Up until very recently Cheddar Cyclosportive was my nearest local sportive. This year it’s been usurped by the Somerset Hills Gran Fondo which is only a mile away. Still, at just over two miles away, even if it’s twice as far away, it’s not exactly a long way to go. As a result there’s usually a few of us that do it, though ACG attendance was down a little on previous years – maybe the novelty has worn off ;).
One of the most lovely things about local sportives is that I get a lie in. You may not consider 6:50am to be a lie in, but compared to last weekend when the alarm had to be set a good two hours earlier, it’s positively lazy. Having signed in the night before, and done all my faffing then too, there wasn’t a lot to do once awake. Coffee, muesli, layers, load the bike up with what would be needed, and job done. Dad arrived, did similar, and we rode to the Square where we met up with GB and Martyn. OK, maybe for review purposes I should have driven to the start to assess parking, access, and the like, but that really would have been daft!
Off we went, along a stretch of road that is already extremely familiar, and would become more so as the day went on, since by the end of the sportive we’d ridden down it, in the same direction, three times. It’s a nice long straight bit, which is usually lovely, but is currently less so because there are temporary traffic lights half way down it. Annoying… Being one legwarmer short, it having taken a brief vacation in Minehead, I was worried that it would be chillier than I could cope with but, since the wind had yet to make an appearance, it was chilly but tolerable. I had the usual Cyclosport kit on – with gilet and armwarmers, so I had options for variable conditions too.
HQ was at Sharpham Road playing fields, next to the reservoir, and we followed a small stream of cars into the entrance where the marshals directed them to parking, and us to the start. It being a sports facility, there were changing rooms and toilets, and a little event village with a mechanic, massage tent, and a vintage bike display. Not that I paid much attention to any of these at the time however. I nipped in to the loo, and went back out to join the posse. Gaz was already there when we arrived, complete with my missing blue leg warmer, which I stashed with its partner since I didn’t feel the need. It turns out that Steve was there too, so there were 6 of us in all, which made for quite a nice little group at the start line. I reckoned Dad and Gaz would be fairly well matched, along with possibly Steve, leaving GB, Martyn and I to make up a second group. We lined up in fairly haphazard fashion near the start line, and did the usual chatting, admiring hardware, saying hi to the other locals who passed by.
According to Paul (of LBS Cheddar Cyclestore, who run the event), to whom I chatted briefly when we arrived, there were 350 riders signed up, and the event was full. It’s not a very big venue and he reckons you’d be hard pushed to cater for many more there though, so he was happy with that. It was also Paul who gave us a brief safety briefing before letting us go in batches of 50 or so from 8:30am onwards. As ever we were pretty near the front, and away with the first batch.
We didn’t stay together for long though. The first section out to Wedmore is fast, and flat. I’d add the adjective “familiar” but that holds true for the whole of the route, so you’d get bored of me using it! It’s not easy to take it easy when it’s like that, and no-one was. Well – we tried… The little climb over Mudgeley Hill from Wedmore came as a shock to some, being quite steep for a little while, and split the pack up a bit. As we headed off towards Glastonbury groups formed, and split. There was quite a lot of APS (acquired peloton syndrome, aka stealth drafting) going on too! Various faster groups, clearly intent on record breaking times, passed by, often complete with a cheery hello since I do know quite a few cyclists these days 🙂
Now, to backtrack a little… There were, as usual, two routes available. 100km and 100miles. The route changes a bit each year but essentially the first 100km, which forms the first route, is mostly flat, with a couple of hills, but nothing too dramatic (though you may disagree with that). The next 40 miles, after passing tantalisingly close to the start/finish contains the Mendips, and the majority of the climbing. In previous years I’ve always done the shorter route but since Cyclosport had signed me up for the long route, I hate bailing, and I didn’t want to wimp out again, the intention was to do the longer route for the first time. Of course the route being designed this way meant that I would have plenty of time to consider my options, see how I was feeling, how we were going and so on, so there was no rush to make a decision.
The route took us through Glastonbury, where it was way too early for the fairy wing wearing locals to be up, and out the other side, through Butleigh and beyond, to Somerton. In previous years there was a nasty climb in Glastonbury which I didn’t enjoy much, but I’d been looking forward to seeing how it felt this year and was almost disappointed to discover we weren’t using it. Still, we got to climb High Ham in the same way, which I distinctly remember suffering badly on last time and didn’t hate half so much this time around. Still missing that very bottom gear though.. And pushing the gear I have got may be why my knee started twingeing. I’ve not been strapping it up lately since it has seemed a lot improved, and it wasn’t much of a problem for last week’s Etape Cymru, but let’s face it, it’s not like it’s had a lot of rest since. As I was already on the little white pills, there wasn’t a lot to do about it other than to keep an eye on it.
The first food stop was at High Ham village hall. Facilities inside, drinks and goodies outside. I made a point of eating half a banana, as it’s quite easy not to remember to eat when you’re riding roads you know so well, you kind of forget you’re on a sportive and need to! Then it was time to go down High Ham hill, where the road surface was oddly lumpy and made braking at speed feel really out of control – ick! Not long until the next hill either – Pedwell – which is a nice reasonable slog up and, in case you’re ever going the other way, much fun going down ;). By now it was just GB and I which suited both of us. Martyn had hurtled off with one of the fast groups, and our slightly slower group were well behind us somewhere. On a day when we’re well matched form-wise GB and I ride sportives in a very similar fashion and I think it works out better for both of us than doing it on our own. We chatted our way through the country lanes and ate up the miles between there and Highbridge without much difficulty.
For no doubt sensible reasons, though I’d question them, the route took us along the shared cycle path by the coast to Burnham on Sea. Regular readers will be experiencing a sense of déjà vu looking at the boats here, and if you’re not one of them, go read Thursday’s ride blog! The locals were very good at getting their dogs out of the way for us but I think having to do it so many times was causing the novelty to wear off a little…
The traffic in Burnham is always a tad trying and the road surface on the way out is atrocious so it was quite a relief to get off the main road and head back across towards Brent Knoll and the second food stop at East Brent. Again – a town hall venue, with associated benefits and a wide range of cakes. Time to top up the bottles again. I’m back on the creatine which does seem to do good things for my legs but does make me a lot thirstier when exercising – as it says on the packet. Well let’s face it, these days my diet is seriously deficient of many things, so supplements seem like a good idea. I’m constantly surprised by how much my body does considering how little food and how much white wine it gets! 😉
We were making seriously good time, by my standards, and we reckoned that at the pace we were going if we only did the short route we’d have ridden for well under 4 hours – which is virtually not worth getting out of bed for, even if getting out of bed wasn’t early ;). My knee was only being minorly irritating, I’d taken the next dose of pills, and let’s face it, it was always going to be the long route :). Well, unless serious wind and rain had been involved which, though it was chilly, they were not. Still, not quite there yet. First we got to do the nice wiggly bit around Loxton and Christon to get to Banwell Castle which is a stretch of road I really like, as is the fast main road descent from the castle to Winscombe. I’m such a child…I just can’t resist hurtling off and being fast when I can. Which I duly did again all the way down the Axbridge bypass, mentally waving at home, and back down to the traffic lights where GB caught up with me.
Right. Or left. Because right would have meant bailing, and left meant climbing. The route this year had changed some of the hills and also the direction up or down them, so it wasn’t quite as scarey as before – well, I didn’t think so anyway. It being the Cheddar Cyclosportive, there really is only one way to climb up the Mendips isn’t there? Yep, time for Cheddar Gorge. Which was somewhat over burdened with late in the season grockles and motorists, both variety of obstacle clearly at the back of the queue when brains were being handed out. After some interesting and varied interaction with a particular silver Mercedes driver, we were able to get properly on our way and climb the Gorge, which was much as it ever is. Steep at the bottom until that final very steep left hand bend where it’s best to be in the middle of the road – with a thank you to the tolerant car driver behind me – and then it settles down and gets gradually easier the nearer the top you get. We weren’t generally proving very popular with the traffic though, which was constantly having to leap frog cyclists only to get stuck behind more marginally further on. Even I overtook a couple of cyclists – get me! :).
So, top of the Mendips for the first time. It was chilly up there though and the food stop on the green at Priddy was friendly, but had no toilets, so I had to go climb over a gate…easier said than done in cleats! GB wasn’t feeling great, on his way down with a tummy bug by the sounds of it, but I was feeling pretty good. Two more climbs to go, both of which I know I can do, which is pretty good for the PMA. I should have put my gilet back on there and then, as it was only getting colder, and I ended up stopping not much further along before the descent of Old Bristol Hill to do so instead. It’s a nice descent, but a bit bendy for me, and I don’t know it quite well enough, so I left GB to do the dropping like a stone bit and took it a little easier than I sometimes do. Besides which, I knew what was coming and was in no rush to be going back up hill again!
There was no avoiding it though, no sooner had we finished going down, we were going back up, up New Bristol Road (or whatever it’s called) to climb all the way out of Wells to the aerial on top of the Mendips. This is a long steady climb. It’s marginally steeper at the bottom and I knew we were in for the long haul, so I took it easy and GB drew away for a while. I caught him, and overtook some others who seemed less than cheerful about that fact, as we neared the top. My knee was definitely getting less happy though… It was probably as pleased as I was to reach the top and enjoy one of my favourite bits of downhill to Chewton Mendip. OK, it’s not all downhill but if you get it right, you’re most of the way up the next bit of up before you realise. Much fun again, especially as the miles were counting down and there was only the one really big climb left to do. I really do love downhill :D.
After a nice flying stretch through Litton and the like, the route goes along the edge of the valley through Ubley and Blagdon. It’s long, draggy, and not that nice. The views of the assorted lakes – Chew Valley and Blagdon – are nice, if you have time to be looking at them, but mostly I was too busy trying to get where I was going carefully. I could feel my left knee swelling up… Given constant careful pedalling it was ok, but asked to do anything more dramatic and it gave the weirdest twinge. Sort of a combination of “ow”, “squish”, and “do you mind not doing that again?” all in one go. I reckoned if I was careful there was probably enough in it to get me ’round…and crossed my fingers.
Time for the last climb of the day – Burrington Combe. As you know, I may have ridden up this once or twice before… Today it came with wind and drizzle, which was much the same as usual ;). GB set a constant pace somewhat ahead of me and I just followed his wheel all the way up. His turn to be KOM methinks :). Well, he knows a thing or two about mountains…
As we took a brief break at the top, and GB grabbed yet another stomach churning gel, I was in high spirits. I was going to make it round! I know, it sounds daft, considering my sportive history, but having avoided doing the long route for so many years, it had mentally become a bit of an issue, and it was about to become a demon beaten. Even the stretch across via Charterhouse, which is again draggy, didn’t depress me much, although the annoying top dressing of the last section to Shipham seriously tried my patience. That bit used to be lovely! Still, I got my favourite descent of Shipham Hill to make up for it, and, as we flew down the final straight for the third and final time, we got the traffic lights just right, and went flying past the other waiting cyclist and were sprinting for the finish in no time at all. Childish but fun. And it is supposed to be fun! 🙂
Cycling time: 6:03:22 hrs
Distance: 100.61 miles
Avs: 16.6 mph.
ODO: 499.54 miles
GB was a bit done in, but I was buzzing :D. I guess the 100km lot were all long finished and had departed, leaving only the hardy or foolish sitting around the café and on the grass, drinking coffee, eating free pasta (as if!), and getting a massage. It was getting chilly standing there though, so we didn’t hang around long, and instead took the scenic route around the reservoir to get home, having had enough of the long straight road by now 🙂
I’ll write the official review later…here’s Bella’s report...but in the meantime I have 100 and 1 things to do. Including trying to figure out how best to look after my knee this week. Looks like it might be the shorter Bristol Belter route for me next Sunday otherwise…and I’ll definitely be strapping it up whatever. Ow!
UPDATE : my official review is here. If you want to see me, check out number 338 here. There were only 2 women on the long route, and I beat her by nearly an hour, and also got me a SILVER . ‘Rah! :D.