Another sunny Sunday, another sportive…superb! Welcome to the fourth annual Great Weston Ride. I know this to be true, as GB and I have done every single one! It’s one of those tradition things now. Which also indicates that it must be a good event, why else would we keep doing it? ;). It’s been a long time since I’ve done a sportive in company, so I was really looking forward to it on many levels.
It’s also traditional for us to ride there. To ride back home afterwards. And for GB to never take us in to the start via the same route each year. Well he’s the commuter, so therefore somewhat of an expert on routes from here to Bristol! Clayton, Karl, and myself all met him at the end of his road at 6:30am, under disappointingly cloudy skies, for an uneventful and fairly easy ride to HQ at Long Ashton Park and Ride. He led, we followed meekly along behind. My retinal image is reinstated ;). I was half hoping we might have time to tick the Ashton Park Gromit off my list, but there really wasn’t, and besides, it would be a weird thing to have done to the three others, and a tad unfair.
HQ is, as I said, at Long Ashton Park and Ride, where there is unsurprisingly a lot of space for people to park and ride! No buses today though, just cyclists. Registration was easy – just join the relevant alphabetised queue, and get your number, cable ties, emergency details card, and free 9 bar (gluten, wheat & dairy free!) from the smiley encouraging lady behind the table. There were plenty of official GWR jerseys around, as well as charity jerseys – particularly for Prostrate Cancer, one of which was being sported by Clayton – very fetching. For those that needed it, mechanical support was available too.
The event gets busier every year, unsurprisingly, and I think the demand for the toilets is now outstripping supply. There are , unusually, a lot of women that do this ride, and so there were queues on both sides, that were getting longer and longer as more people arrived… I decided that I’d pass on that last minute “gotta go before you leave the house” visit, and we all headed for the start. It wasn’t so much a queue as a coalescing group. At some point the group decided, in that weird unspoken herd of sheep way, that it was time to move to the start line. Probably because the official start time of 8:00am was approaching. It was actually almost chilly out there, not helped by having ridden in and cooled down in clammy fashion, so I think we were all quite keen to be underway. Only so much faffing you can do, right?
Ride organiser Darren gave each group a bit of a safety briefing, including a warning about the dangerous descent of the day, and then we were away, second batch of the day. We retraced our steps back through Long Ashton, down the main road (if you’re me) or the very shiny smooth new adjacent cycle path (if you’re GB or Clayton). Karl had disappeared already, even before we set out! Presumably the use of cycle path was to make sure GB wasn’t totally going back on himself ;). I was more worried about negotiating the change between road/path and messing that up in some ridiculously public and embarassing fashion, so slower nastier road suited me just fine!
Barrow Gurney is often a nightmare however you look at it, whatever you go through it on. It’s narrow, windy, with speed bumps and traffic calming methods…and today, the additional obstacle of a long traffic light managed section. Deep joy. At least being very early in the morning by Bristolian standards, there wasn’t much traffic around to add to the negotiation challenge, and the speed bumps are easier on a bike than in a car! Once out the other side, traffic lights ushered us on to a brief stretch of riding on the A38 before a left turn took us onto quieter and far more pleasant roads.
Knowing these roads as I do, I knew I was in for a nice fast essentially downhill stretch for a while where I could make up for the fact that I had been being crap at anything with anything even vaguely approaching a positive gradient. All too soon our momentum was cruelly taken away from us, as we turned right at a spoilsport mini roundabout to head towards the ever scenic Chew Valley Lake. Again, flat, fast, but straight, so the perfect opportunity to take a couple of photos, marking the only time when both GB and Clayton were behind me for any length of time ;).
The closer we got to the big climb of the day, the brighter the day became, and the sun was finally out when we reached the first food stop at the bottom of Burrington Combe. It was signposted a bit before, but to say it was a tad low key when you got there would be an understatement. Blink, or look in the wrong direction at the right time, and you’d have missed it. An eagle eyed Clayton pointed out the drinks point, and once one rider was there, everyone knew where to go! One of my bottles definitely needed topping up, so that’s what I did, before taking advantage of the public toilets that I knew were a little further up the road. In previous years the bike shop there, Bad Ass Bikes, has been known to let riders in to use the facilities, but not so this year. As various riders all milled around the toilets at the bottom of the Combe, and we were preparing to leave, a tractor thundered past us heading upwards, bravely followed by one drafting rider on a fixie – chapeau m’sieur! We all clapped in appreciation of his efforts, before heading off ourselves in far less impressive fashion.
Burrington Combe may hold no real fear for me, it being actually quite a nice long climb that I’ve done a lot of times before, but every time is different. I wasn’t feeling at my best (back to the art of understatement) and I was seriously considering asking GB to keep me company for a change…but luckily for him he managed to put enough (ever growing) distance between the two of us before I could ask him, that I never got the chance. So I pootled up in my usual unimpressive style, only to be overtaken half way up by Gary who’d started fresh from HQ after us, and had some kind of gravity related incident which had b*ggered the rear derailleur and deprived him of seven gears. Something like that anyway. He was still kicking my a*se with the remaining gears, so I may have been a little lacking on the sympathy front ;). GB was kindly waiting for me at the top, where I stopped briefly to have a drink and catch my breath, allowing Gary to go off Clayton hunting, and leaving just the usual two of us again. I have to admit this came as somewhat of a relief. The pressure of trying to keep up with Clayton wasn’t bothering GB, but was slightly doing my PMA in, and it was nice to be back to what I’m used to – me, GB, and that little red sign!
I love it on top of the Mendips. Lovely views that you’ve earned, that top of the world feeling and, just for once, no killer wind. Not no wind, do be serious, just no killer wind. In fact the wind that there was was even behind us from time to time, which is always a good thing :).
We took a little wiggle to go through Priddy, presumably to show off the village to the tourists as the detour is slightly gratuitous otherwise, I’d just have turned right a little earlier on, but that’s what comes of cycling these roads all the time. The back country road from Priddy to rejoin that one is all very pretty but it does have a 90 degree downhill left hand corner on it, where they’d conveniently positioned a photographer. Good for images no doubt, but not so good for keeping riders paying attention to where they’re going…especially since there turned out to be gravel on the corner too. One poor lass had come a cropper just before we got there and was washing the road out of her gravel rash as we passed. Nasty…:(.
It was time for another quick break, this time for a gel, the next dose of nice shiny pills, and a photo op. This was the descent we were warned about earlier, of Westbury Hill. See the Caution sign? Well it’s there for a reason. Not only is it steep, bendy, shady and not well surfaced, it’s also well used. As the large tractor equipped with weapons of mass cultivation on the front that came up as we were going down demonstrated. Luckily we saw it in time to avoid it. Luckily the eejot who came hooning past me regardless didn’t do that a little sooner, otherwise he’d have been a human kebab…! A candidate for the Darwin awards? ;).
Eventually we all got held up by vehicular traffic towards the bottom of the hill which at least stopped anyone failing to stop for the junction with the A38. This, as with several other dodgy junctions, was marshalled, which made getting across much easier and less stressful. Probably less so for the cars that continued to be going the same way as us for quite some time. Sorry! Impressive driver patience for a change though…unlike some out there today.
Rider traffic got a bit annoying here, especially by refusing to single up and let the cars past. Lack of rider experience rather than obstinacy…probably. It’s a charity ride. I’m being charitable. Still, when it all cleared away we kicked off and put some space between us and them, on roads we know very well. All the way to Wedmore, out t’other side to Blackford. We overtook quite a few single male riders, who didn’t seem to like that much. So they overtook us back. And, well, you can guess how it goes…we then had to beat them into the second food stop at Hugh Sexey‘s School. Sheepish juvenile grins were exchanged. Such fun *grin*.
This ride is renowned for its superlative cake. Which sadly, it now being a very hot and sunny day, was being a tad neglected in favour of topped up bottles and free squash. Poor lovely cake. Even I opted for a large glass of orange squash rather than my usual black coffee, though the caffeine kick might have come in useful later. GB went for a bacon roll, and we took a little time to kick back in the sunshine and relax for a bit rather than hurtling instantly off again. Whilst doing this, mini tri-athlete Ollie popped up unexpectedly, having dropped his fellow riders a while back, and we agreed to ride off together. We couldn’t leave without a toilet stop though. Well it’s a middle school, with suitably middle sized toilets, which always makes me giggle *grin*. You could tell term had just ended; flowers in the sink, and an apple for teacher still on the table ;).
The three of us headed off down the mother-in-law road (it goes on and on ;)) to Mark and then on to Highbridge, at quite some speed. We played rider elastic for a while, but somewhere along the way we dropped Ollie – sorry Ollie! But it was getting on for that stage of the ride when all you want to do is get to where you’re going. However there was no going anywhere fast once we got to Highbridge/Burnham on Sea. In the middle of a heatwave, by the seaside, the traffic was even busier than ever, pouring in and out of town, with precious little chance therefore for irritable, hot and bothered car drivers to get past us, let alone past leisure cyclists happily minding their own business and getting caught up amongst us lot! Less fun :(.
One of the mistakes I always make on this ride is not to treat is as a proper event, and also not to take into account the distance ridden in first thing. To put it simply, I don’t eat enough. Or at all. I did try and eat some of my bar early on but it was virtually impossible to swallow, and I pretty much gave up. I did however drink plenty, a saving grace no doubt. Once out the other side of Burnham and marshalled across the road to head across the wiggly lanes going northwards, it was time for a second gel…as I realised I was feeling like falling asleep. Never a good sign – and thank goodness for High5 gels! I also got GB to slow down for a bit so I could gather my wits, as it were.
From here it was, not to put too fine a point on it, pretty easy going. Hot though! From Burnham to the end is around 10 or so miles, all flat barring the small rise to get over Uphill. No hanging around then, time to put the heads down and push for the end, the gel having now cut in. It was a bit unclear where the end actually was when it came to it, I’m sure there were some countdown markers in previous years, but we at least knew where we were going. There was a clapping crowd waiting as we pulled off the main seafront road, through the banners and on to the lawn. Always nice. There was also a photographer. Less nice ;). I have another shiny medal for the collection too!
Last year they were handing out bottles of water when we crossed the line, when we didn’t really need them. This time we did, but they weren’t in evidence, and I didn’t feel like asking. I was really dying for a long cold fizzy drink, and if I’d been like Clayton, sitting on the lawn waiting for the missus to pick him up, I’d have been doing the same as him! If I had however, I’d probably never have made it off the lawn and as we were due to ride home, I settled for a large diet coke from the bar, which was bloomin’ lovely. As usual I didn’t opt for my free food, though that being laid on by “field and flower” looked lovely. I don’t think I could have eaten even if I’d tried, and was able! GB has a habit of not hanging around much after events but having discovered Clayton waiting there and been waved over to join him, we hung around and chillaxed a bit which was lovely. Maybe I should have had one of the post ride massages on offer, but then I suppose I wasn’t properly post ride yet ;). As we headed back to go we came across Gary who’d been there even longer, no surprise there. That mechanical certainly didn’t hold him back! There was no sign of Ollie, and as it turns out apparently he’d been all out of luck on the traffic light front, and then had an altercation with the back of the car. No injuries, just a bike to be repaired before he could be on his way…sorry again Ollie!
This year’s ride turns out to have been a little slower than last year’s, though it felt harder. Maybe the heat? Mind you, you know how on Spinal Tap the dial goes up to 11? Well these days my dial only seems to go up to 8 even if I’m pushing 10 through it. However considering that I spent all day on Saturday being about as much use as a chocolate fireguard, and being literally incapable of doing anything, I should be less critical and just very pleased to have made it around at all. Another very enjoyable Great Weston Ride done – in the best weather so far! Definitely a good tradition – thanks to GB for putting up with me, as ever! 😀
Cycling time: 3:17 hrs.
Distance: 56.0 miles.
Avs: 17.0 mph.
ODO: 3089.7 miles.
We cycled home in a slightly more leisurely fashion. Not long into it I needed another gel and, as it turns out, so did GB, so I felt a little less pathetic ;). It’s so nice to get home from an event at a reasonable and family friendly hour. Early enough even for there to be time for me to have a shower and crash out for a while and still have enough of the day left to be up, about, and sociable afterwards. It’s what I call a non-optional nap – I guess it’s the price you pay for the effort you put in from a tank that isn’t as full as it used to be. One of the reasons driving home from a sportive has become a tad more hazardous! And, duly revived, I finally got my hands on a pint of that cold wet alcoholic rehydration therapy that Clayton made look so attractive earlier. Result. *grin*.
Cycling time: 0:38 hrs.
Distance: 9.8 miles.
Avs: 15.3 mph.
ODO: 3099.5 miles.