For the fifth weekend in a row, and the last one for a little while, this Sunday was predictably time for another sportive. Welcome to the Wiggle Wye Valley Warrior. My son, also predictably, asked me “wye” I was doing it, given the ‘orrible weather forecast…*groan*.
This was a question I asked myself when the alarm went off at 6:00am, and I didn’t need to draw back the curtains to know it was raining, I could hear it! What with that and pills and pain I came much closer than usual to bailing altogether, and just rolling over and going back to sleep. But, well, clearly I didn’t, otherwise this (rather long!) blog wouldn’t be here. And besides, I don’t, do I?
So, coffee, pills, breakfast, and time to go. On the upside, Chepstow is only 45 minutes from here, hence the later than usual start, and I got to go across the old Severn Bridge which I always like. OK, so I prefer riding across it, but I’ll be doing that on two different sportives later this year, and it wouldn’t have been much fun in the cold and damp and windy anyway!
HQ was at Chepstow Racecourse, with parking being opposite on a large muddy gravelly sodden car park. Nice. I was not looking forward to negotiating that with the bike and cleats…but for the time being I was wearing boots and it was time to walk to registration in the racecourse building. Same old routine as ever, find your desk, get a timing chip stuck on your helmet, get a Powerbar bottle/goodies (unless you’re on a press place), grab a map, number and cable ties. Easy. Oh, and I loved my number by the way – 1234! Even I can’t forget that. I remember being 501 once… Right, just time to nip to one of the many toilets and head back to the bike.
So. Hm. Well yes it was damp. Drizzly. And with more damp forecast. But it wasn’t very cold. And warmer was forecast. But wet plus wind can make you very cold. And what’s in a forecast anyway? Oh, fiddlesticks. I hate wearing the waterproof so stashed it in the saddlebag in case damp became proper wet later. But this would mean precious little space for stashing layers later if I needed to so… Toe covers, lightweight shoe covers, winter bib tights, bamboo s/s base layer, summer s/s jersey and my winter jacket. With mitts, winter collar, and with the over gloves stashed in a pocket. Well the winter jacket has vents, and zips, and I can push the sleeves up quite a bit. At a pinch one of the s/s layers could come off laters and probably fit in the saddle bag too. I thought, or hoped at least, that I had every eventuality covered!
Which brings me to time to get going. Time to gingerly negotiate the muddy car park, clog the cleats up with gunge, and somewhat ruefully reflect that at least the rain would wash the mud off the bike once I got going… Over the road, and down to the start line where I was luckily straight into the next bunch being prepared to go. I couldn’t really hear the briefing, though I doubt they had much to say that I haven’t heard before, and I could see the board with the signage on, and heard the bit about route splits. Having made it here I was determined to ride some, but I still hadn’t decided which route I was going to do – the 101, the 79, or whatever the short one was. That would be determined by how the weather went and how I actually felt out there.
And off we go. To cycle along the very beautiful but very increasingly damp Wye Valley. There’s a reason it’s an AONB you know. And there were carpets of bluebells, fragrant wild garlic, vibrant yellow oil seed rape, and lots of green. Well wet is good for green and it was kinda raining. Although the kinda of stuff that gets you wet without you really noticing that it’s heavier than you think, if you see what I mean. It still didn’t feel like time to put the waterproof on though. Does it ever? At some point it occurred to me that things looked kind of familiar, and wasn’t Tintern Abbey on the route around here somewhere? I quickly looked around me, in the nick of time, to see it just about to fly by behind me on the right hand side. Whilst photos in the rain don’t usually happen, there have to be exceptions to the rule, and since this might be the only pretty thing I saw all day if things got properly head down and miserable, I retraced my tracks a little and, voilá, one damp Cistercian abbey captured for perpetuity.
Off we went again. As you do. That would be the royal we of course, since I was back to riding on my own as usual. And I’ll have to admit I was kind of bimbling today. I’ve not had a great week health-wise, and having had my insides sort of painfully implode on a couple of hills lately which, I can assure you, is a seriously weird and unpleasant feeling, I was keen to avoid making that happen again. And as it’s unpredictable, you can never tell if…when… So that was how today’s ride was going to be. Being more than a little terrified of my own insides, today was going to be a bimble. Still, as things started to go up, after one up there was one of those Wiggle signs saying “Well done”, I have to say I hadn’t really noticed it was a notable hill, so that was nice. Encouraging even
Things brightened up a little. Which meant that there were gaps in between the damp, and the waterproof could stay where it was. I swear I carry that thing more than I wear it! When there was a little sun it was also definitely warmer. But the weather was/is unpredictable, so would it stay nicer? Anyway, the first food stop came around 20 miles in which was maybe a little early, but I stopped anyway. I’d not drunk much yet, so didn’t bother topping up my bottles as I figured I could do that at the next one at that rate. I could eat half a banana and stash the winter collar though, before heading back out.
There were plenty of riders out there today. I never once couldn’t see another one, or felt like I might have gone off course because I’d been on my own for so long. Plus the signage was really good, so getting lost was probably unlikely. Well, all apart from one right turn at the bottom of a steep descent about 30 miles in which a lot of people missed. The rider in front of me pulled up having seen it, and I had to slow up a little too fast, but hey, at least I got the hint and went the right way. The riders swearing at him from behind me went past and disappeared into the distance…I wonder how far they got before they realised?
I’ll get on to the number of riders out there in a bit…bear with me. In the meantime, back to more valleys and hills. All very pretty. Goodrich Castle flew by on the right, there were pretty bridges and arty sculptures. I was doing ok, but I was still feeling too tentative on the pushing it front, and hey, it’s not a race right? To be honest, I’d known from the outset I wasn’t going to do the very long route. Nowt to prove these days, and I was almost tempted by the very short one! But that seemed a tad daft, even for me, so it was going to be the “Standard” route for me. Which I was hoping would have cut out Symonds Yat…no such bl**dy luck!
Which, with a minor detour, brings us to traffic. Wales was pretty busy today. Especially as the world woke up, realised the weather was improving, and that it was a Bank Holiday Sunday and they should be out. With lots of “them” on the road and lots of “us”, things weren’t always entirely civil, and there was some bad behaviour on both sides. And to add insult to injury, there was another cycling event running the same day, on a lot of the same roads, though frequently in the opposite direction. So that’s two way traffic of two sorts on narrow not always two way roads…oooh, we were NOT popular. I’m thinking cycling organisers should maybe communicate and stop this from happening? Especially as the other event, the Monmouthshire Challenge is part of a two day event which has the Forest of Dean Spring Classic, on the same roads, the following day. You know what, I did kind of feel sorry for the motorists, and that doesn’t happen often!
A lot of this came to a head on the aforementioned Symonds Yat. It’s a killer climb, up a narrow road that’s even narrower at the bottom, with precious few passing places. The other sportive may not have been here with us, but plenty of impatient motorists were trying to get down/up as we tried to go up. We all ended up stopped and stuck at one point waiting for things to clear, which led to that “will I ever be able to get back on again” worry. The lady in the car next to me was, very kindly and whilst chatting to me, waiting to let cyclists come up. Sadly she hadn’t realised that this was just backing up the traffic behind her and blocking the road even further up…and tempers back there were rising…
Still, the bottleneck cleared, I did get back into my cleats, and I did get up. Unlike most around me. Or any, actually. *grin* I hope the Mamil who failed to uncleat and rolled over onto the road in slow-motion almost comical fashion is ok, whilst being glad that he did it just far enough ahead of me that he didn’t take me down with him!
Yes, I made it up Symonds Yat again. That’s three for three The footbridge over the road at the top marks the end of the worst, though it does keep going up for quite some time afterwards. It is, as a rider in red passing me commented, the hill that keeps on giving But there were pretty things to look at, and what comes up must come down, which is always good. Although that down brings you into a busy Monmouth. Very busy. With a bridge, lots of cars, traffic lights, some weird back streets to negotiate, and then the busy high street. Did I mention how popular we were?
Having gone down, and out, it was time to go back out into the countryside and as it opened out, a familiar looking climb loomed ahead. Ah, that one. *groan*. Lydart I think it’s called. I knew it was a long one and it was going to take a while. Having done it on the Forest of Dean Classic I knew I’d probably be ok with it though, and hey, with a hairpin, and being long and gradual really, it’s practically my kind of hill. Time to engage crawler gear and just get on with it. Which I did. Stunning views too, if you felt like looking over your shoulder that is.
By this point things had been tricky on the layer front for a while. Sun/hills meant I was a little too warm. When it clouded over, the wind blew, and the drizzle fell again, I was a little chilly. Should I stash a layer or not? More worryingly, because I was overall probably a little too warm, I was drinking more than usual. Having said that, the tramadol has that effect too. I was seriously starting to think I might run out of drink by the second food stop which didn’t come until somewhere around the 60 mile mark, which I think was too far from the first. I made it with mere mouthfuls to spare, and was very relieved to top up my bottles – riding when fretting is not great. Neither would riding dehydrated have been!
Having opted for the standard route as predicted, and not taken the right turn in Monmouth to do otherwise, this left me with only 19 miles or so to do. Which, if it wasn’t too hilly, wouldn’t take too long. And as it was much nicer out there by now, this left me feeling pretty positive. And I won’t say that changed too much but, after some more flat, and more pretty valley, there’s a very very long climb back to Chepstow. It just goes on and on and on. I wasn’t suffering particularly, but I did get pretty bored of the constant upness! Another amusing sign encouraged us to “Finish Strong”. Which hey, great, I’d love to, if you’d stop making me go up bl**dy hill! Still, even bad things come to an end, and the last 5 miles or so were pretty much down again, which just a little kicker of a hill to get us back up to the racecourse.
Ok, so today was a bimble. Maybe I hadn’t really earnt my Finishers medal and t-shirt. I always feel I should have done the long route to earn those. But as I drove back over the Severn Bridge and the heavens opened again, I reflected that if I hadn’t opted for the shorter route I’d probably be slogging up that long hill, or one similar, in the pouring rain and I decided I could live with it What I did do was have a pretty enjoyable ride, in some stunning scenery, with an awful lot of climbing that I managed just fine without pushing any painful limits. That’ll do me nicely
Cycling time: 5:47
Distance: 79.5 miles
Avg: 13.7 mph
ODO: 9233 miles