Author Archives: Jennifer Trotman

Black Legend 2016

On to the next sportive.  Which was a little while ago, so some of the details may be a little hazy now, not helped by the fact that I failed to make copious notes afterwards.This time around I’m talking about The Black Legend Sportive, run by Purple Patch Running.  Which seemed a bit odd to me.  A running club organising a cycling event?  Weird.  Still, that didn’t mean it wasn’t going to be a good event, right?  It was off to a good start by being based in Hungerford, which is not a long way away from me.  HQ was at the John O’Gaunt School in Hungerford, which is just a 10 minute drive from Jct 14 on the M4, and thus easy for me to get to.

registration start-line-riders

I rocked up sometime after registration opened to discover a small car park that was half empty, and didn’t seem to be filling up fast.  I started to get the feeling that this was going to be a small event…  But hey, good things come in small packages or something.  Registration was in the school hall, once cleated shoes had been removed, where the tumbleweed was metaphorically blowing around…  Still, not having to queue is a good thing, right?  My entry envelope included a bike number, helmet number, and 2 cable ties.  But no timing chip…as timing today would turn out to be a manual affair.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that but still, it was a bit unexpected.

rider-briefing out-on-to-the-downs

I didn’t have to queue for long at the start either.  I think there were only six or so of us who arrived at roughly the same time to be briefed and sent on our way, as riders had been being let go in dribs and drabs for quite some time before I’d done enough faffing to consider myself ready to go.  During which I discovered that my iPod shuffle had somehow managed to completely run out of charge, even though I’d charged it the day before, so I was going to have to do the whole ride with just my thoughts for company.  Marvellous.  I had three route choices today, the Epic 80, the Standard 65, or a Short 45 miles.  Given that it was only a week since my last sportive, which hadn’t gone well, I was already thinking that taking it easy might be wise.  Lack of musical accompaniment wasn’t going to make the long route any more likely…!

up-a-green-tunnel-hill caution-steep-hill

Not that I had to make that call straight away.  All of the routes covered the same first 25 miles to start with so there was no rush to decide.  We headed off and I was very shortly out there on my own, which was how things pretty much stayed all day.  Off out through the affluent area of Hungerford, past a great many lovely properties I’ll never be able to afford.  I went through the village of Inkpen, which made me think of Inkheart, and Inkwings.  After a nasty hill five miles in, I turned left in the village of Faccombe to go up another hill, which made me giggle (think about it…).  Did I mention it was just me and my thoughts?  They do go weird places when unaccompanied and undistracted… 😉  And yes, that was two killer hills in the first 10 miles.  No fair!  It was chilly and grey which may sound unattractive but actually made it easier to follow the route and (very large) signs than the recent early morning dappled sunshine on events has done.  Besides I had my layers pretty much spot on today, having been very keen that I not be cold, so I was a fairly happy bunny with things the way they were.

selfie-pair country-pile

Having gone up there were some lovely views, and I actually passed another couple of riders who’d stopped at the top to take selfies and photos of the landscape, which was novel.  Not the photos – the riders!  I took my photos en route, as ever, but stopped playing David Bailey in time for the steep and rather technical descent.  Things flattened out after this, and also started brightening up nicely.  Things were looking up, but not up 😉

first-food-stop-well-labelled the-swan-inn

The first food stop came at 25 miles in, the car park of the Swan Inn in Great Shefford where the landlord was very kindly letting his (very swish) facilities be used.  I kinda wished I could have stayed there, it looked like a lovely place, and the thought of sitting in its beer garden in the sun with a cold beer…?  Ah well, maybe another time.  The lady manning the food stop was friendly and chatty and probably bored witless after standing there for hours more or less on her own.  Initially it was just me there, and even when joined by the top of the hill two and a whippet who could probably do the long route twice over in the time it was going to take us three to do the Standard route, it was never what you’d call busy!  And yes, I’d pretty much decided to do the Standard route.  I had places to be later, and no desire to push any boundaries today.  Anyway, the food stop was pretty well stocked (and labelled!) and I discovered that today mini scotch eggs were what I wanted, which wouldn’t be what I’d normally opt for but hey, they tasted good, and I’d been told to make sure I ate properly for a change.  So I sat down, chatted a bit, ate those, and kicked back a bit.  Sometimes it’s just nice to sit still in the sunshine.

mini-scotch-egg route-split

I headed back out again on my own.  And headed into more familiar territory.  I’ve done a fair few sportives around here, and have a couple ahead too.  It’s a beautiful area, even more so under blue skies.  But that wasn’t enough to make me change my mind.  I still turned left 5 miles later at the route split.  Right then.  15 miles to get to the next food stop.  And those miles weren’t flat!  There were another couple of big hills between me and that, but the descents were better this time, and I was loving being out in the sunshine not feeling too terrible and just being me and my bike.  More cute cottages, more well behaved countryside.  All good.  There may even have been some stashing of layers and rolling up of sleeves 😉

10 second-food-stop-emptiness

The next food stop was as quiet as the first, set in a little car park in front of a pretty church, complete with a little toilet block – always good.  Once more, me and some mini scotch eggs took a breather sat on a curb in the sun.  I certainly wasn’t feeling as bad as the last sportive but I was still aware that pacing myself and taking it just that little bit easier than I might want to was the way to go.

second-food-stop-food second-food-stop-church

By my reckoning I only had around 20 miles to go, which seemed doable.  Which it was, being more of the same.  Scenic.  Rivers to cross, and canals.  A couple of fairly big climbs.  Including the kicker that is on the White Horse Challenge and that somehow I always forget, I think maybe my memory blocks it out!  And as I turned a corner there it was in front of me again…dagnamit!  It’s long, gets steeper, and wiggles…  Still, I got up it,  Again 🙂  To be let out to play on top of the world for a while, amongst fields of gold, playing tag with the range of awesome cars doing the Classic Harvest Tour, who I crossed paths with several times.

rolling-golden-hills classic-harvest-tour

They were having fun, I was having fun, although I probably admired their cars more than they admired my bike 😉  Before long we were back in Wiltshire, where the rich people were still living, and I was still being somewhat envious.  Can’t afford their cars, can’t afford their houses neither! *grin*.

canal prosperous-hungerford

Did you know there’s even a village called Prosperous?  It didn’t surprise me…but it did make me giggle *grin*.  Well I presume it’s a village, not just a adjective used to describe Hungerford, which is kinda what the signpost made it look like 😉  The miles counted down, as I passed from  Wiltshire and back into West Berkshire, and very shortly I was back at HQ, and rolling under the Finish Arch with a complete lack of fanfare, bells, or whistles.  Ah well, at least it was purple 😉  Two ladies were sat watching over the finish line, probably a fairly thankless task, and one of them gave me my medal, while the other noted my admission to having bailed to the short route (though that doesn’t seem to have made it as far as the official times list).  There you go.  Black Legend done.

Cycling time: 4:36
Official time: 5:11
Distance: 65.9 miles
Avs: 14.3 mph

finish-line black-legend-medal

Usually when I write about a sportive I use “we” rather more often than today.  But it was definitely an “I” day.  99.9% of all the cyclists I saw today were not on this sportive, just out on Sunday rides with their teams/groups/whatever.  It turns out that only around 60 riders took part.  Which would explain a lot.  The lack of atmosphere for starters.  I pushed my bike over to the main school entrance and parked up, so as to go to the toilets and try and purchase something cold and fizzy.  Which I did – well kinda.  It was the only can of such on offer – coke I think – and it wasn’t cold either.  But hey, at this point beggars couldn’t be choosers, it was better than nothing.  As I sat outside on the steps drinking it, and checking in with the world, there was just one other rider loitering around, who came over for a chat.  He’d done the whole route and still had a reasonable ride home ahead of him – so chapeau to you Andy!  We both agreed that today, though pleasant enough, had been somewhat lacking.  However scenic, I don’t think I’d do it again.  I can ride around pretty places completely on my own, and time myself, any time…and there are other events around here that are better.  Harsh maybe, but true.

Southern Sportive 2016

Since my last sportive, I’d been lucky enough to have a couple of weeks pretty much pain free.  Which, in my world, means just being on the fentanyl patches, and not having to layer up with tramadol.  I also took myself off the pregabalin which I’m not sure was helping with the pain but was most definitely making me much more drowsy.  So, a good couple of weeks, as these things go.  Right up, predictably, until the day before my next sportive.  So I spent a damp Saturday wandering around Didcot Railway Centre, feeling sorry for myself and trying to get the pain back under control, which took most of the day.  Marvellous…

So what would Sunday bring?  Well PMA right?  It could just have been one of those days.  It didn’t have to be one of those weekends.  So when I woke up on Sunday morning, in Didcot at Matt’s, not feeling too bad, I was feeling fairly positive.  I even decided not to take the pills since, when I’m not habituated to them, they have been known to make me drowsy, and I didn’t fancy falling asleep on the bike again.  And yes, I was in Didcot, not Somerset.  Usually I do sportives from home, but since Matt’s place is only around 1:15 away from HQ, and my place is 2:30 away, it seemed to make sense.  So where was HQ and for what?

Churcher’s College, Petersfield, for the Southern Sportive, since you asked.  I had a lovely drive down the A34, with the sun rising through pastel skies, surround by fields wreathed in low lying mist, and even occasional fog for novelty value.  I wasn’t heading for early doors, as I’ve ceased doing that, but even so when I arrived the college was quieter than I expected.  I’ve done this one before, and I’m sure there were more people around last time.  Still, at least that meant it was easy to park.  The pre-ride instructions had indicated various other options, should the college have been full, and I’d been a bit worried that I would end up having to use one of those.  I needn’t have been though, I just drove carefully through past other cars discharging riders and bikes to park up on the tarmac as marshalled.  Easy peasy.

gathering-to-go reception-desk

It might have been nice and sunny out there, but it was still really chilly.  I was wearing just a little more than usual, basically summer kit with base layer, arm warmers, decent gilet, and my summer longs…but the trip to the toilets and registration convinced me that shorts plus leg warmers was going to be the way to go, as that combo is actually thicker and warmer than my lightweight tights are.  Registration itself was easy.  A short queue until my turn came, whereupon I signed my name and was given my bike number, and a timing chip to attach to my rear skewer.  I also picked up a waterproof map for the route and the emergency contact details on it.  Well you never know, right?  I headed back to the car, clutching my bits and pieces, with helmet and camera (both of which I’d taken with me) only to discovery when I opened the boot and put them all down that I’d already misplaced the chip!  I was just about to retrace my steps when a very lovely lady jogged over in my direction, asked me if I was me, which I was, and so reunited me with it.  Honestly, I swear I’d forget my own head sometimes…

martins-rider-briefing lake-view

Time to get on with faffing.  I reassembled the bike.  Swopped leg layers as I’d resolved to.  Attached the timing chip.  I’m not a fan of that system – I prefer skewers to be working on holding the wheels on, without anything else getting in the way.  Which might be irrational but hey…*shrug*.  I then joined a small group gathering at the start line at around 8:30 – the very end of my recommended start time slot, if I was doing the 100 mile Full route I was signed up for.  Not that I was concerned, 8:30 still felt like plenty early enough to me.  Once there was enough of us waiting, Martin Harrison, the event organiser, gave us a thorough briefing before letting us go on our way and out on to the road.

into-the-countryside railway-bridge

We were out of Petersfield almost straight away and it was nippy out there.  Especially in the shade which, with the bright morning sunshine casting long shadows everywhere, there was a lot of.  The constant transfer from dark into light and back again made it really hard to spot obstacles, especially potholes, and also signs.  As there weren’t many other riders around me mostly, if any, vigilance was essential and even then I nearly missed the odd one.  Luckily this ride is big on repeater ribbons, one of my favourite things, and if ever I worried I was off course I would shortly be reminded I wasn’t.  Very reassuring.  By the way, did I mention that chiaroscuro is one of my favourite words?

pretty-start up-a-hill

The hills started pretty much straight away.  One at 2 miles in, one at 5, both quite big, and both a bit of an ask that early on and so not warmed up.  The second one, Halls Hill I think, came complete with NT car park and walks at the top, and it sho’ was perty up there.  Ups bring downs though, which is generally good.  Unless they come with warning signs.  As unlike some events, who are to my mind rather over cautious and over use their Caution signs, today such signs meant what they said.  So if it said be careful down hill I was (yes, I can do that!).  And when one such sign warned of a sharp dangerous bend ahead, about 8 miles in, I’d slowed right down by the time I got there, which is why losing my back wheel on the gravel there was merely heart-stopping, not disastrous.

Ups had proved that life wasn’t pain free.  But I was riding my bike at my own pace, under no pressure, and so when the route split – for the 45 mile Short Route – came at 10 miles in, I didn’t even consider taking it.  I still fancied doing 100.  It was pretty out there on the South Downs.  And sunny.  There were lots of very clean very shiny sports and classic cars around making the most of it, quite probably related to the Goodwood Revival which was just down the road and on this weekend.  But it wasn’t warm.  I kept waiting for it, and me, to warm up, and it kept not happening.  And slowly I started to feel a bit less than great.  Not warm, the ouchy patch getting battered by pedalling, and even though not on the pills, I was starting to get woozy and to zone out from time to time.   There were gradual deceptive ‘am I really going up?’ drags, and then bigger more definite hills like Harting Hill.  All of which went fine, but which hurt somewhat.  Literally.  Not great.

first-food-stop-staff first-food-stop-riders

So I was quite looking forward to the first food stop, around 24 miles in.  Sadly, lurking in a lay-by off a more major stretch of road, it was rather underwhelming.  There wasn’t a lot on offer, the staff were busy chatting to each other, and there weren’t any toilets.  I topped up my bottles and sat on the grass for a bit, feeling a bit grumpy and not great, before heading off.  Clearly I was going to need to make alternative arrangements…

classic-car wide-open-fields

The next route split came a couple of miles later and I decided that the way things were going, 100 miles was not going to be an option.  Ah well 🙁  Time to bail, and look towards 70 miles instead.  I turned left, off down lots of country roads, through recently harvested fields, on my own.  I was looking for somewhere to answer the call of nature and failing dismally as the scenery was more open and wide than hedged in.  It wasn’t until around 32 miles in that I finally found somewhere to pull over.  Which I did.  And did what had to be done.  And realised that I was just feeling wretched.  The woozy patches hadn’t gone away, I couldn’t get warm, the pain was proper back and kicking off, and I was all wobbly and off balance.  I’d just pushed it too far I guess, without realising, as usual.  I sat down on the grass, and kinda lost it.  I haven’t wiped out like that since the Tour of Pembrokeshire… 🙁  After a bit I rang Matt and literally cried all over his virtual shoulder, which definitely helped.  And Facebook did its bit too.  I posted a photo of the lovely view that was being wasted on me, and various of my fab mates piped up to support me and wish me luck.  So I sat in the sun, with my virtual mates, drank, ate, thought about what to do next and later, and took those blasted pills.


I did get it together eventually.  Well I didn’t have much choice did I?  I had 38 miles to do to get back and that was that.  Which wasn’t going to happen if I sat around feeling sorry for myself.  So back on the bike then.  I tried to remember where the next food stop was, distance wise, and focussed on getting to that.  At least the route was nice.  Still pretty.  Cute thatched cottages, pretty pubs, etc.  I wasn’t paying massive attention.  My world had sort of shrunk down to just me and making the wheels go round, but I did try and make an effort to look around once in a while and enjoy the ride a bit.

its-a-sign-right country-pub-with-flowers

Finally, as the middle of the day drew near, that sunshine started to have actual warmth in it.  Quite quickly as it happens.  I started thinking what had seemed the unthinkable…that I might actually get to take layers off!  Not yet though.  First off I got lost.  As I approached Rowlands Castle, an arrow on the bridge ahead pointed sharp right.  So I went right.  As a few riders were ahead of me, I figured I was probably on the right track.  But no.  As the nearest two slowed up and I caught them, and we chatted, it turned out we were all getting more and more convinced that we’d gone wrong.  There were no signs.  None of those lovely orange ribbons.  And all the other cyclists we saw were either going the other way, or not on our ride.  A couple of miles down the road we made the decision to turn tail, and me and the boys in blue, as they were literally but not figuratively, headed back, chatting all the way.  As it turns out if we’d just turned left where we turned around we’d have rejoined the main route anyway!  Ah well, it was all extra miles, right?  Like I needed them today…

orange-ribbon so-beautiful

It also turned out that the right turn we wanted had come just after the bridge not before.  Where there was an attractive looking cafe/shop just along from the corner, surrounded by colourful riders taking a break in the sunshine – whether ours or not who knew.  I was so tempted to stop and find some fizzy orange, but since I temporarily had company I didn’t.  However it turned out that two of us three had drawn ahead and left one behind and so I ended up heading off on my own anyway, while those two reunited behind me somewhere.  Time enough for fizzy orange later hopefully…  They caught me a while later and passed by, when I finally got to stop and stash my remaining limb warmers though.  We bumped into each a few more times on the ride – the first of which being at the next food stop, around 48 miles in.  Provisions were still sparse, though those manning it were a lot friendlier.  Still no toilets however.  It did have quarters of orange though which for some reason seemed just the thing, and I had an orange worth’s of them, sat on the curb, not being sociable.  I was feeling better.  But not great.  I rang Matt again, to reassure both him and myself that I was going ok and getting there.  Which I was.

second-food-stop-riders second-food-stop-food

I hung out for longer than usual, and those few that had arrived before me were long gone by the time I set off again.  Which didn’t stop me catching those blue two again and passing them later on.  Clearly I was feeling quite a bit better then.  Lots of the talk at the food stop had been about the main big climb that still awaited us – Butser Hill.  Which was actually lovely, being my kind of long gradual slog.  There were two climbs there I think, but it all sort of blurred into one.  And the views up on the top along the ridge in between times, were just amazing.  Proper good for putting things back into perspective.  On both sides – over to the coast and even the Isle of Wight beyond I think, and then also inland.  Just beautiful.

which-way-shall-i-go long-climb-upwards-somewhere

As was the descent the other side.  Which I’ve definitely done in reverse.  I wonder if it was on a different event or on this event with the route done in reverse?  Not that it matters, as I still had a smile on my face when I popped out on to the A32 at The George & Falcon. Time for a brief moment of nostalgia…family sailing trip memories and the like…Dad will know what I mean 🙂  And then a brief stretch up the A32 and a right turn in the very pretty West Meon had me headed back for home with about 10 fairly flat miles to go.  East Meon was even prettier!

boys-in-blue-ahead pretty-church

In fact that whole last section, finally warm, pain under control and, after those climbs, less hilly, went pretty well.  Even if it was a little much too little too late.  I pushed as much as I could, whether wise or not, just so as to get back as soon as I could.  Sooner done, soonest mended.  There were a few main road stretches which weren’t much fun – the traffic being a little busy in the sunshine, and with no marshals to help with crossing and the like.   Which were followed by a gratuitous suburban loop around Petersfield, which I imagine was there to add mileage, to get me back to HQ and rolling over the mats at the Finish Line, seriously relieved to be back.  A young marshal was standing by to reclaim my timing chip from me, presumably to stop me losing it again, and I was given a voucher for a hot drink.

suburbia finish-line

Cycling time: 4:49
Official time: 5:45
Distance: 70.6 miles
Avs: 14.7 mph

It may not have seemed like the day for a cup of tea.  But I knew there was fizzy orange in the car, and a cup of tea just appealed for some reason.  First things first though, time to own up to Martin that I’d done the shorter route, and to be given my bronze medal which, all things considered, was a miracle.  Oddly Strava thinks I did pretty well but it certainly didn’t feel like it.  It’s so annoying to be on form and to be sabotaged by myself!  I then went and got my cup of tea and sat on the curb in the sunshine, in a little social media world of my own for a while.  Southern Sportive done.

finish-timing-desk chilling-out-afterwards

One of the things that had been worrying me earlier was finishing the ride feeling the way I did and then still having to drive all the way back to my place.  I wasn’t sure I’d make it.  So from one food stop to another, after texts home, and talking to Matt, we decided that going home could be done the next day, and that today going back to Didcot was the wisest thing to do. Which, after loading up the car, taking more pills, and getting sorted, is what I did.  It was definitely a good call.  Driving was not a lot of fun in lots of ways and I was getting sleepy by the time I got back there.  Where I spent the rest of the afternoon just curled up on bed taking it easy.  It’s hard to explain, but having gone beyond, and had everything sort of overflow, it sort of takes a while to put it all back together again?  Next time maybe I should take the pills beforehand? 😉


Ah well, it wasn’t the end of the world.  Just one of those things.  In a great many respects it was a lovely ride.  The route is nice – scenic, and challenging but not too much so.  It’s well organised, though the food stops need work, and there were some main road crossings and sections that were a bit unpleasant.  And a few more riders around would have been nice too – but I don’t know what you do about that, as I imagine they would have liked more entrants too!  How about we all do it again next year and make it an even better day out?


Severn Bridge Sportive 2016

I have a thing about cycling over the Severn Bridge.  As some of you probably know.  I love it.  Dunno why.  Just do.  So I have a tendency to do sportives that cross it just because they do.  And when last year’s Severn Bridge Sportive turned out to not just cross it but to actually cross it using the main carriageway, I was made up.  It was AWESOME.  So doing the event again this year was pretty much a given.  Sign me up now.

hq registration

Well it was a given back then anyway, back when I did all my signing up to stuff.  However just a few days beforehand, as part of the final pre-event meal, we were informed that due to Highways, Health & Safety, and various things, crossing the road on the main carriageway was no longer an option.  We would instead be using the cycle path.  Considering I wasn’t having a great week, being mid mad pain patch, this was almost enough to make me not do it.  But I didn’t.  For starters I’d still be crossing the bridge, and a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.  But more importantly I wasn’t the only one signed up to do it.  Letting myself down is one thing, letting others down is most definitely an other.

rider-briefing-with-andy-cook on-to-the-race-track

Yep, Matt had decided that he was up for trying another sportive.  His second.  The next step up from last time’s 47 miles – to more like 62.  The plan was that we would do the first leg together. Then if I was up for it I’d do the extra loop.  And then we’d head back in together.  Or variations on that theme anyway.  So however the bridge was to be crossed, I was going to be doing it whatever.

Which brings us to another Sunday morning with, due to HQ’s proximity, a slightly later start than usual.  HQ was at the Castle Combe Race Circuit, which was about an hour’s drive away in my little car, crammed to the gills with two bikes and two loads worth of kit and stuff.  Less Hyundai, more Tardis 😉  I was feeling fairly rubbish, even when equally loaded to my gills with analgesia.  Anyway…the sat nav, and official venue signs, got us there and into the car park easily enough.  We were marshalled down the road past lots of earlier arrivals to park up on the grass in the paddock, rather further away than I usually am here.  It was grey, but dry, and neither warm nor cold, and the forecast was for both better and worse, depending which one you’d read.  And what’s in a forecast anyway?

matts-second-sportive yellow-rider

Thanks to prior experience I knew the best way to deal with this sportive is to do it the pre-ride stuff in one go, with no to-ing and fro-ing.  Ie: faff, get ready, sort bikes, and ride/walk to the start.  Quicker and easier and less hard on the cleats.  So faff we did.  Easier for me than Matt though.  Experience and lack of options in my case – so I ended up in the same as the recent usual.  Summer kit, s/s base layer, arm warmers & gilet.  However this sportive lark is still all kinda new to Matt.  And not only is it new, he was also doing it on a bike new to him, with actual honest to god gears, having been persuaded of the error of his single speed ways.  Well, not really, he’d just decided that that many miles might be easier done with gears first time around.  So he faffed some, deciding on layers and food and stuff, and so did I.  Well, to be fair, I wasn’t faffing, I was more sort of loitering because there wasn’t any rush.  It was kinda weird to realise how blasé I’ve gotten about some things.  Like riding 60 miles.  I wasn’t even really thinking about it.  Matt however was a bit nervous.  Aw bless 😉

posh-estate different-bridges

Finally we were both ready, and it couldn’t be put off any longer.  A few paces across the rather long damp grass to the drier path.  This soon turned into the road in which took us conveniently past a toilet block and, once a brief detour had thus been made, we were on the little wiggly path around the circuit which opened out as we reached the main venue.  It felt a bit empty as there weren’t heaps of riders around, and I don’t think that was because they’d all left before us, as we weren’t running particularly late.  However with the change of route, the less than fabulous weather, and the Sodbury Sportive taking place the weekend before on very similar turf, I’m guessing there weren’t as many people around as in previous years.  There were certainly no queues for registration…which was good if you were Matt, and less good if you were me because they’d lost my registration, and I had to play the sign up on the day game instead.  Given that that gave me number 214…I’m thinking that must be roughly how many riders ended up taking part…but I could be wrong!

we-do-stop-for-lights i-spy-the-bridge

Did I mention I wasn’t feeling great?  Well I wasn’t.  So I put myself down for the 60 mile route, which still left me the option to do the long route, but seemed more honest, and likely, and that way I probably wouldn’t have to tell the timing team, post ride, that I’d bailed.  I was given my helmet timing chip, bike number and cable ties, and helped myself to a route map on the way back outside.  Not being able to trim my cable ties did leave long plastic ends sort of waving around which annoyed my sense of order somewhat…but hey, not exactly a big deal.  After a quick trip, on the bike, across to the toilet block a little way away, I was back, and we were ready to join the queue for the start.  A short queue, which is always good when you’re nervous, and fidgety, and just keen to get going.  There was no sign of Rob, who I knew was also doing it with friends of his, but he could have been ahead or behind us, or have bailed completely, so there didn’t seem any point waiting around in case he turned up.  Instead we waited for our turn to be briefed by organiser Andy Cook.  Well it’s run by Andy Cook Cycling so… 😉  Shortly we were on our way, and after last year it was a relief to be let go on to a dry race track to enjoy a section of the track before hitting the route proper.

on-to-the-bridge runners-on-the-bridge

However this just served to show that my indexing, all sorted and checked yesterday pre-ride, was well off when actually under way and under load.  B*gger.  I hoped it would settle down but…shortly after we’d left the track and joined the lanes leading away from HQ, I had to stop.  Matt tried to fix it, since I’m technically inept, and he’s not, but it didn’t really help.  Ah well, nowt to be done about it really, and we couldn’t hang around all day, so we set off again, ready to make the best of a bad deal.  Time to ride the bikes, and head for that Bridge which, on this leg of the route, was about 24 miles away.

bridge-1 matt-on-bridge bridge-2-cross-over bridge-3-photographer

Quite a few bits of today’s route turned out to be from last week’s route but done in reverse.  And it was a fairly direct route that took us to the Bridge.  Quiet country lanes, over the M4, bypassing Yate, over the M5, through Tockington, to put it in sight.  Uneventful, a bit grey, country piles, railway bridges, cute cottages.  Although it was sort of essentially downhill overall, that didn’t stop there being ups, and those ups, though doable, were proving that my life was still proper painful.  Marvellous.  I don’t remember a lot of the route out, partly because it’s been a while since I did it, partly because it was pretty uneventful, partly because I was a bit distracted by the ouch, and partly because Matt and I were talking most of the time.  I was just looking forward to getting to that bridge really, and it definitely perked me up when I spied it in the distance.  Even the weather perked up, with patches of blue sky appearing.  Nice 🙂

bridge-4-more-riders bridge-5-highways bridge-7-riders bridge-6-views

Getting on to the bridge was fairly easy.  A bit of more major road, a bit of slightly circuitous cycle path, and then with no further ado we were on to the cycle path on the North side of the bridge.  It’s a path you always have to be a bit careful on.  There are quite a few ramps, bits of road furniture, lumps, and so forth.  It quickly became clear that the same path was being used for our return route so not only were we occasionally overtaking riders going our way, we were also dodging those on their return.  Still, it meant some of my “cyclists on bridge” photos had faces in them instead of behinds for a change!  To our left, the South side cycle path was full of runners – since we were sharing the day and the bridge with a half marathon.  The main carriageway between us was eerily quiet, with only a few highways vehicles doing whatever maintenance they’d decided they’d like to do today, with it closed, rather than letting us on it.  However crossing the bridge was still lovely.  I still enjoyed it. The views are great, and I waved in the general direction of my folks’ place in Portishead, and generally took my time to look around and make the most of it.

leaving-bridge mixing-with-runners

Getting off the bridge in Wales was rather more tricky than getting on it had been though…as we joined the runners, who had crossed under the road, so that we were all using the same path.  The riders were on the left, the runners on the right, both nominally, with spectators on both sides.  All a bit chaotic and occasionally a bit scary.  When we reached the main roundabout at the end they bore right while we were marshalled through a gap in the spectators to go left onto the road, to go around and then take the exit opposite.  This took us down to the first food stop, which was tagged on to the end of the runners’ event village.  It was definitely time for a break.  Matt had been doing really well, especially considering it was only his second sportive, on that unfamiliar bike, but refuelling was called for.  So we parked the bikes on the grass, grabbed food from the range on offer, and then parked ourselves up next to them to sit on the grass in the sunshine and take 5.  Or 10.  Or quite probably longer.

topping-up-on-fluids food-stop-time chillaxing toilets

There just didn’t seem any rush to get anywhere.  I was still tempted by the Welsh hills.  It would have been a lovely day to have done them – what with the sun and lack of wind.  But being realistic, there was no way that was going to happen.  Not today.  Especially not on my own, which is how I’d have been for that loop.  Given company I might have risked it…but it’s probably just as well that that wasn’t the case, as I’d more than likely have regretted it.  Sometimes I beat the pain, sometimes it beats me, and today I was beaten.  So we sat in the sun until it seemed like a good time to leave.  First things first though – a trip to the toilets, which were a little way up the path, so rather than further trash my cleats (I must remember to get new ones) we rode there instead.  And once that was done we had another go at fixing my indexing, just for fun, before setting off again.  Just as we were leaving, we came across Rob who had presumably not long arrived, with his mates.  After a brief chat we left them, off to do the Welsh Hills for me, and headed for the bridge again.

no-epic-route-for-me back-to-the-bridge still-riders-crossing nearly-back-in-the-uk

As expected, we retraced our steps, through the runners, and back on to the bridge.  The weather was starting to look less nice, but the views were none the less impressive.  There were still cyclists coming the other way, so even with all our hanging around, at least it looked like we wouldn’t be the last back to base.  And the route back, though longer than the route out, was also nicer.  Prettier, more pastoral, more pleasant somehow.  There was also a bit more up on it, most of which came near the end when we had to go up Hawkesbury Hill.  Oh, and my indexing seemed to be working now, which was a bonus.

shiny-lamp-post pretty-church moor hill-ahead

Before that though, with Matt getting a little slower and dropping back from time to time, and with me starting to feel a little woozy and worse for wear, it was time for a fizzy orange stop.  Matt spotted a little convenience store lurking in a housing estate on the edge of somewhere, and we took a break for me to drink such, as well as adding some to my bottle for continuing restorative purposes.  And we stopped a little further on, to stash layers, next to a lamppost that was painted sparkly silver, which was bizarre!  Somewhere after that the sparkle wore off in more ways than one as the rain came in, and came down proper and somewhere on a moor like bit we had to take a break under a tree to let it get the proper flinging it down bit over, which also conveniently let me get it together again.  Yes…there was a lot of stopping going on today…  There weren’t a lot of riders around to notice though, and although the signage was good, we did on at least one point wonder if we were still not the right route.  However just at that point a motorcycle medic rode past, and checked we were ok with a quizzical thumps up, so that sorted that.  Still, a few repeater signs wouldn’t have gone amiss…  Oh, and that rain?  Made me feel better about not doing those Welsh hills 😉

going-up-the-damp-hill made-it-to-the-top the-somerset-monument and-matt-made-it-too

Right, shall we do Hawkesbury Hill then?  48 miles in, the biggest, and the last challenge of the day.  I’ve done it before, knew I could do it, and actually quite like it in an odd way.  It was of course new to Matt…  So we split up for a bit, rather than trying to stick together as we had been.  Hills are best done your own way, which in my case went fairly well.  It’s longer than you think because it’s deceptive, goes up in steps, and goes around corners.  It’s pretty, even when damp.  And unfairly the worst section is the last.  But I plodded along in my own way, and made it to the top in one piece.  And although I’d left Matt behind, I didn’t have to wait that long for him to join me, though I did have enough time to take photos of the Somerset monument at the top 😉

fields-of-rolled-gold country-cottages

This left us with just another 10 miles to do to get back.  Which, after a bit of down hill, turned out to be pretty flat.  Easy peasy.  Well, ish.  Probably a bit harder for Matt than me…he was definitely looking a bit tired around the edges now.  The last 10 miles of a sportive are often where I speed up and head for home, but since this was about to be his longest ride, I might have left him behind, which would have been rude.  Especially considering that today would have been a whole heap harder without his company and support.  I  did get to have a bit of a blast when we got back to the race circuit to complete the lap we’d started hours before and get to the Finish line though 🙂

Cycling time: 3:55
Official time: 4:55
Distance: 58.1 miles
Avs: 14.8 mph

the-final-lap finish-line

So there you go.  Severn Bridge Sportive done.  Matt did awesome – again!  As did I, all things considered 😉  There weren’t that many people around as we rolled under the Finish arch, and the wretched weather had probably put somewhat of a dampener on the Family Cycling Day element of the event.  However there were still some hardy families out enjoying the circuit together, and also checking out the various bits and pieces on display.  We were given our free pasta tokens, and goody bags (which contained a High5 bottle, various leaflets, High5 Protein Recovery, EnergyGel, and Energy Bar), and we walked through to park up and settle down.  Even I had pasta – and it really was quite tasty, even if I didn’t eat it all.  It was getting a bit chilly hanging around though so, after a chat in passing with Andy Cook himself, we headed back to the car to head home and celebrate our respective achievement and survival properly 🙂  Hopefully next year the event will be able to cross the bridge on the main road as planned…and in that case, I’ll be back to do it again 🙂

parking happy-matt pasta

Sodbury Sportive 2016

Another Sunday, another sportive.  Which might seem mad to some, but I quite like it.  It sort of becomes routine.  And after a while if I have a weekend without a sportive I don’t know what to do with myself.  Yes, I’m weird, we’ve already established that.  This time around it was the Sodbury Sportive.  Again.  For the third time I think.  I must like it to be doing it again right?  I wasn’t so sure I liked it enough when, after another unusually good pre-sportive night’s sleep, I was rudely awoken by my alarm, at 5:30am, to discover that the wind was blowing and the rain was falling.  Clearly my recent run of good sportive weather luck had run out…  Ho hum.

Still, the forecast was for better, so PMA and all that.  It’s not like I can do anything about the weather.  So I ate porridge, drank coffee, made more coffee for the journey, and even put on sun protection lotion just in case.  Be prepared ‘n all that…  Being in the middle of a rather painful patch, I also popped the panoply of relevant pills and offered a prayer to the pain gods that maybe I could catch a break today pretty please?

yellow bike roundabout

I left on schedule at 6:30am, for what turned out to be a fairly icky journey, fighting the wind in my little high-sided car.  I wasn’t feeling great, but luckily it only took an hour.  20 mins to the motorway, 20 mins on the motorway, and 20 mins wiggle to HQ – so I didn’t have quite enough time for the pain related woozy to turn into drowsy.  Which was good.  And the weather also cleared up quite a lot en route, which was also positive.  Somehow I arrived somewhat more suddenly than I expected though, and totally overshot the entrance, even with a marshal stood there.  I had to go around the roundabout, adorned with giant yellow bikes, and back again to get in.  Oops.  Ah well, here now, and I was marshalled past the club buildings and around to park on what I hoped wouldn’t become a too muddy playing field – HQ being at Chipping Sodbury Rugby Club.  Not that we were parking on the pitch of course – hallowed turf ‘n all that 😉

on the day registration registration sign trim your cable ties here

I learnt my damp grass lesson last week, so this time I had trainers on to walk across the wet grass to HQ, rather than sandals.  Hey, I prefer my feet warm and dry.  The Registration tent was easy to find, and not that busy.  I signed my name, got my number (with integral timing chip) and two cable ties.  Simples.  It being a rugby club, there were changing rooms with showers and toilet facilities, and also extra portable toilets.  I didn’t think I’d need the showers, either now or later, but I did need the toilet, as usual.  And the necessary having been done, it was time to squelch back to the car to faff.

registration desks queue for the start

The weather was better, but still pretty windy.  But it wasn’t as chilly as I’d thought it would be.  Hm.  Final tally?  Remove the leg warmers, stick with s/s base layer, s/s jersey, heavier Rapha gilet, & arm warmers.  Job done.  My bike and I headed back to HQ, all sorted, around 8:00am.  Remember those portable toilets I mentioned?  Well they came in handy now, as there was, unusually, a long queue for the Ladies in the block.  Partially because no-one had realised that there were no queues for the portable ones outside…  Luckily I did.  In my defence I did share that knowledge in my turn, after I’d taken advantage of the fact.  All ready to go then.  And although I was now sorted, and ready to go, I should mention a really nice touch this event has.  They provide cable tie trimming tools, for those who don’t travel equipped with such, to neaten up things after your bike number has been attached.  I travel with scissors (not run with…) but then I’ve done a fair few of these now…

rider pen being briefed and off we go

There was rather a long queue for the Start too, and no way around this one.  Which suggests that there were rather more riders than last time – I think I heard that around 1000 had signed up.  Riders were being put into two pens, and let off pen by pen alternately.  By the time my pen was full and all bunched up, briefing us on our ‘not a race’ didn’t take too long though.  When asked if there were any 100 milers still around, there were precious few hands raised, even supposing there were many such to start with.  Maybe they’d all gotten away earlier?  My hand was amongst them though – 100 miles was still kinda my plan.

What with life being kinda painful, there are times when I can’t do what I want to do.  And there are times when I get so fed up of not being able to do what I want to do that I tend to get a bit bolshy and reactionary, and I’d kinda decided that I wasn’t going to be letting it stop me today.  Not unless I absolutely had to that is…even I have to admit defeat sometimes…but I was going to try and tick my 2016 century box.

narrow lanes cattle grid and yellow bike

So, time for us to be on our way, off out to enjoy a Sunday ride in the Cotswolds.  The first few miles were fairly pleasant, but I knew better than to be lulled into a false sense of security.  A couple of miles in come three big hills, one after the other, all in the first ten miles actually.  The Hawkesbury Howler, the Alderley Grunt, and the Tresham Tester.  One long and hard, one shorter and harder, and the final longer and harder!  Ok, this is a pretty cruel way to start a sportive…but although they were hard work, and proved life was a tad painful, I did think I’d maybe found them a bit easier than last time around, which was both positive and motivational.  Especially as this isn’t the hilliest of sportives and although there were more hills to come later on, they weren’t for a while.  A fair few were suffering more than I was so – I said it was a harsh awakening to a sportive route!

riders climbing behind Hawkesbury Howler

The route split came around 11.5 miles in.  Speak now or forever…  It’s quite early for such decisions though.  You’ve barely warmed up, the day has barely warmed up, and you have no idea how the rest of the day is going to go.  Now clearly I was going to try the long route, so it wasn’t really a decision …but not a lot of people seemed to be turning right with me.  Actually as it turns out, the routes seemed to overlap each other a couple more times en route, which might have been good to know if you wanted to make your route a little more flexible, or bail from the long route sooner than planned.  Anyway I turned right, and set off to do what I planned to do.  20 miles of mostly easy, sometimes rolling, roads followed – through countryside, under trees, over cattle grids, through cutesy villages with pretty churches, getting warmer, with the skies even threatening to clear up and become blue.   Very nice 🙂

route split one potholes marked out

The first food stop came at 32 miles in.  Not only were the ingredients of every cake printed out and displayed, there was also, on request, gluten and lactose free lemon drizzle cake available.  Well, given all the effort they’d gone to to cater for everyone, it would be rude not to, right?  So just for once I ate cake, while others ate sandwiches, flapjacks, cakes, crackers…all sorts really. Duly fuelled up, toilets used, it was time to head back out again, which is where I think we got our numbers checked again, just to prove we’d all done the route we were later going to claim that we’d done.  Bear with me, I lose track of things some times!

boulevard of trees gluten free cake request

That brightening weather ceased to get better.  In fact it got a bit grey and threatening from time to time.  The wind continued to be noisy and blustery and occasionally hard to fight – pretty much a constant for the day, what with the wind being from the South ish and most of the route being either East, West or South.  The roads were lovely and quiet though, in fact amongst the quietest roads traffic wise that I’ve done a sportive on in a long time.  Of course the top dressing circus had clearly been to town around here too – I wonder if there are now incentives for Councils to top dress as many roads as possible in this financial year??

top dressing church one

There was a general sort of upwards trend going on, with a string of gradual ups, but nothing too bad…  More miles of countryside, and trees, and pretty…through to Minchinhampton and the big open plain on the top there, which marked the half way point, more or less.  With all that up, there was bound to be a good descent, and the wiggly one down into Nailsworth is a good one.  Not fast, unless you’re suicidal or far far more skilled than I am, because it’s all hairpins, tight bends, and frequently cars coming up the other way…but it is kinda fun nonetheless 🙂

minchinhampton plain wind turbine

Sadly fun was then followed by the Nailsworth Nailer, as the yellow sign at the bottom cheerfully proclaims, complete with its stats, not that I had time to read them, as I was dodging traffic at the time.  It goes on for a long time, complete with false flats, up through the town, and then considerably beyond, past the wind turbine, and it’s not until you pass the “climb done” sign that you realise it was all the same climb!  Still, I did my thing, again struggling less than I remember doing previously, and since according to Strava I knocked 1:30 off my time up there, I guess I nailed the Nailer!  And since, after a couple miles, the well earned descent was far less technical, I pretty much nailed that too *grin*.  Fun fun 🙂

Frocester Hill bendy views

What goes down was now about to go up, for the last big climb of the day; Frocester Hill.  I didn’t enjoy it last time.  I suffered.  It didn’t go well.  But I was in a much better mood this time around, feeling better all ’round, and more than happy to spend a while plodding up and around the side of a big hill, looking at the views, with the skies turning blue again.  I’m more than happy to discover I knocked 1:57 off my time up it too 😉  Man I am so easily pleased by facts and figures.  I thought it felt better…and I’m liking hills a lot more these days…and I guess I’m as on form as I get…I guess it makes sense, kinda.

route split two tall trees

With the last big hill of the day done, two thirds of the route under my non-existent belt and, even if it did interrupt the following descent, the second food stop was a welcome sight.  There’s something about the sight of a crowd of colourful cyclists on the grass outside an English country pub, opposite a pretty church…fair warms the cockles of your heart.  And if that didn’t work, there was tea and coffee on offer, as well as a good range of food again, and more of that lemon drizzle cake.  I used the pub facilities, wished I could hang around and drink their cold beer in the fairly warm sunshine, and then sat outside for a bit chatting and using the pub’s wifi to check that the rest of the world was still turning in my absence.

second food stop church second food stop riders

However since I couldn’t be sat happily indulging outside this pub and there were 34 miles and a long drive home between me and doing that for real, it was time to go again.  Not long afterwards I ended up on the tail of a couple of equally matched and somewhat better than me gents.  They were not only happy for me to wheel suck, they even made space for me in the middle between and behind the pair of them so I could get happily towed along for a while.  Since it was all flat country lanes, of the variety that I’m not bad at flying along on, this was great.  OK, so there was effort being put in to keep up and not get dropped, especially on any little rises that occurred, but I could do that, and I did.  Things were going well.  The little yellow escapee budgie (or whatever it was) that we came across in the middle of the road was going to have a far worse day than us if it stayed there.  Being all soft hearted and such, I stopped and investigated, as did the guys, and at least I could make the darn thing fly off somewhere safer, if it could, which it could so I did.  Well I could hardly be picking it up and getting it to Secret World today!  Off we went again, karma points earnt, and the miles were getting eaten up, and I had dreams of riding all the way back to the end in style…

…but time was ticking by.  My next dose of pills was due at 2:00pm, and today was not a day for skipping a dose, or even stretching the gaps in between them.  But…oh…and it was going well…and maybe I could wait…?  And stay on the train for a little longer?  But no.  I listened to my inner boringly sensible voice, made my excuses, and pulled over when the time came, too soon, and let the guys disappear off.  Dagnamit!

hedge lined Berkeley Castle

Feeling slightly annoyed, and slightly painful, but dosed up, things were about to get somewhat worse, as the weather decided to get all sympathetic and cry on me.  Quite a lot.  I was half tempted to retrieve the gilet and put it on, as it is a bit waterproof, and wet in the wind can be bad….but I wasn’t that cold, and as usual I couldn’t be arsed.  Just for once I wasn’t made to suffer too much for that decision, but I did get pretty wet!  Maybe it was better to be on my own to negotiate wet country lanes, admire manor houses, castles, and the like.  And maybe I wouldn’t have been able to keep up with them all for all that long anyway.  There weren’t a lot of other riders around either, but thanks to very good signage I didn’t ever feel lost.  Besides, it was pretty much flat, and even with the odd climb my PMA was damp but intact.  And even the damp eventually ceased, as things eventually dried up.

1 mile to food station third food stop

Time for the third food stop, which I nearly didn’t stop at, as it wasn’t all that far from the end – about 12 miles or so out I think.  Lurking in the corner of a school’s car park was a small huddle of tables, tents, and riders, but not, as far as I could tell, any toilets.   Ah well.  All I wanted to do otherwise was top up my bottle, but clearly I looked like I needed more as one of the friendly ladies was very concerned that I didn’t want anything else and did try and force food on me, which was quite funny.  Clearly I looked worse than I felt!  And that huddle of riders?  Well it turned out to contain my pair of friendly gents, and they turned out to be more than happy for me to join them for the final stint.  So I did.  Result!

rider finishing group shot

This time around there was time for a bit more chatting, and so I give you Rob Allan and Stu Berryman – cycling friends of long standing, who used to race with Paul Baker of Cheddar Cycle Store.  Which will tell some of you something…  I did a really good job of staying with them as the last few miles flew by, even when the rain returned, but when the odd little up and push over rises turned into a couple of longer drags near the end that was it – there wasn’t a lot of up left in my legs, and what there was wasn’t going to be done at their speed.  I finally fell off the back and stayed there, but I didn’t mind at all as they’d more than done enough for me.  I may have spent longer pushing a little bit beyond my comfort zone than usual, but I enjoyed it, even if my legs might make me pay for it afterwards!  So it was just me, myself and I who shortly rolled under the Finish arch to the sound of cow bells and applause to be presented with my free food voucher and very cool souvenir.  Sodbury Sportive done.

trophy not medal

There was no sign of the guys, and I was wet, still getting rained on, and liable to get cold hanging around, so I headed back to the car to stash the bike and put dry clothes on.  Once I was back in civvies, with the very wet dirty bike tucked away, I headed back to HQ, and bumped into Rob and Stu who were just leaving so I was able to say thank you in person, which I was glad about.  Credit where credit is due.  And I was also quite glad about my free cheese and onion (didn’t fancy beef, declined the accompanying baked beans) pastie even though it probably wasn’t good for me on many levels.  It tasted nice, and it was hot, and it warmed me up, and it was nice just to sit in a corner of the club house eating that, and drinking equally free squash, while unwinding a bit.  Normally everyone would have been out on the grass, on the picnic tables, etc…but not in the rain, so inside was very busy, very bustling, very noisy, and oddly cool 🙂

Cycling time: 6:49
Official time: 7:30 (Silver)
Distance: 103.5 miles
Avs: 15.2 mph

And then it was time to go home, madly but quietly proud of myself for finally getting a 100 mile ride done this year, whilst oddly surprised to not have found it harder, or to not be feeling like that’s what I’d just done.  See sometimes the pain doesn’t win, I do.  Sometimes stubborn works 🙂

New Forest Rattler 2016

up close and personal

Just for once, pre-sportive, I got an early night, and slept right until the alarm woke me up.  Which is virtually unheard of!  So even though I had a 5:00am start…I didn’t feel as bad about it as sometimes.  So where was I going today?  The New Forest.  For the Cyclofanatic New Forest Rattler.  Which meant a very lovely drive up the Gorge, over the top of the Mendips and on beyond, into the rising sun, with the fields around shrouded in low lying mist.  All very beautiful, all very positive, all good so far.

route to registration registration

HQ for the event was at Moyles Court School, in Ringwood, which my satnav easily delivered me too.  The final left turned out to be the long drive towards the school, and so there I was, being marshalled onto what initially looked like a field, but was actually a grass running track.  For some reason I wasn’t allowed to join the row of cars growing towards me, but was instead beckoned beyond towards the end of the field and a new row there instead.  Ours is not to reason why

rattler news marquee

Duly parked up, the walk to where I presumed reception was didn’t look too far, so I decided that would come before faffing.  My feet got a little damp walking across the amazingly soft wet grass and weaving through kissing gates and around the out buildings, following the signs, was a bit of a magical mystery tour.  I emerged at the front of the buildings, facing the lawns where quite a few riders had clearly camped over night.  I wasn’t quite sure where to go next as the signs seemed to have finished.  Not that it was going to be too tricky – it wasn’t a big place.  On the left was a sports hall building, with free breakfast being served outside, and changing room/toilet facilities inside.  I decided to head there first…on the basis that if registration wasn’t there, it was on the right, and I needed the toilet anyway!

entry pack ankle tag

So facilities used; registration was clearly somewhere else.  When I emerged once more into the sunlight, I spotted a white marquee marked ‘registration’ on the front lawn by the main house, beyond the mechanic’s van.  I walked over, and by the marquee was a board with a list of all the riders named alphabetically which you had to check first to get your rider number.  Then you could queue in front of the relevant desk to register.  Bizarrely my table was very busy…and none of the others were…I guess life is random like that!

ready to go setting off

Still, there are worse things to do than queue in the sunshine.  And yes, it was still sunny, though a bit chilly.  I’ve been lucky with the weather lately!  Which is cool, because sunshine makes everything better 🙂  The queue wasn’t that long either really, and soon it was my turn.  I was presented with a little clear plastic bag containing instructions, my bike number, cable ties, high5 gel, a little packet of haribo, and a token for a free post-ride burger.  Separately came my timing chip and a velcro strap to attach it to my ankle with.  Novel…not seen anything like that in quite a while, and I hoped it wouldn’t rub at all.  The vain part of me did also wondered what it would do to my already bizarre tan lines… 😉

rolling into the New Forest horses to stop traffic

Back to the car to faff then.  I had time to kill, so I took my time pondering what layers to wear, if any, what food/gels to carry, where to put them, and putting air in the tyres.  Just in case you are at all interested, I decided to go with summer kit, s/s base layer, with gilet in the saddle bag.  Faffing done, start time reached, it was time to head for the start.  Which was easier said than done.  The original path to registration wasn’t fit for bikes, unless you lifted them over the gate…so it was a short ride out and around and back in beyond the Start, so as not to set the timing mat off by riding in over it.  The road thus taken back in to the school was horrible though.  Chunky sandy gravel.  Not fun at all… At least the gravel at the school itself was of a smaller more even variety.  It was still stuff you walked the bike over rather than rode, and it was rather uncomfortable to walk on in cleats.  I think I preferred the damp grass…

tall trees open plains

There weren’t that many riders around by then as it happens.  I was at the Start line, just beyond Registration, with just a handful of other riders, where a blackboard explained the basics, which were re-iterated informally by a nice gent at the start line, who then sent us on our way.  Over the timing mats, and out on to the roads, where a couple of marshals were making sure we didn’t hit cars, and off we went.  And the first couple of miles were oddly challenging whilst looking easy.  Rolling but in a less than gentle way – short ups you weren’t warmed up for, and short downs that weren’t long enough to get you up the next up.  Still, under the trees, with patchy sunlight breaking through, it was all very pretty.  Soon we were officially in the New Forest, and then the trees soon turned into more open plain, moorland, type terrain.  With the sun shining down, and the odd drag up, I was starting to get quite warm.  But when that turned back into what is probably, and unsurprisingly, forest, I was glad of my base layer.  And that’s very much how the ride went all day.  From one to the other and back again.

food stop 1 smiley food stop folk

I’m not going to give you a step by step break down of the ride, because it was all very similar mostly.  In a good way I hasten to add.  Rolling stretches of road either in Forest or on plain.  Cute villages with lovely names like (my personal favourite) Tiptoe, and Sway.  Progress was frequently interrupted by horses, cattle, or donkeys, which doesn’t usually happen to me, and was kinda cool.  There were a fair few horse riders to be polite and give a wide berth to, which seemed to be appreciated.  Inevitably, there were also quite a lot of cars around from time to time, and occasional main roads to be crossed.  The road surfaces weren’t great under the trees, but they were actually better than I expected, and the rest of the roads were pretty good.  The signage was ok, though a few more repeaters would have come in useful – I did think I was lost a couple of times.  And the sun shone.  On my route, there were two food stops, both of which were fairly low key haphazard affairs, by the side of the road, with just flapjacks, banana and water and energy powder, but no toilets which – as you know – always bugs the hell out of me.  Still, having to fend off hungry and, unsurprisingly, stubborn donkeys at the second one did sort of make up for that a bit.   And in between those stops I flew along in fairly happy fashion.  Hey, there are far worse ways to spend a Sunday than cycling around the New Forest in the sun, right?

second food stop groups of riders

But I never really got quite into it.  There weren’t enough riders around to join up much with, or even chat to in passing.  I gather only around 300 riders took part, which would probably explain it.  I think, although I was having a nice time, it was because I just couldn’t seem to get into a rhythm.  The hills were sort of sneaky.  They were frequently under trees, with no views to give you perspective, and a bit featureless.  In that after a while, riding along what felt like a normal flattish road, you’d feel like you were finding your ride oddly hard work, and couldn’t figure out why?  Brake stuck on again?  Lack of form?  But then it would occur to me to check the Garmin for gradient, realise it was actually reading 8% or whatever, realise that it was not me feeling crap, it was actually me riding up a hill.  So somehow crawler gear never quite got properly engaged?  There wasn’t a lot of climbing compared to a lot of sportives, if you look at the stats, but it felt like there was quite a lot of drag going on.  And on the long straight bits, which reminded me a lot of Pembrokeshire and Dartmoor, you’d hope there wasn’t wind and that it was behind you, but there was and it wasn’t.

lymington isle of wight

However there was plenty to look at as you rode along.  Wildlife, classic cars.  Every flash sports car and convertible in the local area, out to enjoy a Sunday drive in the sunshine.  Part of the ride took us along the coast, past Lymington, Bucklers Hard, Beaulieu et al…with views over the Solent all the way over lots of little white sails to the Isle of Wight.  Lots of other people were out enjoying the roads, which made for a tricky traffic jam stretch on the road towards Lyndhurst, playing with slow moving and occasionally stationary cars to get to the relief of the right turn that took us away from them…boy I bet we were popular!

classic car maclaren ferrari traffic going to Lyndhurst

Other than admiring all of this, listening to my music, and trying to go as fast as I could in the ever growing heat, (my base layer was stashed away at the first food stop), my mind was mostly preoccupied with which route I was actually going to end up doing.  The short 47 mile route would have been a bit daft after all that travelling.  And, given the lack of real climbing, far too easy.  So it was a choice between the Standard 82 mile route and the 102 mile Epic route.  A decision which didn’t have to be made until around 70 miles in.  And what with the relative flatness of the area, even with those 20 miles containing more climbing than the rest of the ride, I was tempted, as 100 miles as yet eludes me this year.  But when it came to it, I was still not quite feeling it, and I was over hot, if not that bothered, and all of the routes get to take in Blissford Hill anyway, I just couldn’t be bothered.  Well, with two more weekends and two more sportives in a row to come…  I was, oddly, somewhat mindful of what my clinical pain psychologist had told me about pacing myself.  I figured it was better not to overdo it this time so as to be able to continue doing it for the events to come.  See, I do pay attention sometimes…honest!

green riders far behind

So I didn’t turn right.  I took 5, chatting to some equally indecisive riders.  I took some pictures.  And then I went straight on.  Happily.  I don’t think even I’d known what I was going to decide really…but this felt like the right choice.  And put me all of 12 miles or so from HQ, with just that Blissford Hill to negotiate, amongst a lot more pretty.  And it’s a doozy of a hill.  Sure, it isn’t long.  But it is steep.  25% steep.  It’s like a wall that goes straight up.  Even I got out of the saddle for some of it.  Luckily there were only a couple of riders straining up it with me, and the traffic, such as there was, kindly waited at the top for us to finish gurning, try grinning for the inevitable photographer, and head off again, victorious.  Much appreciated.  And I made it up.  No walking for me 🙂  It may only have taken minutes, but man my legs were burning by the top!

route split Blissford Hill sign

That didn’t last long though, and neither did the last few miles back to HQ, even if I did have to stop briefly to evict whatever it was that got stuck under my jersey and stung me three times trying to find its own way out!  Arriving back at HQ was totally uneventful, and a tad unceremonious.  I rolled over the timing mats, toute seule, and that was it.  New Forest Rattler done.

Cycling time: 4:53
Official time: 5:25
Distance: 82.4 miles
Avs: 16.9 mph

slow children massage

Other than a marshal near the end who said well done, that was it for welcoming committee and reception.  I put my timing chip, which incidentally I never noticed on my ankle once, into the bucket provided, and that was that.  I did have a brief chat with a lady at the timing van, but only because I needed to tell her I’d changed routes.  There were a few riders lounging around on the grass either in the sun, or under the now vacated marquee.  There seemed to be more life back over by the sports hall building, so I headed over there.  Massage tables were set up outside, in the shade of large trees, and were occupied.

shady car

I parked the bike, revisited the facilities, and decided I would, for a change, have my free burger.  Literally.  Just the burger.  Well gluten free rolls weren’t an option, and it’s not like I’m ever hungry anyway, so it’s pretty much all I wanted anyway.  Besides, it tasted good.  I could have bought cake, or coke, but there was no fizzy orange on offer…and I knew there was some in the car, so once I’d consumed my burger, eavesdropping on the masseur and massee behind me, which is why I know that only 300 or so riders did it, I headed back to the car.  Whence I discovered that my odd parking location turned out to have been a great one – my car was in the shade!  So instead of the oven I was half expecting, the car was pleasantly cool, and so was my fizzy orange.  Result!  Time to load up, and go home then 🙂


PS: 75 of the what turned out to be 258 or so riders did the 82 mile route. I was 35th.  16 of them were women, and I was 8th.  So pretty much midfield all round.  Which is better than I used to be.  And having never hit the Zone, I’m not surprised it wasn’t better.  It wasn’t slow though 🙂

Malvern Mad Hatter 2016

selfie as ever

Right then. Time for another sportive.  Which in this case would be the Cycling Weekly Malvern Mad Hatter.  Which already had a couple of things going for it.  First off it was on a Saturday.  I like Saturday sportives.  It means I don’t spend my entire weekend waiting for and then doing the sportive.  It also means I get a Sunday afterwards for R&R, which is allegedly what weekends are actually for.  Secondly I’ve done it before.  Ok, so it didn’t go that well as it came just after my life went to hell in a hand basket, but I did like it, and clearly I liked it enough to want to go and do it again.

As usual my pre-ride preparation left a little to be desired, and after precious little sleep, the 5:45am alarm call was a far from welcome one.  But hey, who needs sleep anyway right?  So it was time to get up, drink coffee, eat porridge, and faff some as usual.  Matt was down for the weekend, and rather than just play chauffeur for me, and also because he worries about me riding on my own at the moment, he’d decided to actually do the sportive himself.  So that makes two people faffing…except he doesn’t really faff, he just laughs at me while I do…!  I can cope with being laughed at though, especially if it means I don’t have to drive and, since he drives a massive van, loading the bikes and assorted crap up was easier than usual too 😉  Besides, what with this being his first ever sportive, and one that he was about to do on a single speed (insanity), I figured I might get my own back by dropping him on the odd hill… 😉

riders heading off as we head in to register registration desks

1.5 hours up the motorway, in the sunshine, got us to HQ at the Three Counties Showground.  It wasn’t a great journey.  There’s something about sitting cars, or even vans, position-wise that makes the pain worse, and since these days proper pain seems to come with mild nausea, I really wasn’t feeling great by the time we arrived.  Having a massive van mean that we were marshalled, after some debate, into a corner of the field right by the entrance road, which was handy as it would mean less walking on the grass in cleats.

waiting at the start rider briefing girl

We set off for registration, walking rather slowly because that was all I could do, through other riders already setting out on their way, and via the spacious and clean toilet/shower block.  Yes I know, I go on about it, but decent toilet facilities are important!  Ablutions performed, it was time to register.  As Matt had only decided to join me the day before, but as he was playing chauffeur and ride escort, a very nice lady in charge called Dawn kindly gave him a free place on the day to ride with me, which was exceedingly nice of her.  Credit where credit is due – since if Matt hadn’t been with me, I don’t think I’d have have made it to do the ride at all – and then this review wouldn’t exist…even if it is a bit late in getting completed.

car park maneuvres heading off

While Matt signed up, I went and registered myself, signing my name to get my bike number, two cable ties, and the timing chip for the LHS of my helmet.  It wasn’t at all busy, no queues at all, although there were plenty of riders around, and parked up outside, so I guess they must just have been well organised!  We headed back to the van to get sorted in the lovely sunshine.  Yes sunshine again.  In fact it was so warm that I even ditched the base layer, just putting that & my gilet in the saddle bag just in case.  Well I know it was due to be warm, but when I’m having a bad patch I sometimes get cold so…  Oh, and it wasn’t even windy!  How rare is that?  We took our time getting ready, as although I was signed up for the Epic route, I figured today was definitely a Standard day at best, and Matt was doing the Short route, so my nominal 8-8:30am start slot was fairly academic so it’s not like there was any need to rush.

sunny country lanes cute white house

And when it came to it the Start was, as I briefly sort of alluded to earlier, a little weird, so let’s get on with that.  Time to head there, via the toilets again of course.  We joined a bunch of riders near the start line, waited for that bunch to become orderly groups, and then shuffled forward in our group’s turn to be given a long, fairly humorous, briefing.  Possibly the girl giving it hadn’t done as many such as some other folk usually have so was still finding it enjoyable 😉 However when we went over the start line – which I’m sure points straight ahead to a main site entrance gate, or at least it did last time – instead we had to negotiate the way around the car park, up through one aisle, and then back out the way we came in to the site, through other riders milling around and cars still coming in.  Not great.  Maybe someone forgot to unlock a gate?

manse tractor

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned already, today’s event has three possible routes, and they work kinda petal stylee.  Everyone does the first loop, including the big climb up the Malverns, back around to near the start.  At which point the Short route goes home.  The route then carries on for another 10 miles, before you decide if you’d like to add the extra 26 miles that make the Standard route Epic, as long as you get there by 12:30 that is.  Or just carry on and loop back around to the Start, happy with your less than Epic status.  It means the route is really flexible.  And in this case I meant I could do the Short route with Matt and see how that went before having to make my mind up about anything.  It’s a really nice way of letting different levels of ability of cyclists ride the event together, and please all the people all of the time, and it also makes deciding on your route on the day easier as you don’t have to commit to anything too early on.

a new sign me and gate

So Matt and I headed off into the sunshine for our first 43 mile loop.  It was fairly flat to start with, for the first 15 miles or so.  I’m not complaining though, what’s not to love about 15 miles of flat and sunny and scenic and easy?  Especially if you’re not feeling great and are a little apprehensive about how the day might go.  Matt was getting a bit bored though…so it’s just as well we hit a few draggy climbs.  Apparently that’s more fun…even on a single speed.  I wasn’t loving them much because they made things hurt…but that didn’t mean I wasn’t getting up them just fine.  Then came some bigger ups…and I was sorted out now, pain under control, warmed up, settled down, and back to feeling happy. I did get to leave Matt behind on the bigger hills, but downs we pretty much did together, and some of them were a blast.  Well, apart from the one where our descent met a tractor’s ascent…without a lot of space…with my back wheel locking…  So I stopped braking, it stopped locking, there was just about enough room, and we got to carry on downhill a little more cautiously while the rather scared tractor driver probably went on his way cussing us a lot!

war memorial first food stop

The first food stop came 25 miles in, at a nice shady village hall.  Fodder tended towards the sweet, but since that included Haribo, both normal and Tangfastics, which I love, I wasn’t really complaining! I would have grabbed a Power Bar Smoothie, but since I already had my own with me, that seemed a bit pointless…  So I filled up my bottles with water, used the toilets, and we spent a little while hanging around and chilling out, a little literally.  Well it was hot out there!  Besides, it’s all part of the experience, and since this was Matt’s first sportive, might as well make sure he was getting the full show, right?  Besides, he looked like I needed the break more than I did 😉

oast house trees and views

Duly refreshed we headed off for some more draggy rolling in the sunshine – with Matt continuing to get kudos from all and sundry for his single speed insanity.  Well if they were struggling up the hills on proper bikes…then he was proper putting them to shame, apparently 😉  It continued to be nice out there, and we weren’t rushing.  Sometimes it’s nice to just ride around in company, chat, stop and take in the view occasionally?  In fact I can’t tell you as much about the scenery as sometimes.  Well when you’re on your own you have nowt to do BUT look around you…when you’re not, it tends to fly past you more.

tennis court mansion

I can tell you it was all very pretty in a cultivated, well groomed and expensive fashion.  Properties with drives, and tennis courts, and so on.  Oh and the odd oast house.  Lots of fields.  It reminded me a bit of Kent, or Hampshire, in a green and pleasant land way.  Luckily the signage was mostly really good so even though we weren’t paying as much attention as we might have been, we didn’t get lost.  There was just the odd dodgy bit where it was hard to convey with a sign how sharp right turns were from where you approached them, which made navigating them a bit hairy…  Talking of the roads, a lot of the road surfaces were SERIOUSLY crap – even more so than I’d usually expect.  And there were a few ‘interesting’ crossings of main roads that, though well signed, and sometimes marshalled, were tricky when there was traffic.  And when on more main roads for any length of time, they tended to be a bit too busy too, which is never that pleasant.

big hill behind climbing the big hill ahead

Enough talking.  Enough bimbling around in the sunshine.  Time for the BIG climb of the day.  Which was not the climb previously advertised, thanks to roadworks and a road closure I believe.  Instead we all went on a little detour which added a couple of miles and meant that the climb wasn’t the long, hard but steady one I vaguely remembered from last time…  Nah, this one was a doozy.  (Croft Bank apparently).  It was long, a bit steppy, mostly steep, went on forever, and got worse towards the end…  Killer in fact.  As a great many other riders would probably tell you.  Whilst I was plodding my way up, those riding were few and far between.  I’d spot a pedalling rider ahead, only to pass them by a little while later, as the gradient had defeated them.  And just for once, the single speed was defeated…  So as I doggedly, determinedly and more than little stubbornly pushed my way up, Matt was left behind to walk.  I made it up in one go though – I love that I can kind of do hills now 🙂  I spent quite a long time waiting the top, at what was clearly the unofficial point to wait for your team mates, until you were all back together and recovered enough to ride on again.  Matt finally arrived with a little posse of guys who’d ended up walking up together – sounds like they’d had time for quite a chat on the way up!  Oh, and apparently I’m well ‘ard for making it all the way up without stopping or walking 🙂  Well…since you come to mention it… 😉

view from the top views and scenery

After that slog, we spend a fair few scenic miles bimbling around the top of the Malverns, with it being mostly flat or down.  Well earnt views and descents – nice 🙂  Lots of nice shady trees too – coolth being a good thing.  (And yes I know coolth isn’t a real word).  The route split came about 40 miles in, up on the top somewhere, that I failed to photograph, next to a very tempting pub where a great many non-cyclists were clearly having a splendid time sat outside in the sunshine and watching us all.

And so…the time had come.  I’d had a really good ride so far, I’d been taking it fairly easy (sorry Matt!) and since I was feeling the love, and not the pain, and I knew the next 30 odd miles weren’t due to be too challenging, I wanted to do what I’d set out to do.  Matt wasn’t tempted to join me…after initially considering it, the last few miles had finally taken it out of him.  No gears will do that to you 😉  So we parted company for the time being, and I left him to turn left while I turned right and headed out on my own.

forestry riders in the road

It’s a little novel to feel that fresh more than half way into a ride, but I really did.  And as it turns out my legs were raring to go.  Head down, time to go!  To be fair, I think the first loop had the best of it though, from a challenge and scenery point of view.  This is not to say I didn’t have fun.  I did.  Masses of.  I spent a couple of hours bombing around the countryside, on mostly quiet roads, in the sun, overtaking as many people as possible, generally having a blast, and seeing how far I could get my average speed up from the 14.6mph I’d started with…  I was definitely in the Zone 🙂  I know, not sociable, probably a tad juvenile, but SO much fun.  Flies in the teeth fun.  And I may even have been singing along with my music at one or two points, which is generally a good sign, though probably less good if you end up as accidental audience!  Still when I passed the route split for the Epic route around 20 minutes before its 12:30pm cut off, I wasn’t tempted.  I might have decided to push it, but I’m also occasionally sensible enough to know not to push it too far!

heading back second food stop

The second food stop was much like the first.  Well-stocked with sweet stuff, at a village hall, conveniently under a shady tree and, I think, being used by both riders on the Standard and Epic routes, with riders suffering from different degrees of tiredness as a result.  I tried a PowerBar gel, as they didn’t have the smoothies this time, and I know these things are a question of taste…so let’s just say I’ll stick to my own pocket-heated smoothie next time 😉  I stopped for a bit, clearly, and then headed off again.  After some more hurtling around, with a somewhat more boring stretch at the end, and some annoying temporary traffic lights that stopped play, I was back at the Showground, doing another weird car park loop to retrace my steps and head under the Finish Line.  Malvern Mad Hatter done.

traffic light me finishing

T’other side of the Finish line I was given my medal, and a slightly bizarre collection of goodies – a cycling mag, bar, and men’s toiletries – and was reunited with Matt, t’other side of the hoardings, complete with camera.  Having been in for a couple of hours he was all recovered and fresh as a daisy – you’d never guess he’d just done 43 miles,and was a recently deflowered sportive virgin 😉  Oh, sorry, make that 47 miles; that earlier detour added a couple of miles, and it’s apparently important that I don’t discount that 😉  On my way round, I also bumped into Herbie who’d used the event in a similar to us – his Mrs had done the shorter route and he’d done the long one.  Told you it was a good route set up for that – it’s not just me after all!

Photo purchased from the very lovely :)

Photo purchased from the very lovely 🙂

So, how much fun was that??  I love it when this girl can 🙂  Although I think I probably overdid it a bit in the heat, as I tend to.  Even after restorative fizzy orange and some chilling out on the lawns, I slept most of the way back in the van, and I was a bit wobbly and off balance for quite a long time.  But that’s ok, least said soonest mended.  Just as well I wasn’t driving though, no?

Cycling time: 4:43
Official time: 5:38
Distance: 75.9 miles
Avs: 16.0 mph

Anyway, it turns out we both really enjoyed the ride.  It was a really good balance of riding his way, my way, in company, and not.  If Tash ever gets up to doing such things – it’d be a perfect one to do with her.  Maybe one day…  Oh, and I got a Silver time too 🙂  Looking at the standards, and judging by my usual waiting around times, it’d probably have been a Gold without all the time we took out actually enjoying the ride…but that’s never going to happen, because that’s what it supposed to be all about, and it really was 🙂




Great Weston Ride 2016

The Great Weston Ride is a tradition.  Sure, some of the variables, and the players, change year on year.  But apparently my attendance is a constant.  2016 was the 7th GWR and, just as with the previous 6, I was there.  Which apparently makes me unique.  Go me.  Like we didn’t know that I’m “unique”, and probably “special” and other such terms 😉

This time my merry band, we three, were myself, Alan, and Clayton.  Well, that’s how things started out…   Anyway Clayton, having moved away and no longer being quite as local, rocked up to park his car at my place around 6:20 ish.  And after very little faffing – yes that can be done – we headed up the road to meet Alan at Shute Shelve.  It was grey, but humid, and though the arm warmers, knee warmers and base layer were to stay on a while, the gilet came off there and then.  In that today’s event is usually a ride of three halves, the first half is the ride into Bristol, to the Long Ashton Park ‘n Ride.  Last year, without Guy to guide us, Clayton and I got lost, and added a good few miles to the route in.  This year, thanks to Strava, I pointed Alan at the route we took in 2014, when we didn’t get lost, and he downloaded it.  So it was a sociable, uneventful,  20 miles or so that got us to HQ on schedule or thereabouts.  And not getting lost was a huge improvement!  We were still there well before the 8:00am start so, though not the first there, that’ll do right?

Start registration

First things first – the toilets of course!  There were the usual inside the building ones, and some extra portable toilets outside.  I opted for inside, before heading outside to registration.  Which was a bit confusing.  When it was busy, I imagine it made sense.  Find the queue that led from your surname letter and follow it all the way to the desks.  Except there weren’t any queues, and there were no letters on the desks, and quite a few of us queued our way to the front in what we hoped was the right place only to be told we needed to move one queue to the left or right!  Still, the free coffee being given away to those waiting near the front by Truestart helped ease my suffering somewhat 😉  Once finally in the right place, I was given my bike number and cable ties, and a free 9Bar, and sent happily on my way.

rider groups explaining signage

There were a lot of riders milling around, and I was trying to keep an eye out for James, who might have been joining us, but I never did see him – not before, during, or after!  I did however bump into organiser Darren, which was nice since by now we’re practically mates 😉  We had a bit of a chat, before he headed off to the front line to do his duty, and I headed back to Alan and Clayton for a little more faffing.  Well Clayton’s front mech was playing up…or something like that anyway.  I’m not that techy remember?  The queues for the mechanics were fairly long though, so he decided to leave it in the hands of the gods and see what happened en route…

always stopped by traffic lights barrow gurney lights

We joined the massing hordes and slowly shuffled our way towards the start line, a process that was gradually sorted into more organised batches.  Eventually it was our turn to reach the front line, after the photographer had immortalised Clayton and I, to be given one of Darren’s briefings – which he can probably recite in his sleep by now.  We were warned about the narrow gravelly road after Priddy, and the nasty gravelly descent to Westbury, reminded that it wasn’t a race (a warning without which no sportive would be complete), and let go on our way.  There’s never any point hurtling off though, though some people do, as there are two sets of traffic lights, that will inevitably be red at the wrong time, to negotiate before you can get going on your way proper.

drag up the A38 Chew Valley Lake

There are lots of options to the route these days.  You can add various loops – all or none of them as you wish, to add more miles, more climbing, or both.  Blue signs for extras, yellow for basic.  Being a traditionalist and having always done the basic route, as it was, so shall it always be, and none of those extra options were for me.  So instead of heading straight on and straight up, we were for the lanes of Long Ashton and beyond to Barrow Gurney.  Retracing our steps from the way in, as it happens, but that didn’t last too long.  Cycling through the narrow traffic calmed Barrow Gurney rat run is far more fun than driving through it and luckily when our slowly stretching out batch went through it, there weren’t too many cars there to wish we weren’t there…

dragging from Ubley time for the first food stop

It was still grey, and humid, and threatening a little damp, but I was warm.  A little too warm.  So before we hit the A38 we stopped so that I could stash knee warmers and arm warmers away, which was a huge improvement.  Mind you it didn’t make the slow slog up that A38 any more pleasant, but it’s pretty unavoidable and it didn’t take too long.  A bit longer than usual though, as the traffic meant there was no over-taking slower cyclists and it was just a long linear orderly queue slowly progressing up the road until we could escape by turning left!

water only cars queuing for the Combe

After a bit of dragging up in steps, which slowed me at least down a bit, came the lovely long flying section towards Chew Magna that I enjoy every year.  In fact I probably enjoy it even more because I know it’s there so I can make sure to do it properly fast, I know where I can overtake people, and I know that it goes on a while; so I know that the people I’ve overtaken aren’t going to be laughing their arses off when 30 seconds later if the road goes up and they go straight back past me! 😉  All good things come to an end though, and there’s a little bit of up and down to do to get out the other side and down the long straight past the very pretty Chew Valley Lake.  Man it’s pretty around here.  It’s so easy to be blasé about it when you live here, and it’s worth taking time to remember that I live in a very lovely part of the world.  You should come and do the Great Weston Ride and see for yourself 😉

starting Burrington Combe near the top of the Combe

Right.  Past the lakes, and the ducks, and the people feeding the ducks.  Time for one of my least favourite parts of the ride – the draggy section along the A368 from West Harptree to…well we’ll get to that in a minute.  This bit is slow.  Sure, there are some nice down bits in it, but there are a lot of up bits.  And they’re draggy, the road surface is that thick porridgy stuff, there’s traffic, and they go on a while.  Nowt for it but to sit back and get on with it.  Plod, plod, plod…in the grey, and occasional drizzle…  Clayton was struggling a bit behind me, I wasn’t flying, and Alan was having lots of fun getting behind us both on the down bits, and then hurtling past us, out of the saddle, and making it look easy on the ups, so as to wait for us somewhere convenient after whichever up it was was over.  Well he was having fun, it was making me laugh, and hey, the miles passed…

murky Mendips ready to descend

Which brings us to where we were going to…Burrington Combe.  Which is today’s big climb.  Turn left off the A368, and there’s barely time before it starts for a sigh of relief.  Or to catch your breath.  Well, there kinda is, because the first refreshment stop is at the bottom.  This stop seems to vary year on year.  Judging by the moaning of other riders around me, they were expecting a food stop.  To be fair, it is only a refreshment stop, and it is only 20 miles in, so a full on food stop really isn’t required anyway.  I thought I remembered there being more in previous years…but my memory isn’t what it was (and it was never good), I’ve done a lot of events that kinda blur into one, and it’s been pointed out to me that I’m wrong about that.  This time there were just two barrels of water – there wasn’t even energy drink, though I think there had been earlier, judging by the tubs in the rubbish bin next to them.  Since all I need is water, and I don’t eat anyway, I wasn’t bothered…but that’s really not the point is it?

cakes two cakes one

Having got off the bike, I realised my balance had gone again (I’m starting to be more aware of the signs these days) and I was feeling a bit woozy/weird again.  Not great.  Time for this break to be a little longer than usual.   Toilet facilities were available, by arrangement, in the Burrington Inn, and when I headed off to use them, I realised they were also open and serving tea, coffee, and the like to a couple of riders as I walked past.  Which I would have known if I’d paid clearer attention to the pre-ride information.  So as I walked back I joined them.  No fizzy orange…but they did have Appletiser, and I figured that would do.  Fizzy sugary re-hydrating goodness 🙂

Truestart lady bacon roll posse

I slowly wove my way back through all the riders milling around to rejoin Clayton and Alan…and it turned out Clayton had had it.  After the ride in, and the extra 20 miles now done on top of that, he was well past his longest ride to date post knee surgery, and not having a good time of it.  We spent a little time figuring out the flattest easiest route he could take back to my place and then he’d gone…leaving Alan and I to head off up the Combe together.  I’ve no idea how many times Alan and I have cycled up here together, but it’s a lot!  According to Strava, I’ve been up it 34 times myself, and I was cycling up it well before Strava came along.

me at second food stop not in a car on the motorway

But I like it.  It’s long.  It’s pretty.  It’s got harder bits and easier bits.  Even though I wasn’t feeling top notch, I was happy to pootle along my way and enjoy it.  In fact it actually felt really good, even if Alan still had to wait for me at the top 😉  Sadly the top of the Mendips was not at its best today.  In fact it was pretty much in a cloud.  Grey, drizzly, a tad chilly, and devoid of the usual views.  Not somewhere we wanted to hang around much, and definitely not a day for adding the next extra section in.  Which, if you were interested, took you across to Charterhouse, down Shipham Hill and back up Cheddar Gorge.  Probably lovely, especially if you don’t have Cheddar Gorge on your doorstep, and want to challenge yourself a bit.  But tradition, remember?

getting sunnier Burnham on Sea

So instead we hurtled across the flattish top to Priddy.  I realised I was heading for that falling asleep on the bike thing again, so I warned Alan, and told him to talk to me to keep me focussed and awake.  He made some sarky comment about wasn’t it normally me that does all the talking…  I think we’ll have to agree to disagree here… 😉  So we chatted, and pedalled, and got to Priddy where the nasty gravelly road out the other side was exactly as forewarned, and also a bit tricky as it includes a nasty short, steep, and narrow up.  Tricky because it’s steep and unexpected, and trickier to negotiate when there are a few riders around, of varying abilities, all trying to get up it at the same time.  Alan and I got out of the saddle, and pushed up around them all – politely I hasten to add – just to get it out of the way.

playing with the traffic in Burnham my SAS leadout crew

Actually you could avoid the Priddy bit altogether, by taking a right turn earlier on…but I guess it’s included to show off Priddy, or add miles, or something…  Anyway ahead lay the descent we’d also been warned about, down Westbury Hill to Rodney Stoke.  It being a bit damp, and having been warned, we took it really easy down the descent.  Which was a bit annoying because it’s a very nice down, and also because it turns out my brakes were squealing, and now was not a good time to stop and find out why!  Still, braking was kind of essential, as there are bends, and there was traffic of both sorts, and gravel near the bottom, and today caution was a very good thing.  Someone should possibly have mentioned that to the eejot who flew past Alan on the way down, and got dangerously in the way from time to time…

medal presentation arriving at the end

A nice friendly marshal was making sure we all stopped at the bottom of the descent, and didn’t end up playing with the traffic on the A371 (which is the main road from Cheddar to Wells).  Once crossed, the down continues, as did the eejot…who kept stopping and waiting for some reason, and then flying past us inconveniently…  Anyway moving on, we moved on.  On across the distinctly warmer Levels, which are, unsurprisingly flat.  And familiar.  And fast.  And fairly fun, now that I was a bit more awake.  On to Wedmore, dodging roadworks and traffic.  It’s always a bit interesting going through the town, with parked cars, and shoppers, and so forth.  But once out the other side, after a fast flying bit, with some peloton larks, we reached the second food stop at Hugh Sexey’s school.  And if you were disappointed by the first stop, this one is always more than worth waiting for.  There was an amazing range of cakes, as ever, at £2 for a slice + tea/coffee/squash.  There was even gluten free cake!  And outside there were bacon rolls and the like, which I gather were very lovely.  Even I had cake!  Well, I figured the woozy needed feeding to make it go away.  And if that didn’t work, a couple more shots of that free Truestart coffee should do the job 😉  Plenty of time and space to hang out, chill out, eat, drink, and get it together again.

Clayton and I Darren in charge

So.  20 miles to go.  No big hills.  Sun coming out.  There’s only one way to do that, right?  Yep – time to sprint for the finish, in juvenile racing stylee.  Aided and abetted by the SAS team.  No, not that SASthis one…but they were still quite fast!  Fast enough to tag on the back of as we headed out again, towards Mark.  We were kinda hoping that saw us set for the rest of the ride but no such luck, someone lost their bottle.  Sorry, a bottle.  And they all stopped to salvage it and regroup so we had to carry on regardless.  Thanks to long term road works on the Mark Causeway, even the traditional route had a little detour today.  It may have added the odd mile, but it took us around some of the nice flat quiet straight country lanes around here and, was to my mind, an improvement on the usual head down into the wind slog of previous years!  Mind you…there was still a headwind!

We pushed on, trying to keep the speed up, with the odd glance behind to see if the team had caught us yet…  All that racing along in ever improving weather meant I was getting pretty hot now – how novel is that?  Before long we were back onto the usual route and the joys of Highbridge and Burnham on Sea.  Town roads and traffic – not all that appealing, even in the sunshine.  As we waiting at the traffic lights to turn right and along the Burnham sea front, we were rejoined by the SAS team (far far later than expected!), and a fair few others, which meant negotiating the sea front was a bit tricky, as it gets busy, and ‘they’ really don’t seem to like cyclists much around there…  Well, sunshine brings out the tourist…and the sun was out, and so were they.  Lots of us and lots of them was not a great combo.

queuing for yummy food massage crew

The less than fun continued out the other side and northwards until finally, at Berrow, we got to turn off the main road and stop playing with traffic.  I managed to jump onto the SAS band wagon as they set off, but Alan wasn’t so lucky.  I couldn’t bring myself to drop off the back though, and I figured life would bring us back together soon enough.  I do SO love fast group riding, especially when I’m on form enough to hold my own, if not sit on the front .  As we went on, even that group started to fragment a bit – with a faster few heading off and a few off us dropping back – not by much but with an ever growing gap.  I still had enough wheels to chase though.  The wiggles towards Lympsham can be fun, but are less so sometimes…as the SAS guy who was currently with me accidentally overcooked it on a corner, lost his back wheel on some gravel and ended up on’t wrong side of the road, and in the oncoming traffic…  Luckily the only injury was to his pride, and the drivers’ blood pressures…they were less than impressed.  That was close…!

chilling out post ride Alan

Onwards, still in one piece, we started chatting for a bit as, as it happens, he’s one of my readers, and really hadn’t wanted me to see that!  Hi there… 😉  Hey, at least I’m not embarrassing you by name, right?  As we were chatting, Alan came from behind and blasted off into the distance.  Since my current companion needed to rejoin his mates, I left him to it and hurtled off after Alan.  And if it hadn’t been for the pesky junction with the A370 I’d have caught him too!  As it was I was left just racing the clock to get to the Finish as fast as possible.  Up the main road drag, left and through Uphill, out t’otherside, to hurtle along the Weston Super Mare seafront, and, to the sound of cowbells and applause, pull up on to the lawns and go under the Finish arch.  Man I love riding fast!  The sun was shining, I was probably grinning like a loon, and my 7th Great Weston Ride was done.

medals for all

I collected my medal and food token and a much needed bottle of water, and bumped into Darren just the other side, who was waiting to welcome people in and also keep an eye on everything I expect.  We chatted for a bit, and I passed on some feedback, and he made the photographer take my photo too, which I doubt was a good look – what with the whole hot and sweaty thing!  I took my leave, before finding Alan unsurprisingly somewhere near the bar, having already collected his burger.  Just as well he had…the queues later were impressive and probably a tad annoying…  He headed to the bar for the pair of us in gentlemanly fashion and I put the bike and me down on the grass, to chill out in the sunshine for a while.  I’m glad the whole ride wasn’t in weather like what we now had, but for us it had worked out perfectly.  Reasonable to ride in, then lovely to relax in 🙂

We hung out for a bit, debriefing as you do, and then Matt arrived to join us, eat my free burger (never likely to agree with me, but best not wasted), hang out for while, and then take me home. Yes, I had a lift home.  I know, I know.  Ok so it’s traditional to also ride home afterwards but hey…some traditions have to be broken…especially if you’re me.  I’m trying not to push my boundaries too far, and pace myself (see, I did listen to what of the clinical pain psychologist said).  So rather than risking falling asleep on the bike, to minimise post-ride consequences, and with Matt around for the weekend, I’d decided weeks ago that that part of tradition at least would have to bite the dust.  And with no Clayton now, and Alan only having a couple of miles to go back to Lympsham, I’d have been doing it on my own anyway.  So….after a couple of pints of lager, chatting & laughing in the sun, my bike and I were in the van and we were heading for home.  I pretty much had an absolute blast 🙂  See you next year Darren?

Cycling time: 3:38
Distance: 56.6 miles
Avs: 15.5 mph

post ride refreshment Me at the Finish

Bike Bath 2016

Getting up early for sportives is a lot easier in what we amusingly call the “summer”.  It may not be hot and balmy, but the sun is up early, and when the alarm goes off, at least it’s not pitch black out there.  This time around my alarm was set for 5:45, but thanks to the (sadly necessary) morphine itch, I woke myself up at 5:20.  Being woken up (sort of) naturally still seemed better than being ripped untimely from the womb of sleep, even if I was born by c-section so should be used to it by now 😉

My usual porridge didn’t appeal, what with it being unusually seasonal out there.  The sunshine implied that maybe a granola bar and coffee would be better, so I went with that.  As I checked the laptop for the weather, whilst consuming the same,  it looked like the forecast was for more of the same!  Dragons to slay, and sunshine to do it in, how cool is that?

HQ for Bike Bath is at Bath Recreation Ground.  Having done it last year I kinda knew the drill – but only kinda, more of which later.  What I did know is that Bath being as it is, all cultural and busy and so forth, the best way to do it, as recommended by the organisers is to head to the Newbridge Park & Ride and take it from there.  So I did.  It’s less than an hour away from me, and it was a very pleasant cross country drive in the sunshine with loud music.  Result, if you’re me 😉  Which got me to the park & ride on schedule.  As an additional bonus, parking is free, as you only pay if you ride.  By which I mean ride the bus, not the bike.  I guess we were all taking Park & Ride a little bit more literally than most! 😉  And there was an ‘us’ – there were a fair few of us doing the same.  Somewhat amusingly the entrance gate to the car park has a height restriction barrier though, so anyone with their bikes on top of their cars couldn’t get in…not ideal I imagine, and considerably less amusing for those it applied to!

Park & Ride entrance signs to HQ

As ever I wasn’t entirely sure what to wear.  It almost looked like you could set off in basic summer kit & base layer and call it quits for the day.  It actually felt pretty warm, by current standards.  Blimey!  But forecasts are frequently less accurate than you’d like, and I have a tendency to get cold so….I decided to add the gilet and arm warmers.  Well, I knew I had space to stash them if I needed to, so it didn’t matter if I had to.  Before I set off I decided to head to the toilets, as you do, which for 20p will even lock behind you.  However for some reason the toilets were alarming 😉  As in there was a very large alarm sounding from the building and 20p pushed through the slot wasn’t stopping that, or locking the door.  I decided to risk it…and luckily all was well…  Which made it time to head for HQ and leave the car park.  This year there was a very clearly signposted route to HQ – black arrows on yellow background – so I managed not to get lost, even if some of the route was a little bit hairy when it came to traffic junctions and so forth.  It was also further than I remember…3.5 miles in about 15 mins.

registration queues Bath Rec

So I’d arrived, on a sunny recreation field.  I parked my bike up on one of the racks and headed for registration in the main tent.  I queued, briefly, at the relevant place for my surname, and then signed my name/life away as usual.  The friendly man behind the desk stuck my timing chip on my helmet, thus saving me from having to take it off and do it myself.  It’s not hard to figure out where to put it anyway, there’s a sticky strip on the LHS there that has clearly been used many, many times!  I was also given my bike number and two short skinny cable ties, which, when I’d found my way back to my bike, made fitting the number to my handlebars really tricky.  And getting to use the toilets was kinda tricky too, what with there only being 4 of them for what was, apparently, around 1000 cyclists on the day.  I was lucky, the queue was relatively short when I made it up there.  Last seen it was growing rapidly….

rider briefing toilet queues

All that done, actually starting was easy.  I headed towards the start line, where groups had been being let go for quite a while.  Long (80 mile) route riders were being given preference, as the short (50 mile) route were supposed to start later.  So I joined a very small group of similar riders, and after a very short & concise briefing, which given the extensive pre-ride instructions was all that was needed, I was on my way at 8:09 am.

long first climb time to climb out of Bath

Now if you’d paid attention to those pre-ride instructions, which I hadn’t until a couple of days beforehand, you’d know that the route for Bike Bath can vary each year.  I did it last year, when the route went through the (oddly exciting) Two Tunnels and around the Mendips.  Which I’d mentally sort of been expecting again – I wasn’t that keen to cycle around my own patch again, but was sort of keen to do the less familiar bits again.  All of which became academic when I discovered the route had changed completely!  See you, told you I didn’t entirely know the drill.  This time we would be heading South, East and around in a route that was to include Salisbury Plain and Lacock.  Well, novelty is good, right?  And to be honest, it didn’t really make any difference, since whatever the route was, I was going to be doing it anyway, right?

pub bunting hill selfie

Off I go then.  Somewhat rudely the first climb, and it was a long hard one at that, came all of a mile in. No fair!  However it was gradual and consistent and not too steep and the sun was shining and crawler gear cut in and hey, happy me, even if I hadn’t warmed up yet 🙂  It did feel like kinda hard work though, even by my standards.  And after a lovely descent, and halfway up the next fairly similar up all of a couple of miles later, the bike was making a funny noise.  Like something was rubbing a bit maybe, maybe I’d picked up a stick, leaf, whatever…  So I carried on to the top of the hill and on for a little while further until there was somewhere appropriate to stop where I could check it out.  No leaves but, as it turns out, the whole back brake setup had moved so that it was off kilter and the left rear brake was permanently on, whether it was supposed to be or not.  Not massively helpful.  So I straightened things up and set off again, checking from time to time that nothing had re-shifted, and trying to not to veer all over the road as I did so.

long road ahead castle or gatehouse

Luckily I was never going to get lost, not even looking down half the time.  The signage today was the best I’ve seen in a long time – with signs before a junction, on the junction, and afterwards, and also reminders en route.  Which was good, because even with 1000 or so riders taking part over the three routes available, I was riding on my own, and it pretty much stayed that way all day.  It was nice out there though.  The gilet went away fairly soon, after both the morning and I had warmed up a bit.  And it was lovely.  Sunny, blue skies, white clouds, though it was a bit breezy, but when isn’t it?  Lots of greenery, pretty villages, posh properties to gawp at, views…as we headed south towards Frome, and then out and around Longleat forest.  There were ups and downs but nothing too drastic, but by after around 20 miles the route turned East, and went properly up again…up Forest Road to Round Hill according to Strava.

first food stop marvellous mechanics

The first food stop was at Sutton Veny, around 28 miles in.  The second was past West Lavington more around the 50 mile mark I think.  Both were at village halls, hence with decent facilities, space to hang out, and they also had a really good range of food & drink.  Cawston Press juices, flapjacks, bananas, jelly beans, bars, something involving beetroot, and even cheese & pickles at the second one!  Being a little less than at my best, lousy at eating generally, and with a tendency for my meds to wooze me out, both times I opted for the Scheckter’s Organic Energy drink on the basis that that way I was less likely to fall asleep on the bike.  Turns out it was pretty tasty too – I may have to find some of that for future use!  Even better, a very friendly helpful mechanic at the first food stop obligingly tightened up the back brake set up for me so I could stop checking it out all the time and go back to checking out the road ahead instead.

second food stop with cheese second food stop crowds

Which, both in between the food stops, and afterwards, was pretty much new to me.  And I liked it.  The middle section was flatter than the first third.  I enjoyed the stretch over Salisbury Plain a great deal – lots of lovely long rolling quiet roads, and wide open landscape.  However for all that the (novel) signs repeatedly warned us, there were sadly no tanks to dodge, and there were no men in uniform either…*sulk* 😉

Salisbury Plain Lacock

After the second food stop came more of the same, including Lacock, cute vintage cars, beautiful bridges, and assorted pretty villages.  Sadly we sort of went through the edge of Lacock rather than through the main picture perfect chocolate box bit…  In amongst all this eye candy there were a couple more long draggy climbs as well, and the inevitable somewhat annoying wind. But I can do climbs like that and I knew it wasn’t far to go, as these things go, to get back to Bath.  Besides, ups come with downs, and some of them were great!  There was one last minute, or is that last mile, proper kicker just before we got back, which was tough on tiring legs.  And then all the pretty that is Bath hove into sight once more, and I was back negotiating the busier roads of the city and heading back to HQ.

vintage car pretty bridge

So.  Bike Bath done.  I rolled over the finish line with a complete lack of ceremony.  There were a couple of people around but little by way of a welcome committee.  I wasn’t quite sure what to do next.  I figured out where I could print out my time, to the left of the finish, but that turned out to be temporarily out of order.  I politely accosted a lad with a medal who was passing me to ask where we went to get those – which was apparently in the tent.  As the place was full of people sitting around in the sun and enjoying themselves, the bike racks were pretty full, so I dumped my bike (carefully) on the grass, before heading for the tent.  Not only did I get my medal, but there was also a range of FREE baguette sandwiches available.  Now bread isn’t really my thing, but I figured posh ham, salad and tomato could be removed from its gluteny grasp easily enough – and I did need some food.  I also figured that it would be rude not to have a pint of Bath Ales, at £2 a pint, to wash it down with, right?  I don’t usually but…it had been a good ride, the sun was shining, and I didn’t have anywhere particular to be particularly soon.  So I spent some time being busy doing nothing, watching the world go by, and topping up my silly tan line marks.  Eventually I was even able to print my time out.  Sitting there and unintentionally eavesdropping on those around me debriefing, it would appear that quite a lot of people had found it quite a challenge…and I was a bit bemused because I really hadn’t, I’d just had a nice Sunday ride in the sun!

riders relaxing afterwards post ride refreshment

Cycling time: 5:00
Official time: 5:28
Distance: 79.3 miles
Avs: 15.9 mph

I couldn’t stay there all day though.  Not and drive home afterwards anyway…!  It was time to head back to the car, which was harder than you’d think since there seemed to be no signage for the return route, and I hadn’t paid quite enough attention on the way in because I’d been relying on the signs…  Inevitably I got mildly lost, but I managed to get myself back to the park ‘n ride without too much delay.  Where the toilets were still alarmed…. 😉  It took no time at all to load the car up again, and head home to chill out with my mob.  All in all, a pretty good Sunday 🙂

Time print out Bike Bath 2016 Medal

Tour of Cambridgeshire 2016

I’m a sucker for closed road cycling events.  They are however fairly few and far between in the UK, so I don’t get the chance very often.  So when the stars aligned and I got the chance to do the Tour of Cambridgeshire Gran Fondo, I was definitely up for it. Mind you, it wasn’t just the closed roads that had me hooked;  I’ve cycled around Cambridgeshire a little bit before, and I know that it’s pretty flat around there.  Just because I’ve decided I like hills and they’re going well doesn’t mean I didn’t find the idea of hurtling around on the flat for a few hours appealing 😉

Cambridgeshire is not next door.  Peterborough Arena & Showground, where the event is based, is a good 3+ hours drive from chez moi.  Since long drives and I don’t get on all that well, the sensible thing to do was book a hotel for the night before, and take my time getting there.  Which made the whole pre-sportive thing pretty relaxing.  Which was just as well, as I wasn’t having the greatest day health-wise.  So…  Have lie in.  Get up.  Sort kit, clothes, etc.  Load up car.  Leave.  Thanks to roadworks near Birmingham, various traffic issues, and the need to take a break because driving was making the pain worse, the whole trip took me around 4.5 hours instead…but since I wasn’t really under time pressure, I could at least remain fairly relaxed about that.

Home for the night was the Peterborough Marriott Hotel.  Which is also where I had to go to collect my Press Accreditation pack.  Did I forget to mention I got to be proper VIP Press for this one?  Yep.  I did.  How cool is that?!  *grin*.  My elevated status would apparently entitle me to free VIP parking on site, and also access to the Club Kermesse building, with drinks and food, throughout the event.  Which sounded pretty cool to me.  I am SO easily pleased sometimes :D.

It’s a pretty big hotel, and as I arrived, the car park was crawling with a great many cyclists unloading cars, and kit, and by the looks of it, taking their babies into sleep with them.  There wasn’t much space in the car park but there’s always someone who’s parked badly and left a space that’s tricky for most cars to get into.  Not my car though, my diddy i10 can always get in there, and today was no exception.  ‘Rah!  So I parked up right near the entrance and made my way through lots of very expensive carbon to check in.  I didn’t really have time to hang around though.  Registration, having been open all day, closed at 7pm, and it now being around 6pm, I needed to get on getting on.  So I checked in, collected my press pack, and located my room.  Which was nearly as far from reception as you can get…quite a trek!  No time to check out the room much though – other than to note it was large and looked nice.  I dumped most of my stuff on the bed, before opening my pack, getting my car window sticker and my little VIP wrist band, and heading back to the car.  I could have ridden directly over to registration, as many others had/were, but that would have involved too much faffing.  Getting there by car may have been more circuitous…but it was quicker!  A few roundabouts later, and a lap around the inner showground road, and I was in the official car park on the other side.  The marshals were very keen to point me to park with everyone else, but my little blue window sticker meant that, once they’d figured it out, I was sent off to park right by the main entrance.  Very cool :).  They were also very keen that I park neatly and make a row…which was amusing, considering I was the only one parked there!

VIP parking for registration registration

The whole place had obviously been much busier earlier, but by now it had an air of ghost town about it.  There certainly weren’t queues for anything.  I followed the signs to registration through various bits of building before arriving in the somewhat cavernous room where what I needed was.  With tables all set out in number order, I figured out which one included 7083, having been informed of my number by a prior email, and one of two surprisingly cheery gents dug out my entry envelope.  Well if I’d been stood there all day, I doubt I’d have still been cheery!  And that was that.  Job done.  Mind you I was marginally irritated that no-one had asked me for the photo id that the pre-event instructions had made very clear would be required.  I hate lugging my passport around – especially when they cost c.£75 to replace – and I still have a paper driving license (which is still legal, I’ve checked).

site map Club Kermesse

I didn’t really know what to do with myself next.  With everything winding down for the day there wasn’t much to do.  I looked at the map to familiarise myself with the site layout a bit, and wandered around a tad aimlessly in the sunshine.  The Club Kermesse building was in the middle but looked pretty vacant, so I didn’t bother check that out more closely.  I didn’t fancy an ice-cream, or any of the other food that was still on offer.  The event village was, like everything else, visibly closing down.  Talking of which, it was also sort of set off to one side and a little out of the way, which actually meant that I never got around to visiting it, since it was never on my way anywhere, and I’d have had to make a deliberate effort to go and look at things that I wasn’t going to buy so…  I wonder if that happened a lot, and if that location really worked for the various stall holders etc?rider pack

Enough musing about that though.  Time to stop being aimless and head back to the hotel.  Back to the hotel and back to the same car parking space, since no-one else had managed to get into it in my absence.  Tee hee hee 🙂  Unlike everyone else, by the looks of it, I decided to leave my bike in the car.  For starters, I figured if you were going to nick a bike that mine, compared to all the others, would be relatively safe.  I also couldn’t be arsed to put it back together, wheel it all the way to my room in Outer Mongolia, only to repeat the trip the next day.  A lot of folk were probably going to ride to the start in the morning, so it probably made more sense for them.  However with the luxury of my VIP parking, and the need to drive home again straight after the event, it made more sense for me to drive over.  So the bike was staying put and, although there was a buffet dinner available that evening for VIPs and staff, it was at the golf course down the road and I didn’t fancy driving, so I was staying put too.

lager VIP

My evening passed pleasantly enough…I drank the odd pint of Stella, at a fairly reasonable £4.50 a pint, passed on paying £9.50 (!!!) for the large glass of Sauvignon Blanc I might like to have had instead, was squeezed into the restaurant by the very helpful Maitre d’ for what turned out to be rather nice food, and spent a lot of time hanging out with my Kindle.  The place was heaving, but I didn’t end up in company though there was the odd chat here and there at the bar etc.  Including with one rather nice couple who I then bumped into several times over the weekend as you do.  Such conversations tend to go much the same way.  “are you doing the event, have you done it before, are you ready, which route/entry are you, have you been riding long…” always followed by the “so have you done many sportives then?” question.  Ah…  Well…  That’s always a good one *grin*.  I usually go with the, “I’ve done a few…” type of response and dissemble madly. Explaining the who/why of me being there tends to follow, and then I have to explain that just because I do a “fair few” that doesn’t mean I’m any good at them, which doesn’t seem to stop folk getting a wildly inaccurate idea of what kind of cyclist I am!

Enough of all this frivolity. Time to head to bed.  No need to get an early night though.  Because this event is a bit weird.  I have to admit to not paying too much attention to the instructions beforehand.  I figure I know how sportives work.  I knew I had to get up there, ride a bike at some point, and then get back.  So when I finally read through the Race Book and discovered that whichever category of rider you were, nothing was kicking off until midday…I was kinda surprised…!   And to be honest, mildly annoyed…  I could have driven up that morning, right?  Although yeah, that wouldn’t have been that wise, what with the ride a lot and drive straight back thing, but still…  Anyway.  Bed.  At which point my phone reminded me that I should be putting a new patch on.  Which would be great if I’d remembered to bring one with me…  Oh marvellous. I can be such an eejot sometimes…

So, even with breakfast served until 11, in amazingly considerate style, I still got up at 8am.  Well  a long lasting disagreement with dinner, early withdrawal, pain levels, and the usual wake up every hour and check the time thing that my brain does before sportives, it wasn’t the most restful night.  Oh, and the mattress was a bit too soft… 😉  I’d decided to have breakfast at the hotel, which I booked the night before, not when I booked – having presumed I’d be up too early to have hotel breakfast – that’s usually the case right?  I made my way, half kitted up, to join all the others milling around downstairs.  Breakfast was busy, so I had to wait until my room number was called before I could take my place at the trough 😉  Thermos jugs of Starbucks coffee, and all the usual breakfast stuff, including omelettes make in front of you…  I settled for coffee, fruit juice, and muesli with added dried fruit.  Not that exciting, but since me and my insides had only recently resumed being on speaking terms, I figured that was best.  Cycling food is mostly all about the fodder not the fun.

Time to kill then.  Boring….!  I read a bit.  Faffed into the right kit.  Pinned my number on my jersey.  Watched inane TV.  Watched the bunny rabbits outside my window actually enjoying their breakfast.  Eventually the time had come to stop waiting at the hotel and go and do waiting somewhere else.  Back into the car, back to the show ground, and back to my very fabulous VIP parking.  Which even had a couple of small rows of other cars in it this time around.  I was still all of c.10 cars from the entrance though 😉  And I was still early.  Time to faff then, sat in the sunshine, watching the cycling world go by.  My front tyre had had a very very slow puncture for a couple of weeks and was a little on the flat side.  Rather than pump it up again I decided I might as well change the inner tube instead.  So I did.  Hey, so it took me a while, but it’s not like I was in a rush, and it helped me figure out what the temperature outside was like.  Sunny, warm out of the wind, but chilly when in the wind.  So once the bike was fixed and reassembled, I decided that what I was wearing – summer kit, with my new s/s base layer – and a gilet in the saddle bag would do.  Easy peasy.  All I had to do was attach my number/chip to the handlebars and that was that.  No more faffing to do.

pre-ride fueling inside Club Kermesse

I took my bike and myself through the gates, into the racecourse, and straight to Club Kermesse.  Which was working today.  Various cyclists were inside, or on the terrace outside, with their bikes likewise.  I leant mine against a wall, and helped myself to a cup of instant coffee.  Better than no coffee.  Actually scratch that…life is too short for bad coffee.  I’ll tell you what was good though – access to clean, empty, toilets.  Probably something the hoi polloi outside didn’t have…though I have nothing to base that statement on 😉  For a while I was on my own, sort of people watching, and people spotting, and at some point Patrick, who’d been the one to sort my entry & pass out before the event, came over for a chat.

I’m sure there were people there who I should have recognised.  You sees “the ToC Gran Fondo is a mass participation cycle sport event. It is also the 2016 UK qualifier for the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships“.  And there are four different streams to this event.  One of which is actual, proper, RACE.  Which is for “those riders holding a current full racing license and intending to race to win their Masters Age / Gender Classification and / or to qualify for the 2016 UCI Gran Fondo World Championships“.  So – you know – proper cyclists then 😉  One of them, number 624, Allan Beckett, maybe this one, even chatted to me for a while, which made a nice change from being sat on my own wondering what to do next.  Another 682, was Hannah Reynolds, maybe this one.

moaning about the queue on Facebook the Start is in sight

Outside, in the sunshine, with well over an hour to go before midday, cyclists were already queuing in their various pens.  Four groups, like I said before – being Race, Sport, Gran Fondo & Leisure, all to be set off in that order.  Generally speaking I like to be as near the front of my pen as possible, but it was already too late for that.  So I hung around a bit longer.  Well, I was inside, out of the wind, with VIP toilets remember?  But eventually my anxiety over being too far back won me over and I decided I had to go and join my queue which, conveniently, wasn’t that far away from the Club either.  So I joined.  And I queued.  Which basically, as queueing does, involved standing in one place killing time for an hour.  Fun.  Not.  And although it was sunny, that wind was chilly.  So I dug out the gilet, and passed the time listening to and watching other riders, admiring/laughing at various kit, and you know…twiddling my thumbs.  There was music playing, and speakers, and helicopters, and I think nearer the front there was probably more of a sense of atmosphere.  We were just a bunch of riders stood in a very long queue…

finally under way closed road

As advertised, things kicked off, a long long way away from us, at midday.  Pen by pen riders were slowly let go, and eventually our lot were doing that shuffling, stop/start, half riding half walking thing.  And I was over the start line at 12:36, if I recall correctly.  Man it was a relief to get all that waiting over and done with!

flat out there

Now, right now you’re thinking that you’ve already read 2600+ words just to get to this point.  And you’re thinking, bl**dy hell, if she’s going to write the whole ride like this, this is going to take forever, and OMG…or similar, quite probably less polite…  Well you’ll be relieved to know it’s not going to be like that, because I can’t write about this ride like your normal sportive.  It was different.  And not just because the roads were closed.

I got off to a good start.  Closed roads means no obstacles.  No stopping.  There were a few pinch points on narrow lanes early on which slowed everyone down, and a couple of accidents (possibly caused by those) that did the same.  Marshals carefully managed everyone past while the injured were being dealt with.  Everyone was pushing on, to get away from the crowds, to get going, to get warmed up.  There were a few ups early on that around there they probably call hills.  Which I call ups.  Or maybe drags.  I even pushed up those, though my insides made it quite clear that I had better not be going to do that all day.  And I didn’t have to because the ups kind of went away.

brief stop with riders passing by bit draggy

The whole ride sort of shrank down to just me, the bike, the road and riders around me.  You can’t look at the scenery too much when you’re having to be so aware of everything.  Which group to jump on to, which peloton to avoid as they push past you, which route to take through the slower pack ahead of you.  Which side of the road to be on, looking out for potholes to avoid, road furniture to go around.  You can’t get lost – there’s just one route to follow – and time just seems to pass faster than usual.  And I guess I was faster than usual too.  I may not be great at  hills, although I’m definitely getting better…but I can bomb around on the flat all day.  At the end of the first hour my average speed was 20.1mph.  And I was going well.  Really well.

riders on the bridge riders below two ways on the runway

So it was like a 4.5 hour sprint.  This time it actually was a race 😉  Which is not how my sportives are normally…*engage understatement mode*…!  Sometimes I was behind a group.  Or in a group.  Or on my own.  Or I’d think I was  and then I’d turn around and discover I wasn’t on my own, and had acquired a peloton.  And they’d either stay there, or having finished hitching a ride would go do their own thing, or I’d get bored of them being there and drop them, just kinda for fun.  Occasionally I hitched a ride just to get a bit of a break, but then I’d get bored with going slower than I wanted to, and push on again.  The sun shone.  There were no hills.  Because I wasn’t pushing up anything, my insides calmed down.  There was inevitably wind, especially towards the end, a strong head wind which made things harder work for quite a while.  Flat is fun, but out there among the waterways and fens and fields, there was nowhere to hide…

wind farm  windy waterways

On the practical side, there were three food stops.  One on the scary big loop on the airfield which was chaotic, and so I just cycled through it.  I didn’t enjoy all the concrete with cracks and joins in there either, which could easily have tram lined my wheel…and I’m a bit averse to that happening.  There was another food stop half way around where I did stop, queued my way in, only to discover that the locusts had descended and there wasn’t much left.  One friendly elderly gent was holding out a rubbish bag at the entrance as we filtered past in four or so queues, which was a good idea.  I managed to grab a chunk of orange, found the mountain of water bottles amidst the mess outside and filled up my bottle, bailed on the queue for the loos and headed off again.  And I skipped the third food stop because I didn’t need it, and I didn’t fancy more chaos, and why stop when going feels so good?  The best refreshment all day?  The ice-pop that I was given by a spectator as I left the second food stop – held out for me to grab as I went along – which was very lovely 🙂

food stop fodder need water

And there was a lot of that.  By which I mean support en route. Loads of people everywhere cheering, clapping, waving.  Probably because there are worse things to do than sit outside your house in the sunshine, drink wine and beer, have a picnic, and watch lots of lycra clad loons hurtle past.  I waved back at people, smiled a lot, and clapped hands with the odd child as I went by, before realised that hitting hands at 20 mph hurts a bit! 😉

outrider middle of the road

I had a lot of fun.  I really did.  I even picked up the odd more constant companion from time to time, for taking turns, and chatting.  Though I did tend to leave them behind eventually as they flagged and I didn’t..*grin*.  Nearer the end there were narrower lanes again, and a few more drags and I pushed up them best I could and only started to feel a little slower very near the end, when one of my fans rejoined me.  It’s odd how keen people are to tell you how good you are at riding when you’re a girl…cos, like, you’re doing the same ride as me with me so how does that make me any better than you?  Still…I had dropped him on the drags so… 😉

nearly there Here comes the Finish

And sort of before you knew it, and almost sadly, the race was over, and we were back at the showground and then rolling under the Finish Timing Arch, which showed that it was 5:07 since the event had first kicked off.  Tour of Cambridgeshire done.  I joined the walking peloton, was presented with my medal and a bottle of water, and made the long cleat destroying walk all the way back to the centre of the venue.  I decided to nip into the Club again, partially because Patrick had said to look him up when I got in.  I couldn’t find him, but I could park up, use the toilets again, have some more water, and chill briefly.  A text to my phone informed me that my official time was 4:26 which was a nice touch, and also quite cool.  I couldn’t hang around long though, because I had a 3.5 hour drive ahead of me.

Tour of Cambridgeshire medal

I walked back to the car, through lots of riders sitting around in the sun and taking advantage of the ice-cream van.  It all felt a bit anti-climatic somehow. though?  There didn’t seem to be any focused place to be, or anything going on.  Not that it mattered, as it was time to get changed, load up, and head off then.  And finally, after a nice easy drive, sometime around 9:45pm I was back home.

The official results took a while to come out, as I gather there were some issues with the official Race, and pens, and things beyond my ken.  As it turns out I was 37th in my class of 118 40-45Fs, and I qualified for the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships!  Sadly they’re in Perth (yes that one) in September, so I think I may have to give them a miss…

Cycling time: 4:20
Official time: 4:26
Distance: 83.9 miles
Avs: 19.3 mph

So…was it all worth it?  Hm…  Entry costs £68.  If you don’t get into the car park early enough on the Sunday, it’ll cost you an extra £10 from 8-10am and £20 from 10-11:30.  Which basically means you have to get there early and then hang around for hours.  I know this is to avoid the traffic flow problems from the year before but that’s really not ideal.  I saw a lot of accidents out there.  Some of which looked really nasty.  There was even one rider being treated the other side of the Finish line.  Was it too hot for some?  Too many riders on narrow roads at times?  Riders not used to riding in groups?  I don’t know – but at least there was a lot of support on route – outriders, and medics – and they seemed to be dealing with it all very professionally.  Bits of the organisation worked, bits didn’t.  And the food stops were chaos.

But closed roads are amazing.  The marshals were all great.  The weather was amazing.  Just warm enough for me.  The route is easy, and also scenic if you have time to look around.  The pain gods were mostly off beating someone else up for a change.  And all in all I had an absolute blast.  I mean come on, have you seen my average speed???!!! *grin*.  So…I think on balance…it was worth it…but the jury may still be out on that one.  The organisers seem really good at taking constructive criticism and moving forward, and it’s only their 2nd year running it.  Maybe I should do it next year too and see what improvements they’ve made, because I know they will 🙂

Black Rat 2016

Another weekend.  Another sportive.  And, amazingly, another one in company!  Which makes it Sunday, the Black Rat, and Guy & Gary.

I’d not had a great week.  Various sh*t had hit various fans.  I’m on a new drug, along with the others, making for a different cocktail.  And my usual weekend pre-sportive prep routine went to hell in a hand basket.  But I was pretty cheerful when Guy picked me up around 7:00am on what was a fairly sunny morning.  I was less au fait with the weather forecast than usual.  Thanks to some serious incompetence on BT’s behalf I was devoid of broadband, and had been for days.  (it’s back now – clearly – took 6 days though!).  What I had gathered led me to believe it was going to be fairly mild, somewhat cloudy, with a chance of meatballs later.  Well, a chance of rain anyway 😉  After last week’s failure to be warm, I really didn’t want to make the same mistake again – and though my kit choice may have been similar, it most definitely included leg warmers this time!  Leg warmers, toe covers, shorts, s/s base layer, heavyish s/s jersey, Cyclosport arm warmers & gilet, neck collar, head tube, and waterproof for the saddle bag.  I had a few other options with me too, so as to have something to debate, fret about, and faff with later though 😉

It only took half an hour to get to HQ at Clifton Rugby Club which, obviously, is NOT in Clifton…because that would be far too simple.  It’s actually at Cribbs Causeway.  With a nifty little detour to get around the one way street that stops getting there being too simple too.  Being early we were, of course,  marshalled to park nearly as far away from the club building as possible, and also on the grass.  Which I remember from last year’s event – when my feet were wet before I even set off.  But today the sun was still shining, and it’s not exactly a long walk, so, with Gaz having arrived ahead of us, off we all walked to register.

01 Registration 03 milling around

Which wasn’t massively well organised.  The signs for which queue you should be in were a bit high up if you weren’t paying attention…and when you did figure out where you should be, there weren’t enough members of staff to deal with everyone, so the short queues were growing.  Not that it took long to be dealt with when you did get there though.  So…find the queue for the Granfondo – that being what I was signed up for.  Quote my number, 113 as it happens, be given a laminated number including timing chip for the handlebars and two cable ties, a bit of spiel as to where tea/coffee were, and job done.  Time to nip to the toilet, where there were once again queues, even for the Ladies, which however in this case was a good sign – it’s always nice to see more women at an event.

04 start line 05 Jeremy briefing

On the way back to the car, carrying my free cup of coffee, we bumped into organiser Jeremy, who recognised me, and we had a brief chat, which was nice.  OK, so maybe the Cyclosport kit gave me away…;)  Enough with the chatting though, time to put bikes together and debate layerage.  I was already kitted out, and nothing out there was making me decide to change.  It was sunny, but a little fresh, and, as previously stated, there was no way my leg warmers were coming off, even if I had to throw them away half way around if I couldn’t find anyway to stow them away!  Visual checks around the car park for comparative reassurance came up short, as many were in shorts.  Guy eventually decided to stick to the just shorts option and, all ready, we all headed back to HQ to mill around in the sunshine, queue for the toilets again, and take the usual photos.  It felt pretty warm just standing there, but it was too late for changing now!

06 Gaz Garmin checking 07 Guy taking it seriously

Today’s plan was to do the Granfondo, which entitled us to be in the first group away at 8:20am or so.  There was no grand announcement, and no-one seemed to know quite what to do, so we just sort of queued, and shuffled, until the point where there was some sort of concerted movement in the right direction.  Then there was Jeremy, mic in hand, officially asking us all to move forward.  So we did, which brought us right up near the front, where we listened to the usual rider briefing before being sent on our way.

08 out in the countryside 09 i spy a bridge

This initially sent us up the main road for a little bit, which felt quite busy and industrial estatey.  And then we turned left and suddenly it was all countryside.  Narrow country lanes, the odd bit of rolling, but pretty flat and rather nice really.  And it could have remained that way all the way to the Severn Bridge, but there was a gratuitous loop to do to get there instead.  This involved a short steepish up in Tockington, before going out to Alveston and back.  Well the up certainly warmed me up a bit!  I guess they were making sure the long route was properly 100 miles?  It was less bright now, clouding over a bit, but still not cold, and we were flying along most of the time.  My legs were feeling good, and we were chatting, and I had to remind me, and us, to rein it in a bit.  Hurtling off at the beginning of a sportive is never a good idea!

10 cycle path to bridge 11 bridge speed limit

We were also being nice, and polite.  Saying hello to those we passed, be they on two wheels or on two legs, or even four.  Some of the groups that passed us however…  Hello?  Morning?  Manners don’t cost anything you know!  I have to admit to the odd sarcastic remarks having passed our lips, in the directions of the posh pelotons passing us, determined to get ahead at all costs…even should that be at the cost of those they were passing!  Enough p’s for you? Cos I can think of at least one more…

12 waving at Wales 13 t'other bridge

Time for my favourite bit.  Crossing the Severn Bridge.  There were some interesting bits of cycle path to be negotiated at either end, and crossing the bridge itself involves quite few ramps, metal covers, and so forth – none of which are conducive to speed – so we were slowed down somewhat despite ourselves.  And we got separated by other riders too.  So, on my own briefly, I bimbled a bit, and took photos, looked out across the Severn to the other bridge, and generally enjoyed it as much as I always do 🙂  Well, apart from the fact that the weather over Wales was looking a tad ominous – I wasn’t enjoying the thought of what that might mean…

14 Chepstow traffic lights 15 Chepstow race course

Hello Wales!  Wales isn’t flat.  But I’ve ridden around this area a lot, not just on this event, and I know I like the climbs here.  The first of which comes from the bridge up to Chepstow, through what is essentially housing estate.  Lots of speed bumps, parked cars, road furniture…so no going fast, even if you could!  After negotiating the centre of Chepstow, complete with traffic lights to obey, and city gates to admire while you did so, we were out the other side, on an generally upwards trend, climbing up tree covered roads.  I realised I knew where I was.  Which was good as, amongst all the gradual climbing, with occasional downs, there’s a little kick up to the Racecourse which, being totally prepared for for a change, I nailed 🙂  Overall I was climbing well, and also enjoying it.  And after this long climb was finished, we got a long long flying downhill, down into the Wye Valley, which, again with the familiarity,  I set off to enjoy.  Given happy legs and this?   Bliss… 🙂  I hurtled my way off, leaving the guys behind, to have a blast.  All the way down to Tintern Abbey.  It’s easy to fly past it, which is a shame if it happens, but as I knew it was there I stopped to both take photos and wait for my compatriots.  It took a while for them to catch me, and when they did, also flying past, it took me a while, thanks to traffic and other descending riders, to get back on the road and catch up with them.  Partially because I was trying to make sure to enjoy myself while I did so – it is just so pretty around there 🙂

16 climing up 17 arriving at Tintern

I found the guys were waiting for me at the route split, and the long route option had us going straight on, not turning left, so as I approached Guy waved me on, and shortly we were three again, heading off into the Welsh blue yonder.  Well.  Not for long.  It turns out Gary wasn’t feeling the love today, and he thought he’d head back and take that turning after all.  B*gger.  I don’t like it when groups fall apart 🙁  Guy and I decided that we were still up for the long route though – after all, that’s what I’d set out to do, and he eats miles for breakfast.  So sadly there was a parting of the ways.  And just two of us carried on along the Wye Valley.

19 Wye Valley 21 green and wet

As we carried on, the weather slowly deteriorated yet further, and spots of rain started falling.  Just in time for the first really big climb of the day.  Which made deciding what to do about waterproofs tricky.  Stay dry or boil in the bag?  I love this climb, up to St Briavels.  Initially it’s long, and slow, and pretty, and I was really enjoying myself, even as the rain got heavier.  At some point Guy stopped, probably wisely, to put his waterproof on, which inevitably made the rain go away for a bit, and left me ahead of him.  Towards the end the climb gets much steeper but I even enjoyed that, and not just because lots of other people obviously weren’t enjoying it 😉  Having reached the top by pedalling, with hint of smug face, I took shelter under the large trees around the castle and church to wait for him, and take photos etc.  As it turns out, I’d probably have been better off waiting for him at the food stop which turned out to be just down the road!

25 St Briavels castle 26 riders making it to the top

The town hall being used had toilets, which was great, as I needed one.  There was High5 drink, and food, but that on offer, with the exception of some big pretzels, was all of the slightly limited sweet variety.  I topped up my bottle, ate a pretzel, and tried to get the water off my camera and sunglass lenses…  Not that I should have bothered, as not long after we set off again, the rain set off again too.

27 Guy in his waterproof 28 first food stop range

Which explains the lack of photos for quite a considerable while.  It rained.  It rained more.  It rained a lot.  It rained so much that you couldn’t get any wetter.  It was almost amusing?  Like, you’re throwing all this at me, but I’m not cold, I’m still pretty much flying along, I’m still loving the ups, I’m still (albeit more cautiously) enjoying the downs.  It’s just water, right?  I thumb my nose at thee, weather gods!  It wasn’t really conducive to much chatting though; overall everyone was a bit glum.  I did meet another rider, Paul Hunt, in luminous pink, at some point.  He spotted my Cyclosport kit and asked if I was the Jennifer whose blogs he reads.  Well, clearly I was/am, so we chatted for a little while as we rode through the rain, which was nice.  Hi Paul!  Even with the rain it was still oddly pretty out there.  All green, the smell of wild garlic, forests of many trees…  Guy and I played the elastic thing – getting separated and joining up again as the very wet miles continued.  I was soaked through but feeling ok, but Guy was rueing his decision to leave his leg warmers at home, and was really cold, so we didn’t do much stopping – just kept pushing on to keep warm.

24 welsh views

So there’s a patch in the middle of this ride that is one big wet blur…but at some point, after longer than anyone would have liked, and soaked to the skin and beyond, things started to improve a little.  I’d been recognising where I was on and off, and I’m sure I missed a castle that I usually see on the way, but there was a particular village and church that I seem to photograph every time I come this way so it seemed only fair I do so again.  And not long after that I realised that the wiggles and rolls had led us to a long climb that I also recognised.  I think I usually call it Lydford Hill, which today Strava calls the Monmouth – Trellech Climb.  Guy went on up, on his merry way, and I settled back to bimbling up in mine.  Slowly, steadily, happily, enjoying the views, taking photos, and generally just getting on with it.

29 traditional shot 30 the big climb ahead

It went on and on and on, splitting left by an old pub, with various chatting to riders from time to time, and I kept going up…and with my body happy doing it’s thing, my mind sort of wandered off in thought and………with an sudden shock I woke up and realised I’d actually fallen asleep on the bike.  Holy crap!!!  I’ve had the shock effect happen once before, driving home from a sportive, when I drifted off on the motorway and the rumble strip woke me up.  It’s like someone has thrown a bucket of cold water over you whilst simultaneously electrocuting you; waking you up, scaring you because you know you shouldn’t have fallen asleep, realising you’ve just had a very very lucky escape, and telling you that you need to be awake, and be awake NOW!  I know I’ve been woozy on the bike before, but I could have sworn you can’t fall asleep on a bike.  Well, you can.  I am very pleased I didn’t fall off!  Man, how weird is that?

31 smiley selfie 32 fabulous views behind

So, properly awake, and more than a little freaked out, I made it up the hill, where conveniently and usefully, Guy was waiting at the second food stop.  I was glad to stop, unsurprisingly, and boy did I ever feel weird.  Although the sun was now out, and I was drying out a bit, I was actually getting cold, which is weird considering I hadn’t actually felt cold even when riding through the deluge.  Something to do with evaporation apparently, as Guy was explaining to a fellow rider…though I had to get him to explain it to me again later when I was actually in a state to pay attention.  I was feeling all wobbly and dizzy and weird and Guy actually stopped me falling over at one point; my balance was completely off.

33 tree tunnels 34 second food stop

So I took myself off to sit on a wall in the sun on my own for a bit, ate odd honey wafer things, and took some time to get myself together.  The food station was running low on pretty much everything, as the guys behind the tables were chattering about amongst themselves, so there wasn’t going to be much left for anyone who came after us…  And I know we’re slow but we weren’t being that slow, so there were going to be a fair few of them.  In fact I’d actually been feeling really on form until the whole falling asleep thing!  Feeling somewhat more human, I popped into a portable toilet for the obvious before rejoining Guy.  I still wasn’t feeling right though, with mild nausea thrown in, and having not been in much pain up until now, I was now.  So I took some additional pills, and even though I was feeling like I could possibly do the next half, after chatting a while, we decided that it might just not be wise for me to push it, all things considered.  Guy knows his way around here, thanks to various previous events and being audax king ‘n all, and reckoned he knew some short cuts that would get us back sooner.  Sadly my first century of the year was going to have to wait…  Which made it time to get going again.  Not before, now that the rain had stopped, I put my waterproof on, to keep me warm.  I know, I’m perverse like that 😉

35 following Guy 36 finally blue skies

So we headed off, still following the route for the meantime.  It was getting drier and warmer, since the best weather always comes after you’ve finished a sportive, right? 😉  I started to feel better fairly soon, but when the route split came – right for Medio/Granfondo, and straight on for Piccolofondo, I was still set on my “head for home” course.  Make a decision – stick to it!  This also meant, however, that we weren’t going to need to go off piste and follow Guy’s route, we could just follow the Piccolo signs home which also, being pragmatic, I reckoned would probably mean we were still covered by the event’s insurance and support.  So off we went.  What with it being warmer and drier now, it got nicer by the minute.  It may only have been the Piccolo route but there were still a few little ups to be be dealt with, and then a really, really lovely long flying descent back to Chepstow.  This put me back on familiar turf, which today felt good, as it meant I kinda knew how far I had to go.  Plus, after some traffic lights, traffic shenanigans (the motorists there really weren’t our biggest fans) and some cycle path wiggling, I got to go back over the Severn Bridge again.  This time in sunshine and under mostly blue skies 🙂  And very lovely it was too.  Although Guy thinks we should have been able to go back on the other side, just so as not to repeat ourselves…and to get the full bridge experience of course.

38 lovely bridge 39 t'other bridge again

Once back in Blighty, we knew the rest of the route was going to be pretty flat.  Always motivational, no?  Time to push on a bit then.  I was now back to feeling good, and back on form.  We took a brief stop at a little shop somewhere, where time was busy standing still, to purchase fizzy orange and the like.  As we chatted outside, Jeremy (the organiser guy) pulled up in his car to check we weren’t lost.  Which we weren’t…although to be honest, there weren’t quite enough signs today, and they didn’t stand out enough, so it could easily have happened.  Having (finally!) stashed the odd layer, we carried on.  Having missed the next right hand turning with Alan last year, I knew not to do it again.  Besides, Jeremy was now there, standing next to his car, making sure that a) we didn’t miss this one, and that b) we didn’t miss the next one, which apparently had been being an issue.  Not by now it wasn’t, as it now boasted about six arrows and also some cheerful bods pointing the way!  So we turned right.  As you do.  Well, it would have been rude not to… 😉

41 arty bridge shot 40 Guy and I

Time to head for home.  Which I was totally up for.  In fact, my foot was on the gas, though not in a non-UCI approved way, and we fair hurtled along, for the last however many miles it was.  I’m guessing at around 8 or so…?  Lots of country lanes and warm sunshine, and I was having a blast.  Sprint finish? 😉  Behind me Guy was heard to comment that you could tell I’d had my fizzy orange…*grin*.  We even picked up a follower, who ended up clinging on to whoever’s was the rear wheel, all the way back!  There was a bit of up to get us back up to civilisation, and then some suburban playing with buses to be done before there we were, back at HQ, sort of just like that.  Man we flew back! 🙂  I think we’d worn our lanterne rouge out, as he sort of staggered in a little behind us, and was last seen walking away looking dejected…certainly too tired to say thank you for the tow anyway 😉

42 finish line 44 post race catering

So Black Rat done.  Half Granfondo, Half Piccolo.  Which I’ll have you know still added up to 80+ miles, which ain’t too shabby, so there 😛  We stashed our bikes in the car, replaced the odd still damp layer with drier more civilised ones and headed back to enjoy the free pig roast, and the free cider in our free mugs.  Oh and you could have a free bottle too, if you wanted one.  Once again we had a bit of a chat with Jeremy who was wandering around, keeping everything under control, and fighting fires when they arose.  I did tell him about the signage and the under stocked food station – it would have been rude to not say so then and then have him read it here!

43 Cheers!

Cycling time: 5:35
Distance: 81.3 miles
Avs: 14.6 mph

Overall, ignoring the obvious, I had a really good ride.  I think I’m pretty much on form, and I’m definitely feeling better on the bike than I have for a couple of years.  It’s just that sometimes my health issues get in the way, which is seriously frustrating!  It’s also possible the new drug may be an issue too…if today is anything to go by.  Anyway, the Black Rat is still a great event, mainly because the route is just lovely, and the scenery is beautiful.  Not just because I get free cider at the end 😉  The organisers are great too, and I gather plans are afoot to organise it in tandem with “a large cycling club in Bristol” next year so as to have more bodies to help on the day, which sounds like a good thing.  If they’ll have me, I’ll be back to do it again next year, and see if it is 🙂