OK, enough with the warm sunny riding, it’s time for a British sportive In this case, The Lionheart. Again. My fourth, since you can’t really count the one that got snowed out, and the forecast was for dry, chilly, and not much wind. Good start. And having done three rides since my training camp, which had gone pretty well, I was actually sort of looking forward to it. To seeing how I would get on, more than the ride itself, if that makes any sense. I wanted to know if training camps actually work. I was all set for it. Ready to ride 100 miles again.
Well, until Saturday night that is. When the pain made an unwanted, though if I’d thought about it a probably predictable, return. I was really hoping it was just the start of a flare-up, and that it wouldn’t hit full stride for a while…all I needed was 24 hours right? *fingers crossed* ‘n all that. Unsurprisingly I did not sleep well. But I was up at 5:00am with the alarm, still not feeling too bad, and thinking I might get away with it. I’d done most of my faffing the night before, so after the usual coffee and cereal, with some ibuprofen thrown in for good measure, I loaded myself and many layers into the car, and enjoyed the hour’s drive to HQ at Longleat.
Thanks to the pre-entry pack, there’s no need to register on the day for this one. Having said that, it could have been more informative. Although it came with a whole heap of rider number stickers, and the essential timing chip, that was pretty much it and all the actual event information was on-line as a pdf. I’d read it. Some hadn’t. I knew that I was supposed to be there an hour before my entry time, and where there was. That the 100 milers would be leaving before the 100 kmers. And that entry times would be sent out the Tuesday before the event. Well if they were, I didn’t get mine. I did however remember this fact, and checked the entry list on-line, which said that my start time was 8:04am. All of which meant I arrived at around 7:00am, and was marshalled onto the parking on the grass by the event village.
But before we carry on – back to that entry pack. The timing chip is great. Stick it on to the LHS of the helmet – job done. I don’t mind a handlebar number, not that I’m likely to be buying any of the photos that that is mostly used for, and kudos for supplying little cable ties for it too. I quite like the fact that the two distances got different colours for this – red for long, green for short. But the rest of those stickers? Sticker for helmet. Sticker to go around the seat post – which never works with my saddle bag. And a number to be pinned on your back too, though with no pins with which to do so. Which I duly affixed to my jacket because the instructions said I “must”. But what with all the layers, the chances were that this would probably be covered up half the time anyway, so what was the point? I think there may have been some number overkill going on…
Right, back to the paddock. First things first, the toilets of course, before the inevitable queues grew, which they did later on. There were no women only cubicles, unlike last year, but at this point neither this nor queues was an issue, which was good. Then it was back to the car to find some cash, having spotted that Claud the Butler was once again present. I don’t usually do pre-ride coffee, but I’ll make an exception for very good coffee, which is what they do. Plus I kinda know them by now and it’s nice to see a familiar face on days like this. Talking of which, as I was standing in the short queue for my short americano, Rob turned up. I’d forgotten he was doing it – I frequently have a brain like a sieve – and not only was it good to see him, but this was a familiar face that then agreed to ride with me for a bit too – bonus!
Back to the car for proper faffing. It was pretty chilly and it wasn’t due to really warm up, but there was a lot of climbing ahead, and if the sun did come out…ooh, what to wear? I made various decisions and crossed my fingers they’d be the right ones. Just as we were making our way to the start line, I had second thoughts about my tyre pressures and decided to actually do something about it rather than leaving it. Just as well – they were both well down, though I’ve no idea why, and they’ve only been pumped up a week! Rubber inflated, we set off on a little 10 minute ride through the arboretum to get to the start line. Which was a bit weird. Human Race have taken The Lionheart over and clearly made some changes. The Start (and Finish) line is on the main drive now – but facing the house. It’s a lot easier to line riders up here than wiggling them around the house, and this also means they don’t get in the way of arriving traffic or departing riders. But the little ride is a bit of an awkward way to get them there. Anyway, Rob and I were lucky. As we arrived at the start, going past the queue of 100km riders on the right (maybe they hadn’t read the pdf?) we were ushered straight into the back of the next group of 100 milers to be briefed and let go, so we didn’t have to hang around in the cold getting even colder. In fact looking at the results, we were off at 8:04am precisely!
But we didn’t hurtle off. The first four miles are around the estate, and mostly uphill. This is not the nicest way in the world to warm up, and it’s a mistake to push it (not that I could) because it’s too early in the day for that. So Rob kept me company while we slowly bimbled around, failing to see the lions, and then climbing the long hill out of the estate together, passing comment on the many examples of sartorial elegance around us. We were cold. It was cold. Very cold. Which didn’t stop many riders wearing shorts. Or, in the case of one madman, a vest top. Hypothermia anyone?! Once at the top we stopped, stashed gilets, and then out into the country lanes we went. After half an hour of company and tolerance, as I dropped back on a hill, Rob headed off to test out his legs. Not that I was complaining, we were probably both happier doing our own thing, but it was nice to have some company for a little while
I don’t remember much of the first hour or so. There were various ups and downs, the ups weren’t bothering me too much, and downs are always good. It was all a bit sort of unremarkable, probably because it was grey and cloudy and cold and I hadn’t really warmed up? Life was however starting to get more painful. Which was not great. I was due more painkillers at 10:00am so I started counting down to that. And wondering if 100 miles was in fact going to be doable. No need to make decisions yet though, so keep riding. Eat. Try and think of other things. Keep pedalling. The first foodstop, at the 18 mile mark, came and went, as I didn’t stop as it was too soon for me. We headed west towards familiar territory, and then south. Life got more scenic, with the pretty that is Evercreech, nice climbs and nice views. Somewhere after a climb before Bruton I stopped and took those pills, and realised I didn’t have any more with me, and although I had some of the big guns with me, I can only take those and ride when I’m already on them and accustomed. Otherwise I zonk, and zombies do not ride well. Hm.
Off again, duly mulling things over in my head, and into Bruton for the second (very well stocked) foodstop, 31 miles in, where I did stop. It was brightening up now, if not warming up, which was nice. I ate and drank and sat and thought. And pondered King Alfred’s Tower which was mentally looming 4 miles away, whichever route I was going to do. I decided I’d give the pills until 11:00, see if/how they worked, and then maybe decide what I was going to do afterwards. Time to go and climb that hill then. Another change for this year, and a big improvement, is that this was now a closed road timed hill climb. Ignore the latter bit, it’s the closed road bit that’s important! This is a 1.5 mile climb that gets steeper all the way, and is very narrow, so if a car comes the other way and you have to stop, getting going again can be seriously tricky. Especially if it’s wet which, luckily, today it wasn’t. So closing the road is a very good thing, but it wasn’t going to stop it being hard work! Here we go then. Walkers on the left, riders on the right please. Whatever the pain was doing, I was going to do my best which, as it turns out, slowly but surely got me to the top again. ‘Rah! Of those going up around me, about 95% seemed to end up walking, which was gratifying It’s one of the climbs where it’s very good knowing you’ve been up it before, because you know it can be done, and you also know where it ends! As I made it to the top, I have to say I was very pleased indeed as I really had thought that today, all things considered, I might have joined those on the left hand side…
The stretch of flat and fast afterwards was lovely, as we headed towards Stourhead. In previous years I’m fairly sure I remember the route going through the estate itself, with all the lovely views and prettiness that entails. Well one of the changes this year, which no doubt pleases the NT grockles but did not please me, was to cut this out and instead go around it by back roads that clearly haven’t seen any road maintenance in quite some time, before bringing us back to the forest bit of Stourhead on the other side. Which, being forestry proper, is not a nice road. It never is. Potholes and dirt and gravel. Now, if you’ve had all the pretty beforehand, this has been known to seem like a fair trade-off. But that not being the case, it was just not nice. OK, so once you’ve climbed out of it, the views are lovely but…
Onwards. I kept thinking maybe I could do the 100 miles. It was a Sunday, the sun was shining, I was feeling pretty good mostly; I could do this, right? And then the knife in my guts would twist again and I’d wonder if I could do the next 100 metres! Clearly the pills weren’t cutting it…and I didn’t have more. Mind you, I figured I could probably buy some en route, so this wasn’t overly concerning me, and I wasn’t due anymore for a while anyway. But I was heading for the route split, so decisions needed to be made. And it hurt. It was SO annoying. Because I was feeling pretty strong otherwise. I was doing the hills. I was flying on the flat and holding my own with other riders, and enjoying feeling good on the bike when I did. But…
After a few miles on main roads, where just like last year (but without the hail) I led a little peloton for a while, we reached the food stop, at 49 miles, at Yapp’s in Mere again. It’s a nice place, a real sun trap too, and it was great to sit and feel warm for a while. There was lots on offer to eat and drink, including wine and cheese! Many people were debating what to do whilst milling around, as this was also where the route splits. Sadly I’d pretty much decided that it was going to have to be the 100km. Another 15 miles sounded a lot better than another 50, and a bit of me was wondering if I’d even manage that. I had a thought though…and headed off to see the ambulance guys, parked up outside. I expect they’re more used to dealing with dodgy knees and sore bums than they are my kind of problem but they were ever so helpful. Although all I’d initially asked for was ibuprofen to take a bit later, they actually gave me something stronger that I could take there and then. I wish I could remember what it was! Apparently it’s less strong than tramadol, so with less zombie effect, but better than ibuprofen and lasts 6-8 hours. I may need to get my hands on some of that for future use; something to ask the Doctor about methinks.
Deciding to take the shorter route means a long climb out of Mere which I remember hating last year. It didn’t bother me this year, I even completed some of the slowest over-taking manoeuvres you’ll ever see to get past some other riders I did know the next bit was lovely and that the rest of it wasn’t going to be too much trouble either, which probably helped. In fact I really enjoyed the last hour. The pain receded slowly. The sun was out and I was flying. After a little while over-taking lots of people, I picked up another rider, and we took turns to pretty much race back. Well that’s what it felt like anyway. There was no need to hold anything back now, so I figured I might as well go all out and get back
I’d dropped him, and a few others we acquired, just before the end, as we reached the final sprint down the drive. I took photos and then decided sprinting would be more fun. I think he tried to catch me…but I also think I won I was grinning as I collected my medal, shook his hand, and toddled off to tell the timing man I’d bailed. He already knew, and by the time I got back to the event village I’d had a text with my official time too!
I hung up my bike, collected my goody bag, and headed for the food tent, ostensibly in search of fizzy orange. Which had to be 7Up because of that they had none. But the free hotpot on offer turned out to be vegetarian bean hotpot that was also gluten and dairy free! Whilst probably not 100% safe, I wasn’t sure what I’d be eating for dinner later, so I figured I’d risk it. Very nice it was too
Whilst eating in my little corner of the marquee I inspected the contents of the goody bag, which weren’t that goody really. Lots of free samples of things with the odd voucher and a magazine thrown in. No souvenir tube scarf this year, which was a shame, and another change made for the worse I think. Especially when you consider that this sportive costs £42. Yes, £42! That’s £6 more than last year. With other similar, and equally well run, events coming in around the £30 mark, I really don’t know what that extra £12 buys you. There was some email earlier in the year putting the increase down to VAT or some such, but that really doesn’t explain it. It wasn’t cheap to start with! Yes it’s a good event, and it’s well run, but I’m afraid I just don’t think that it’s value for money.
So, not a great day at the office. My official time is 5:05, showing that I wasted 40 minutes at foodstops and various other I need to take a break stops. Without the pain I reckon I’d have had a good one though; I certainly felt like the potential was there. But it’s hard to focus on the riding when your body is trying to curl itself into foetal position, and you can’t concentrate on anything outside your insides. Ho hum. However my average speed is well up on last year’s, in fact Strava says I did most of it better than last year, so I’ll take that as a positive, remember the bits I did enjoy and that I could do, and take that on with me to the next one. 100 miles this time, right? PMA
Cycling time: 4:24
Distance: 61.6 miles
Avg: 14.0 mph
ODO: 8523.3 miles