Mario Cipollini Gran Fondo

Gotta love a local sportive.  Whilst I didn’t go quite as far as riding to the start, which I suppose I could have done, I did get to stay in bed until the positively leisurely time of 6:45am.  How laid back is that?  I even got to load the car in daylight.  Such novelty :).

In fact, as I set off, there were even blue skies.  I took a photo to prove it, just in case that was the last time I saw such a thing all day!

The event start was at the Redwood Country Club, all of half an hour’s drive from here.  Mind you, around here, all it takes is a tractor in the wrong place and you could be talking considerably longer *grin*.

tractor in Barrow Gurney

So before you know it, there I was.  I parked up, and went to register, picking up a rather nice goody bag at the same time.  I was, as ever, early so I had a good hour or so to kill.  So I admired the Cipollini bikes on display, and chatted to my fellow Cyclosport writer Howie who was very firmly had his writer’s hat on rather than his rider’s helmet.  Mojo missing :(.

Man I can’t wait to get my new bike…*sigh*.  I faffed, and sorted my bike, and got myself together as the hordes gathered…  I say hordes, I think in the aim of keeping things small, selective, dare I say exclusive, the numbers were kept down to around 120.  So a rather small horde.  Which presumably makes Mario some sort of a cycling centurion, leading his lycra clad warriors into battle…?

There was some serious kit around strutting its stuff.  This was not a broad spectrum of riders.  This was carbon and race snakes, and all the gear and possibly no idea? 😉  Oh, and me.  In my battered longs, on my reliable and much loved mile muncher.  At least I was wearing Rapha, right? 😉  I didn’t half feel out of place.  Plus there was only a handful of girls in lycra, if that.  Mostly those women around were hangers on, or there to support their partners, so I did get the odd funny look.

I bet this guy got more funny looks than me though.  I may be supposed to know who he is.  His bike says he’s Steve Clarke.  Presumably he’s Steve Clarke then? *grin*.  That’s some stand out in a crowd kit though!  To say nothing of the long flowing locks…

At some point the famous (infamous?) Mario Cipollini emerged from the depths.  We all did that very English ignore the famous person thing…and he chatted to a couple of people he knew and sort of managed to be around without actually engaging at all.  Well, not over on our side of the car park anyway.  I was just grateful he wasn’t wearing white kit, which he does seem to do in an awful lot of the photos I’ve seen, because we all know white kit is wrong ;).

If we’re not talking to the man, there’s nothing wrong with paying attention to his bike though, right?  Very swish…  I’d go fast on one of those, right?

Finally it was time to go.  Well, not without the obligatory rider briefing of course.  Everyone seemed a little loathe to get going – was the big man supposed to lead the way or…?  But nothing happened, so we headed off anyway, which put me about third rider away.

Rider briefing

This was not going to be a ride that held any mystery for me – I think it’s safe to say I know these roads.  Some of them are at least a little less travelled than others, including the stretch across to Portishead, and then up the first real hill of the ride to the coast road.  I quite enjoyed it, purely due to its slight novelty value.  Shortly before this hill the Cipollini train passed me by…never to be seen again.  So much for working his way through the pack and sharing the love…

As we cycled along the coast road in the sun I mentally waved at Mum and Dad, and admired the views – just for once you could actually see Wales.  Bet Dad knows exactly where I was standing too.

As you can see the weather was initially pretty good.  I say initially…because the first rain came at 49 minutes in.  It was only a light shower, but it was a sign of things to come, a harbinger of doom, if you will.

At some point someone behind me hailed “the cycling mayor” which made me laugh, but I never did figure out who it was, mostly because I was leaving them behind at the time.  Especially interesting when you consider that I wasn’t wearing any of my customised kit.  Someone out there knows who I am ;).  Infamy, infamy

The first food stop was at the White Hart near Congresbury, about 40km in, and very lovely it was too in their sunny car park, with facilities (ie toilets) in the pub itself.  That’s a tick on the toilet front then.  I know, I should stop going on about toilets on sportives, but it’s important! :).

The 1950’s bus cum café was serving up a storm.  The coffee was awesome, and came in mugs and everything.  No paper cups today, oh no.  The food available ranged from spanish tortilla, pizza and welsh rarebit, to lemon drizzle cake and flapjacks.  Let’s face it, this is the first sportive I’ve ever done that had a menu for its foodstops!  I risked a bit of tortilla – potatoes are usually pretty safe – and hung around in the sun with my coffee for a bit.  I was just walking across the car park, having checked out the facilities as it were, when a voice called out my name…and there was Dad!  I can’t tell you how nice it was to see a friendly face :).

It was all very pleasant there in the sunshine, as you can see.  If I’d known what was coming, I think I’d have hung around and enjoyed it longer!

my bike is sunbathing...

Clearly this photographer was rather more official than I, and taking it way more seriously.  Or over compensating.  Or something… 😉

Paparazzi papped

After chatting away for a bit on the serendipity of him actually having managed to find me at the right place and time, it was time to be on my way again.  We, being Dad and I, set off in the sunshine.  I tried to persuade Dad that he’d love to cycle up Burrington Combe with me but he was having none of it, dagnamit.  Can’t say as I blame him though!  Along the way we bumped into a familiar face also out enjoying the sunshine, who joined us for a bit before heading for home – hello again Rob!  Actually I think he was less enjoying the sunshine, more indulging in a bit of hero worship, as he’d actually managed to ride with the great man for a bit whilst on his meanderings.  Which is more than I did!  All too soon Dad was turning left, and I was heading for the hills.  Can you see the clouds gathering?

Time to engage crawler gear and go up.  Here’s Burrington Combe in photos.  I had to do something to pass the time, right?  It’s a climb I quite like, and it is what it is – a long steady climb that goes on for quite a while.

Before the first cattle grid

This is not the end, my friend...

By the time I reached the top, which is a considerable slog after the second cattle grid, it was raining again.  In less of a shower sense, and more like proper rain.  Delightful.  There is nowhere I’d rather be in the rain and blustery wind than the exposed top of the Mendips.  Not.  But at least it was all familiar territory.  It may have been miserable, but that’s a lot easier to deal with when you know that the misery is finite, and you know what’s coming up.

As I turned right towards Charterhouse, I caught, or was allowed to catch, another couple of riders.  They weren’t doing the ride but thought that they’d like to help someone who was, and would I like to suck a wheel for a few miles?  How cool is that?  And would it be ok if I bite your hand off now and accept?  😉  Nice guys! 🙂  We had a bit of a chat, although even though they were helping me out, it was still pretty hard keeping up…and they were making it look easy, so not that much chatting was actually possible, what with the whole need to breathe thing!  That lumpy gravelly muddy section over to Tynings Farm can be surprisingly sapping, especially in lousy weather.  And this was lousy weather.  Too wet for photographs for sure.  We parted company when we reached the t-junction at the now defunct Lillypool café, and I turned left to go up.  But at least I knew what was coming….the descent of Shipham Hill :).  Oh yes.  Now that I earned *grin*.  And I loved it – all the way to the bottom of a by now properly wet Cheddar Gorge.

My chain came off near the bottom of the Gorge, which was irritating, and messy, but my longs were wet enough that wiping my hands on them took care of most of the oil!  The rain also meant that the tourists and their cars were staying away, which made the climb a little more pleasant.  Silver linings?

After the wiggly steep section at the bottom the Gorge levels out, and though it may be heresy to say it, it gets a bit boring after that.  A long gradual climb to the top, with wet road, wet trees, wet rocks, without even the usual sheep/goats to distract me.  I know it’s an iconic climb ‘n all, but…  I wonder what it’s like for those on a sportive doing it for the first time?

Seeing this lot at the top did make me smile though :).

a Mini adventure?

This was followed by some gratuitous zig zagging across the top of the Mendips again, which presumably was supposed to keep us off the more major roads, or add miles, or something.  Not how I’d have designed it, but then no-one asked me.  Shame, my consultancy rates are very reasonable ;).  Some of it was quite a slog, either due to wind, or gradual incline, or both!  Finally I got my reward, the lovely back road down to Chewton Mendip where the second food stop was.   Or to name it more properly, the lunch stop, at Lynda’s Loaf.  No, seriously.  This was a Gran Fondo not a Sportive, which apparently means that it “offers the riders an exclusive and relaxed ambience as well as a prolonged experience”.  The rider briefing joked that the idea was to consume more calories during the ride than riding it burnt off!

There were various pizza, quiches, filo pastry things…with salads, coleslaw, cake, hot and cold drinks…all being eagerly received by damp cyclists.  You can check out that menu again if the details interest you that much.  Lots of variety, in seriously sizeable portions.

I decided to risk a slice of bacon and spelt quiche, and just not eat the pastry (not, as it turns out, a wise move).  The lady in charge, maybe Lynda herself?, was terribly apologetic, and if she’d known, she’d have made something gluten free…and she was ever so keen that I have some of her range of gluten free cakes afterwards.  I didn’t, but it was sweet of her nonetheless.  I’m afraid I just can’t eat that quantity of food and ride my bike.  In case you were wondering the quiche was very nice, even if it and I turned out to be less than compatible.  Sadly I couldn’t figure out where the coffee was, so I had to give that a miss.  Still, I probably didn’t really need any more caffeine :).

Inside the place was heaving, so I headed for the outdoors where people had previously been kicking back and enjoying their lunch, only to realise that it was now properly flinging it down, so I took shelter in the doorway.  Lunch inside looked like a very convivial affair, but it’s not so much fun when you’re on your own, and intruding into groups isn’t something I’m very good at…

Two local cyclists had taken it upon themselves to warn all the arriving riders of the kerb, to stop people falling off.  Very public spirited of them 🙂  Apparently Mario himself had come a cropper there…oops!  Bet that went down well.

mind the kerb!

sheltering riders

see that rain?!

So as food stops go, it was pretty well timed.  Both to break things up, and to dodge the weather!  I ate, and headed off again as the rain cleared a bit.  For a little while the skies hinted at better things to come, as I cycled through the familiar lanes around Litton and onwards.

After that the roads got grittier, and muddier, and lumpier, and just generally less pleasant.  I was getting very bored of fighting the wind and the wet on my own….I seem to have done rather too much of that of late!  The name of this road seemed particularly appropriate, and well timed…

Yep, I was having a bit of a sense of humour failure.  However the sight of aeroplanes approaching the airport cheered me up.  I like aeroplanes :).

spot the plane?

I stopped and watched one go right overhead before the climb up to Winford, and as I watched another rider passed me.  A rider with a stinking cold, sneezing and coughing his way along, and I couldn’t help thinking that this was probably not the best ride for that kind of thing!  Still, I passed him again and left him behind on the hill, always good for the PMA.

Just in case you were wondering, this may not be the New Forest, but we have some pretty impressive property over here too ;).

I knew I was getting closer and closer to the finish, as I watched the miles rack up on Bella, but those last few miles can take ever such a long time.  Even seeing Bristol in the distance didn’t really help.  Probably because it was precisely that – in the distance.  And covered in clouds…

The ride was mostly really well signed – white arrows on red backgrounds, with CAUTION (black on fluorescent yellow) signs as necessary.

However the one place that really needed a CAUTION sign was the one place that didn’t have one – at the bottom of the descent past the reservoirs at the T-junction with the fast moving and busy A38!  Just as well I knew it was there…  Everything seemed wet by now, but mostly just in a damp sense, by now I’d lost track of whether it was raining or not.  Barrow Gurney, for the second time of the day, was marginally more fun on a bike.  The GPX route I’d downloaded and the signs disagreed for a bit coming out of the village, but luckily I came across another sign before I had to decide whether or not to retrace my steps.  I hate having to do that.  Mr Sneezy caught me along here as I had slowed down whilst wondering what to do, and we chatted for a bit as we took the right turn and headed towards Long Ashton.  And then the heavens opened.  Not just a little bit.  Not just a crack.  Not ajar.  Wide open.  Deluge time.  O.  M.  G.   Like we weren’t wet and miserable enough.  Going through Long Ashton was as close as I want to get to swimming on the bike.  Throw in a running stage and I could have claimed to be a tri-athlete.  A yellow Ferrari passed by going the other way, and I think we were both thinking that our mean machines deserved better!  And when the hail started?  Words fail me…  I just put my head down, and pushed it.  Well, it’s not like I had a choice really :).

The final section through the Ashton Court estate was, courtesy of the weather, remarkably clear of the usual procession of grannies and pushchairs, though still, bizarrely, in possession of an ice-cream van.  Now that’s some serious wishful thinking for you.  Getting from the bottom of the estate to the top has more of a climb to it than I was expecting, not to mention some vicious little speed bumps in places.  We pottered ourselves all the way up and back out on to the main road near Clifton.  I could have used a tow, but apparently today was my day for towing.  My turn will come.  That last couple of miles was, not to put too fine a point on it, a bitch.  Traffic, traffic lights, rain, standing water, lousy road surface, and slow gradual barely discernable in a car climb nearly all the way to the finish which was just around the corner…no the next corner…no that one…and finally we were back, over the timing mat, and it was over.  Soaked to the skin, and very relieved to not be doing it anymore.

Cycling time: 4:28:46 hrs
Distance: 72.10 miles
Avs: 16.1 mph.
ODO: 13322 miles

Howie was waiting, doing his thing, interviewing folk and taking photos – a serious lesson in how it should be done.  I must learn to do that better.  Mario was trying to leave, but I think someone must have had a word, as he ended up sitting in the bar for a bit.  Howie took a couple of photos of him and I, though that was as good as it got on the interaction front.  And that wouldn’t have happened without Howie’s insistence – so I hope the photos turn out ok!

I left Mario to it, and collected my free jersey which is no doubt very expensive, but is also very see through – and they didn’t have any girl’s kit available.  I shall have to buy a summer sleeveless base layer to wear under it then.  I know just the one I want too…*grin*.  One quick cup of coffee, a bit more gassing and it was time to go home.

The official results went up today.  My official time is 4:53, and it looks like of the 109 finishers I was 36th.  Which is pretty darn acceptable even if the rest of the riders did all stop for long leisurely lunches ;).

So.  Was it a good sportive?  Well it’s quite a nice route.  Scenic with some nice climbs.  It was well signed, well supported, and very well catered.  But it’s not very long or massively hilly as these things go, so it’s not a sportive you’d do just for the challenge.  You do it to ride with a cycling hero, a man you’ve heard of, a character, arguable one of the greats…and on that front, as well as on the weather front, it was a complete washout.  Entry for the ride was £100 and I was lucky enough to be doing it for Cyclosport.  Sure, you get a very expensive jersey, a goody bag with many lovely things in – bar tape, snazzy bottle holder, bottle, etc, better than usual food, free massage, photos but…£100?  I’m thinking if I’d paid that entry fee myself I’d be quite cross right now.  Mario who?

photo of me at the finish by

Mario Cipollini and a soaked to the skin me.

UPDATE: the official Cyclosport review, which includes Howie’s input, as well as mine and Holly’s (she got the gala dinner part!), is now up 🙂

7 thoughts on “Mario Cipollini Gran Fondo

  1. Rob

    Not your best day then? I rode to the Gorge for perhaps a glimpse of the main man. Punctured on the way there, then had a slow puncture (15 mins per pump-up) in the other tyre.Got wet up the gorge… saw the minis (highlight of the day) rode a bit of the course ’till got cold and fed-up in a mucky lane after crossing Burrington road. Turned round headed home. Suprised to meet course again at CofC, still no mario. More rain, more pumping, more wind then a hail finale. Agree with you about the 100 quid, think I would have been a bit disappointed if I’d entered.

  2. Mendip Rouleur

    Even though I love the countryside around here, I think they have been a bit lacking in imagination with the choice of route. Some of those roads around Winford are shocking, still all good training?

  3. Steve Clarke

    Hi, well I’m Steve Clarke, and yes I was wearing pretty loud kit on Sunday!!
    The team kit was a design of Mario Cipollini, and yes it does get me noticed, but that’s the idea! Much better than boring black!!
    The event needed to enjoyed as a whole weekend, the dinner,talk and hotel were fantastic! Yes, it was expensive, but very well organised and the jersey is worth £130 on it’s own!
    How many times do you get to meet ones hero?
    Liked your report, thanks, Steve

  4. Gav BROWN

    Im with Steve! ( Hi Steve hope the bike and outfit recovered from the downpour). I think it was great value, and the man was extremely gracious during the gala evening. As far as the ride goes, i can see the point that he could have slowed a little but to be honest given the reports of the training hes done with a view to a comeback, he probably was coasting! 3 km in a pace line with Cipo prior to the climb was enough for me. So much for non climber!!! Weather was decidedly belgian and i did regret lounging around the first meal station when the heavens opened. Inifinito and carbones needed stripped and emptied! Nice first run out in Shutt Vr team kit. Route had a couple of nice climbs in it but the draggy road surface was worse!!! Glad i let out a few PSI. Steve, nice work for having the cohones to wear that kit but the rear view in the wet will haunt me to my grave!!!

  5. Gav BROWN

    Oh and as for the bar afterwards, i was sat closebye with my lady and im not suprised he left. Access is one thing, the lack of respect shown by some to an icon who was just trying to get a post ride meal in was quite another! Some say you should never meet your heroes. I say rubbish! He was more than up to the carefully manufactured image and genial to boot.

  6. admin

    Fair enough. Sadly I didn’t get to do the whole thing, and I didn’t really get to meet him. Different folks different strokes 🙂

  7. steve clarke

    Thanks to Gav for comments. I found Mario to be very accommodating and friendly, signed some pictures for me (Cycling Weekly cover of him winning Milan – San Remo and Cycle Sport showing Mario after Worlds win, the CW cover is now framed and up on my wall…..sad!), and he talked to me at breakfast. Also, he slowed down and said “hello” when he spotted me (not difficult!!!!!) on the ride.
    Pity about the weather, my Cipillini RB1000 normally doesn’t see rain! Took me the rest of the week to clean it!!!!
    All in all it was a brilliant weekend and I will be riding it in 2013 if it’s ran again.

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