge. Following the Somerset Hills Gran Fondo signs, as it happens. Something I did last year, and which quite a few of the ACG are doing this year, albeit without me. I didn’t take photos because I was concentrating, and while my legs were turning my insides were churning and I had things to think about so my brain was spinning too. I have to say it actually felt pretty good though, no idea why. And, just for once, Strava agrees with me. One of my better performances, and not just for this year. Interesting.
Across the top, before going down the Westbury way. Still head down. I even enjoyed the headwind all the way across to Cocklake, because sometimes fighting against something concrete is actually good. And I enjoyed catching up with George over coffee even more, having spent quite enough time inside my own head by then. It may not have been the greatest training ride, but I’ve been getting the miles in lately, and there’s enough sportives going on to give me hill training. It’ll do . Mind you, I’m still grumpy!
Look what arrived today. It’s a really good deal – buy one box get one free. Mixed too – various flavours, including some caffeine ones. So if they’re your brand/gel of choice – Carpe Diem folks. I’m hoping they’ll help me get around on Sunday…
Cycling time: 1:23 hrs.
Distance: 20.9 miles.
Avs: 15.0 mph.
ODO: 1557.76 miles.
Ok, so the Tour of Pembrokeshire took its toll…but the only way to get back on the bike is to get back on the bike…and with the (windy) sun shining, what better way to do it than an easy recovery ride with MaxiMe? Lovely it was too, no agenda, just a ride in the sun with my boy. I quite like him you know, he’s almost human .. He was on form too, though I still didn’t let him win the sprint finish . Having said that, with my yet to fully recover legs, it was a close run thing! *grin*. That was Monday…
Cycling time: 0:45 hrs.
Distance: 11.3 miles.
Avs: 14.9 mph.
ODO: 1509.45 miles.
Look – new shoes! With cleats, attached and set up properly by my pit crew, aka Andrew, yesterday. He also re-aligned the gears on the Cube and, since he was there and is lovely, changed the puncture in the rear tyre. Well, if I did it I might break a fingernail right? . So I now have summer shoes to match the summer bike, and it turns out they’re pretty comfortable too. Not just pretty. Looks aren’t everything you know . That was Tuesday…
Which brings us to today, which last I checked, was Wednesday. Even having issued an all-points bulletin in search of company, it ended up just being me out there. Which was probably not such a bad thing. Head space ‘n all that. I went for a ride in the sun, happy going nowhere, taking photos as I went, and just enjoyed the ride. Apparently that’s kind of the point, and it’s a good thing to be reminded of that from time to time. It wasn’t quite time for shorts…but ooh, nearly….!
Have some pretty photos of the outside world. Where there were flowers, and herons, deer and swans. Where the skies were blue, and the grass was greener on this side as well as t’other.
It felt good out there. In lots of ways, mostly weather related ones. Sun on face, lack of wind in hair, and so on. However it was, interestingly enough, my fastest time up both Mudgely Hill and the climb to Christon this year. As I’ve said before, there’s no point me comparing this year with last year, but it’s encouraging to see things slowly improving this year. Let’s see how that translates on the Forest of Dean sportive on Sunday…*fingers crossed* it goes well! .
Cycling time: 1:41 hrs.
Distance: 27.2 miles.
Avs: 16.0 mph.
ODO: 1536.65 miles.
T’was the night before a sportive, and all ’round the (5 star luxury) house, the wind was howling like a bleedin’ banshee and I was not sleeping. They say it’s important to get your excuses in early, so here are a few of mine. I didn’t sleep well the night before. I didn’t eat well the week before. I didn’t eat well the night before – the downside of being away from home for a sportive – so my pre-sportive routine was all off. And I was on the tramadol which cannot be said to be performance enhancing because if it was it would be on the UCI/WADA banned list and I’ve checked and it isn’t. How am I doing for excuses so far? When thinking about doing this event again last week, I did joke, looking back at last year’s blog, that as a goal, I should take that time, and add an hour on to it. Ah, many a true word is spoken in jest…
So, there you go, foundations for the Tour of Pembrokeshire 2013 could possibly be said to be a little bit shakey. Think King Vortigern and his constantly falling down castle. That involved a red Welsh dragon too didn’t it? And Pembrokeshire is in Wales. Sort of.
Right. Ok…here we go.
When the alarm went off at 6:00am on Sunday morning, I’d finally managed to be asleep for a while, so it wasn’t exactly welcome, though it didn’t exactly come as a shock either. I got my act together, and dressed for the wet and windy gale that was still blowing up a storm outside. I somewhat perturbed the nice hotel people by not letting them cook anything for me, and just using their microwave to make my porridge, which I duly ate and washed down with essential black coffee – determined that at least one part of my routine would continue as normal. My ride partner for the day, and chauffeur for the weekend, was the indomitable Chris, aka Figgy, who turned up complete with car and bike at 7:00am as planned. We drove the short few miles to the start, passing the first few riders already heading off into the wind and, at the time, rain. None of them looked happy. Well who would? It wasn’t exactly inspiring PMA…
There was plenty of free parking at Oriel y Parc, where we faffed and assembled the bikes. The rain got properly nasty for a bit so Chris insisted we take refuge in the car for a while rather than getting gratuitously soaked before we’d even started. He had a point and, since that was the last we saw of the rain for the day, it was a very good call. It’s just as well we didn’t set off any earlier isn’t it?
As we hadn’t been able to get down to St David’s until late Friday night, Peter Walker, the organiser, had very kindly registered the pair of us and handed over our numbers and lanyard chips from Sportident the night before, so we didn’t have to register on the day – removing one step from the usual pre-ride prep. Instead we headed straight for the start line, a short walk away, but long enough for Chris to discover his back mudguard was rubbing – something to do with new tyres, bigger profile I think, I wasn’t really paying attention . After a period of fiddling, he managed to get the darn thing off and stash it in a bush to collect it on our return. This of course gave me time to go to the loo – and this year they’d opened up extra toilets at the venue so there was none of last year’s queuing – result!
Heading off was a low key affair. Various marshalls were at the start line to scan our chips, and then off we went. Ready for what was always going to be a long day in the saddle, even on a good day. I didn’t regret a single one of my garment choices, as we headed off into the 25mph freezing cold NE wind, sometime around 7:30am ish. Due to the state of some of the roads, the route had been altered a bit from last year, and the first hour or so definitely seemed easier as a result. Not easy, just easier. None of this ride is easy. There’s precious little flat, and an awful lot of climbing – around 9,500 feet apparently. That may not sound like a lot to you, but it does to me!
The first food stop came around 20 miles in, at Fishguard, at the Pendre Inn. After a couple of hours cycling in the sunshine fighting the wind, stopping seemed like a good idea. Well, how do I review the food stations if I don’t stop at them? (Can you spot another excuse for my sloth – there were five food stations and we stopped at every one!). I grabbed the usual half of banana, Chris started his marathon eating session, and I used the toilets because hey, I review them too . At this point I was still feeling pretty good. Positive. A bit disappointed with the average speed that was happening, but at that point that was pretty much down to the headwind I think. One fifth of the way through (ish) and time to be on our way again.
With the wind blowing like billy-o the weather changed all the time. When there was sun, the temperature struggled up into the nearly pleasant, when it clouded over it dropped into the distinctly nippy. Going up the long hills warmed you up, sometimes too far, and then the descents chilled you right through. Nice. Not. But beautiful. The scenery over there is just stunning. As usual, my photos are going to fail to do justice to it.
Some of the long slow hills I actually found easier than before. Not that my stats show that, but that’s not the point. I actually quite like long slow sloggy hills (sshh, don’t tell anyone I said that). I even made it up the steep nasty ones, like the wicked bendy one that came just after the 75 & 100 mile routes split off from the 50 mile route. I’m glad I knew it was coming, or I’d have been in the wrong gear for sure. Last year the route split wasn’t well signed, this year the signs were great, and there were several very vocal marshalls making sure you went the way you thought you wanted to go. In fact signage throughout was pretty good. There was the odd junction where it would have been nice to see the arrow a little earlier, but other than that it was really good. There were plenty of Caution signs, and for the traffic, Slow Cyclists signs. Which I took to taking offense at, after I’d seen enough of them! Actually it did sometimes confuse me – am I supposed to be going Slow for some reason, or is that aimed at the cars? A lot of the junctions were marshalled too, as well as the splits, with friendly faces cheering you on – which always helps .
Between the first two food stations came my favourite part of this ride. I think it’s the main reason I did it again. Somewhere amidst the endless climbing into the sky, comes a down to the coast, where the view is simply awesome, you can hear the waves crashing on the rocks, and if it doesn’t make you smile, maybe you shouldn’t be there. We smiled. And stopped. And took photos . There were quite a lot of photo stops today (yep, more excuses).
The next food stop was at Poppit Sands, which, as the name implies, was down at the beach. A nice down too. The first of the timing splits came just before, lurking marshalls jumping out to swipe our chips, before we headed for the lifeboat station and more supplies. I wasn’t yet feeling in need of rescue, though I’d possibly have liked to call them out later in the day! Yes, time for more banana, and a quick chat to Rob who happened to be there and who spotted me as I passed by him on my way back from the toilets.
After a brief period of respite, cycling along the riverside and admiring the boats, the route climbed again. Surprise, surprise. Up and up and up, following a rather attractive stream, with waterfalls, hints of babbling brook, dappled shade, all very picturesque. At the top I stashed my gilet in the saddle bag, where the over gloves were already hiding, before we headed off into the hills again. I must have been concentrating for the next section, as the camera seems to have remained resolutely in my bar bag until the third foodstop at a pub at Boncath. We spent a bit longer here, enjoying the sun, eating bananas, and, if you’re him, welsh cakes and more. They even had cold potatoes, so I had one. I think there were pasties and other goodies too, but being gluten free, such things tend to pass me by. I did stash my head Buff in the bag too, as I was getting a bit overheated on climbs at this point, and it was about the only thing left to easily take off! The stop had a blackboard which very handily had the route map on it, amongst other things, showing the obstacles to be overcome between you and the next food stop, which in this case included the biggest climb of the day, to the highest point. I’m sure it has a name, but it temporarily escapes me. Besides, it was one of three such lumps ahead of us, and that was all that really concerned me.
Chris commented that it would appear that Pembrokeshire is where they hid the leftover hills when they were designing our isle. On that basis, if Slartibartfast made fjords, then I reckon there’s a mouse somewhere called Slartibartslow who’s rather proud of his landscape folding ability. Somewhat bizarrely this discussion came at around the 42 mile mark…which amused me when I looked down at Bella and saw that.
I was getting a bit tireder now. I definitely had lactic legs, or tramadol legs, or both. And the pills weren’t entirely working but I couldn’t take anymore for a while, so it was just a case of hanging in there until I could. I’m still amazed that Chris hung with me the entire way round which, considering he could have done it in half the time, is very generous of him, and seriously appreciated. I don’t know if I’d have made it around otherwise, and there could well have been some sobbing by the roadside moments! However hard I was finding it, I was still enjoying myself in an odd way. I love the route, the scenery lifts you, there’s plenty to admire as you’re climbing those massive hills at glacial speed, and the other riders, such as we saw, were mostly chatty and friendly. Well by this point all the race snakes have finished, so it’s just other people all in the same slowly sinking boat as you. It’s odd, for hours you ride along practically having the roads to yourself – there was precious little traffic – and then you get to the next food stop and suddenly there are cyclists everywhere!
And oh, was I glad to see the fourth foodstop. Mostly because, as well as fodder and faggots and portaloos, they had tea and coffee! I’d been dreaming of a coffee for ages…anything that wasn’t sweet to be fair…and a cup of coffee was just what I wanted. Those three lumps had taken a long time, and taken quite a toll too. There was quite a festival atmosphere to the place, a little sun trap of a refuge tucked down on the side of a valley, away from the headwind that should have turned into a tailwind half way round and somehow never did, with music playing and brightly coloured cyclists flocked around. It was not the easiest place to leave, that’s for sure. But the only way is up, she said, and after a stretch along the valley (aka wind tunnel), it was time for yet another vicious climb. Again, one I knew was coming, and that I knew I could do, which always helps massively mentally. Slow but steady, as ever.
My new plan is to take gels as I near the end of a ride, and the time had come. I took one, which helped, in a kind of paper over the cracks sense. I ended up taking another one later, another reason it was good Chris was around as I didn’t have many with me and one of those turned out to have fructose in it, which I can’t do. Luckily he had plenty. He pootled along next to me as I moaned my way ’round (he says I moan, I swear I’m just making conversation), getting nearer to the end. I knew the last stretch is a lot flatter, so I was just counting the miles (and hills!) down until we got to the last food stop from whence it would all be downhill, metaphorically speaking. By now my chain was squeaking away, and apparently the application of oil would have been a good idea, but I didn’t have any and neither did the foodstop. The fifth and final stop was once again at a pub, full of normal people drinking away a sunny Saturday afternoon, and probably laughing themselves silly at the stream of lycra clad eejots traipsing through their midst to the toilet and back! Father Christmas, as you can see, was in mufti this year…
So, 13/14 miles to go, according to the foodstation guys. 18 according to me. And I’m always right. It beats me how we managed to spend so many miles heading into a headwind and still get around and back to the start again though!
The last stretch is, as these things go, a lot flatter, with just a couple of draggy hills in it to take the last out of you. I was starting to feel a bit weird, wobbly and like falling asleep on the bike, and though I tried to ignore it, I realised that would be foolish in the long run, and had to stop, take another gel, and get it together for a bit. Poor Chris! After a little while of spinning along and letting the gel cut in, my legs woke up again, aided and abetted by the fact that they could sense the end was nigh, and see St David’s in the distance, and the final few miles into the slowly setting sun weren’t too bad. As the well hidden cathedral finally hove into view, we were marshalled through its grounds and up one final hill to get us across the Finish Line, many many hours after we started.
Talk about slow! Just under 9 hours riding – pretty much exactly an hour more than last year. And with stops, our time was 10:11. That may have been the final straw…it was certainly a tad depressing. We stashed the bikes back in the car, threw on some civvie layers, and headed a little glumly back to the cafe for our free meal. There was soup or stew on offer I think, but I went for cake. Gluten & dairy free cake, which they let me have in lieu of stew. Which rhymes. It seemed like a good idea, and very nice it was too. I think I’d gone one step beyond though – I was a bit zoned out and also freezing cold, which Chris didn’t believe until I placed a hand on his arm, which apparently felt a lot like the hand of death! I was then made to wear his very fetching hat which I’m fairly sure did absolutely nothing for me but may have helped warm me up a bit. After checking in with Peter to say hi and see how it had gone, it was time to call it a day and head back to the hotel for a shower, food, and sleep, which I actually managed to do in that order.
Over the course of what little remained of the day, we did the usual post ride dissection. Chris had eaten more on a sportive than ever before – a litany that included fig rolls (of course!), ham wraps, welsh cakes, and much much more. I on the other hand did 108 miles on one flapjack, 1.5 bananas, and three gels, though I did drink more than usual. Hm, I’m thinking that’s possibly not very clever. I used to be able to get away with that, but now that I don’t really eat properly the rest of the time and there’s less of me than there once was, I just don’t seem to have the reserves for that anymore. Which would probably explain why I spent the following day with a killer dehydration headache, feeling like a piece of limp spaghetti, incapable of much by way of coherent thought! The big issue really was the wind…I think I can still hear it now! For all that I suffered, I’d go back and do it again, just for the scenery and the challenge…but I think maybe the 75 mile route next time!
Cycling time: 8:55 hrs.
Distance: 107.6 miles.
Avs: 12.1 mph.
ODO: 1498.15 miles.
Official Cyclosport review.
Gary and I rode this afternoon. It was supposed to be 50 miles. But then it wasn’t supposed to be a red hot poker day. And the pills were supposed to work and didn’t. So it turned into this instead. On the basis that any ride is better than no ride.
It wasn’t a great ride – for obvious reasons. But my legs actually felt pretty good even if my insides didn’t. And if you look at Strava and obsess about such things, I’m slowly improving as the year goes on, which is encouraging. The company was good, not to mention also being very tolerant, though he did bomb up Burrington Combe like a bat out of hell…! The weather was fairly mild, the wind could have been worse, and a whole heap of assorted summer kit saw the light of day for the first time in living memory. Better out than in.
Cycling time: 1:42 hrs.
Distance: 26.6 miles.
Avs: 15.5 mph.
ODO: 1390.55 miles.
Another Sunday, another sportive. I like my life predictable . Today’s was the White Horse Challenge, an event I’ve done once before, in 2008. Blimey, was it that long ago? Apparently so….doesn’t time fly? Etc. etc. This one is one of GB‘s favourites and there had initially been a plan for an ACG posse to draft him around and help him beat his previous time. However not all plans come together, and this one was abandoned a little while ago. Which is good since there was no way I was ever going to be able to keep up and I would have been left behind, all demoralised like. This way I stood a chance of some company to ride with .
The ACG team car, aka Martyn’s Picnic (still a very stoopid name for a car), arrived here at 5:45am, and collected both I and Gary, as the skies brightened and the pink clouds cleared. An uneventful and cautious drive down the motorway (well, there were three expensive bikes on the back!) got us to HQ at Shrivenham around 7:30am as planned, and we were marshalled on to the field to park. Not really a field, more of a wooded glade off to one side of the venue. GB, having arrived exceedingly early, was parked in the small car park actually next to the building, and a little down our row from us Figgy was already parked up. And then there were five. Before getting ready, we walked across the pitch, past people queuing for the four portaloos outside, and into the hall to register. After a brief wait at the table designated for my number range, a lady appeared from somewhere, checked I’d signed by my name and number, gave me my number, and an electronic ankle tag. She instructed me topick up cable ties and map on the way out, and to enjoy the ride. Oh, and by the way, the toilets are inside on the right. Which they were. Way better than outdoor portaloos, and you gotta love being a girl – no queuing at all!
Now the forecast was for dry until late afternoon, fairly mild but not hot, a little breezy…ooh, the layering options were bewildering! And with three of us faffing around one car, it was like faffing squared. Or cubed! Poor GB was left kicking his cleated heels in the sunshine, waiting for us, for some considerable time. Taking advice from a hardy northerner as to what to wear is probably a bit daft, and Martyn doesn’t like to be cold. Rock/hard place. So, should you be interested, here’s what I went with, and which worked. Winter socks, shoes, bib longs, long sleeve base layer, winter jacket/jersey thing, mitts and overgloves, birthday Buff on head. Voila. Done. At some point the overgloves came off, but the rest of the ride was catered for by the frequent use of zips, and pulling my sleeves up and down occasionally.
Eventually we all assembled at HQ, after a few trips to and fro the car for forgotten things. We were joined by Martyn’s tri-athlete friends Mark and Jeannie. The plan was to be two groups. A fast, race ’round group (Martyn, Gary, Figgy, Jeannie), and the keep me company slow group (Me, Guy, Mark). Departure was an informal affair, just a case of heading off over the timing mat when you were ready to go, so off we went. We set off in the sunshine as a larger group, which didn’t last long as there was a draggy hill about two miles in which came as a nasty shock! My legs felt like achey lead (can lead ache?), and it was ‘orrible! The sort of horrible that makes you wonder if turning around and going home might’nt be a good idea. As the group spread out, with riders finding their own level like water, I was pleased to discover that the next 15/20 miles or so were fairly flat, which allowed me to warm up and get into my ride properly, and shake off that I feel like death slightly warmed up feeling. The fast lot rapidly disappeared off into the distance, never to be seen again, leaving us three behind to get on with it our way.
It was a lovely day to be out riding. If it had been a bit warmer and a bit less windy it would have been a lot perfect. Even so, there are definitely worse ways to be spending a Sunday morning than riding along quiet country lanes in chilly Spring sunshine, with gorgeous views, stunning scenery, and wide open skies.
And it’s a lovely route. There’s plenty of flat and fast, and some lovely long climbs, with equally lovely downs. There was in fact a deceptive amount of climbing, which is not to say that it’s a very hilly route, more that you climb more than you realise, almost without noticing. There were enough hills to be challenging with enough space between them to recover in time for the next one. Apparently one of those hills was 17%, as indicated by a road sign which I missed, which is probably just as well from a motivational point of view. I did make it up all of the climbs, however slowly, and I have to admit to taking a certain pleasure in riding past walking riders… Hey, I’ve walked up enough hills in my time, I’ve paid my dues, I feel I’ve earned it .
It’s not called the White Horse Challenge for nothing. Yes, there’s Challenge, but there are also White Horses. Four of them, though I didn’t seen the last and oldest one at Uffington. Apparently it’s not actually visible from the final killer climb that takes you over the hill on which it resides. It’s a big hill, and they were playing King of the Mountain timing games up there, so I was too busy concentrating on getting up the hill to be looking around for it too much anyway. As the last big climb of the day, it was quite enough for tiring legs to deal with, but it was at least followed by a fair few miles of flying home, which were great!
Today’s ride gets points for food stations with a range of goodies, and toilets. In fact the second stop proved that, contrary to what some believe, it is possible to have a portaloo stationed on public land somewhere…and it was clean, and still stocked, which was pretty impressive!
It’s a lovely friendly event – at least when it comes to the organisers, helpers, and marshalls. Most of the riders out there were friendly enough as we said hello in passing too. GB and I form what I call the “Relentlessly Cheerful Brigade” on sportives. This means saying hello to every rider you pass, and politely greeting every pedestrian or horse rider we encounter. This amuses us, and possibly takes the edge off the behaviour of the odd stupid peloton, such as the large one that decided that they had right of way at the roundabout in Wootton Bassett and would just hold up the traffic while they did what they wanted. We made a point of stopping, stopping others, and allowing the quite rightly irritated lady driver go where she was perfectly entitled to have been going in the first place. Honestly, sometimes us cyclists don’t do ourselves any favours – and I bet those same cyclists complain the next time a motorist goes off on one about the behaviour of cyclists too!
There was a bit of a shortage, ok a lot, of people saying “Clear” at junctions, pointing out obstacles, warning of approaching cars etc., something I’m noticing more and more on sportives, which is a bit of a shame. Luckily the roads were for the most part, unlike the A4 stretch past Cherhill, pretty quiet. The road quality varied a bit, from the lovely to the quite a lot of potholes but since there wasn’t much traffic, it wasn’t too hard to avoid those. The signage was pretty clear, as you can see, though the GPS route must have been a bit join up the dots with straight lines because Bella peeped off and on course all the time, which was minorly irritating.
We rolled over the timing mat a bit over 6 hours after we left, to join lots of happy looking riders chilling out in the sunshine. The fast group had been there a while, unsurprisingly, and were full of tales of how fast they’d pushed it, and couldn’t have done any more, and if it hadn’t been for those darn traffic lights maybe…etc. We all printed our times out, an ability I always like, which included standards and KOM times. They may have gotten around fast – and they did – but I still beat Martyn up the hill. And Figgy – though we reckon he stopped for a picnic half way up . I’m planning on not letting Martyn live it down for a while…as he’s well aware .
We sat around in the sun for a bit, drinking our free coffee, and wearing our well earned medals. There was a range of drinks, rolls, and cakes to buy, and the cakes in particular looked awesome. I’d probably earnt one of those too, if cake was my thing, which it isn’t .
Overall, we all agreed it was a really good event. The company was good, it was well organised, the route was nice, and the scenery was lovely, aided and abetted by the sunshine no doubt. It’s a lovely part of the world to ride around. I felt pretty good the entire way around too, and even afterwards. It was my longest ride so far – 90 miles – but it only took the same amount of time as the previous rides – 70 odd – which is amusing, but that’s because it was considerably less lumpy. My kind of sportive I think .
Official time: 6:09 hrs.
Distance: 89.8 miles.
Avs: 15.6 mph.
ODO: 1363.95 miles.