Category Archives: Reviews

Mad March Hare 2017

Writing my sportives up is taking even longer than me riding them these days, which is saying quite something.  So I should start by apologising to the lovely organisers of the Mad March Hare for this taking me so long, when they were kind enough to ask me back again this year.

You see the Mad March Hare was, for a very long time, the first event I did every year.  From what I think was the very first one in 2009, until 2014 in fact. And then for a couple of years I didn’t.  Various reasons I guess – other commitments, amongst others.  So I was quite touched when they got in touch and asked if I’d like to come back this year and do it again.  Touched, and quite probably a little flattered.  And hey, it’s not like I didn’t like the event.  So clearly, my ego and I said yes.  They were kind enough to give my partner Matt (aka chauffeur, coach, domestique, support crew, crutch) a place too, to make sure that I’d get there, and get round, which was proper appreciated.

So, all set for March then.  Well, our places were in place anyway.  Training, health, etc….not so much so.  And having my best bike nicked a couple of weeks before didn’t help on the state of mind front…but it’s not like I’d have been doing the event on that anyway – it was after all my summer bike, not my slog around wet winter country lanes bike.  Or even sunny Spring lanes.  Which was what we were all hoping for, right?  And for a while it looked like that might be on…

…but as the event approached, the forecasts became less like guess work, and more likely to be accurate.  I found myself tagged in a fair few pre-event tweets that suggested that Rule #9 was likely to be applicable, and the weather we were going to be riding in was enough to indicate insanity on our part, in a positive #gladtobemad kind of way.  Oh marvellous…just what a girl needs for her first sportive of the season.
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And they weren’t wrong.  It was a perfect storm of a day.  Not enough training, not enough sleep, not a good patch, and given the weather upon arising to face the day?  Not enough PMA either!  But…hey…faint heart never won anything, and the weather hadn’t been great lately anyway, so I figured I knew what to wear and how to ride in rubbish weather, and so despite all the usual misgivings, it was the usual stupid o’clock Sunday morning start. I was too afraid to load the car up the night before though, just in case.  Well, I’m not paranoid, as clearly they clearly were out to get me weren’t they?  So there was even more faffing to get ready than usual, as both bikes had to go on the back of my tiny car first thing.  Matt made it look easy though…which is just as well as I wasn’t feeling like anything was going to be easy today.  

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Time to head off into the wind and the rain and cold…though the levels of any of those were somewhat theoretical from inside my nice warm car.  It was an uneventful journey up, broken by a short stop at the very posh M5 Gloucester services that I’ve been meaning to stop at for years but never have.  And it was way too early in the morning to enjoy all that it reputedly has to offer…it still being mostly closed…so all I can say is that the toilets were nice enough!  Unlike the walk to and from them, which proved the weather was actually horrible in practice.  Yep – proper windy. Yep – proper damp.  And blimey…was it ever cold!  Oh dear…

Getting ready in the boot outside registration

We arrived at the event’s designated parking location a little later than scheduled, at the rather Phoenix Group site which has plenty of decent parking and also automatic gates that would later be locked behind us.  I remember paying being non-optional last time which, at £2 a pop, wasn’t a big deal.  Remembering to have change for the guy with a bucket at the entrance was though.  This time is was optional, which meant that we could both get into the car park without paying, and also sort cash out to donate later – which we did, it being collected for a good cause.  

But it was miserable.  Pissing it down miserable.  Freezing cold.  And the car park was a few miles from the event proper, so there was no other option than to get sorted and head over.  No faffing about going to and from.  No sheltering in a nice warm building in between times.  Ah well…  Matt put the bikes together while I hid in the boot, put on all the layers I had with me, and tried to summon up the enthusiasm to ride my bike.  Even Matt put on layers.  Including, shock, horror…leg warmers!  Which I think was a first for us riding together…  In the meantime it kept raining and we all got colder…  

wet bikes waiting in hope portable toilets

Thanks to my health issues I often need a get out of jail free card, so we’d done quite a lot of studying the route beforehand, and had located a few bail out spots on route, albeit unofficial ones, as the Mad March Hare only has the one 72 mile route option. Knowing this was somewhat of a comfort.  Still I was seriously contemplating turning tail and going home.  Like for real for a change.  I was this close to calling it.  But it seemed unfair to the event to not at least go and register and check out what was going on, having made it this far.  We kinda decided that one of those options was going to be opted for, if we did it at all and we headed off.  We’d taken long enough faffing that we were one of the few left leaving.  Holding out for better weather had not worked and it was still flinging it down, so the two or three miles wet ride to HQ were neither pleasant nor heartening.  At least they were well signposted though, so we didn’t get lost. 

Stair rods. Cats and dogs.  And a marquee in a school play ground full of sheltering riders, huddled around the entrance looking hopefully outside for signs of improvement.  We made our way through them to the registration desks inside. We were supposed to have brought photo id with us to register but I only have my passport, as my driving licence is still old school. I pretty much refuse to lug my passport, all £76 worth of it, around with me, in case it gets lost somehow.  Especially today when going back to the car wasn’t an option, and it would have had to sit in a back pocket inevitably getting damp and soggy regardless of what sort of plastic bag I put it in.  So I had no id.  Luckily the lady behind the desk took pity on me and let me off.  After all, who’s going to steal a place on a sportive on a day like this?  So I signed whatever had to be signed, we collected bike numbers with integral timing chips and maps and the like.  And it still hadn’t stopped raining.  Worse still I was going to have to use one of the four or so portable toilets.  Marvellous.  Disrobing soggy kit and then putting it all back on again.  Nice.  Ah well, needs must…

registration riders waiting in hope

And after all that it still hadn’t stopped raining, and it sure as hell hadn’t warmed up any, and it was still blowing wind chill factor on top of that.  But we’d got this far.  And I like the Mad March Hare guys, and I’d said I was going to review it, and you know, a woman’s word is her bond.  Or something.  So we decided that we would indeed do some of it.  See how we got on.  Our basic plan was to head out for a bit on the route, nip across cross country at some point, and head back on the return route.  Right then, once more unto the breach dear friends.  Off into the wild wet West Midlands wilderness…and man was it ever unpleasant.  As we headed out, nothing had improved.  Understandably there aren’t a lot of photos to show this – you try taking photos with soaking wet hands in winter gloves in the rain whilst moving.  And stopping was actually worse since when stopped, minus all that air rushing past, you actually got warmer for a bit and setting off again was ‘orrible!  Matt managed a few snaps with his little go-pro type thing though.  

As we set out, on a route that was flat to rolling, a constant stream of cyclists passed us going the other way.  Yep, wise men of many sorts were deciding that bailing was the sensible option.  Returning to the start.  Not passing Go.  Etc. But we had a plan, and we stuck to it.  We did 8 miles or so of wet English country lanes heading out.  It did dry up a bit as we went along, a bit too late for it really to matter, what with the water, water, everywhere going on. The hills hurt me a bit, unsurprisingly, but there wasn’t much that really counted as hill by most people’s standards.  We discussed the fact that the triumvirate of wind, rain and cold was just too much.  Any of the two would be tolerable.  All three…not so much so.  

wet and not waterproof two way riders

We reached what was possibly our turning point and, although the weather wasn’t as bad by now, we were both soaked through despite waterproofs and layers, I was getting proper cold and, let’s face it, riding a bike is supposed to be enjoyable and this wasn’t.  So we did as planned, and nipped across to pick up the return route, where we did another 8 miles or so of the same, and there was more rain, and more ick but a lightening of spirits as the end was in sight.  Being far ahead of those who had carried on to brave the whole route, and also ahead of those who had turned tail early, we had the return route to ourselves, and also our return to HQ.  We were signalled as to which entrance to return into the school, which, as it turns out, doesn’t seem to have worked that well as either they hadn’t yet turned the timing mats/arch on, or somehow we didn’t cross it.  Either way, it turns out that neither of us recorded a time.  

riders in the storm wet village

We made our way back to the rear of the school to hang our dripping bikes up onto the dripping bike racks.  One of the members of staff came over to see how we were, sympathise if not empathise, and also retrieved our timing chips.  There were a handful other riders over in the marquee, but first things first – free coffee and free bacon rolls – something the Mad March Hare is and has always been known for.  The catering had its own separate tent and was set up to handle things military assembly line style.  In previous years queuing has been an issue and they were clearly keen that this not happen again this year.  Methinks it probably wasn’t a problem today…  The coffee was hot and I have no idea whether it tasted good or not, it was bl**dy lovely as far as I was concerned.  And the bacon roll was awesome.  I don’t usually go for such things – they don’t fit with my IBS etc – but today?  Exception to the rule.  Matt resorted to taking his shoes off and going barefoot – which although seemingly mad, actually ended up with his feet being warmer if not drier.  

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Over in the marquee, sat on a bench, we debriefed, laughed at the stupidity of doing such things, rued the fact that the Purity beer available to purchase wasn’t really what the doctor would order today, and cheerfully relieved another member of staff of one of the emergency foil space blanket things they were handing out to keep riders warm – there were a couple there who were really struggling.  Admittedly the real reason we took one was because it’ll come in handy again on the start line of the Maratona later this year – a tactic I observed, admired, and nicked from the last time I did it – but I nearly ended up using it for real later…

hot drinks lined up bacon roll assembly line

Sadly it was time to get going again.  Sitting around wasn’t going to get me much warmer and it certainly wasn’t going to get me back to the car.  It may have been drier overhead but nothing else was.  And putting my very cold, very wet, very heavy gloves back on my still freezing hands was absolute hell.  The ride back to the car park was much better signposted than the last time I did it, all bar one turning, but missing that that could have been because I couldn’t concentrate.  Seriously, I have never had pain in my hands like it.  How can something so cold hurt SO much?  Shouldn’t they just go numb or something?  Apparently not.  All I could think about and feel was my screaming hands…so the rest of the riding got pretty short shrift on the paying attention front.  We got back to the now closed Phoenix Group gates which, before we could press the let us in button, magically opened before us, letting us get back to my car without further ado.  Which was just as well.  The minute I got off the bike I started shivering.  Like full body shaking shivering, teeth chattering, uncontrollable stuff.  As ever, it’s just as well Matt was there, as he took over.  He sorted the bikes out, and loaded the car, and looked after me.  I stripped off my soaking wet layers off as quickly as I could, considering that my limbs weren’t doing what they were told, got into the few bits of warm dry clothing I’d brought with me, got wrapped up in Matt’s big coat, and got made to sit in the car with the engine and heater running while he finished up.  At which point we’d completely forgotten about the space blanket…d’oh!

too cold for beer time to go home

We exited the site a little while later, past two solemn statuary herons on the way out, seemingly silently commenting on our stupidity.  (Plus, if we stay really still, you ain’t seen us, right?) And it was an interesting drive, with ever brightening skies, predictably.  There was me curled up in a million layers still shivering and needing the heater on full blast, while Matt drove in what became sunshine and wished he was wearing less and that he could open the window 😉  I don’t think I’ve ever had the cold hit me like that…and hopefully I won’t again.  Mad!  It would appear that the Mad March Hare defeated us.  Out of 1000 or so registered (I think), only 654 turned up.  And massive kudos to the 525 who actually finished it.  Maybe we counted as two of them 😉  Chapeaux one and all really.  Later on, after a warm bath and warm food and cold wine, we both got a phone call to check we weren’t actually still out on the route, and had got home safely.  As I said before, for some reason we hadn’t recorded a time, and I guess our collected timing chips hadn’t been noted either…  But we did it – Strava says so 🙂

None of all this has anything to do with the event really.  I still like the Mad March Hare.  It’s a good event.  It gets better organised every year – they really take on board rider feedback and improve things.  It’s still a nice part of the world, and when you get to them, the hills out there are lovely too – not that that was something we got to prove today.  To be honest, I’d prefer the car park to be at the venue, not 3 miles down the road, even on better days.  And sure, there were a few bits of disorganisation today, but I think that was mainly down to the atrocious weather, and things would probably have been different given one of those better days.  Organisers can control many things…the weather is not one of them.  Hopefully they’ll have me back next year, and we’ll all do it better 🙂  I’m also doing their new Mad Summer Hare sportive on 3rd September – so hopefully that will show how much nicer riding around here can be on a good day too 🙂 

Cycling time: 1:28
Distance: 17.5 miles
Avs: 11.9 mph

Riding is not going that well at the moment.  I’m spending far more time on the spin bike than the real thing and I seem to have lost all confidence in going riding on my own.  So given crap weather, or a lack of company, or my pain levels, or the stinking cold I’ve just spent two weeks with, well…I don’t lack for excuses not to be out there when I probably should be.  It’s hard to explain, but having my bike nicked seems to have been the straw that broke this camel’s back to be honest – I feel like they nicked what was left of my mojo along with it.  Cycling used to be something I loved and that’s a little lacking at the moment.  The insurance company were great, and I have a new bike that I’m trying to get used to which is probably great.  But it’s not myy bike.  Let’s just say we haven’t bonded yet.  If I didn’t have to train for the Maratona I think I’d take a proper break from cycling – just go out as and when and if I felt like it – but I don’t want the Maratona to be a disaster, so I really have to get some training in.  It’s all a bit of an uphill struggle at the moment…in so many ways 😉

Tour of Pembrokeshire Prologue 2017

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Somehow, without noticing, some things just become a habit.  Well, not so much a habit as a tradition actually, a word which has less negative connotations.  And somehow, the Tour of Pembrokeshire has become just that.  Traditional.  I don’t always ride the whole event.  I don’t always ride the whole event when I’ve signed up to do so, I’ve frequently been forced to bail to shorter routes!  But I do seem to always do the Prologue ride.  It’s the first thing of the season.  OK, so this year my season is massively unplanned, and disorganised, and up in the air.  That didn’t stop the Prologue being the first thing on my calendar however.

So a while ago Matt and I made our way as far as West as you can go without falling into the sea, to St David’s and beyond, to the fabulous Crug Glas (which I love), the hotel where both the Prologue and the event itself run from – albeit from the Cowshed venue on site.  It’s a bit of a trek – 3 hours plus driving – and it wasn’t the most comfortable of journeys.  Having been doing ok, in annoyingly alliterative, tediously typical and practically predictable fashion, I was heading for a seriously bad patch.  Which is just one of the reasons Matt was accompanying me; to play chauffeur, since driving long distances is unwise normally, and not doable at all if I’ve had to resort to the heavy guns.  Having had to get up at 4:30am in order to get to our destination by 9:00am, it’s not like I’d have been awake enough to drive anyway – I’m not really a morning person 😉  Sadly driving is actually more comfortable than being a passenger…it’s a bit of a Catch 22 thing…so though it was safer that I not be driving, it did make things somewhat worse…

Anyway Matt got us to the seriously freezing carpark outside the Cowshed, in time and without incident.  And man was it ever cold.  Oh, and wet, and so windy the little windmill on the farm was spinning so fast it looked like taking off was actually an option.  Marvellous…*sigh*.  Ah well.  First things first.  Time to head inside, nip to the salubrious toilets, sign the register, and say hello to a few familiar faces – organiser Peter, and Jim, and the rest of the team, back in charge after a brief hiatus last year, and after all this time, also friends of mine.  Fellow Cyclosport writer Sean was also there, with a different hat on, and a nasty chest infection thingy which meant he was going to be playing support car, and not riding.  Half his luck… 😉

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We didn’t have a lot of time to spare before the various groups of riders were due to be let go, so we skipped coffee and headed back to the car to unload and reassemble the bikes, and put on every layer we had brought with us.  By the time we were ready I couldn’t feel my fingers well enough to zip up my overshoes, which hardly boded well for the day ahead!  As we finished up, various groups were starting to gather in the courtyard, only just leaving Matt enough time to get our bottles filled up.  There were two route options available today – 45 miles or 28 miles – with groups of varying abilities being set up for each route.  What with everything – my health, the weather, it being early in the season, etc…we’d decided that 28 miles sounded like more than enough.  Well, considering the average speed that the terrain around here usually results in, even that was likely to take over two hours so…discretion, valour, etc.  Besides Peter was to be leading the slow, short, group, and I thought that it might be a good time to catch up with him a bit.  By the way if you don’t like these excuses for our route choice, I’m sure I have others… 😉  He also announced to the group, as we set off, that I’d be helping them learn a bit about group riding etc.!  News to me…and as if!  I may, just about, know what I’m doing for myself, but I’m by no means qualified to educate anyone else!  Ah well, I figured I’d try, but that no-one was likely to need my kind of help anyway, especially not with Peter around.  (And I was right…they didn’t!).  Off we headed out for what turned out to be a fairly typical Prologue ride.  Unlike the event proper, it’s not the world’s most organised affair.  Our group had about 19 people in it, and keeping that kind of group together is virtually impossible even on a good day.  Today, on narrow roads, with varying abilities, lousy weather, and a fair few drags, it was literally impossible…  

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…so the group stretched, broke, reunited, got rained on, the rain got worse, the wind got stronger and was mostly (as ever) not at my back.  But the scenery was still stunning, and beautiful and lovely – when you could see it.  The route has been changed so that we didn’t come up past the cathedral the usual way, which is a shame, but St David’s was still lovely.  The company was good.  It was sociable.  And I felt pretty good – in that my legs at least were ok.  I was wearing lots and lots of layers, and keeping mostly warm and dry, though as the ride went on, I did start to cool down.  But I just can’t go up hills when the pain is there, as up makes it worse, and because my body is fighting on another front, there’s not as much in the tank as there ought to be.  But I’m kinda used to it these days.  Resigned to it.  Sure, you’ll drop me on every single hill, and I will zone out and plod and just watch the road ahead of my front wheel, and get there eventually.  But I’ll catch up on the flat and, on any downs that there are, drop you like a stone 😉  Sadly there weren’t many of those today though, and the road conditions were such that care and attention and caution was called for.  So I was slow out there.  Matt kept me company the whole way around though, so even when the groups split up, and when we got totally separated from them towards the end, I wasn’t on my own.  OK, so I had to yell to get his attention a couple of times when he hadn’t realised how far behind him I’d dropped, but essentially he was always there, joining the roll call of those who have had to drag me around Pembrokeshire.  Hey, at least this time around I didn’t end up in tears! 😉

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En route I did get to chat to a few of the other riders, notably Tori James, the youngest British and first Welsh woman to climb Mount Everest, and part of the first all female team to race to the magnetic North Pole, amongst many other things; she’s the official Tour of Pembrokeshire patron, and would be giving us a talk later.  But mostly it was a bit too horrible for chatting much.  Typical Welsh weather some would say 😉  And I was, and am, SO glad we didn’t go for the 45 mile ride!  Maybe it’s one of those things too – bad weather for the Prologue, good weather for the Tour?  I certainly hope so, since I’ve agreed to do that again this year, and Matt’s coming along for the ride too.  He has no idea what he’s letting himself in for… 😉

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To be honest, I wasn’t planning on doing it again.  Been there, done that, would have the t-shirt if there was one.  But it turns out that a fair few changes have been made to this year’s event.  On the Saturday, for the main event, there’s now a new 133 mile route, dedicated to local rider Paul Ties and Tour of Pembrokeshire stalwart, who is sadly no longer with us.  There’s also the Fred Rees Skoda 60 mile route and the 84 mile Mavic route, and they’re all new and different.  And that works for me.  The option to do whatever route is appropriate on the day – and to not be repeating what I’ve done so many times before, whichever route I do.  And no, I will not be attempting the Paul Ties route – that would be insane!  On the Sunday there’s also a 40 mile family/recovery ride route for those who feel less ambitious, or who want to spend a weekend riding with friends and family.  Whichever route you or I do, it’s a great event, in a beautiful place, that’s really well run & organised, where I can catch up with friends, and stay at Crug Glas again.  So yes, I’ll be doing the Tour of Pembrokeshire in May.  

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Anyway, back to the ride, albeit briefly.  It all sort of passed in an increasingly damp blur…  Somewhere near the end, as mentioned before, we got both separated from the others in our group, and also slightly lost.  So when we reached the entrance road to Crug Glas again, albeit a few miles sooner than expected, and it was still raining, and blowing a storm, and my fingers weren’t entirely there…there was no way we were doing anything other than turning left for a very unpleasant final couple of miles riding fully into that blasted, blasting wind to get us back to HQ.  Prologue ride done!  We weren’t the first back, as there were a couple of other rather shell-shocked looking riders loitering around, one of whom was heard to comment that if he’d known it was going to be like that he wouldn’t have turned out for it.  I don’t suppose he was the only one thinking that today!

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Since lunch etc wasn’t due for a while, and the other groups weren’t back yet, the best thing to do seemed to be to go and check in to our very lovely room.  I should mention that I’ve been lucky enough to stay here a few times now, and I totally love it.  I never get to stay places this lovely, being usually a budget hotel gal, and this is just so far from that!  Once again Room 1 was mine, and it was just as fabulous as ever, complete with large windows, four poster bed, fireplace, and general classic luxury.  The large copper bath beckoned…but running that would have taken too long.  What was needed right now was a very long hot shower, and clean, warm, dry clothes, with some time sat by the fire to pull myself together again!  Once re-heated, re-dosed, refreshed, and reassembled, lunchtime was fast approaching, so we headed back over to the Cowshed to refuel.  Everyone else was also back now, and equally ready to carry on with the second act.  

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The social part of the Prologue was far more enjoyable than the ride for sure.  A two course meal of beef/veg bourguignon followed by various choices of sticky pudding, with a bar, and good company?  What more do you want?  There were a few formalities to be done; thanks given by and to the organisers, and also some feedback gathering for them, to see what we’d all thought of the routes and so forth.  Then Tori took to the stage to tell us about her adventures, and her exploits properly qualify as legendary.  And probably motivational too, if you’re not me – I know that kind of thing is way out of my league, especially these days.  Beside which, polar expeditions? Everest?  That all sounds awfully cold to me…and I think we’ve already established that I don’t do cold very well 😉  A few of the others in the room had possibly also struggled earlier – thanks to the combination of exertion, warm food, and a dark warm room, a couple of heads were definitely seen nodding…including Matt’s!  Well dragging me around is very tiring… 😉  

But all good things come to an end, and finally the 2017 Prologue reached the end of the road. As people slowly dispersed, it was time to say our farewells, arrange to rendezvous with Peter et al at the Sloop later, and head back to that lovely room to chillax for a while.  Another Tour of Pembrokeshire Prologue under my belt.  As rides go I’ve definitely had better, but the après ride more than made up for the ride!  See you all in May!

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PS: Typically the next day was amazing.  Blue skies, sunshine, blue seas…we even went to the beach and Matt went swimming!!  Ah well 🙂

Cotswold Edge 2016

Right then.  Time for my second sportive of the season organised by the Southern Sportive team.  Last time it was the actual Southern Sportive.  This time it was the Cotswold Edge Sportive – a new one to me.  Well, variety is the spice of life right?  Although I seem to have spent quite a lot of time cycling around bits of the Cotswolds this year, so it’s definitely variety, not novelty…

I spent the weekend prior to the event having a life.  Which was a great deal of fun, but not conducive to proper preparation.  You know that thing about proper planning preventing piss poor performance…?  I really should bear that in mind.  Getting enough sleep and eating properly would have been a good idea.  But hey, old dog, new tricks, some people never learn 😉

Still, the morning got off to a good start.  Ish.  The alarm went off at 6:30, and I left at 7:30 as planned.  Pain levels and sleep deprivation meant that the motorway drive was a little…interesting…but I managed to stay awake.  Just.  It’s a good thing it was only a 50 minute (very cautious) drive on fairly empty motorways to HQ at the Renishaw site at Wotton-under-Edge.  Which turned out to be a very nice location.  Picturesque.  With lots of landscaping and the like…all of which was enhanced by the early morning sunshine.  I was marshalled to park up in the car park and since I could see registration from where I was sat, I decided to go and register before faffing.  The short walk over there revealed that although it was sunny, it was far from warm, and that there was quite a lot of definitely not warm wind to add a little ‘je ne sais quoi’ to that.  Marvellous…  I gave the team my signature, and in return received my skewer timing chip, a couple of rather short cable ties, my bike number and a waterproofed map.  I really don’t like skewer timing chips…as I mentioned when I wrote about the Southern Sportive…but as this is run by the same guys, at least this time I was expecting it.

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Time for a trip to the facilities, which were around the other side of the building.  I walked past the start line, and bumped into organiser Martin, who was busy getting ready to start things going.  We chatted briefly, and he promised to try and turn the wind off 😉  It may have been a little walk to the toilets, but it sho’ was perty – past a very lovely lake and views over to what might have been the Hawkesbury Tower.  And the facilities were very lovely too, so no complaints all ’round really.  

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Back to the car then.  Time for faffing in the sunshine.  Clearly this was going to be a cold day, and if it wasn’t going to be a cold day in hell, I was going to need layers.  Which in this case ended up being winter longs, s/s base layer, s/s jersey, rapha winter jacket, head scarf, neck scarf, ear protectors.  This was quite a lot more than quite a lot of people seemed to be wearing, but I know what I’m like with cold, and I’m starting to learn that getting cold or being cold seems to go with the territory when I’m in pain so…lots of layers it was!

4-hazy-morning-views 5-ribbon-and-shadow

While I was faffing the tannoy system had been sharing the stream of rider briefings with us all.  I arrived at the start line just as the latest group was leaving so although I didn’t actually officially get a briefing, I didn’t need one either.  I tagged on the back as we all carefully went over the timing mat to make sure we all beeped properly.  Apparently the position of that timing chip thing is important – vertical positioning is better than lateral.  Mine was fine, natch, but a couple of others had to stop and readjust before heading off…

6-green-bends 7-tower-views

The first thirty miles, minus the odd early drag, seemed fairly flat to me.  I could have been imagining it though, as I really couldn’t get into it somehow.  I couldn’t get properly warm, even if the neck tube did need to come off about 10 miles in.  Things hurt.  Being all wrapped up, and dosed up, with the low sunshine and long shadows, with eyes constantly having to adapt from light to shade, seemed to make it all a bit surreal.  It also made the signs harder to spot.  I didn’t get lost though and even if I had I’d probably have been ok – I’m starting to know my way around here.  Bits of the route were from the Severn Sportive but in reverse, so familiar but not familiar.  I’d have figured it out somehow.

8-first-food-stop 9-narrow-country-lanes

Since I was on my own and mostly the only rider in sight, and there wasn’t too much challenge going on, I got a bit bored, and what with the bored, tired, cold, ouchy and medicated, I kept zoning out, and doing that nearly falling asleep thing.  Not good, as I’m sure you’ll agree.  And man I hate being cold!!!  Still, at least my iPod shuffle was working this time, so I had music for company, which was a big improvement on the last sportive.  And it was mad pretty out there.  It is the Cotswolds after all.  It’s not often than you nearly get knocked off your bike by a Bentley, right? 😉  Pretty and posh then…  Pretty, posh & prosperous doesn’t translate into money being spent on the roads though – there were some really nasty road surfaces along the way, with a lot of gravel and mud around.  There were also less signs warning about this than I was expecting, after such roads being marked so well on the Southern Sportive.  There may have been less of those signs, but at least there were still plenty of repeater ribbons, which I still love.  There’s nothing like the sight of a little orange ribbon blowing in the wind, just when you’re starting to wonder if….and then there it is, reassuring you that you’re going in the right direction.  And that wind was still there, blowing them around, and it was cold, and making cold even colder.  Sulk, whinge, moan.

10-posh-country-estate 11-up-hill-under-cover

I didn’t know which route I was going to do.  I knew it wasn’t going to be the Short (37 miles) route though, as the split for that had come 4 miles in.  I still had time to decide.  Which brings us to the first stop, around 29 miles in, at around 11:00am.  It was next to a playing field and tennis court and fairly exposed.  There was certainly nowhere to hide from the wind, and any bits of me that had managed to get hot and sweaty quickly got cold, clammy and unpleasant.  Still at least there were toilets this weekend, in a little changing room block.  Not that the lights worked, so you couldn’t close the door unless being plunged into pitch blackness is your thing…luckily no-one came along at the wrong time!  Back to the food table and supplies were really sparse.  The mechanic was doubling up as staff, and helping anyone who needed it, wrapped up and looking warmer than seemed fair.  I put my neck scarf back on, topped up my water bottle, and grabbed a couple of orange quarters.  Considering how I’d been feeling I decided that a Powerbar smoothie might be what was called for, in case lack of food was any part of the problem.  Whilst sat on a curb, mulling things over, I also took the next dose of pills and rang a rather distracted Matt for moral support.  And managed not to burst into tears this time around, which probably counts as progress 😉

14-modern-tower 15-route-split

Right then, time to head off again.  Straight into the biggest climb of the day – which was a real killer compared to everything and anything else today.  It was hard painful work.  It came with a silver lining thought; it got me a little bit warmer for a while!  And up there, on top of the world, there were some amazing views, when you could see them.  It was a bit bowl like up there, and a lot of the time those views were frustratingly just out of view beyond the current horizon.  Tantalising…  But it’s a bit churlish to complain about that really isn’t it?  When those you could and did see were so fabulous?

17-see-the-signage 19-tyndale-monument

The next route split came along shortly – and it definitely wasn’t going to be an Epic day.  Which was annoying.  But I still wasn’t warm, and things were still painful, and I had an open Sunday lunch invitation if I happened to make it back home in time.  The Epic route might only have been 18 miles longer than the Standard 62 miles but things were painful enough as it was, so pushing it seemed unwise, even if the pills were starting (finally!) to cut in.

20-a-tower 21-rider-in-red

Standard route then.  And after a rather lovely down, came the second food stop, only 16 km after the first, but with 35km to go.  Or 10 miles and 22 miles if you prefer.  It was staffed by two very friendly and very chatty ladies who seemed to be really enjoying their day out in the sun and talking to everyone.  Mid chatting I ate orange quarters and jelly beans.  According to them the rest of the route could be summarised as one big hill ahead, then flattish along the Severn, then back up the escarpment to the finish.  Allegedly.  I decided another gel wouldn’t do any harm.  Which it didn’t.  Especially when there was indeed another big hill.  Up to the Tyndale Monument I believe.  Which the food stop lady, in tour guide mode, had informed us was dedicated to the Tyndale that translated the Bible into English.  Hm…   Regardless of what you might think about that, it wasn’t as bad as the killer hill before, and was in fact a nice climb.  Yes, yes, I know, I do like hills really.  By the top of that I was nearly warmed up.  In fact the day had nearly warmed up.  So of course not long afterwards it started to cloud over and cool down again…  Honestly…*sigh*.  

22-canal-break-view 23-church-is-open

Climbing done for the time being, it was time to go and see the River Severn.  Although I’m not sure why.  The loop out there and back seemed a bit gratuitous, especially since it involved going out there and back again along some of the same roads, and it was really confusing having riders going in both directions on the same stretch of road.  It tends to make you think you’re lost…which as I was on my own, I could have been.  Did I mention I was on my own for most of the time?  And hey, the Severn is pretty, but it wasn’t that pretty!  So when it was done, it was a relief to have looped that loop and be heading back to HQ.  Back into the trees ,where a suicidal squirrel played chicken with my front wheel…  Luckily I didn’t end up on the tarmac and it lived to spend the rest of the day looking for more nuts, not that it needed any…, which presumably is why it had had to cross the road in the first place.  But it was a close run thing!  

24-berkeley-castle 25-pretty-church

No running up the final climb up the Costwold escarpment though.  It was steeper than I’d expected, and longer, and it being later in the day, there just didn’t seem to be anything in the tank.  Bit like all the hills today.  They were fine, I kinda liked them – the legs worked, the lungs worked but…there was no zone, no push, no get up and go.  Still, at least I got up them, and I got up this one too.  Being near the end probably helped!

26-finish-line

Climbing over and done with, essentially, flat was better.  But busier.  The stretch to get back took in quite a few more major roads, which had their fair share of traffic on.   One example of which made my brush with the squirrel look like a mere bagatelle…and another of my nominal nine lives was shaved off by a motorist with absolutely no patience and even less driving skill!  After all that I got back to HQ in one piece for a rather anti-climatic finish.  Even though I’d bailed to the shorter route, there weren’t many people around.  It felt more like when I do the long route on an event and I’m nearly the last in…  

Cycling time: 4:25
Official time: 5:00
Distance: 62.5 miles
Avs: 14.1 mph

There were two people at the Finish line to take my timing chip, and then I took a short walk back to registration and refreshments, where those riders that were still around were.  The car park wasn’t empty though, and riders were still trickling in, it was just in a sort of dribs and drabs way, so I decided I didn’t feel too bad about things.  I also decided to start by getting the bike in the car and getting warm clothes on me – I never really had got warm all day!  That done, I headed back over and paid £1 for a cup of tea to defrost me internally, tell Martin that once more I’d failed to do the long route I was signed up for, and to get my token finisher’s medal.  Which made it time for me to get back into the car, turn the heating on, and negotiate the busier and better drive home.  Back to having a life, and to having Sunday lunch 😉  Cotswold Edge done.  Not great…but better than it could have been.  I’ll take that 🙂

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.

wipe-out-view

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? 😉

medal

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?

 

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 🙂

sandyballs

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 🙂

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

Dartmoor Demon 2016

After last weekend’s Tour of Pembrokeshire, it’s safe to say I was a little nervous about this Saturday’s Cycling Weekly Dartmoor Demon.  I’ve been struggling this week as things get worse, and thanks to that, and extra work and the like, I hadn’t been able to get out on the bike either though, in my defence, I’ve managed a few home workouts.  On the upside, thanks to advice from the chemists, and my magical drug cabinet, I’m taking additional pills so, whilst not entirely under control, the pain had been pushed back to manageable…and I was hoping it would remain there.  But there was no guarantee…and I’m very good at worrying…

01 directions to registration 02 registration desk

On an additional positive note, for a change, and a very pleasant one, I wasn’t going to be riding on my own.  As it turns out Gary and I are actually doing the next few sportives together, including this one, coincidentally.  And Robin, who was visiting his in-law down there this weekend, had also volunteered to come and join me for a bit.  Various people seem quite concerned that I not end up crying by the side of the road on my own again, which is really nice of them.  To be fair, I’m quite keen that that not happen again too!

03 ride briefing on the start line 04 heading off through Haldon Forest

Right then.  Friday night.  A relatively sedate affair, involving covering the front room floor with everything I might need/want, and then narrowing it down, and slowly loading up the car.  The forecast was, as seems to be becoming typical, for sunny, cold, and a bit breezy.  Which, in April, could mean almost anything.  How cold is cold?  How warm is warm when it is sunny? And this being the Dartmoor Demon, with up on’t moor to consider, and ups to climb and downs to do…well, the temperature possibilities were endless!  So I loaded up the car with the bike and essentials, and left the decisions for the morning…

05 layer stop riders 06 Rob & Gaz climbing out of the valley

Which wasn’t as early as sometimes, as HQ was at Exeter Racecourse, only an hour away.  The weather was as predicted…so I opted for the same kit as last week and threw extra options in the car in case things changed a lot on the way.  I drank the all-essential coffee, ate porridge, popped various pills, and headed out at about 6:30am, to spend a very happy hour driving down a sunny, dry, fairly empty M5, listening to extremely loud music.  What a difference a week makes!

08 pill stop riders 08 climbing slowly behind me

On arrival once again the size of my car played in my favour as, unlike those entering the racecourse before me, I was pointed towards some empty spaces right at the front of the carpark – one of the Directors’ spaces in fact.  Oooh, get me!  Well, I am a VIP right? 😉  All parked up, I decided to go register before faffing.  I wasn’t in any rush, and there was no sign of Gary yet, so I might as well take my time.  See, there were two routes today – the Epic (95 miles) and the Standard (55 miles).  As ever, I was down for the Epic, but all things considered I’d pretty much decided that I’d be better off doing the Standard route, so if I missed the Epic route starting slot, it wasn’t going to be the end of the world.

09 another long climb ahead 10 welcome to Dartmoor proper

I followed the signs to registration, carrying my helmet with me as instructed, into the main stand building.   Being such it had plenty of facilities which, seeing the queues, I decided to use first, before taking my place in line.  A few more people on the desks might have come in handy…  My turn came, and I was given my bike number, cable ties, and my timing chip was stuck on the LHS of my helmet.  Amazing how many people hadn’t brought their helmets with them though…!  I was also informed in a by now well practiced spiel that changes had had to be made to the route, so to just follow the signs, and by the way, here’s a map, updated this morning.  Allegedly…  Since this took the Epic route from 95 miles to 102…any lingering doubts about my route choice decision vanished pdq!

11 moor climbing ahead 12 amazing views up there

Back at the car, as I was mulling over kit options in the chilly sunshine, Gary appeared, on his way to registration, which meant I had one less thing to worry about.  He headed off to get sorted and a little while later, we were both ready, and heading towards the start line, feeling nervous but fairly positive.  Well I was, I can’t speak for Gary! 😉

13 trio riding high 14 rob and gaz and a map

I hadn’t really given this sportive much thought.  I’d scanned the pre-event pdf, glanced at the map, and skipped over the route profile…so I didn’t have much of an idea what to expect.  As it turns out, it was pretty much a large chunk of the Dartmoor Classic….done in reverse!  So somewhat familiar, yet completely different too.  A surprisingly good combination.  The first few miles were through Haldon Forest, and flattish, that is when they weren’t going down in a very long and lovely way…  Not a bad way to start things, until you realise that inevitably you’ll be going back up the same way at the end of the ride!  Still, plenty of time to worry about that later, right?

15 riders on the Moor 16 the long road ahead

About 5 miles or so in, Robin was, as planned, loitering with intent by the side of the road.  And then there were three – one for all, and all for one, presumably 😉  Which set us up for a fair few miles bimbling along a sunny but shady valley, chatting away sociably, and stopping from time to time to take off the odd item, answer calls of nature, etc.  Of course it being Dartmoor, it wasn’t going to stay flat for long, not if we were going to actually see the Moor.  Time to climb out of the valley first then, up a climb that was remarkably similar to Porlock Toll Road.  Long and slow and gradual and scenic and actually pretty lovely.  Which did wonders for my PMA, already boosted by sunshine and company 🙂   This was followed by a long and steeper climb towards Moretonhampstead which, I hate to say it, I also enjoyed.  Which pretty much sums up how today was.  I loved the ups, however slowly I plodded up them, because I was still getting up them.  Yes they were frequently hard work, but my crawler gear was well and truly engaged, and I didn’t even feel like I was suffering really.  Well, apart from the usual pain, but I was coping with that.  How cool is that?  And the result of all that up?  Well some of the downs were amazing, especially as they’ve always been ups when I’ve been here before and I figured I’d somehow karmically earned their fun factor 🙂

17 first food stop 18 first food stop goodies

After that climb up, or another one, or whichever one it was that involved a Donkey Sanctuary that was actually a Miniature Pony Sanctuary, Robin left us up on the Moor, after a map reading session.  Thanks for joining us Rob – I really appreciated it 🙂  While the boys deliberated over maps, I looked out on the world, and took a few photos.  Man, the views were amazing today!  Mind you it was still chilly – especially up there.  My layers stayed on all day today, even if zips went up and down, and towards the end of the day I may even have rolled my sleeves up a little 🙂

19 Gaz and gorse 20 rider on the bridge

After a beautiful descent down a climb I usually hate, it was time for the first food stop, 27 miles in, which would mark our halfway point.  The little village hall being used here only seemed to have one toilet, which was leading to a lot of hedge watering…which wasn’t really an option for me.  And which was also not that pleasant from a resident/spectator point of view… 😉  So I queued, emerged, took photos, and ate a few jelly beans.  I know I’m rubbish at eating on rides, and I’m even worse on a “short” one as I don’t see the point somehow, and besides I wasn’t hungry…which is probably not clever.  Feel free to tell me off, you won’t be the first 😉

21 20% walkers 22 another girl!

Back to the Moor please.  Shortly afterwards, somewhere near Princeton, came the route split, and I was actually a little tempted…but I was more tempted by the idea of spending a whole ride in company, and also not having to regret a rash decision later on.  Plus I’d made a decision earlier, and I’m learning to stick to my decisions; I’m getting better at it ‘n everything 😉  So it was the left turn for us.  More Moor please!  More sun, more climbing.  A lovely descent to a pretty bridge across a babbling brook and rocks, was followed by a long and kick-ass 20+% up which I wasn’t expecting, and which wouldn’t be the only one such, but I still liked it 🙂  The second of these however, wherever it was, after yet another cutesy village, was less cool.  By now Dartmoor was getting busy – a sunny Bank Holiday Weekend Saturday was bringing the grockles out in force, and the little narrow lane we were now climbing up out of there on was cluttered with cars trying to get both up and down, and precious few passing places.  Driver tempers were rising…and our presence was not helping.  Luckily by the time I had to stop and watch a few of them play car chess to get around each other, the very steep bit was behind me.  It was annoying though – I hate to lose momentum.  It’s a little weird, but the hills were going so well, I almost wanted more of them just to keep proving that I wasn’t imagining it!

23 church tower 24 refreshment on the move

Back up on top, the Moor was getting even more familiar, and coming from this direction I could see all the way to the sea.  Breathtaking.  And I was practically at the beach!  Life is always better at the beach *grin*.  Not a bad place for a foodstop then…about 42 miles in…even if there were no toilets.  Just for a change, having topped up my bottles again, I decided I’d try a Mango & Apple PowerBar Smoothie thingy.  Which, amazingly, was very nice!  In fact I put one in my pocket for later, should I need it.  My not eating a great deal might not seem wise, but it worked just fine today, which just goes to show that we all work in different ways.  Different folks, different strokes, etc 😉  Anyway it was a pretty fab place to hang out, on top of the world, while Gary adjusted his seat post, which had somehow managed to drop an inch en route.  Apparently this was not helping with the whole getting up hills thing which, miraculously and just for once, I was doing marginally better than he was.  Ooh, get me and my ego 😉

26 drinking in the views 28 sharing the road

Right then, about 12 miles or so to go.  We weren’t the only cyclists making the most of the weather, as plenty of non-event people were out too, and we were all doing a pretty good job of grinning at each other as we passed by.  After some of that, the descent off the Moor was a blast…even if it did seem a shame to be leaving it behind.  What is usually a long slow slog at the beginning of the day was a long fast flight down at the end of mine.  Such fun 🙂  However, it was a good thing that came to an end, meaning it was time to spend a few miles being flat and fairly fast, and to look for the up that would take us back to HQ.

29 Gaz is rude 30 another church tower

Which, thanks to the route change, and the map that wasn’t up to date after all, wasn’t where we’d expected it to be, and several of us became convinced we’d missed a turning as we were cycling the same way along the valley as we had much earlier during the day.  Much though I was kind of enjoying myself, I didn’t want to do it all over again!  Somewhat amusingly one of the guys who stopped to pour over maps with us had done the epic route, plus a detour, so in the time we’d done 52 miles, he’d done over 100…  *sigh*  I will never be that good.  Way to put a girl in her place…ah well, my ego probably needed that! *grin*.  We decided to carry on and hope…which just when we were about to give up hope and turn around, turned out to be the right decision, as a marshal at Lower Ashton showed us the right turn we should be taking.

31 red rider on the way home 32 rough stepped climb

So we weren’t going to be going back up the same way, but we were still going to be going up.  The sight of a large tower – which turned out to be the Haldon Belvedere – beyond and up above kind of gave it away.  How could an sportive route organiser resist sending us up to that?  So up we went, through more bits of Haldon Forest, up and up and up…  It was sort of a stepped climb.  Steeper bits, longer gradual bits, all on a lousy road surface with holes marked out in orange spray paint.  Let’s just say there was a lot of orange paint…

34 Haldon Belvedere 36 smiling near the end

As we got nearer the tower, it got steeper, and the right turn below the tower wasn’t the end of it either, but it did flatten out a bit…  It all seemed a bit gratuitous this close to the end, but at least the end was nigh.  Finally up, we were rewarded with a flat couple of miles down which to fly back to HQ, and which were well earned fun 🙂  Time to cross the Finish Line, and be presented with my medal, a bar, and a copy of Cycling Active magazine.

The pen behind the Finish Line was full of women waiting for their men to home from the sea, who presumed I was one of them as I waited for Gary, until they spotted the medal around my neck, which made for some quite funny reactions.  To be fair, and not blame them, there really didn’t seem to be many women riders out there today…which is a shame.  Anyway, Gary wasn’t far behind me, but I was able to immortalise him when he arrived.  Dartmoor Demon done.  And the refreshment van sold fizzy orange…result! 🙂

37 hello finish line 38 hello Gary

Cycling time: 4:30
Actual time: 5:15 ish
Distance: 58.6 miles
Avs: 13.0 mph

39 Gary and medal

It’s been quite a while since I’ve had a proper post-ride buzz going on.  But I did today.  I’d had a really good ride, and I was in such a good mood that I could have hugged everyone, and hugged Gary instead, who was probably a bit taken aback by that…sorry!  But it had gone so well, I’d really enjoyed it, and while those around me were talking about how tough it had been, I really didn’t feel like it had?  Also, I guess the whole good mood thing was due in a large part to it having turned out way better than I’d feared it would.  It was just such a relief to have made it around without serious pain, mental or physical; I’d been so dreading ending up down there again.  It was also great to have had company, to chat to, and share the sunshine and scenery with, which probably made all the difference.  Many thanks guys, no hedge moments today 🙂  Here’s hoping the next few rides go just as well…*fingers crossed*.

40 traditional post ride refreshment 41 goodie bag

Wiggle Bitter Beast 2015

big tank

Right then.  Time for the final sportive of the season – the Wiggle Bitter Beast Sportive.  Which I’d really been looking forward to, oddly, because it’s a part of the world I really like, and cycling around the Jurassic Coast seemed like a pretty good way to round off the season.  However as the weekend drew near, so did Storm Barney and although it was due to have blown over by then, and yes I did do that on purpose, there were still some pretty impressive winds due to be blowing around on the day.

Hm.  I hate wind.  Which I’m sure I’ve mentioned before.  And with 40-50mph winds it’s not just that I don’t like them, they can actually be dangerous.  But I wanted to do it.  But 2 hours is a long way to go to then be miserable for 70 miles.  But I hate bailing.  And then my work threw an extra spanner in the works.  Having been doing the social media for the Cairo-Cape Town world record bike race attempt for the previous few weeks, it turned out that the team were now due to arrive in Cape Town, and break that record, somewhere around 4-5pm on that Sunday.  Their time.  Which would be 2-3pm our time.  And I really needed to be home or at the very least on-line for that, to keep the world updated, follow them in, and spread the word afterwards.  Quite important really.  No point doing the job and then missing that bit!

bovington tank museum first tank

To cut a long and clearly not that exciting story short, after a little encouragement from others, I made a decision.  I’d do it.  I’d get up at stupid o’clock.  Drive to Bovington Tank Museum.  Do the shorter 40 mile route.  Drive back, and be home in time to get to work.  OK, so that all seems like a bit much to just do 40 miles but, as I said, I hate bailing, I wanted to do it, and more than that, since I’d been given a place so as to review it, I really felt like I should do that.  Yep, I’m still pretty conscientious 🙂

registration it is not a race

Which brings me to HQ, at Bovington Tank Museum, on a very windy, chilly, grey and slightly damp Sunday morning.  I was amongst the first arriving, having aimed to be so, with my usual “sooner started, sooner finished” thing going on, and was marshalled to park in the museum car park.  I was sort of midway between the start line and the main museum building, neither of which were far away.  Time to register before faffing then.  Which I quite enjoyed.  Well, registering for a sportive doesn’t usually involve quite so many tanks, and it was quite nice to get a peek at them all without having to pay.  As eldest has just done his EPQ on how tanks developed as a result of and through the course of World War II, it turns out I’ve recently had quite a lot to do with tanks, and having seen the place for myself now, we’ll definitely be going back next year to pay to visit it properly.  Tanks are cool, right? 🙂

start line rider briefing

Not only did I get to look at tanks, but registration was also inside, warm, dry, and had plenty of facilities.  And it was also easy.  Sign up, get a map, bike number, three cable ties, and the essential helmet timing chip.  No queue.  Unlike the Gents.  But not the Ladies.  Result 🙂  There’s always a perverse pleasure to be be taken from walking past their queue…  Schadenfreude?

All that being done, t’were time to get back to the car, layer up, load the bike up, and head for the Start line.  Being amongst the first at a smallish event where I imagine the no-show rate was fairly high too, thanks again to Barney, there were only a few of us waiting to be briefed, so it didn’t take long, and all of five minutes later I was off.

autumn colours fly by damp country roads

To be fair, although yes, it was bl**dy windy out there, it wasn’t quite as bad as I’d worried it might be.  We were starting in the top and middle of a loop so…it goes something like this.  Out into the wind for a bit.  Down with side winds.  Along with the wind behind.  Up with side winds.  Back into the wind to the Finish.  Well, ish.  What with there being quite a lot of trees around, there was more shelter than I was expecting.  Still, it was bl**dy hard work quite a lot of the time.  I have to say I wasn’t really feeling it.  I’d definitely felt better on the bike.  As Alan might put it, I didn’t have any zing.  But since I knew I only had 40 miles to do, it wasn’t really a problem and my PMA remained relatively intact.

church and cottage

At least while slogging along there were thatched cottages and churches and villages and things to look at.  And colourful autumn leaves.  Well ok, a lot of them were on the road rather than on the trees, but hey, they were still pretty.  Quite a lot of the land around there is military owned and not developed, and a lot of it also seems to be forestry, which keeps it feeling lovely and peaceful and rural.  There are tank tracks, tank ranges, and military camps all over the place, all of which made the Tank Museum the perfectly logical HQ I think.  The military land also came complete with red flags flying, warning that today trespassing on that land would be even less of a good idea than usual 😉

wiggly hill behind cresting

I’m was pleased to discover that there wasn’t too much climbing involved to make life even harder.  I know there are some nasty hills around there, but every time we got near one of those that I vaguely remember, with my heart sinking, we’d end up not going up it and going in a different direction.  This is not to say it was completely flat though, there were some ups, even the odd steepish one.  The worst climb I think was the long drag down south, up to the coast.  It went on for miles.  Literally; it didn’t just feel like it did!  Still if you’re going to get views, you have to go up, right?  Sometimes up there you could even see the sea!  OK, so I didn’t get to be by the beach this time around, but the sight of the sun breaking through the clouds and over the sea, if not over me, was well worth it.  And after however long slogging up there, the lovely descent into West Lulworth, which I realised was coming about half way up the hill, was a joy 🙂

warning descent

West Lulworth, about 26 miles in, was also where the food stop was.  Marshalls were trying to slow arriving riders down, and there was a degree of chaos with riders deciding what to do, going in, coming out…  Since I was feeling fine, and only doing the short route, I decided I really didn’t need to waste time, or intake food/drink (I travelled equipped as ever), so I just wiggled around them all and kept going.  It being a Wiggle event I imagine it was as well stocked as ever though, they’ve had enough experience by now!

lulworth tanks

What goes down must go up sadly, and it was quite a long steepish climb back up from there.  However this I knew, having done it before, which always makes up easier to deal with, and I just engaged crawler gear and got on with it.  The wind was now essentially behind me and I won’t pretend it didn’t help push me up there a bit too.  Sometimes wind is ok 😉  Having saluted the gate guardian tanks at Lulworth Camp near the top, and put the climb likewise behind me, the wind was more than ok for a while after that too.  Wheee…..!  Who’s going to turn down a few miles of sort of down/flat with a storm behind you?  Not me 🙂

Time for the route split then.  On another day I’d have loved to do the long route.  Having looked at it beforehand I had noticed however that it didn’t include my favourite road here – the long climb up the coast past the tank target ranges, and I had half considered doing it anyway just for fun.  It would have been the more logical way to go for the long route too…so I had been a bit bemused as to why it wasn’t en route…but the big red flags, and a road closed sign, explained why it wasn’t included.  It also meant that I wasn’t going to be doing it for fun today either.  Ah well, maybe another time?  Waving a slightly regretful farewell to the road ahead, where Corfe Castle and Swanage beckoned, I took the left turn, turned tail, and headed back.

stately pile

The return leg wasn’t quite so much fun, putting me gradually back into the wind.  There were some interesting wiggles to get around main roads and junctions, and after hurtling off one big roundabout to get away from the traffic I missed the “turn right almost instantly” sign and nearly ended up in a military camp…though I’m thinking the armed guard and massive security gate might have prevented that from actually happening!  The small bit of cycle path not long after, which would normally annoy me, took in a very pretty bridge, river, and small country pile, which placated me nicely 😉  Back to the road, and not so long after that I was being welcomed back to HQ by big tanks, and riding under the Finish arch.

welcome back finish line

After owning up to my Short route choice, I was presented with various goodies and a Wiggle Finishers t-shirt.  I caused some consternation by asking for it in Large. “What, really?”  Which I cleared up by explaining it would end up on eldest not me.  At least they didn’t just look at me and go “yeah, no kidding” 😉 *grin*.  And there you have it; Wiggle Bitter Beast done.  And, as it turns out, even though it felt like hard work, and not stopping probably helped, I got me a Gold time!  Woohoo!  I’ve added it to my list of events to go back and do next year, to do the long route – but there’ll be no gold for that I bet 😉

I took myself back to the car for a quick change, and a quick trip to HQ to powder my nose, and then the not so quick 2 hour drive back home.  I didn’t have time to hang around and besides, I have a new sportive tactic now too – pre-load the car with fizzy orange so I’ve always got some to drink afterwards, so I didn’t need to spend time finding some.  Remind me about that next season? 🙂

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You’ll be pleased to hear I got back home in time.  As did the CAROCAP team, albeit a few hours later than planned – the wind did for them too!  They did what they planned to do, I did what I planned to.  I got a ride in, I (finally!) reviewed it, and I was home in time to spend the rest of the afternoon/evening sat on the sofa, on Facebook and Twitter, live posting the team in and playing a very tiny part in their amazing record.  They cycled from Cairo to Cape Town in 38 days + some hours, beating the previous record by around 3 days.  Which puts 40 miles around the Jurassic Coast well and truly into perspective, doesn’t it? *grin*.

Cycling time: 2:37
Distance: 38.6 miles
Avg: 14.7 mph
ODO: 11642.7 miles

6678 goody bag

Clif Bar nutrition

Clif samples

A little while ago I was lucky enough to be sent some Clif nutrition goodies to try out.  Having met Mr Clif bar on my training camp, where he’d become familiar with my tedious nutritional requirements, he reckoned they’d do me nicely.  Clif Bar’s philosophy means that they use wholesome ingredients in all their products, and that all their food is free of hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup.  Since not eating enough on sportives is something I have been known to do, trying out new stuff that might work seemed like a good idea.  So I spent April and May doing my sportives powered, mostly, by Clif.  With the odd flapjack and banana thrown in of course 😉

So, let’s break this down into the four different products.  In, as it happens, my order of preference.

builders_ChocolatePeanutButter

Clif Builders
These come in three flavours – Chocolate, Chocolate Mint, Chocolate Peanut Butter.  Each bar has 20g of protein and is supposed to be eaten post-workout.  I had the Chocolate Peanut Butter ones, and I have to say I wasn’t mad keen on them – but then eating post ride is something I’m notoriously bad at, and after a sportive all I generally want to eat is something savoury – enough with the sweet already!  As a result I don’t have much to compare them to.  They’re a good size, quite dense, chewy, and fairly chocolately, if that helps?  Having said that, coming home from one long sportive driving down a long motorway, realising I was running on empty, one of these did get me back up and going and safely home again!

clifbar_whiteChocMaca

Clif Bars
I tried the White Chocolate Macadamia and Oatmeal Raisin Walnut flavours (also come in Chocolate Chip, Blueberry Crisp, Crunchy Peanut Butter and Chocolate Almond Fudge).  These bars are made with organic rolled oats, and are not unlike the flapjacks I usually eat on that basis – and are ok for me as I’m ok with oat gluten.  Unlike my flapjacks however they have a whole heap of other ingredients which elevate them above those.  Apparently this mix of whole grains, protein and fibre, means each bar contains B6 and B12 which contributes to the normal release of energy for use in the body.  That’s all a bit techy for me…  However they do taste good!  Not too sweet.  Not dry.  Easy to chew.  They’re a good size for my back pocket and also my top tube bag (some bars are too long and thin), plus they don’t crumble all over the place either!  I certainly didn’t “bonk” on the rides I used them, and I’d definitely buy more, and not just to try the other flavours 😉

Gel_Citrus

Clif Shot Gels
Thanks to the training camp and my samples, I think I’ve tried every flavour these come in – Double Espresso (100mg caffeine), Citrus (25mg caffeine), Razz, and Chocolate.  Unlike my usual gels these are shorter and squarer and they come with a special designed “Litter Leash™ Packaging” that means you can tear the top, drink/eat the gel, and the  top stays attached to the packet to be tucked back inside, before the whole thing goes into your back pocket to be disposed of later.  Very clever – and that bit less litter on the road is a good thing!  When it came to actually using them, they always come as a bit of a surprise.  There are I am expecting a sort of runny jam, and these are more like a thick custard.  I’d describe it better if I could – but I can’t!  Initially I found the Espresso flavour a bit bitter but I’m used to it now and I especially like the Citrus one.  Clearly I’m a bit of a sucker for caffeine in gels… 😉  The gels, whichever flavour, definitely do the trick.  Having left it a little too late on one particular ride, and with miles and hills to go, I took one and I could really feel it cut in as needed!

BLOKS-STRAW-340x135-HOME

Clif Shot® Bloks™
Now these I absolutely totally love!  Think of a tube of 6 separate jelly cubes – a bit like the ones you used to eat as a kid.  Each energy chew is 33 calories, and they come in four flavours – Mountain Berry, Strawberry, Tropical Punch (25mg caffeine per serving), Black Cherry (50mg caffeine per serving).  On a ride, once I’ve got past the bars/flapjacks stage, these have turned out to be the perfect way to make sure I eat something every twenty minutes, which is so important.  They’re easy to eat, and rather than gels, which give you a hit when you need it, these gave me a more sustained energy level.  I like them so much I went out bought loads last month and I’ve been using them ever since!

clifbloks

Unsurprisingly what you eat on a ride is always going to be a matter of taste.  However I’d definitely recommend the range – especially the Bloks.  None of the products upset my insides, and I definitely felt fuelled throughout my rides – result!