Bike Bath 2016

Getting up early for sportives is a lot easier in what we amusingly call the “summer”.  It may not be hot and balmy, but the sun is up early, and when the alarm goes off, at least it’s not pitch black out there.  This time around my alarm was set for 5:45, but thanks to the (sadly necessary) morphine itch, I woke myself up at 5:20.  Being woken up (sort of) naturally still seemed better than being ripped untimely from the womb of sleep, even if I was born by c-section so should be used to it by now 😉

My usual porridge didn’t appeal, what with it being unusually seasonal out there.  The sunshine implied that maybe a granola bar and coffee would be better, so I went with that.  As I checked the laptop for the weather, whilst consuming the same,  it looked like the forecast was for more of the same!  Dragons to slay, and sunshine to do it in, how cool is that?

HQ for Bike Bath is at Bath Recreation Ground.  Having done it last year I kinda knew the drill – but only kinda, more of which later.  What I did know is that Bath being as it is, all cultural and busy and so forth, the best way to do it, as recommended by the organisers is to head to the Newbridge Park & Ride and take it from there.  So I did.  It’s less than an hour away from me, and it was a very pleasant cross country drive in the sunshine with loud music.  Result, if you’re me 😉  Which got me to the park & ride on schedule.  As an additional bonus, parking is free, as you only pay if you ride.  By which I mean ride the bus, not the bike.  I guess we were all taking Park & Ride a little bit more literally than most! 😉  And there was an ‘us’ – there were a fair few of us doing the same.  Somewhat amusingly the entrance gate to the car park has a height restriction barrier though, so anyone with their bikes on top of their cars couldn’t get in…not ideal I imagine, and considerably less amusing for those it applied to!

Park & Ride entrance signs to HQ

As ever I wasn’t entirely sure what to wear.  It almost looked like you could set off in basic summer kit & base layer and call it quits for the day.  It actually felt pretty warm, by current standards.  Blimey!  But forecasts are frequently less accurate than you’d like, and I have a tendency to get cold so….I decided to add the gilet and arm warmers.  Well, I knew I had space to stash them if I needed to, so it didn’t matter if I had to.  Before I set off I decided to head to the toilets, as you do, which for 20p will even lock behind you.  However for some reason the toilets were alarming 😉  As in there was a very large alarm sounding from the building and 20p pushed through the slot wasn’t stopping that, or locking the door.  I decided to risk it…and luckily all was well…  Which made it time to head for HQ and leave the car park.  This year there was a very clearly signposted route to HQ – black arrows on yellow background – so I managed not to get lost, even if some of the route was a little bit hairy when it came to traffic junctions and so forth.  It was also further than I remember…3.5 miles in about 15 mins.

registration queues Bath Rec

So I’d arrived, on a sunny recreation field.  I parked my bike up on one of the racks and headed for registration in the main tent.  I queued, briefly, at the relevant place for my surname, and then signed my name/life away as usual.  The friendly man behind the desk stuck my timing chip on my helmet, thus saving me from having to take it off and do it myself.  It’s not hard to figure out where to put it anyway, there’s a sticky strip on the LHS there that has clearly been used many, many times!  I was also given my bike number and two short skinny cable ties, which, when I’d found my way back to my bike, made fitting the number to my handlebars really tricky.  And getting to use the toilets was kinda tricky too, what with there only being 4 of them for what was, apparently, around 1000 cyclists on the day.  I was lucky, the queue was relatively short when I made it up there.  Last seen it was growing rapidly….

rider briefing toilet queues

All that done, actually starting was easy.  I headed towards the start line, where groups had been being let go for quite a while.  Long (80 mile) route riders were being given preference, as the short (50 mile) route were supposed to start later.  So I joined a very small group of similar riders, and after a very short & concise briefing, which given the extensive pre-ride instructions was all that was needed, I was on my way at 8:09 am.

long first climb time to climb out of Bath

Now if you’d paid attention to those pre-ride instructions, which I hadn’t until a couple of days beforehand, you’d know that the route for Bike Bath can vary each year.  I did it last year, when the route went through the (oddly exciting) Two Tunnels and around the Mendips.  Which I’d mentally sort of been expecting again – I wasn’t that keen to cycle around my own patch again, but was sort of keen to do the less familiar bits again.  All of which became academic when I discovered the route had changed completely!  See you, told you I didn’t entirely know the drill.  This time we would be heading South, East and around in a route that was to include Salisbury Plain and Lacock.  Well, novelty is good, right?  And to be honest, it didn’t really make any difference, since whatever the route was, I was going to be doing it anyway, right?

pub bunting hill selfie

Off I go then.  Somewhat rudely the first climb, and it was a long hard one at that, came all of a mile in. No fair!  However it was gradual and consistent and not too steep and the sun was shining and crawler gear cut in and hey, happy me, even if I hadn’t warmed up yet 🙂  It did feel like kinda hard work though, even by my standards.  And after a lovely descent, and halfway up the next fairly similar up all of a couple of miles later, the bike was making a funny noise.  Like something was rubbing a bit maybe, maybe I’d picked up a stick, leaf, whatever…  So I carried on to the top of the hill and on for a little while further until there was somewhere appropriate to stop where I could check it out.  No leaves but, as it turns out, the whole back brake setup had moved so that it was off kilter and the left rear brake was permanently on, whether it was supposed to be or not.  Not massively helpful.  So I straightened things up and set off again, checking from time to time that nothing had re-shifted, and trying to not to veer all over the road as I did so.

long road ahead castle or gatehouse

Luckily I was never going to get lost, not even looking down half the time.  The signage today was the best I’ve seen in a long time – with signs before a junction, on the junction, and afterwards, and also reminders en route.  Which was good, because even with 1000 or so riders taking part over the three routes available, I was riding on my own, and it pretty much stayed that way all day.  It was nice out there though.  The gilet went away fairly soon, after both the morning and I had warmed up a bit.  And it was lovely.  Sunny, blue skies, white clouds, though it was a bit breezy, but when isn’t it?  Lots of greenery, pretty villages, posh properties to gawp at, views…as we headed south towards Frome, and then out and around Longleat forest.  There were ups and downs but nothing too drastic, but by after around 20 miles the route turned East, and went properly up again…up Forest Road to Round Hill according to Strava.

first food stop marvellous mechanics

The first food stop was at Sutton Veny, around 28 miles in.  The second was past West Lavington more around the 50 mile mark I think.  Both were at village halls, hence with decent facilities, space to hang out, and they also had a really good range of food & drink.  Cawston Press juices, flapjacks, bananas, jelly beans, bars, something involving beetroot, and even cheese & pickles at the second one!  Being a little less than at my best, lousy at eating generally, and with a tendency for my meds to wooze me out, both times I opted for the Scheckter’s Organic Energy drink on the basis that that way I was less likely to fall asleep on the bike.  Turns out it was pretty tasty too – I may have to find some of that for future use!  Even better, a very friendly helpful mechanic at the first food stop obligingly tightened up the back brake set up for me so I could stop checking it out all the time and go back to checking out the road ahead instead.

second food stop with cheese second food stop crowds

Which, both in between the food stops, and afterwards, was pretty much new to me.  And I liked it.  The middle section was flatter than the first third.  I enjoyed the stretch over Salisbury Plain a great deal – lots of lovely long rolling quiet roads, and wide open landscape.  However for all that the (novel) signs repeatedly warned us, there were sadly no tanks to dodge, and there were no men in uniform either…*sulk* 😉

Salisbury Plain Lacock

After the second food stop came more of the same, including Lacock, cute vintage cars, beautiful bridges, and assorted pretty villages.  Sadly we sort of went through the edge of Lacock rather than through the main picture perfect chocolate box bit…  In amongst all this eye candy there were a couple more long draggy climbs as well, and the inevitable somewhat annoying wind. But I can do climbs like that and I knew it wasn’t far to go, as these things go, to get back to Bath.  Besides, ups come with downs, and some of them were great!  There was one last minute, or is that last mile, proper kicker just before we got back, which was tough on tiring legs.  And then all the pretty that is Bath hove into sight once more, and I was back negotiating the busier roads of the city and heading back to HQ.

vintage car pretty bridge

So.  Bike Bath done.  I rolled over the finish line with a complete lack of ceremony.  There were a couple of people around but little by way of a welcome committee.  I wasn’t quite sure what to do next.  I figured out where I could print out my time, to the left of the finish, but that turned out to be temporarily out of order.  I politely accosted a lad with a medal who was passing me to ask where we went to get those – which was apparently in the tent.  As the place was full of people sitting around in the sun and enjoying themselves, the bike racks were pretty full, so I dumped my bike (carefully) on the grass, before heading for the tent.  Not only did I get my medal, but there was also a range of FREE baguette sandwiches available.  Now bread isn’t really my thing, but I figured posh ham, salad and tomato could be removed from its gluteny grasp easily enough – and I did need some food.  I also figured that it would be rude not to have a pint of Bath Ales, at £2 a pint, to wash it down with, right?  I don’t usually but…it had been a good ride, the sun was shining, and I didn’t have anywhere particular to be particularly soon.  So I spent some time being busy doing nothing, watching the world go by, and topping up my silly tan line marks.  Eventually I was even able to print my time out.  Sitting there and unintentionally eavesdropping on those around me debriefing, it would appear that quite a lot of people had found it quite a challenge…and I was a bit bemused because I really hadn’t, I’d just had a nice Sunday ride in the sun!

riders relaxing afterwards post ride refreshment

Cycling time: 5:00
Official time: 5:28
Distance: 79.3 miles
Avs: 15.9 mph

I couldn’t stay there all day though.  Not and drive home afterwards anyway…!  It was time to head back to the car, which was harder than you’d think since there seemed to be no signage for the return route, and I hadn’t paid quite enough attention on the way in because I’d been relying on the signs…  Inevitably I got mildly lost, but I managed to get myself back to the park ‘n ride without too much delay.  Where the toilets were still alarmed…. 😉  It took no time at all to load the car up again, and head home to chill out with my mob.  All in all, a pretty good Sunday 🙂

Time print out Bike Bath 2016 Medal

Tour of Cambridgeshire 2016

I’m a sucker for closed road cycling events.  They are however fairly few and far between in the UK, so I don’t get the chance very often.  So when the stars aligned and I got the chance to do the Tour of Cambridgeshire Gran Fondo, I was definitely up for it. Mind you, it wasn’t just the closed roads that had me hooked;  I’ve cycled around Cambridgeshire a little bit before, and I know that it’s pretty flat around there.  Just because I’ve decided I like hills and they’re going well doesn’t mean I didn’t find the idea of hurtling around on the flat for a few hours appealing 😉

Cambridgeshire is not next door.  Peterborough Arena & Showground, where the event is based, is a good 3+ hours drive from chez moi.  Since long drives and I don’t get on all that well, the sensible thing to do was book a hotel for the night before, and take my time getting there.  Which made the whole pre-sportive thing pretty relaxing.  Which was just as well, as I wasn’t having the greatest day health-wise.  So…  Have lie in.  Get up.  Sort kit, clothes, etc.  Load up car.  Leave.  Thanks to roadworks near Birmingham, various traffic issues, and the need to take a break because driving was making the pain worse, the whole trip took me around 4.5 hours instead…but since I wasn’t really under time pressure, I could at least remain fairly relaxed about that.

Home for the night was the Peterborough Marriott Hotel.  Which is also where I had to go to collect my Press Accreditation pack.  Did I forget to mention I got to be proper VIP Press for this one?  Yep.  I did.  How cool is that?!  *grin*.  My elevated status would apparently entitle me to free VIP parking on site, and also access to the Club Kermesse building, with drinks and food, throughout the event.  Which sounded pretty cool to me.  I am SO easily pleased sometimes :D.

It’s a pretty big hotel, and as I arrived, the car park was crawling with a great many cyclists unloading cars, and kit, and by the looks of it, taking their babies into sleep with them.  There wasn’t much space in the car park but there’s always someone who’s parked badly and left a space that’s tricky for most cars to get into.  Not my car though, my diddy i10 can always get in there, and today was no exception.  ‘Rah!  So I parked up right near the entrance and made my way through lots of very expensive carbon to check in.  I didn’t really have time to hang around though.  Registration, having been open all day, closed at 7pm, and it now being around 6pm, I needed to get on getting on.  So I checked in, collected my press pack, and located my room.  Which was nearly as far from reception as you can get…quite a trek!  No time to check out the room much though – other than to note it was large and looked nice.  I dumped most of my stuff on the bed, before opening my pack, getting my car window sticker and my little VIP wrist band, and heading back to the car.  I could have ridden directly over to registration, as many others had/were, but that would have involved too much faffing.  Getting there by car may have been more circuitous…but it was quicker!  A few roundabouts later, and a lap around the inner showground road, and I was in the official car park on the other side.  The marshals were very keen to point me to park with everyone else, but my little blue window sticker meant that, once they’d figured it out, I was sent off to park right by the main entrance.  Very cool :).  They were also very keen that I park neatly and make a row…which was amusing, considering I was the only one parked there!

VIP parking for registration registration

The whole place had obviously been much busier earlier, but by now it had an air of ghost town about it.  There certainly weren’t queues for anything.  I followed the signs to registration through various bits of building before arriving in the somewhat cavernous room where what I needed was.  With tables all set out in number order, I figured out which one included 7083, having been informed of my number by a prior email, and one of two surprisingly cheery gents dug out my entry envelope.  Well if I’d been stood there all day, I doubt I’d have still been cheery!  And that was that.  Job done.  Mind you I was marginally irritated that no-one had asked me for the photo id that the pre-event instructions had made very clear would be required.  I hate lugging my passport around – especially when they cost c.£75 to replace – and I still have a paper driving license (which is still legal, I’ve checked).

site map Club Kermesse

I didn’t really know what to do with myself next.  With everything winding down for the day there wasn’t much to do.  I looked at the map to familiarise myself with the site layout a bit, and wandered around a tad aimlessly in the sunshine.  The Club Kermesse building was in the middle but looked pretty vacant, so I didn’t bother check that out more closely.  I didn’t fancy an ice-cream, or any of the other food that was still on offer.  The event village was, like everything else, visibly closing down.  Talking of which, it was also sort of set off to one side and a little out of the way, which actually meant that I never got around to visiting it, since it was never on my way anywhere, and I’d have had to make a deliberate effort to go and look at things that I wasn’t going to buy so…  I wonder if that happened a lot, and if that location really worked for the various stall holders etc?rider pack

Enough musing about that though.  Time to stop being aimless and head back to the hotel.  Back to the hotel and back to the same car parking space, since no-one else had managed to get into it in my absence.  Tee hee hee 🙂  Unlike everyone else, by the looks of it, I decided to leave my bike in the car.  For starters, I figured if you were going to nick a bike that mine, compared to all the others, would be relatively safe.  I also couldn’t be arsed to put it back together, wheel it all the way to my room in Outer Mongolia, only to repeat the trip the next day.  A lot of folk were probably going to ride to the start in the morning, so it probably made more sense for them.  However with the luxury of my VIP parking, and the need to drive home again straight after the event, it made more sense for me to drive over.  So the bike was staying put and, although there was a buffet dinner available that evening for VIPs and staff, it was at the golf course down the road and I didn’t fancy driving, so I was staying put too.

lager VIP

My evening passed pleasantly enough…I drank the odd pint of Stella, at a fairly reasonable £4.50 a pint, passed on paying £9.50 (!!!) for the large glass of Sauvignon Blanc I might like to have had instead, was squeezed into the restaurant by the very helpful Maitre d’ for what turned out to be rather nice food, and spent a lot of time hanging out with my Kindle.  The place was heaving, but I didn’t end up in company though there was the odd chat here and there at the bar etc.  Including with one rather nice couple who I then bumped into several times over the weekend as you do.  Such conversations tend to go much the same way.  “are you doing the event, have you done it before, are you ready, which route/entry are you, have you been riding long…” always followed by the “so have you done many sportives then?” question.  Ah…  Well…  That’s always a good one *grin*.  I usually go with the, “I’ve done a few…” type of response and dissemble madly. Explaining the who/why of me being there tends to follow, and then I have to explain that just because I do a “fair few” that doesn’t mean I’m any good at them, which doesn’t seem to stop folk getting a wildly inaccurate idea of what kind of cyclist I am!

Enough of all this frivolity. Time to head to bed.  No need to get an early night though.  Because this event is a bit weird.  I have to admit to not paying too much attention to the instructions beforehand.  I figure I know how sportives work.  I knew I had to get up there, ride a bike at some point, and then get back.  So when I finally read through the Race Book and discovered that whichever category of rider you were, nothing was kicking off until midday…I was kinda surprised…!   And to be honest, mildly annoyed…  I could have driven up that morning, right?  Although yeah, that wouldn’t have been that wise, what with the ride a lot and drive straight back thing, but still…  Anyway.  Bed.  At which point my phone reminded me that I should be putting a new patch on.  Which would be great if I’d remembered to bring one with me…  Oh marvellous. I can be such an eejot sometimes…

So, even with breakfast served until 11, in amazingly considerate style, I still got up at 8am.  Well  a long lasting disagreement with dinner, early withdrawal, pain levels, and the usual wake up every hour and check the time thing that my brain does before sportives, it wasn’t the most restful night.  Oh, and the mattress was a bit too soft… 😉  I’d decided to have breakfast at the hotel, which I booked the night before, not when I booked – having presumed I’d be up too early to have hotel breakfast – that’s usually the case right?  I made my way, half kitted up, to join all the others milling around downstairs.  Breakfast was busy, so I had to wait until my room number was called before I could take my place at the trough 😉  Thermos jugs of Starbucks coffee, and all the usual breakfast stuff, including omelettes make in front of you…  I settled for coffee, fruit juice, and muesli with added dried fruit.  Not that exciting, but since me and my insides had only recently resumed being on speaking terms, I figured that was best.  Cycling food is mostly all about the fodder not the fun.

Time to kill then.  Boring….!  I read a bit.  Faffed into the right kit.  Pinned my number on my jersey.  Watched inane TV.  Watched the bunny rabbits outside my window actually enjoying their breakfast.  Eventually the time had come to stop waiting at the hotel and go and do waiting somewhere else.  Back into the car, back to the show ground, and back to my very fabulous VIP parking.  Which even had a couple of small rows of other cars in it this time around.  I was still all of c.10 cars from the entrance though 😉  And I was still early.  Time to faff then, sat in the sunshine, watching the cycling world go by.  My front tyre had had a very very slow puncture for a couple of weeks and was a little on the flat side.  Rather than pump it up again I decided I might as well change the inner tube instead.  So I did.  Hey, so it took me a while, but it’s not like I was in a rush, and it helped me figure out what the temperature outside was like.  Sunny, warm out of the wind, but chilly when in the wind.  So once the bike was fixed and reassembled, I decided that what I was wearing – summer kit, with my new s/s base layer – and a gilet in the saddle bag would do.  Easy peasy.  All I had to do was attach my number/chip to the handlebars and that was that.  No more faffing to do.

pre-ride fueling inside Club Kermesse

I took my bike and myself through the gates, into the racecourse, and straight to Club Kermesse.  Which was working today.  Various cyclists were inside, or on the terrace outside, with their bikes likewise.  I leant mine against a wall, and helped myself to a cup of instant coffee.  Better than no coffee.  Actually scratch that…life is too short for bad coffee.  I’ll tell you what was good though – access to clean, empty, toilets.  Probably something the hoi polloi outside didn’t have…though I have nothing to base that statement on 😉  For a while I was on my own, sort of people watching, and people spotting, and at some point Patrick, who’d been the one to sort my entry & pass out before the event, came over for a chat.

I’m sure there were people there who I should have recognised.  You sees “the ToC Gran Fondo is a mass participation cycle sport event. It is also the 2016 UK qualifier for the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships“.  And there are four different streams to this event.  One of which is actual, proper, RACE.  Which is for “those riders holding a current full racing license and intending to race to win their Masters Age / Gender Classification and / or to qualify for the 2016 UCI Gran Fondo World Championships“.  So – you know – proper cyclists then 😉  One of them, number 624, Allan Beckett, maybe this one, even chatted to me for a while, which made a nice change from being sat on my own wondering what to do next.  Another 682, was Hannah Reynolds, maybe this one.

moaning about the queue on Facebook the Start is in sight

Outside, in the sunshine, with well over an hour to go before midday, cyclists were already queuing in their various pens.  Four groups, like I said before – being Race, Sport, Gran Fondo & Leisure, all to be set off in that order.  Generally speaking I like to be as near the front of my pen as possible, but it was already too late for that.  So I hung around a bit longer.  Well, I was inside, out of the wind, with VIP toilets remember?  But eventually my anxiety over being too far back won me over and I decided I had to go and join my queue which, conveniently, wasn’t that far away from the Club either.  So I joined.  And I queued.  Which basically, as queueing does, involved standing in one place killing time for an hour.  Fun.  Not.  And although it was sunny, that wind was chilly.  So I dug out the gilet, and passed the time listening to and watching other riders, admiring/laughing at various kit, and you know…twiddling my thumbs.  There was music playing, and speakers, and helicopters, and I think nearer the front there was probably more of a sense of atmosphere.  We were just a bunch of riders stood in a very long queue…

finally under way closed road

As advertised, things kicked off, a long long way away from us, at midday.  Pen by pen riders were slowly let go, and eventually our lot were doing that shuffling, stop/start, half riding half walking thing.  And I was over the start line at 12:36, if I recall correctly.  Man it was a relief to get all that waiting over and done with!

flat out there

Now, right now you’re thinking that you’ve already read 2600+ words just to get to this point.  And you’re thinking, bl**dy hell, if she’s going to write the whole ride like this, this is going to take forever, and OMG…or similar, quite probably less polite…  Well you’ll be relieved to know it’s not going to be like that, because I can’t write about this ride like your normal sportive.  It was different.  And not just because the roads were closed.

I got off to a good start.  Closed roads means no obstacles.  No stopping.  There were a few pinch points on narrow lanes early on which slowed everyone down, and a couple of accidents (possibly caused by those) that did the same.  Marshals carefully managed everyone past while the injured were being dealt with.  Everyone was pushing on, to get away from the crowds, to get going, to get warmed up.  There were a few ups early on that around there they probably call hills.  Which I call ups.  Or maybe drags.  I even pushed up those, though my insides made it quite clear that I had better not be going to do that all day.  And I didn’t have to because the ups kind of went away.

brief stop with riders passing by bit draggy

The whole ride sort of shrank down to just me, the bike, the road and riders around me.  You can’t look at the scenery too much when you’re having to be so aware of everything.  Which group to jump on to, which peloton to avoid as they push past you, which route to take through the slower pack ahead of you.  Which side of the road to be on, looking out for potholes to avoid, road furniture to go around.  You can’t get lost – there’s just one route to follow – and time just seems to pass faster than usual.  And I guess I was faster than usual too.  I may not be great at  hills, although I’m definitely getting better…but I can bomb around on the flat all day.  At the end of the first hour my average speed was 20.1mph.  And I was going well.  Really well.

riders on the bridge riders below two ways on the runway

So it was like a 4.5 hour sprint.  This time it actually was a race 😉  Which is not how my sportives are normally…*engage understatement mode*…!  Sometimes I was behind a group.  Or in a group.  Or on my own.  Or I’d think I was  and then I’d turn around and discover I wasn’t on my own, and had acquired a peloton.  And they’d either stay there, or having finished hitching a ride would go do their own thing, or I’d get bored of them being there and drop them, just kinda for fun.  Occasionally I hitched a ride just to get a bit of a break, but then I’d get bored with going slower than I wanted to, and push on again.  The sun shone.  There were no hills.  Because I wasn’t pushing up anything, my insides calmed down.  There was inevitably wind, especially towards the end, a strong head wind which made things harder work for quite a while.  Flat is fun, but out there among the waterways and fens and fields, there was nowhere to hide…

wind farm  windy waterways

On the practical side, there were three food stops.  One on the scary big loop on the airfield which was chaotic, and so I just cycled through it.  I didn’t enjoy all the concrete with cracks and joins in there either, which could easily have tram lined my wheel…and I’m a bit averse to that happening.  There was another food stop half way around where I did stop, queued my way in, only to discover that the locusts had descended and there wasn’t much left.  One friendly elderly gent was holding out a rubbish bag at the entrance as we filtered past in four or so queues, which was a good idea.  I managed to grab a chunk of orange, found the mountain of water bottles amidst the mess outside and filled up my bottle, bailed on the queue for the loos and headed off again.  And I skipped the third food stop because I didn’t need it, and I didn’t fancy more chaos, and why stop when going feels so good?  The best refreshment all day?  The ice-pop that I was given by a spectator as I left the second food stop – held out for me to grab as I went along – which was very lovely 🙂

food stop fodder need water

And there was a lot of that.  By which I mean support en route. Loads of people everywhere cheering, clapping, waving.  Probably because there are worse things to do than sit outside your house in the sunshine, drink wine and beer, have a picnic, and watch lots of lycra clad loons hurtle past.  I waved back at people, smiled a lot, and clapped hands with the odd child as I went by, before realised that hitting hands at 20 mph hurts a bit! 😉

outrider middle of the road

I had a lot of fun.  I really did.  I even picked up the odd more constant companion from time to time, for taking turns, and chatting.  Though I did tend to leave them behind eventually as they flagged and I didn’t..*grin*.  Nearer the end there were narrower lanes again, and a few more drags and I pushed up them best I could and only started to feel a little slower very near the end, when one of my fans rejoined me.  It’s odd how keen people are to tell you how good you are at riding when you’re a girl…cos, like, you’re doing the same ride as me with me so how does that make me any better than you?  Still…I had dropped him on the drags so… 😉

nearly there Here comes the Finish

And sort of before you knew it, and almost sadly, the race was over, and we were back at the showground and then rolling under the Finish Timing Arch, which showed that it was 5:07 since the event had first kicked off.  Tour of Cambridgeshire done.  I joined the walking peloton, was presented with my medal and a bottle of water, and made the long cleat destroying walk all the way back to the centre of the venue.  I decided to nip into the Club again, partially because Patrick had said to look him up when I got in.  I couldn’t find him, but I could park up, use the toilets again, have some more water, and chill briefly.  A text to my phone informed me that my official time was 4:26 which was a nice touch, and also quite cool.  I couldn’t hang around long though, because I had a 3.5 hour drive ahead of me.

Tour of Cambridgeshire medal

I walked back to the car, through lots of riders sitting around in the sun and taking advantage of the ice-cream van.  It all felt a bit anti-climatic somehow. though?  There didn’t seem to be any focused place to be, or anything going on.  Not that it mattered, as it was time to get changed, load up, and head off then.  And finally, after a nice easy drive, sometime around 9:45pm I was back home.

The official results took a while to come out, as I gather there were some issues with the official Race, and pens, and things beyond my ken.  As it turns out I was 37th in my class of 118 40-45Fs, and I qualified for the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships!  Sadly they’re in Perth (yes that one) in September, so I think I may have to give them a miss…

Cycling time: 4:20
Official time: 4:26
Distance: 83.9 miles
Avs: 19.3 mph

So…was it all worth it?  Hm…  Entry costs £68.  If you don’t get into the car park early enough on the Sunday, it’ll cost you an extra £10 from 8-10am and £20 from 10-11:30.  Which basically means you have to get there early and then hang around for hours.  I know this is to avoid the traffic flow problems from the year before but that’s really not ideal.  I saw a lot of accidents out there.  Some of which looked really nasty.  There was even one rider being treated the other side of the Finish line.  Was it too hot for some?  Too many riders on narrow roads at times?  Riders not used to riding in groups?  I don’t know – but at least there was a lot of support on route – outriders, and medics – and they seemed to be dealing with it all very professionally.  Bits of the organisation worked, bits didn’t.  And the food stops were chaos.

But closed roads are amazing.  The marshals were all great.  The weather was amazing.  Just warm enough for me.  The route is easy, and also scenic if you have time to look around.  The pain gods were mostly off beating someone else up for a change.  And all in all I had an absolute blast.  I mean come on, have you seen my average speed???!!! *grin*.  So…I think on balance…it was worth it…but the jury may still be out on that one.  The organisers seem really good at taking constructive criticism and moving forward, and it’s only their 2nd year running it.  Maybe I should do it next year too and see what improvements they’ve made, because I know they will 🙂

Black Rat 2016

Another weekend.  Another sportive.  And, amazingly, another one in company!  Which makes it Sunday, the Black Rat, and Guy & Gary.

I’d not had a great week.  Various sh*t had hit various fans.  I’m on a new drug, along with the others, making for a different cocktail.  And my usual weekend pre-sportive prep routine went to hell in a hand basket.  But I was pretty cheerful when Guy picked me up around 7:00am on what was a fairly sunny morning.  I was less au fait with the weather forecast than usual.  Thanks to some serious incompetence on BT’s behalf I was devoid of broadband, and had been for days.  (it’s back now – clearly – took 6 days though!).  What I had gathered led me to believe it was going to be fairly mild, somewhat cloudy, with a chance of meatballs later.  Well, a chance of rain anyway 😉  After last week’s failure to be warm, I really didn’t want to make the same mistake again – and though my kit choice may have been similar, it most definitely included leg warmers this time!  Leg warmers, toe covers, shorts, s/s base layer, heavyish s/s jersey, Cyclosport arm warmers & gilet, neck collar, head tube, and waterproof for the saddle bag.  I had a few other options with me too, so as to have something to debate, fret about, and faff with later though 😉

It only took half an hour to get to HQ at Clifton Rugby Club which, obviously, is NOT in Clifton…because that would be far too simple.  It’s actually at Cribbs Causeway.  With a nifty little detour to get around the one way street that stops getting there being too simple too.  Being early we were, of course,  marshalled to park nearly as far away from the club building as possible, and also on the grass.  Which I remember from last year’s event – when my feet were wet before I even set off.  But today the sun was still shining, and it’s not exactly a long walk, so, with Gaz having arrived ahead of us, off we all walked to register.

01 Registration 03 milling around

Which wasn’t massively well organised.  The signs for which queue you should be in were a bit high up if you weren’t paying attention…and when you did figure out where you should be, there weren’t enough members of staff to deal with everyone, so the short queues were growing.  Not that it took long to be dealt with when you did get there though.  So…find the queue for the Granfondo – that being what I was signed up for.  Quote my number, 113 as it happens, be given a laminated number including timing chip for the handlebars and two cable ties, a bit of spiel as to where tea/coffee were, and job done.  Time to nip to the toilet, where there were once again queues, even for the Ladies, which however in this case was a good sign – it’s always nice to see more women at an event.

04 start line 05 Jeremy briefing

On the way back to the car, carrying my free cup of coffee, we bumped into organiser Jeremy, who recognised me, and we had a brief chat, which was nice.  OK, so maybe the Cyclosport kit gave me away…;)  Enough with the chatting though, time to put bikes together and debate layerage.  I was already kitted out, and nothing out there was making me decide to change.  It was sunny, but a little fresh, and, as previously stated, there was no way my leg warmers were coming off, even if I had to throw them away half way around if I couldn’t find anyway to stow them away!  Visual checks around the car park for comparative reassurance came up short, as many were in shorts.  Guy eventually decided to stick to the just shorts option and, all ready, we all headed back to HQ to mill around in the sunshine, queue for the toilets again, and take the usual photos.  It felt pretty warm just standing there, but it was too late for changing now!

06 Gaz Garmin checking 07 Guy taking it seriously

Today’s plan was to do the Granfondo, which entitled us to be in the first group away at 8:20am or so.  There was no grand announcement, and no-one seemed to know quite what to do, so we just sort of queued, and shuffled, until the point where there was some sort of concerted movement in the right direction.  Then there was Jeremy, mic in hand, officially asking us all to move forward.  So we did, which brought us right up near the front, where we listened to the usual rider briefing before being sent on our way.

08 out in the countryside 09 i spy a bridge

This initially sent us up the main road for a little bit, which felt quite busy and industrial estatey.  And then we turned left and suddenly it was all countryside.  Narrow country lanes, the odd bit of rolling, but pretty flat and rather nice really.  And it could have remained that way all the way to the Severn Bridge, but there was a gratuitous loop to do to get there instead.  This involved a short steepish up in Tockington, before going out to Alveston and back.  Well the up certainly warmed me up a bit!  I guess they were making sure the long route was properly 100 miles?  It was less bright now, clouding over a bit, but still not cold, and we were flying along most of the time.  My legs were feeling good, and we were chatting, and I had to remind me, and us, to rein it in a bit.  Hurtling off at the beginning of a sportive is never a good idea!

10 cycle path to bridge 11 bridge speed limit

We were also being nice, and polite.  Saying hello to those we passed, be they on two wheels or on two legs, or even four.  Some of the groups that passed us however…  Hello?  Morning?  Manners don’t cost anything you know!  I have to admit to the odd sarcastic remarks having passed our lips, in the directions of the posh pelotons passing us, determined to get ahead at all costs…even should that be at the cost of those they were passing!  Enough p’s for you? Cos I can think of at least one more…

12 waving at Wales 13 t'other bridge

Time for my favourite bit.  Crossing the Severn Bridge.  There were some interesting bits of cycle path to be negotiated at either end, and crossing the bridge itself involves quite few ramps, metal covers, and so forth – none of which are conducive to speed – so we were slowed down somewhat despite ourselves.  And we got separated by other riders too.  So, on my own briefly, I bimbled a bit, and took photos, looked out across the Severn to the other bridge, and generally enjoyed it as much as I always do 🙂  Well, apart from the fact that the weather over Wales was looking a tad ominous – I wasn’t enjoying the thought of what that might mean…

14 Chepstow traffic lights 15 Chepstow race course

Hello Wales!  Wales isn’t flat.  But I’ve ridden around this area a lot, not just on this event, and I know I like the climbs here.  The first of which comes from the bridge up to Chepstow, through what is essentially housing estate.  Lots of speed bumps, parked cars, road furniture…so no going fast, even if you could!  After negotiating the centre of Chepstow, complete with traffic lights to obey, and city gates to admire while you did so, we were out the other side, on an generally upwards trend, climbing up tree covered roads.  I realised I knew where I was.  Which was good as, amongst all the gradual climbing, with occasional downs, there’s a little kick up to the Racecourse which, being totally prepared for for a change, I nailed 🙂  Overall I was climbing well, and also enjoying it.  And after this long climb was finished, we got a long long flying downhill, down into the Wye Valley, which, again with the familiarity,  I set off to enjoy.  Given happy legs and this?   Bliss… 🙂  I hurtled my way off, leaving the guys behind, to have a blast.  All the way down to Tintern Abbey.  It’s easy to fly past it, which is a shame if it happens, but as I knew it was there I stopped to both take photos and wait for my compatriots.  It took a while for them to catch me, and when they did, also flying past, it took me a while, thanks to traffic and other descending riders, to get back on the road and catch up with them.  Partially because I was trying to make sure to enjoy myself while I did so – it is just so pretty around there 🙂

16 climing up 17 arriving at Tintern

I found the guys were waiting for me at the route split, and the long route option had us going straight on, not turning left, so as I approached Guy waved me on, and shortly we were three again, heading off into the Welsh blue yonder.  Well.  Not for long.  It turns out Gary wasn’t feeling the love today, and he thought he’d head back and take that turning after all.  B*gger.  I don’t like it when groups fall apart 🙁  Guy and I decided that we were still up for the long route though – after all, that’s what I’d set out to do, and he eats miles for breakfast.  So sadly there was a parting of the ways.  And just two of us carried on along the Wye Valley.

19 Wye Valley 21 green and wet

As we carried on, the weather slowly deteriorated yet further, and spots of rain started falling.  Just in time for the first really big climb of the day.  Which made deciding what to do about waterproofs tricky.  Stay dry or boil in the bag?  I love this climb, up to St Briavels.  Initially it’s long, and slow, and pretty, and I was really enjoying myself, even as the rain got heavier.  At some point Guy stopped, probably wisely, to put his waterproof on, which inevitably made the rain go away for a bit, and left me ahead of him.  Towards the end the climb gets much steeper but I even enjoyed that, and not just because lots of other people obviously weren’t enjoying it 😉  Having reached the top by pedalling, with hint of smug face, I took shelter under the large trees around the castle and church to wait for him, and take photos etc.  As it turns out, I’d probably have been better off waiting for him at the food stop which turned out to be just down the road!

25 St Briavels castle 26 riders making it to the top

The town hall being used had toilets, which was great, as I needed one.  There was High5 drink, and food, but that on offer, with the exception of some big pretzels, was all of the slightly limited sweet variety.  I topped up my bottle, ate a pretzel, and tried to get the water off my camera and sunglass lenses…  Not that I should have bothered, as not long after we set off again, the rain set off again too.

27 Guy in his waterproof 28 first food stop range

Which explains the lack of photos for quite a considerable while.  It rained.  It rained more.  It rained a lot.  It rained so much that you couldn’t get any wetter.  It was almost amusing?  Like, you’re throwing all this at me, but I’m not cold, I’m still pretty much flying along, I’m still loving the ups, I’m still (albeit more cautiously) enjoying the downs.  It’s just water, right?  I thumb my nose at thee, weather gods!  It wasn’t really conducive to much chatting though; overall everyone was a bit glum.  I did meet another rider, Paul Hunt, in luminous pink, at some point.  He spotted my Cyclosport kit and asked if I was the Jennifer whose blogs he reads.  Well, clearly I was/am, so we chatted for a little while as we rode through the rain, which was nice.  Hi Paul!  Even with the rain it was still oddly pretty out there.  All green, the smell of wild garlic, forests of many trees…  Guy and I played the elastic thing – getting separated and joining up again as the very wet miles continued.  I was soaked through but feeling ok, but Guy was rueing his decision to leave his leg warmers at home, and was really cold, so we didn’t do much stopping – just kept pushing on to keep warm.

24 welsh views

So there’s a patch in the middle of this ride that is one big wet blur…but at some point, after longer than anyone would have liked, and soaked to the skin and beyond, things started to improve a little.  I’d been recognising where I was on and off, and I’m sure I missed a castle that I usually see on the way, but there was a particular village and church that I seem to photograph every time I come this way so it seemed only fair I do so again.  And not long after that I realised that the wiggles and rolls had led us to a long climb that I also recognised.  I think I usually call it Lydford Hill, which today Strava calls the Monmouth – Trellech Climb.  Guy went on up, on his merry way, and I settled back to bimbling up in mine.  Slowly, steadily, happily, enjoying the views, taking photos, and generally just getting on with it.

29 traditional shot 30 the big climb ahead

It went on and on and on, splitting left by an old pub, with various chatting to riders from time to time, and I kept going up…and with my body happy doing it’s thing, my mind sort of wandered off in thought and………with an sudden shock I woke up and realised I’d actually fallen asleep on the bike.  Holy crap!!!  I’ve had the shock effect happen once before, driving home from a sportive, when I drifted off on the motorway and the rumble strip woke me up.  It’s like someone has thrown a bucket of cold water over you whilst simultaneously electrocuting you; waking you up, scaring you because you know you shouldn’t have fallen asleep, realising you’ve just had a very very lucky escape, and telling you that you need to be awake, and be awake NOW!  I know I’ve been woozy on the bike before, but I could have sworn you can’t fall asleep on a bike.  Well, you can.  I am very pleased I didn’t fall off!  Man, how weird is that?

31 smiley selfie 32 fabulous views behind

So, properly awake, and more than a little freaked out, I made it up the hill, where conveniently and usefully, Guy was waiting at the second food stop.  I was glad to stop, unsurprisingly, and boy did I ever feel weird.  Although the sun was now out, and I was drying out a bit, I was actually getting cold, which is weird considering I hadn’t actually felt cold even when riding through the deluge.  Something to do with evaporation apparently, as Guy was explaining to a fellow rider…though I had to get him to explain it to me again later when I was actually in a state to pay attention.  I was feeling all wobbly and dizzy and weird and Guy actually stopped me falling over at one point; my balance was completely off.

33 tree tunnels 34 second food stop

So I took myself off to sit on a wall in the sun on my own for a bit, ate odd honey wafer things, and took some time to get myself together.  The food station was running low on pretty much everything, as the guys behind the tables were chattering about amongst themselves, so there wasn’t going to be much left for anyone who came after us…  And I know we’re slow but we weren’t being that slow, so there were going to be a fair few of them.  In fact I’d actually been feeling really on form until the whole falling asleep thing!  Feeling somewhat more human, I popped into a portable toilet for the obvious before rejoining Guy.  I still wasn’t feeling right though, with mild nausea thrown in, and having not been in much pain up until now, I was now.  So I took some additional pills, and even though I was feeling like I could possibly do the next half, after chatting a while, we decided that it might just not be wise for me to push it, all things considered.  Guy knows his way around here, thanks to various previous events and being audax king ‘n all, and reckoned he knew some short cuts that would get us back sooner.  Sadly my first century of the year was going to have to wait…  Which made it time to get going again.  Not before, now that the rain had stopped, I put my waterproof on, to keep me warm.  I know, I’m perverse like that 😉

35 following Guy 36 finally blue skies

So we headed off, still following the route for the meantime.  It was getting drier and warmer, since the best weather always comes after you’ve finished a sportive, right? 😉  I started to feel better fairly soon, but when the route split came – right for Medio/Granfondo, and straight on for Piccolofondo, I was still set on my “head for home” course.  Make a decision – stick to it!  This also meant, however, that we weren’t going to need to go off piste and follow Guy’s route, we could just follow the Piccolo signs home which also, being pragmatic, I reckoned would probably mean we were still covered by the event’s insurance and support.  So off we went.  What with it being warmer and drier now, it got nicer by the minute.  It may only have been the Piccolo route but there were still a few little ups to be be dealt with, and then a really, really lovely long flying descent back to Chepstow.  This put me back on familiar turf, which today felt good, as it meant I kinda knew how far I had to go.  Plus, after some traffic lights, traffic shenanigans (the motorists there really weren’t our biggest fans) and some cycle path wiggling, I got to go back over the Severn Bridge again.  This time in sunshine and under mostly blue skies 🙂  And very lovely it was too.  Although Guy thinks we should have been able to go back on the other side, just so as not to repeat ourselves…and to get the full bridge experience of course.

38 lovely bridge 39 t'other bridge again

Once back in Blighty, we knew the rest of the route was going to be pretty flat.  Always motivational, no?  Time to push on a bit then.  I was now back to feeling good, and back on form.  We took a brief stop at a little shop somewhere, where time was busy standing still, to purchase fizzy orange and the like.  As we chatted outside, Jeremy (the organiser guy) pulled up in his car to check we weren’t lost.  Which we weren’t…although to be honest, there weren’t quite enough signs today, and they didn’t stand out enough, so it could easily have happened.  Having (finally!) stashed the odd layer, we carried on.  Having missed the next right hand turning with Alan last year, I knew not to do it again.  Besides, Jeremy was now there, standing next to his car, making sure that a) we didn’t miss this one, and that b) we didn’t miss the next one, which apparently had been being an issue.  Not by now it wasn’t, as it now boasted about six arrows and also some cheerful bods pointing the way!  So we turned right.  As you do.  Well, it would have been rude not to… 😉

41 arty bridge shot 40 Guy and I

Time to head for home.  Which I was totally up for.  In fact, my foot was on the gas, though not in a non-UCI approved way, and we fair hurtled along, for the last however many miles it was.  I’m guessing at around 8 or so…?  Lots of country lanes and warm sunshine, and I was having a blast.  Sprint finish? 😉  Behind me Guy was heard to comment that you could tell I’d had my fizzy orange…*grin*.  We even picked up a follower, who ended up clinging on to whoever’s was the rear wheel, all the way back!  There was a bit of up to get us back up to civilisation, and then some suburban playing with buses to be done before there we were, back at HQ, sort of just like that.  Man we flew back! 🙂  I think we’d worn our lanterne rouge out, as he sort of staggered in a little behind us, and was last seen walking away looking dejected…certainly too tired to say thank you for the tow anyway 😉

42 finish line 44 post race catering

So Black Rat done.  Half Granfondo, Half Piccolo.  Which I’ll have you know still added up to 80+ miles, which ain’t too shabby, so there 😛  We stashed our bikes in the car, replaced the odd still damp layer with drier more civilised ones and headed back to enjoy the free pig roast, and the free cider in our free mugs.  Oh and you could have a free bottle too, if you wanted one.  Once again we had a bit of a chat with Jeremy who was wandering around, keeping everything under control, and fighting fires when they arose.  I did tell him about the signage and the under stocked food station – it would have been rude to not say so then and then have him read it here!

43 Cheers!

Cycling time: 5:35
Distance: 81.3 miles
Avs: 14.6 mph

Overall, ignoring the obvious, I had a really good ride.  I think I’m pretty much on form, and I’m definitely feeling better on the bike than I have for a couple of years.  It’s just that sometimes my health issues get in the way, which is seriously frustrating!  It’s also possible the new drug may be an issue too…if today is anything to go by.  Anyway, the Black Rat is still a great event, mainly because the route is just lovely, and the scenery is beautiful.  Not just because I get free cider at the end 😉  The organisers are great too, and I gather plans are afoot to organise it in tandem with “a large cycling club in Bristol” next year so as to have more bodies to help on the day, which sounds like a good thing.  If they’ll have me, I’ll be back to do it again next year, and see if it is 🙂

Taunton Flyer 2016

OK.  Generally speaking, the pain (which should probably have a name, or at least come in ‘inverted commas’) takes a while to wake up in the morning.  As do I 😉  It’s my grace period.  And it’s bliss…  And actually I’d had a pretty good week on that front even after I’ve woken up.  So when I woke up at 6:00am, half an hour before the alarm clock, and things were already hurting, it was possibly a sign that my day was not going to go well.  But I say possibly.  I have patches and pills, that’s what they’re there for.

So after a bit of half dozing, whilst trying to ignore Cassie being so pleased that I was awake that she had to purr in my ear just to tell me so, I was up at 6:30am.  Time for the usual routine.  Get up.  Grind coffee beans.  Boil kettle.  Put porridge in microwave.  Make espresso.  Make espresso into Americano.  Eat.  Drink.  Dress in what might be the right layers.  Pack the other layers in a bag.  Mess around on the internet while everything settles.  Load the car.  Leave at around 7:15.  Let the satnav tell you what time you’re going to get to HQ.  Prove satnav wrong 😉

HQ for today’s Taunton Flyer was Taunton Racecourse, which was around 40 minutes down the M5 away.  A nice easy drive in the sunshine which, with a little music for company, made for a pretty good start to the day.  As ever my sat nav got me where I needed to be, and the marshals got me on to the racecourse parking field, which was already busy.  Lots of lycra emerging into the sunshine, and bikes being assembled.  It being on the other side of the road to the actual race course and stands, it looked like most people were getting ready and then going over there, rather than to-ing and fro-ing.  I decided to join them in that.  Well it wasn’t like I needed to register – everything necessary had arrived in the post a week or so beforehand.  Bike number, cable ties, and helmet timing chip – job done.  I wish all sportives did that…as all we had to do was turn up and ride.  And it was a proper we, not a royal we.  Gary was doing this one with me too and, half way through faffing, I realised he was parked directly behind me, two rows closer to HQ.  How very convenient! 🙂

So there we both were, stood in the sun, having the usual conversation about the weather.  Yes it was sunny.  The last couple of days had been really nice and sunny and warm.  The forecast was for not so warm and not so sunny, improving later on.  In actuality it was a little overcast, with the sun trying to break through, a bit windy, and really pretty chilly.  But that’s not unusual for 8:00am even on what turns out to be a really nice day.  Shorts. Toe covers. S/s base layer, s/s jersey, arm warmers, head scarf, winter neck scarf…but should I add leg warmers?  Which I don’t like, and which Nora Batty all the time.  If the new Craft knee warmers I’ve ordered had arrived I’d have worn them, I think.  But they hadn’t (and still haven’t), and I decided to leave the leg warmers behind…

Start queue Mechanics

We headed off, over the road, and walked past the stands towards the start.  There were toilets on the corner of one block, but the Ladies turned out to be locked still, even though the Gents were open.  Which was a tad worrying…but luckily further along, the main stand was open, and had that which I needed.  It was also where anyone who wanted to could sign up on the day.  There were three routes today – the Wellington (111 miles), the Dakota (70 miles) and the Spitfire (34 miles), all themed around the wartime airfields of East Devon and Somerset. Although I was, as ever, signed up for the longest route, I’d decided against that ages ago.  I’d like to get a century in soon, but 111 definitely seemed like a step too far.  The long route riders were due to be allowed off first, with us Dakotas due to start from 8:20am onwards.  Judging by the number of riders gradually massing near the start, the majority were doing the middle route with us.  Amongst them were George, Linda and John, who were doing this together, though expecting to be slower than us, so not with us.  It was nice to have a few folk around to have a chat to – practically sociable!

Spitfire ready Rider briefing

It was really chilly hanging around though.  Every now and then the sun would break through, and a little ripple of happy would run through the crowd before it went again.  And we ended up hanging around for quite a while longer than planned, as the local county highways department had unexpectedly decided to close one of the roads on the route to resurface it.  Marvellous…  The organisers were madly running around moving route signs around to match the official diversion signs so that we could likewise be diverted.  In the meantime we were not diverted…and it was all bit tedious, and I was feeling a bit ouchy, and we were getting colder all the time.  At least I had time to take photos of the mechanics doing their thing, and the spitfire parked up and looking awesome at the start line, right?  When we did get the go ahead – Gary and I ended up in the second group to be let away, after a long and detailed briefing…and weren’t actually on our way until just before 9:00am, by which time we were both absolutely freezing.

up into the trees first climb behind

I knew that the first hill was 5 miles in, and since the first few miles were easy or downhill, and frequently shady, I really wasn’t getting any warmer, so I was kinda dreading it.  How were hills going to be today?  Oh man it was cold…I wished I’d put those leg warmers on for sure.  We cycled through Corfe, which had no castle, but did have pretty cottages.  And then it was time to go up in the world.  Up Blagdon Hill.  No, not that Blagdon Hill 😉  As it turns out, the climb was ok.  Longish and gradual, with the odd wiggle, and half way up we passed George & co, who’d managed to get away in the group ahead of us.  I got told off for being a very poor domestique having not brought them bacon rolls 😉  I left Gary behind, hills being something you do at whatever your speed is, but once up on the top I slowed down and he caught me up shortly.  Lots more trees, views to the right, fairly straight and rolling for a good few miles.  However not enough trees, and not all of the time, as up there on the top, the wind was definitely worse, and chilly with it.  It was pretty though – trees, bluebells, greenery…  All very green actually.

views from up there first food stop

It was a relief to drop back down to normal altitude and have things be marginally warmer.  I don’t like being cold.  As I’ve said before when ‘the pain’ is lurking, I seem to feel the cold more.    And when I’m cold, I cope less well the pain.  I was going ok, but I was definitely having the odd moment.  Having had my morning dose at around 7:00am, the next wasn’t due until 11:00am, which I was getting the feeling definitely wouldn’t be soon enough.  Being somewhat of a mobile pharmacy these days, I did have extra ammunition with me, and we stopped around 10:30am so that I could add them to the mix, and hope that overlapping would tide me over…

It was a bit sunnier by now, and every time we stopped for whatever reason, standing in the sun was almost pleasant.  Getting going again made you cold again…*sulk*.  But the riding was going well, the miles were ticking down, and our average speed was higher than usual.  It didn’t really feel like a sportive, more of a Sunday ride.  Mind you, quite a few of our fellow riders clearly thought it was a race…hurtling past with little warning and less manners…

airfield sign support rider

There was quite  lot of “all the kit don’t know sh….” around.  I reckon there were several reasons for this.  It was near Exeter and Bristol, easy to get to, with a relatively easy route, so you and your Flash Harry mates can bring out your shiny expensive kit and gear, hurtle around and pretend to be pros and, doing the middle route of course, be home in time for a round of golf/family bbq, and regale your adoring audience with your tale of achievement…  There was a particular little group of them at the Start Line that had me nearly constantly in giggles, comparing their deep rims, discussing tactics, etc…  Over-compensating much chaps? 😉

Luckily, and well before the food stop we were about to reach, most of this lot had hurtled off into the distance, leaving the rest of us to get on blissfully doing our own thing, and doing odd things like saying hello to each other, pass the time of day, point out potholes, and so on.  Something actually worth pointing out is the number of the women doing this ride.  By which I mean lots of them.  Which was really nice to see.  Girl power, or something… 😉

first food stop

Right, I believe I mentioned we were about to reach the food stop.  Which, at 30 miles in on a 72 mile route, felt a bit late to me, and not just on a mileage level.  It turned out to be at a school in Broadclyst.  We pulled in, and in the absence of anywhere to put the bikes, laid them down on the grass.  Inside, in the canteen, was a whole range of foods – sandwiches, crisps, flapjacks, fig rolls, High5 Isogels, and much more, not to mention water, High5 drink, tea and coffee, and tables and chairs to sit at if you so wished.  I decided cheese and onion crisps and maybe a caffeine enhanced isogel were the way to go, but we decided to sit outside in the sunshine to consume then, and enjoy the unfamiliar warmth.

A break was probably called for.  Eating is a good idea.  Toilets are handy.  But…  When I’m riding I don’t know how bad things are, if they are, because my body is busy riding the bike.  When I stop I can then realise I’ve been pushing my limits more than I realise.  First off, when I got off the bike, my balance had gone.  Uh oh…  And while sitting in the sun, whilst Gary wandered off for a comfort break, it became pretty obvious I wasn’t doing as well as I thought I was.  Ow.  *sigh* I ate crisps, took the now permitted second dose of pills, and made myself drink the Isogel, to give my body some fuel to fight with.  Gary returned, and I wandered off in my turn, rather gingerly it has to be said.  While it got worse…  As I returned, I met George & co who’d just arrived, and were heading where I’d just been, so we exchanged trivial banter at a level of cheeriness I really wasn’t feeling.  Which left me feeling even worse, and when I got back to Gary, I lost the ability to keep it together altogether.  Again.  Which came as a bit of a surprise to both him and me.  *sigh*  So he got to be a shoulder to cry on.  Literally.  I think it was as much a physical reaction as an emotional one.  It hurt so much, and it was so frustrating when everything else was going pretty well.  And constantly fighting it, even if I’m not aware I am because I’m riding, just takes it out of me, so I guess my guard goes down.  I got it together again relatively quickly though, and although crying mid-sportive might not be ideal, t’were far better done in company than by the side of the road on my own.  Sorry Gary!

(The whole thing did make me think of some sort of Facebook meme though…something supposedly inspirational about how “it only hurts when you stops, so don’t keep going”. Or something)

cycle lane close up

Let’s go ride bikes again shall me?  This is supposed to be a sportive, not a pity party.  Like I said, I wasn’t actually down or depressed…it was a reaction, I’d reacted, and now I wanted to ride.  Which, having gotten nearly warm stationary in the sunshine, was not nice.  How was it STILL cold??  Just for once I’d actually paid fairly close attention to the route – and I knew that there were a few hills ahead – at c 38 miles, 42 miles, and 50 miles.  We bimbled for a bit until we’d warmed up some, and I’d gotten back into the swing of things.  Being, shortly, half way around, also helped perk me up, as ever.  And yes, there was a climb at 38 miles in…but it was just a long drag up an A road, complete with cycle lane, to fly all the way down the other side.  Easy!  I was starting to feel a little better, and that being easy definitely upped the PMA.

approaching the BIG hill woohoo!

So when we started the next up, a few miles down the road, I wasn’t too worried.  Holy Crap!  I SO should have been!  Compared to what had come before, the Greenway Lane Climb came as a very nasty shock.  Apparently there was a sign at the bottom indicating a hill was ahead, but I hadn’t seen it, and even if I had, I don’t think I’d have been expecting this!  If you’re local to me, I can tell you it’s like Draycott Steep, but a bit steeper, and quite a bit longer.  Having gone up Draycott Steep last week, I can say this with confidence!  For the rest of you, this climb is long, narrow, and steep.  Near the bottom I had to lose precious momentum to let a silver VW Camper past, but I managed to keep moving.  As we slow ground our way up, past walking riders, and it got a bit steeper, and with no idea of how far we had to go, I did muse out loud that I wasn’t sure I was going to make it up this one.  I seriously though walking might be a possibility.  Up and up, narrowly avoiding those who fell by the wayside by stopping in front of me.  Half way up, blocking most of the road, was that van. With a cyclist leaning on, and into the passenger window to chat.  But would they move?  Nope  I did say I was coming through, but he told me that was fine, and waved me through, into the dirt and gravel on his left, to get past.  I was not amused…  I kept going up and it got marginally less steep, enough so for me to keep going.  Gary took to walking at some point, I was too busy focussed on ahead not behind to see when.  It was bl**dy hard work, but being one of the very few still pedalling was motivational.  Higher up and properly into the trees, with gravel, potholes, and an occasionally lifting front wheel…  Two cyclists were walking ahead of me…and I didn’t have much energy for saying excuse me…but luckily they noticed.  The gent in red moved to the left a bit, and as I went through the narrow gap he encouragingly told me to keep it up, not far to go now, and not to worrying about the car behind me.  Car behind me?  Hadn’t even noticed.  You’ll never guess what it was…  Ok, so you will.  It wasn’t difficult…  And was I going to move out of the way?  Was I f*ck.  Especially as I thought I could see the end.  So thanks to the motivation and a serious dose of stubbornness, I kept my line, kept pushing and made it to the T-junction at the top, feeling more that a little pleased with myself. I waved a token thank you at the VW and he went away.  I’d feel guilty, well, maybe, but when I learnt that she’d (it was actually a she) actually let that cyclist, her husband’s mate, hang on to her wing mirror for a tow all the way up well…

who will buy Gray arriving

There were a few riders at the top – some had walked, only the odd one hadn’t.  Sat there in the green, surrounded by dappled sunshine and bluebells,  recovering or/and waiting for mates, they were playing “spot the still pedalling cyclist”.  Quite hard as it happens…  Go me!  A little time to chat, and commiserate was great as it gave me time to get myself together, and I was almost human again by the time, not that long after, Gary emerged.  See, even today, I can go up hills.  OK, so I paid for it for a little while until things settled again, but the mental boost from going up that hill more than made up for that 🙂

photo of a photographer taking a photo another rider

We were back on the top now, that being where they build the airfields that this route nominally tours around,  For a while the chilly wind actually verged on being refreshing…  We were back to rolling now, and although it was all still a little bit unremarkable it was still pretty.  I  knew another hill awaited ahead…and I even saw the sign this time, so I was prepared.  The lovely down into a little wooded valley had pretty much given it away…  What goes down, must go up!  Basically it was just the like the killer hill before, but about half the length.  And we both got up this one 🙂  Which was to be the last real challenge on the route.  Just as well, I’m not sure a third such would have been doable!  Go us!

Big Bang Theory shorter big hill

Mind you, fighting the headwind was quite annoying enough.  I think I’d rather fight gradients than knots.  The wind never went away today, and always seemed to be in your face.  As a lot of the route was long straight bits on wide B, or even A, roads, there was often nowhere to hide.  We like trees a lot, and their shelter made the various tree tunnels we cycled through even more attractive.  There were still carpets of bluebells everywhere there was shade, and they really were beautiful.  Where there weren’t trees, it was wide open…and we even saw a couple of the airfields we were supposed to 🙂  I’d pretty much gotten on top of it now, the drugs were working, and I was feeling fairly good.  I’m actually relatively on form at the moment, believe it or not!  Occasional bit of bimbling were required, but never for long, and Gary stuck with me for those, and towed me along if necessary.  We also spent a lot of time chatting too, which is always nicely distractionary.

WW2 selfies Javan

The second food stop came around 59 miles in, at Upottery, which marked the Smeatharpe WW 2 airfield I think.  On the, “it hurts when I stop” basis, and with only around 12 miles to go, I was tempted not to stop, but that could have been unwise on other fronts, so we stopped anyway.  And I’m glad we did, as in addition to the same wide range of food and drink, and toilets, the little hall was hosting an exhibition of WW2 bits and bobs, complete with folk dressed up to match.  Plus this cute little chap, Javan, who was very happy to pose for photos – as apparently it happens all the time.  I did check with his parents before I immortalised him though – sadly you have to be a bit careful these days 🙁

second food stop Smeatharpe village hall

Another High5 Isogel, a look around, and a drink, and it was time to go and get cold again.  Clearly it really wasn’t going to get warm for us today.  Time to roll home.   And after some rolling, we were dropping down, back off the hill, which was long and easy and fast…and SO much fun 🙂  The route split was only a few miles from the end, and neither of us were up for adding an impromptu 40 miles on to our day.  The marshall pointed us in the right direction for us, and cheerfully shouted than we had 6 miles left, I think, and as we kept flying along, and down, a spectating rider told us we only had one to go…and he wasn’t wrong.  There we were, back at the racecourse, and our work here was done 🙂

Finish line Spitfire

Time to take photos of the spitfire properly.  Sadly we’d missed them running the engines and we’d gone by the time they did, if they did, run them again as they suggested they would.  There was a raffle somewhere, the prize being a cockpit tour and to be in there when they ran the engines.  Eldest had informed me that if I won that he’d never talk to me again though…I could’t quite decide if that was motivation or deterrent…;)  I couldn’t find where to buy a ticket so luckily that point was moot.  We queued to get our time print outs, and then we got a goody bag each with a bottle, bronze medal, and t-shirt.  I chatted to the man in charge – who I thought I’d recognised earlier.  He and his run the Dartmoor Classic and I met him over dinner last year.  Was I doing it this year?  Not been invited I said.  I’m sure you will be he said.  (We’ll see I thought…as I’m not sure I want to be).  But if I’d like a place on the Moor to Sea please get in touch.  Now that I might chase up.  Not done that one, and novelty is good.  Anyway, all of that was all well and good, but discovering the canteen serving hot post ride food also did cold Fanta was the icing on the cake, and sitting outside drinking that and finally getting warm was lovely 🙂 Taunton Flyer done 🙂

Cycling time: 4:45
Actual time: 5:33
Distance: 71.5 miles
Avs: 15.0 mph

Fanta goody bag contents

So, do we have a conclusion?  Well, it’s a nice enough event.  Well run, good HQ, good food stops – though they’re not spaced right to my mind.  It being a sunny Saturday and with a lot of the route being more A road than B, there was quite a bit of traffic from time to time.  I much preferred the country lanes section, even the little detour added this year to avoid going through Cullompton.  I didn’t notice the unexpected diversion that delayed our start – Gary says we did it, I thought we didn’t – but it didn’t add miles either way.  It was very much a nice long Sunday ride, rather than feeling like a sportive, and that’s no bad thing.  I just wish I hadn’t been that bit too cold all day!  It was still a pretty good day on the bike, barring the obvious.  And I got up those hills *grin*.

Some of you probably think I’m mad.  But the Chronic Pain Clinic says I can cycle because although it makes the pain worse, it’s good for ME, and it doesn’t actually make me any iller.  So if I want to do it, and it hurts, that’s my call.  Although they think what I do is a tad extreme (which as you know, by cyclists standards, it really isn’t) and I should work on doing other things and developing a support network, blah, blah, blah.  But it’s what I do to not be bigger, to not be in my head, to get away from it all, and more – so I can’t see me stopping any time soon.  If it turns out to be a bad day, it looks like I may have have to factor a crying jag into my sportive plans though!  May, I am such a girl!  But hey, I can do that.  I know it will be a lot harder getting through it when I’m riding on my own, so if you fancy joining me for any of the rides I’m doing…?  I have company for the Black Rat but after that it’s back to just me.  I can’t promise not to cry but I’ll try! 😉

Exmoor Spring Audax

Yes that’s right.  Audax.  Not sportive.  Which I entered because Gary was doing it and back whenever he suggested it, I wasn’t doing anything else this weekend.  I entered it myself.  I paid the massive sum of £8 myself.  So I’m not even obligated to review it.  Even supposing the website was called CycloAudax not Cyclosport…  Apparently I’m still going to blog it though 🙂

It turned out that Guy was doing it too.  Not only was he doing it, he was actually going to ride it with us.  Blimey!  I had a “we’re not worthy” moment for sure.  He’s just so good at the whole cycling thing these days… 🙂  He also offered to give me a lift there and back, so things were looking better and better.   Including the weather forecast, which was for sunny and dry and maybe even warm…!

So, for the first time this year, when Guy picked me up on Sunday morning, I was wearing shorts!  I’d even applied sun screen.  Which is, like, unprecedented for 2016.  How cool is that?  Ok, so the top half of me was hidden under a variety of layers, but my legs were definitely out 🙂  Guy had somewhat overestimated how long it would take to get to HQ at a school in Minehead, thus allowing us plenty of extra time when we got there to fret about the weather and the murky clouds that were around us, and covering Exmoor behind us.  Would they stay?  Burn off?  Rain?  What layers to wear?  What to take with us?  I mean, it was nice and sunny and fairly warm now but…

pre audax bike audax riders

Yes, I’m British, and we’re talking about the weather again…  Shall we move on to registration, such as it was?  A short walk around the school took us, via the one and only accessible toilet, to the school canteen, where various other early birds were also lurking.  All we had to do was say who we were, be given our route instructions and route card, and be crossed off a list.  Easy.  Time to grab a cup of tea and head back out into the sunshine to get the bikes sorted then.  It didn’t really take that long before we were done and while cyclists milled around in the sunshine, on a pretty impressive range of bikes, Gary arrived – having the luxury of being able to ride to the start and keep all his faffing, if there was any, at home.  And when I say range of bikes, I mean everything from shire horse to thoroughbred 🙂

on our way just like that porlock toll sign

Without any ceremony at all, we decided we were ready to go, and so we went.  Easy peasy.  I’ve ridden around here quite a bit, so most of today was going to be familiar.  So the drag out of Minehead came as no surprise, though it still wasn’t much fun.  It was a fairly good way to warm up slowly though.  Slowly being the operative word for how I generally go up hill 😉  However the long flying stretch to Porlock was much faster and much more fun.  In fact since both Gary and Guy know how much I like this bit, I was told to go off and get on with it *grin*.  You don’t have to ask a girl twice…not least because that would have taken longer, and reduced the amount of time I’d be off having fun.  And it sho’ was fun 🙂  Still, I spend enough time riding the bike on my own, and that was not what today was about, so I waited up for the guys in Porlock.   Which was a good time to note the cost of going up there for various vehicles – which would be the answer to one of the questions on our audax card.  Well, in the absence of signs and timing mats, to make sure you’re doing the right route, there were two official checkpoints to go through and have that card marked, and a couple of questions to be answered with information gleaned en route.  It’s a whole new world…

tree lined porlock coastal views

I think it’s become obvious that I actually quite like hills at the moment.  I can get up them, and that knowledge is good for the PMA, and I like a challenge and at the moment they’re going well.  Probably because I keep going out and riding up them. “Don’t buy upgrades, ride up grades“?  However that’s all “at the moment”.  I like the climb that is Porlock Toll Road all the time though.  It’s long, slow, gradual, and very very scenic.  Today it was enhanced by sunshine, sheltered from the wind, and dry under wheel.  Perfick 🙂

a hairpin more tree climbing

I’m never entirely sure crawler gear is going to engage.  It’s always a relief when it does.  And it did.  Predictably Guy had gotten ahead of Gary and I, because he’s so good at such things, but could be seen in the distance from time to time as we wove our way through the tall trees, and admired the views occasionally glimpsed through them.  After a while I drew away from Gary, don’t know quite why or how, but I was really enjoying it, and felt like I could maybe actually do it well.  In fact, after my favourite hairpin bit, I actually caught up with Guy, who commented that I seemed to have flown up that…*grin*.  We rode the rest, through the toll, and up along the coast together, all the way to the top.  It felt like I’d done good…and I was really pleased with how it had gone 🙂

here's a toll booth higher up views

I think that was pretty much the highlight of the whole event for me, and it certainly put me in a positive frame of the mind for the rest of what was to come.  Having reached the top there were two options – a dirt track shortcut straight across, or a road zigzag to get to the same place.  Gaz took the dirt track, what with being a Mtber ‘n all, while Guy and I nipped round the other way.  Hey, extra miles, right? 😉 Besides I love swooping around on top of Exmoor – the views are lovely, and it’s fun.  Especially when it’s pretty much sunny…as, as hoped, the murk had cleared away.  Probably partially due to the getting brisker wind…but that was currently not too strong, and not too much of a problem – it being either in our favour or there being places to hide from it.  Hedges and trees are great things 🙂

toll road finish sign toll road done

It has to be said that I was relying on Guy and Gary to get me around.  I don’t really have an audax mindset – and was completely not using the route sheet.  Guy has done it before, and it’s Gary’s home turf, so I just figured they knew what they were doing and tagged along for the ride  😉  The long cut we two took involved some up, so Guy met up with Gary way before I caught up with them both.  We headed South together across the moor, in mostly rolling fashion, apart from one annoying fly down and then go straight and steeply back up bit.  I knew it was there, and as I climbed back up the other side I was in the right gear and everything…at least I thought  I was, but things were just spinning and not going anywhere, and I thought maybe the chain had come off.  It hadn’t…so I don’t know what had happened, but having had to stop, I wasn’t going to be able to get back on there.  So I rolled back down to the bottom and started over.  Annoying…but better than walking up it 🙂

exford control stop it's a very busy sign

However the lovely long descent to Exford more than made up for that.  I flew down in my usual fashion, and the chatty classically attired gentleman who finally caught me near the bottom, where it got narrower and wiggly and into towny commented that I’d clearly been having a blast.  Who me? 😉

Exford was where the first Control was, at the White Horse Inn by the River Exe, and about 18 miles in.  Not a food station per se, though the pub was cheerfully serving anyone who wanted to purchase such and take a comfortable break.  Oh, and they were letting folk use their toilets to take a comfort break, which was nice of them.  So I did.  So not a food station, more a very pretty place to mill around in the sun, and get your card stamped as proof you’d been there, and be noted down, which I guess helps organisers keeps track of who’s where when in case Little Bo Beep loses one of her sheep on the moor 😉

i know where i am the cairn

I’d been feeling mostly good up until now, but once stopped, my body ceased to be distracted from the pain factor, which was a shame.  I had to take five, as it were, but luckily my two chaperones were happy to hang around and take it easy for a bit while I did.  Guy decided that he’d also avail himself of the facilities in the meantime.  Time was passing…and once he’d emerged, it was time to go again.  Was I ok, he enquired?  Well no, but yes, because bikes don’t ride themselves and it was sunny and I actually wanted to be riding it myself.  My body was not ok, but my head was, so I was ok enough to be getting going again 🙂

flat out into the wind wide open views

Having gone down into Exford, we then had to climb out of it.  We were taking it a bit easier for a while (like there’s any other way up hill really) as they let me get back into the swing of things.  We were heading for Simonsbath – I gather there a variety of ways to pronounce that depending on how gentrified you are… 😉  Gary told me I knew where I was and as we climbed up something long and slow I realised he was right.  Wasn’t there going to be a cairn on the right shortly?  Oooh yes, there it was.  And I remembered I like this bit.  Getting higher, looking down at the babbling brook/river winding through the valley…all just as lovely as I remember it.

Guy ahead livestock

And then, up at the top, in the wide open, we turned left.  And straight into a by now substantial wind….!  Oh man…this was going to be fun.  Not.  I’m glad there were three of us.  And occasionally 4, as we played leapfrog with one other rider in red who kept thinking he was lost until we went past him and proved he wasn’t, and then overtook us again, until we caught him again…etc…  Nothing like wheels to suck in a headwind!  We did take it in turns though, even I sat on the front sometimes.  We had to regroup from time to time, as if you fell off the back for whatever reason – to admire the view, take photos, or whatever – you couldn’t get back on.  And when my head was down I tended to just push on while forgetting to look behind, so sometimes it was my fault too.  It didn’t stop it being glorious up there, but it did slightly take the edge off that a bit…being able to see all around for miles just demonstrated how much nothing there was to use to hide from the wind!  Even as the general trend became downwards as the miles passed it was hard work and it seemed go on for ages.  Probably because it actually went on for ages!

Guy grinning selfie

Finally we got to drop down off the Moor to Dulverton, where the second Control was, also at a pub, this time the Bridge Inn.  We decided to actually stop this time, as that had been hard, hot, and thirsty work.  Cards stamped we, as many others had, grabbed a table outside, and drinks from inside.  No fizzy orange, though a pint of OJ and lemonade was a reasonable if marginally too healthy alternative.  They also filled up my water bottle for me, which was nice.  Not ordering a pint of Korev, which I love and would have gone down a storm just then, was practically torture.  But probably very good for the soul to resist temptation.  Maybe 😉  Mind you I think it would probably have been a very bad idea…and there’s no broom wagon on an audax to sweep you up so…I’d have to settle for dreaming of the lager I could have later.  I’m glad we stopped though.  Pushing up hills and into the wind had taken it out of me a bit, and I was suffering again, though mostly quietly I think.  Gary picked up on it as we to-ed and fro-ed preparing to leave and gave me a quick hug though, which was perfectly timed and really helped.  Sod gels and food, I swear hugs are soul food.  And medicinal.  And sadly not available free on prescription, unlike the shiny pills I was keeping topped up 😉

tree tunnel second food stop

We set off once again, taking it easy for a bit…and once again I got it together after a while.  We spent a long stretch on a longer flatter road along a valley with the River Barle to the left, and trees with carpets of beautiful bluebells growing beneath them on the slopes to the right….and a far from idyllic road surface.  That grainy, lumpy, speed and spirit sucking sort…  Ick!  We had a break at some point for food, whilst admiring someone’s country pad, and the immaculate cricket pitch.  The PowerBar Smoothie I had leftover from the Dartmoor Demon went down as well as it did then too, so I added them to my list of things to buy from wherever next time I was bike stuff shopping.  Of course being down in a valley led to having to climb out of a valley, at which point Guy hurtled off like a startled rabbit.  Something we said?  Nope, as it turns out, just a burst of unexpected form, and everyone knows those are use ’em or lose ’em things…so use it he had.  And then duly waited for us to catch up with him afterwards.  G is for Guy, Gary, and Group 😉

black white moody

Which I think brings us to Exebridge, with about 20 miles to go. Gradually but not too noticeably up all the way along the A396, with a final sort of climb to Wheddon Cross.  Which accounted for about 11 miles, though my memory is a little blurry on the details because I was in “count down, get back” mode.  Not in a bad way – but it was just that last section of a ride where you’re mentally, if maybe not physically, sprinting for home!  I remember the last 9 miles or so being basically downhill though 😉  Before long we were negotiating the back streets of Dunster, the main road to Mainhead, and we were back.  My first ever audax – Exmoor Spring done! 🙂

Cycling time: 4:29
Distance: 62.5 miles
Avs: 14.0 mph

cream tea

After a brief, “oops we locked this gate by accident” detour, we were parked up at the school again.  Inside, back at the canteen, we handed our cards in, which were checked, and officially stamped.  I gather audax riders can earn cumulative points over a year, and of course, points mean prizes, right? 😉  Formalities done, we took a seat, and enjoyed our complimentary cream tea.  Which, miraculously, even came in “gluten free” for those of us for whom that matters.  How cool is that?  I was pleased to be able to indulge, especially since I felt like I’d earned it 🙂

So.  How was my first audax?  Good, since you ask.  It was a nice route, in a beautiful part of the world, on a lovely day.  According to Strava, contrary to what you might think after reading this, I actually did really well out there, including a PB up Porlock Hill.  Told you I though it went well!  ‘Rah!  The best thing about it?  Probably how friendly everyone was.  There were no egos around at all which, being used to sportives, came as a very nice change.  But actually I think the best thing about it was actually riding my bike with, and supported by, friends.  In the sun, with the burgeoning stupid tan lines to prove it.  Thanks guys!  Or garys! 😉

Dartmoor Demon 2016

After last weekend’s Tour of Pembrokeshire, it’s safe to say I was a little nervous about this Saturday’s Cycling Weekly Dartmoor Demon.  I’ve been struggling this week as things get worse, and thanks to that, and extra work and the like, I hadn’t been able to get out on the bike either though, in my defence, I’ve managed a few home workouts.  On the upside, thanks to advice from the chemists, and my magical drug cabinet, I’m taking additional pills so, whilst not entirely under control, the pain had been pushed back to manageable…and I was hoping it would remain there.  But there was no guarantee…and I’m very good at worrying…

01 directions to registration 02 registration desk

On an additional positive note, for a change, and a very pleasant one, I wasn’t going to be riding on my own.  As it turns out Gary and I are actually doing the next few sportives together, including this one, coincidentally.  And Robin, who was visiting his in-law down there this weekend, had also volunteered to come and join me for a bit.  Various people seem quite concerned that I not end up crying by the side of the road on my own again, which is really nice of them.  To be fair, I’m quite keen that that not happen again too!

03 ride briefing on the start line 04 heading off through Haldon Forest

Right then.  Friday night.  A relatively sedate affair, involving covering the front room floor with everything I might need/want, and then narrowing it down, and slowly loading up the car.  The forecast was, as seems to be becoming typical, for sunny, cold, and a bit breezy.  Which, in April, could mean almost anything.  How cold is cold?  How warm is warm when it is sunny? And this being the Dartmoor Demon, with up on’t moor to consider, and ups to climb and downs to do…well, the temperature possibilities were endless!  So I loaded up the car with the bike and essentials, and left the decisions for the morning…

05 layer stop riders 06 Rob & Gaz climbing out of the valley

Which wasn’t as early as sometimes, as HQ was at Exeter Racecourse, only an hour away.  The weather was as predicted…so I opted for the same kit as last week and threw extra options in the car in case things changed a lot on the way.  I drank the all-essential coffee, ate porridge, popped various pills, and headed out at about 6:30am, to spend a very happy hour driving down a sunny, dry, fairly empty M5, listening to extremely loud music.  What a difference a week makes!

08 pill stop riders 08 climbing slowly behind me

On arrival once again the size of my car played in my favour as, unlike those entering the racecourse before me, I was pointed towards some empty spaces right at the front of the carpark – one of the Directors’ spaces in fact.  Oooh, get me!  Well, I am a VIP right? 😉  All parked up, I decided to go register before faffing.  I wasn’t in any rush, and there was no sign of Gary yet, so I might as well take my time.  See, there were two routes today – the Epic (95 miles) and the Standard (55 miles).  As ever, I was down for the Epic, but all things considered I’d pretty much decided that I’d be better off doing the Standard route, so if I missed the Epic route starting slot, it wasn’t going to be the end of the world.

09 another long climb ahead 10 welcome to Dartmoor proper

I followed the signs to registration, carrying my helmet with me as instructed, into the main stand building.   Being such it had plenty of facilities which, seeing the queues, I decided to use first, before taking my place in line.  A few more people on the desks might have come in handy…  My turn came, and I was given my bike number, cable ties, and my timing chip was stuck on the LHS of my helmet.  Amazing how many people hadn’t brought their helmets with them though…!  I was also informed in a by now well practiced spiel that changes had had to be made to the route, so to just follow the signs, and by the way, here’s a map, updated this morning.  Allegedly…  Since this took the Epic route from 95 miles to 102…any lingering doubts about my route choice decision vanished pdq!

11 moor climbing ahead 12 amazing views up there

Back at the car, as I was mulling over kit options in the chilly sunshine, Gary appeared, on his way to registration, which meant I had one less thing to worry about.  He headed off to get sorted and a little while later, we were both ready, and heading towards the start line, feeling nervous but fairly positive.  Well I was, I can’t speak for Gary! 😉

13 trio riding high 14 rob and gaz and a map

I hadn’t really given this sportive much thought.  I’d scanned the pre-event pdf, glanced at the map, and skipped over the route profile…so I didn’t have much of an idea what to expect.  As it turns out, it was pretty much a large chunk of the Dartmoor Classic….done in reverse!  So somewhat familiar, yet completely different too.  A surprisingly good combination.  The first few miles were through Haldon Forest, and flattish, that is when they weren’t going down in a very long and lovely way…  Not a bad way to start things, until you realise that inevitably you’ll be going back up the same way at the end of the ride!  Still, plenty of time to worry about that later, right?

15 riders on the Moor 16 the long road ahead

About 5 miles or so in, Robin was, as planned, loitering with intent by the side of the road.  And then there were three – one for all, and all for one, presumably 😉  Which set us up for a fair few miles bimbling along a sunny but shady valley, chatting away sociably, and stopping from time to time to take off the odd item, answer calls of nature, etc.  Of course it being Dartmoor, it wasn’t going to stay flat for long, not if we were going to actually see the Moor.  Time to climb out of the valley first then, up a climb that was remarkably similar to Porlock Toll Road.  Long and slow and gradual and scenic and actually pretty lovely.  Which did wonders for my PMA, already boosted by sunshine and company 🙂   This was followed by a long and steeper climb towards Moretonhampstead which, I hate to say it, I also enjoyed.  Which pretty much sums up how today was.  I loved the ups, however slowly I plodded up them, because I was still getting up them.  Yes they were frequently hard work, but my crawler gear was well and truly engaged, and I didn’t even feel like I was suffering really.  Well, apart from the usual pain, but I was coping with that.  How cool is that?  And the result of all that up?  Well some of the downs were amazing, especially as they’ve always been ups when I’ve been here before and I figured I’d somehow karmically earned their fun factor 🙂

17 first food stop 18 first food stop goodies

After that climb up, or another one, or whichever one it was that involved a Donkey Sanctuary that was actually a Miniature Pony Sanctuary, Robin left us up on the Moor, after a map reading session.  Thanks for joining us Rob – I really appreciated it 🙂  While the boys deliberated over maps, I looked out on the world, and took a few photos.  Man, the views were amazing today!  Mind you it was still chilly – especially up there.  My layers stayed on all day today, even if zips went up and down, and towards the end of the day I may even have rolled my sleeves up a little 🙂

19 Gaz and gorse 20 rider on the bridge

After a beautiful descent down a climb I usually hate, it was time for the first food stop, 27 miles in, which would mark our halfway point.  The little village hall being used here only seemed to have one toilet, which was leading to a lot of hedge watering…which wasn’t really an option for me.  And which was also not that pleasant from a resident/spectator point of view… 😉  So I queued, emerged, took photos, and ate a few jelly beans.  I know I’m rubbish at eating on rides, and I’m even worse on a “short” one as I don’t see the point somehow, and besides I wasn’t hungry…which is probably not clever.  Feel free to tell me off, you won’t be the first 😉

21 20% walkers 22 another girl!

Back to the Moor please.  Shortly afterwards, somewhere near Princeton, came the route split, and I was actually a little tempted…but I was more tempted by the idea of spending a whole ride in company, and also not having to regret a rash decision later on.  Plus I’d made a decision earlier, and I’m learning to stick to my decisions; I’m getting better at it ‘n everything 😉  So it was the left turn for us.  More Moor please!  More sun, more climbing.  A lovely descent to a pretty bridge across a babbling brook and rocks, was followed by a long and kick-ass 20+% up which I wasn’t expecting, and which wouldn’t be the only one such, but I still liked it 🙂  The second of these however, wherever it was, after yet another cutesy village, was less cool.  By now Dartmoor was getting busy – a sunny Bank Holiday Weekend Saturday was bringing the grockles out in force, and the little narrow lane we were now climbing up out of there on was cluttered with cars trying to get both up and down, and precious few passing places.  Driver tempers were rising…and our presence was not helping.  Luckily by the time I had to stop and watch a few of them play car chess to get around each other, the very steep bit was behind me.  It was annoying though – I hate to lose momentum.  It’s a little weird, but the hills were going so well, I almost wanted more of them just to keep proving that I wasn’t imagining it!

23 church tower 24 refreshment on the move

Back up on top, the Moor was getting even more familiar, and coming from this direction I could see all the way to the sea.  Breathtaking.  And I was practically at the beach!  Life is always better at the beach *grin*.  Not a bad place for a foodstop then…about 42 miles in…even if there were no toilets.  Just for a change, having topped up my bottles again, I decided I’d try a Mango & Apple PowerBar Smoothie thingy.  Which, amazingly, was very nice!  In fact I put one in my pocket for later, should I need it.  My not eating a great deal might not seem wise, but it worked just fine today, which just goes to show that we all work in different ways.  Different folks, different strokes, etc 😉  Anyway it was a pretty fab place to hang out, on top of the world, while Gary adjusted his seat post, which had somehow managed to drop an inch en route.  Apparently this was not helping with the whole getting up hills thing which, miraculously and just for once, I was doing marginally better than he was.  Ooh, get me and my ego 😉

26 drinking in the views 28 sharing the road

Right then, about 12 miles or so to go.  We weren’t the only cyclists making the most of the weather, as plenty of non-event people were out too, and we were all doing a pretty good job of grinning at each other as we passed by.  After some of that, the descent off the Moor was a blast…even if it did seem a shame to be leaving it behind.  What is usually a long slow slog at the beginning of the day was a long fast flight down at the end of mine.  Such fun 🙂  However, it was a good thing that came to an end, meaning it was time to spend a few miles being flat and fairly fast, and to look for the up that would take us back to HQ.

29 Gaz is rude 30 another church tower

Which, thanks to the route change, and the map that wasn’t up to date after all, wasn’t where we’d expected it to be, and several of us became convinced we’d missed a turning as we were cycling the same way along the valley as we had much earlier during the day.  Much though I was kind of enjoying myself, I didn’t want to do it all over again!  Somewhat amusingly one of the guys who stopped to pour over maps with us had done the epic route, plus a detour, so in the time we’d done 52 miles, he’d done over 100…  *sigh*  I will never be that good.  Way to put a girl in her place…ah well, my ego probably needed that! *grin*.  We decided to carry on and hope…which just when we were about to give up hope and turn around, turned out to be the right decision, as a marshal at Lower Ashton showed us the right turn we should be taking.

31 red rider on the way home 32 rough stepped climb

So we weren’t going to be going back up the same way, but we were still going to be going up.  The sight of a large tower – which turned out to be the Haldon Belvedere – beyond and up above kind of gave it away.  How could an sportive route organiser resist sending us up to that?  So up we went, through more bits of Haldon Forest, up and up and up…  It was sort of a stepped climb.  Steeper bits, longer gradual bits, all on a lousy road surface with holes marked out in orange spray paint.  Let’s just say there was a lot of orange paint…

34 Haldon Belvedere 36 smiling near the end

As we got nearer the tower, it got steeper, and the right turn below the tower wasn’t the end of it either, but it did flatten out a bit…  It all seemed a bit gratuitous this close to the end, but at least the end was nigh.  Finally up, we were rewarded with a flat couple of miles down which to fly back to HQ, and which were well earned fun 🙂  Time to cross the Finish Line, and be presented with my medal, a bar, and a copy of Cycling Active magazine.

The pen behind the Finish Line was full of women waiting for their men to home from the sea, who presumed I was one of them as I waited for Gary, until they spotted the medal around my neck, which made for some quite funny reactions.  To be fair, and not blame them, there really didn’t seem to be many women riders out there today…which is a shame.  Anyway, Gary wasn’t far behind me, but I was able to immortalise him when he arrived.  Dartmoor Demon done.  And the refreshment van sold fizzy orange…result! 🙂

37 hello finish line 38 hello Gary

Cycling time: 4:30
Actual time: 5:15 ish
Distance: 58.6 miles
Avs: 13.0 mph

39 Gary and medal

It’s been quite a while since I’ve had a proper post-ride buzz going on.  But I did today.  I’d had a really good ride, and I was in such a good mood that I could have hugged everyone, and hugged Gary instead, who was probably a bit taken aback by that…sorry!  But it had gone so well, I’d really enjoyed it, and while those around me were talking about how tough it had been, I really didn’t feel like it had?  Also, I guess the whole good mood thing was due in a large part to it having turned out way better than I’d feared it would.  It was just such a relief to have made it around without serious pain, mental or physical; I’d been so dreading ending up down there again.  It was also great to have had company, to chat to, and share the sunshine and scenery with, which probably made all the difference.  Many thanks guys, no hedge moments today 🙂  Here’s hoping the next few rides go just as well…*fingers crossed*.

40 traditional post ride refreshment 41 goodie bag

Tour of Pembrokeshire 2016

Life frequently does not go according to plan.  (Which, as an aside, is presumably why we like it so much when a plan does actually come together, right?)  So it turned out, at fairly short notice, that I would be doing this Tour of Pembrokeshire weekend on my own.  Something which, considering my current issues with both driving and riding, did have me somewhat worried. Marvellous… 🙁

Luckily I’d booked Friday off a while ago, so I had the whole day to get myself sorted, and get myself down to Pembrokeshire.  There was no time pressure, and I would have plenty of time to stop and take a break, or maybe even visit something, on the way down.  Although I wasn’t looking forward to the drive, having had a truly bad week, I was actually feeling a little better, which was good, and positive, and so forth.

So after extra sleeping, and faffing, and packing, on Friday afternoon I spent three and a half hours driving through wind and rain down various motorways, heading as far West as you can go.  Not nice.  Honestly, what is it with me and going to Pembrokeshire?!!  I was not amused…  I was also not enjoying myself on several levels.  What with the weather forecast for the day, I’d decided visiting castles was probably out, so I’d left a little later than maybe I would have done otherwise.   And hey, just for once the forecast was right.  Which is neither here nor there.  It just meant I didn’t have a visit to somewhere planned to break up the ride, so I had to take a break from it all at Swansea West services, which I am more than a little familiar with by now, and chill out in Costa for a while with a caramel mocha.  I figured that that, on top of the energy drink I’d already had, would hopefully get me there in one piece…

Crug Glas 3 inside the Cow Shed

Which eventually it did.  I arrived at Crug Glas, the Tour of Pembrokeshire‘s new HQ and also my home for the weekend, early eveningish, and discovered my friend Peter, previous MD of the Tour, and ( I think) still owner of Pembrokeshire Bikes, helping out near the entrance.  I parked up near what would be the Bike Park the following day, and went and said hi, before checking in, and relocating my car to the hotel car park.  Which put it closer to my room, well out of the way of sportive chaos, and actually visible from my hotel room.  I left my bike there to sleep in peace though – my room was far too luxury to have my bike parked up in it!  As it turns out, it was the same room I stayed in for the ToP 2013…very lovely, and complete with an amazing bath which there and then I resolved to actually use this time around at some point!

Registration Perroni and pills

Time to go register, in the little marquee set up next to the newly renovated outbuilding next door to the hotel – the large and very swish Cow Shed.  Which wasn’t as easy for me as everyone else was finding it.  I went to my desk, but they had no record of me…  It turns out that, thanks to my guest status, my name was on a specific list.  Which wasn’t currently around.  So my name was down but I still wasn’t coming in… 😉  Nowt for it than to go and install myself in the bar and make myself comfortable until everything worked itself out.

5 rider pack 6 Cow Shed menu

Which, while chatting to Peter again, over a rather expensive pint of pre-ride hydrating Perroni, it did.  A nice lady called Elizabeth found me, and I was presented with my route card, bike number, helmet number, cable ties, free High5 gel voucher, and post ride food voucher, all without having to leave my seat.  Bonus!  I did have to leave to go and cash in my gel voucher though, and have a look at the few stands and tempting bikes on display though.  N + 1?  😉  After a while spent chatting to various people back at the bar, it was time to carb load, even if I gather ‘they’ are currently saying that carb loading is rubbish…  Food was on offer at £10 for a main course & salad & bread roll…or £8 if you’d booked beforehand.  Which I had.  So I had a massive bowl of gluten-free pasta carbonara which was actually (and though I shouldn’t say it, surprisingly) really nice.  Not entirely IBS safe but half the way there, and hey, apparently I should eat before I ride…  So I did.  I passed on dessert though even if it would only have cost me £3.  Best not to overdo it right?  Job done then; time to head back to my room, faff a little more, check the weather forecast even more, and get an earlyish night.

I slept!  ‘Rah!  Must have been the very high and comfy four poster bed…*grin*.  Which didn’t make the 5:50 alarm call any nicer.  And it was only 5:50 so I could hit snooze, pretend to ignore it, and actually get up at 6:00am 😉  So alright already, I’m up!  I checked the weather forecast again – cold, dry, sunny, northerly winds.  I looked out of the window to see what the actual weather actually looked like.  Sunshine…!  Hm…  Time to make coffee, from a little bag.  Which was a new one to me – but a huge improvement on the usual powdered option.  Can’t help it, I’m a coffee snob 😉  So breakfast was coffee, a hobnobs flapjack, a banana, and shiny pills.  Gotta love my diet, no?  I could have had breakfast over in the Cow Shed, at £1 per item, with porridge, bacon, etc. all on offer, but I’m lazy, and prefer to stick to what I know.  As for getting dressed in kit – well, layers of course, right?  But how many and which ones?  I looked out of the window again.  At the continuing sunshine.  At the riders parking up in the field beyond, walking over to register, in an assortment of outfits, but many of them being in shorts.  It’s that awkward time of year when sunny can actually be really warm…  But, having opened the window to check, it wasn’t warm yet, even if it was going to be.  And I’ve done the ToP many times and never been warm, and most of my recent rides have been cold, and the forecast said…  Oh I hate decisions!

7 gathering pre ride 8 start line scanning

I opted for essentially winter kit but with a short sleeve base layer and a lighter weight mid layer.  And nothing in my saddle bag, kit wise, so as to give me room to try and stash anything I chose to remove en route.  Thus attired I headed downstairs to wake the bike up and add the finishing touches to both it and me – bottles, gadgets, food, gels, the usual.  The tannoy was announcing the countdown to the 100 mile route leaving slot – 7:00-7:30am – and I reckoned I’d be there in time enough.  It took me a while to attach the somewhat flimsy number to the bike, and even longer to get the helmet bike chip cable tied on.  It doesn’t help when you manage to get it around the helmet straps first time around and have to start over…!  It’s a good thing that, as a hardened sportive veteran, I carry both scissors and spare cable ties with me.  Not my favourite variety of timing chip it has to be said, and according to the instructions if you didn’t return it for some reason you’d be liable for a £10 fine too!  So, all done, it was chilly but not that bad, and the sun was shining…and I was half tempted to run back inside and change…but I didn’t.  Would I regret it…?  Oh man, I hate decisions!

heading out towards the sea the beach before Fishguard

Finally sorted, I walked over to HQ.  There was a queue for the portable toilets outside, so I nipped inside, where there wasn’t.  Time to get to the start line then.  The first groups had already gone, so there were just a few of us doing the same.  With no ceremony at all, someone scanned my chip, and I was sent on my way…just like that.  Considering the comprehensive pre-ride rider briefing pdf, I guess they figured an actual rider briefing was superfluous…  Which was fine by me, I didn’t want to hang around getting cold anyway.  7:15 and I was off.  Blue skies, bright sunshine, long low shadows hiding the road, way before the locals were hitting the road…  It all felt a bit unreal, or surreal, or something.  The routes have changed a bit this year, and not just because of the change of start venue.  I thought I might notice more, but I can’t decide if it was all new, or just that I’ve forgotten large chunks of my previous Tours, which is quite likely considering how long it usually takes me and how much hard work I always find it!

11 up hills 12 views

As ever, I tried not to think too much early on.  It was cold, but sunny.  The scenery was as ever, gorgeous.  I was feeling ok.  I recognised bits.  It seemed easier than previous years somehow.  But maybe that’s because the route was different…  So hard to tell.  But I was feeling ok…in fact at some points I was feeling like maybe it was going to get too warm and I’d have to find a way to dump layers somewhere, cos I was getting warm and I don’t ride well overheated.  Should I do the 100 miles?  Because I should, and prove that I can, and prove everyone wrong, and I haven’t done 100 miles yet this year, and I was feeling ok, and it was sunny and….  But maybe I shouldn’t push it, and it might not turn out nice, and I have a lot more sportives to come, and I should do the 75…

Thus went my head for the first hour or so.  The first few bits of up came and went ok.  Even those nasty little kicks up that come after swoopy dips down to the coast – all good.  Even good enough to smile for the inevitable official photographers lurking on them.  Well I did know those bits were there, so was prepared, and and in the right gear etc…unlike quite a few… 🙂  The downs called for a little more caution than usual, thanks to the shadows hiding the road surface under all the trees, and pothole paranoia looming large.  But all in all, along the quiet country roads, in the sunshine, looking at the sea, I was a fairly happy bunny.  Hey, life is always better at the beach…so I really enjoyed the bit from Goodwick to Fishguard 🙂

13 moor climbing ahead 14 riders passing me by

The first route split – for the 50 mile route – came about 16 miles in at Llanychaer.  That wasn’t an option however.  Turn left, go over the little bridge, and straight up the 25% climb instead.  Well, not straight up, it’s definitely more hair pin-y…and steep…and it hurt.  Sadly literally, not in the “I’m crap at riding and so this hurts” sense.  More in the, ‘there’s a little black hole lurking in my insides that is now imploding in a painful and energy sapping way‘ sense.  Hard to explain but I know what I mean.  I don’t know if black holes implode or explode however, and if you’re a science geek, feel free to correct me safe in the knowledge that I will ignore you.  Still, I got up the darn thing, and things settled down, however my 75 mile vs 100 mile internal debate had gained some weight on the lighter side, which is some way to being an oxymoron…  But I carried on, and things carried on being mostly ok.  At some point I even took the over gloves and winter neck thing off…  All good.  I’ve done this ride a lot of times…and the weather has never ever been this good!  However it didn’t get warmer…  And as we got higher from time to time and hit the northerly winds, it frequently got chillier…  And then warmer going up.  And then chillier again…  Or maybe it was just me?  Plenty of people still seemed to be surviving in shorts and short sleeves…madmen all of them.  And that’s not sexist, there weren’t many women out there, and I didn’t see any of them in shorts!

15 ready for the descent to Newport 16 Llys Meddg food stop

The first food stop was at Llys Meddyg in Newport, where this year’s Prologue ride ran from, about 25 miles in.  There were volunteer cadet/guides/whatever around, offering to hold your bike for you while you sorted yourself out.  Which was nice in theory, but felt a bit weird.  Yes, please take my bike, and then just stand there, until I see fit to return and take it away again.  Clearly I’m not used to having staff…so I declined politely and no doubt awkwardly, and parked my bike up by a fence instead.  Food of all varieties was disappearing as soon as it appeared – pasties, bananas, boiled potatoes, jam sandwiches…all being topped up as I watched.  I nipped off to the hotel’s outdoor toilets, returned, and opted for the root vegetable option.  Variety right?  Nice too 🙂  From where I was standing I could see the route split.  And I kinda wanted to do the long route.  I’ve always tried to.  And I was currently feeling like it might be possible.  But I was also still pretty cold.  Bearing in mind my current average speed, I could be adding an extra three hours on to my ride.  On my own and out in the cold.  And it had been a pretty bad week.  But I was feeling ok.  And I hate bailing…  Did I mention I hate decisions? 😉

17 food stop staff 18 world wide views

But I bailed, if you can call it that on this ride.  To be fair, I know 100 mile rides that are easier than 75 miles of this one!  I think if I’d had company, it might have been a different call…  But I didn’t, and it wasn’t, and I had decided I should play it safe, not least because I have a sportive every weekend for the next 4 weekends after this one.  Besides I’ve never done the 75 mile route…that’s a legitimate reason to do so, from a reviewing standpoint, right? 😉

OK then.  So long Moylegrove. Farewell my favourite coast bit.  Auf wiedersehn Poppit Sands. Goodbye extra hills…  To be fair I’d already had some climbing.  Some coast.  The lovely descent to Newport.  And hey, as someone pointed out much, much later, I did do all of those bits on this year’s Prologue, so who needs to be doing them twice in a year anyway? 😉

19 going up in the world again 20 riders behind

Further North and further up was further colder.  (And I know that adjective doesn’t really work but…hey, my blog).  The few winter bits that came off went back on again.  And came off again with more ups.  And on again after…and btw, zips are great things…   There was quite a lot of climbing ahead as it happens.  Lots of lovely long slow ups, to wide open moor lands, where the whole world stretched out under blue skies.  Which was cool.  I was going up fine.  Not fast, not as fast as the steam trains occasionally going past me.  But happily enough for me.  My legs and my lungs and my form was feeling pretty good, and I was doing my best to enjoy myself.

But something was rotten in the state of Denmark.  I was still cold.  And, in retrospect, when I did get off the bike to stash/retrieve layers, eat, take photos, whatever, my balance was off.  (Why do I never remember that’s a sign that at some level I’m overdoing it?)  My next pain killers were due at 10:30, and I’m usually ok with those – once I’m on them, and taking them regularly, all is sorted…  Not today.  Hills were making things hurt more, however well I was going up them.  The pain got worse, and in a big way, but I couldn’t take more pills yet…  Being cold wasn’t helping; I cope less well with anything when I’m cold.  And I think I get colder when in pain, because my body is busy coping with other things.  Vicious circle, etc.  Finally the time came, having plodded my way up a long and very lovely hill with beautiful views, when I could stop.  It was finally that time.  10:30ish, around 3:15 in.  So I found a quiet little off the road bit, with a bank so I could hide from the biting wind, got off the bike, lost my balance, and pretty much lost it completely.  Which I wasn’t really expecting.  Only it was hurting SO much, and I was cold, and I was in the middle of nowhere on my own with a long way to go…  Cue massive meltdown.  I sat there for a little while, hugging my knees, it being the closest I could get to foetal position I guess, and sobbed my heart out for a bit.  Not my finest hour…good thing I was out of easy sight.  Honest, it’s no wonder no-one wants to ride with me! 😉  Hey, maybe in company I’d have done the stiff upper lip thing…we’ll never know…

Even in the middle of nowhere it turns out I wasn’t alone though.  You gotta love technology.  A mate of mine had pinged me mid-ride to see how I was getting on…who then got it both barrels!  (sorry!).  But having been sent hugs and reassurance, mentally slapped myself, taken a gel, and of course the next dose of pills, with ibuprofen thrown in on top for good measure, I started to get it together.  Let’s face it, I had no other option, it was time to carry on.  Well, you don’t call the broom wagon for that kind of thing do you?  To be honest, if someone had been there to swoop down, pick me up, take me home, and tuck me into bed to sleep until it was all over…I’d have gone.  But hey, back in the real world…

21 second food stop map 22 sheltered valley

Typically, all of 5 minutes further down the road was the next food stop, conveniently tucked away out of the wind…  And yes, I didn’t need to stop again, but I did.  Well, I had to get my chip scanned anyway, right?  Once more I dodged the ‘staff’, I ate potatoes, and then I spent a spell sitting on a picnic bench warming up in the sun.  Hey, my time was going to be rubbish anyway so what did a few more minutes elapsed time matter? 😉

Right, time to get going again.  It was about 37 miles in, so that was half way, and that always helps mentally.  Having had a good look at the map on the display I knew there were only a couple more climbs ahead, and even another food stop.  That had to be doable, especially now I was a bit warmer, and the pills would hopefully cut in soon.  So…let’s get it on, right?

23 more views 24 rider behind

And it did get easier eventually.  Shortly afterwards there was a lovely long stretch along a sheltered valley, all green trees, blue skies, yellow flowers and most importantly, none of that bitter wind!  Bliss…I started to feel a bit warmer.  And on the flat I was going pretty well.  I liked that.  Inevitably there was a long climb out of the valley at the end, but even that was ok.  I’d rather be a bit warm than too cold, and I CAN do hills!  And, as some of you have probably noticed by now, I actually quite like them 🙂  OK, I like them more when they hurt less, but that’s not the point.  There was another food stop, about 25 miles from the end, where I stopped because I thought I should, not because I needed to, but with that long a gap ahead I thought I should make sure I was topped up with drink.  And potatoes 😉  There was clearly going to be musical entertainment here too shortly, but having started early and taken the shorter route (clearly not the only one to do so!) that wasn’t quite up and running yet.

25 riders ahead 26 views to the sea

And now I had 25 miles more to do.  That I can count down.  That I can do.  Especially when a lot of it was both familiar and fairly flat.  Turns out I could still fly along on that, as my slowly increasing average speed demonstrated.  There was, as there had been all day, plenty of support en route.   Cowbells, people clapping, small children waving, one with a sign saying “Be determined, you can get around this course”.  Colour me determined  😉   The pills were finally working, the legs were still working, the sun was still shining, and I’d even rolled my sleeves up a little.  Go me!  However there was a nasty climb at Whitchurch which sort of stopped play for a while.  Having joined up with a lot of the 50 milers by now there were a fair few walking riders for me to overtake though.  I went past a walking girl, and said hi…because today most riders were friendlier than usual.  Most of those who’d gone past me all day had found time to say “hi”, “morning” or whatever, or at least “on your right” and I had been doing the same in my turn.  She heard me, turned, and said on seeing me, “oh wow you’re doing so well”…  Now admittedly she may not have been referring to the fact that I was still pedalling up the hill while she was walking.  She may have thought I was on the 100 mile route and must have been going some to be going past her already, which clearly I wasn’t.  But a little bit of me did think you know what?  All things considered, I sure as f*ck am…!  And then pedalled on to the top 🙂   *grin*.

27 third food stop 28 flatter on the way back

The final big hill being done, the last few ups on the way back, some which I remembered from previous rides,  didn’t even really register with me this time around.  I was on my way home, and there was to be no stopping me.  The route after this has definitely changed – it now goes back in straight through the countryside to come in through St Davids (past the old Oriel y Parc venue) and back to Crug Glas HQ in a far more sensible way.  It’s flattish too.  At times I could see the sea stretching out far beyond, tankers lining up out there along the coast, islands, blue water, blue skies…very lovely 🙂  After St Davids, heading back sort of NE, the last few miles back into the head wind might not have been a lot of fun, but I was nearly there, so it was ok.  Put my head down, get on with it.  Hey, I wanted to get back before the next dose was due!  I had picked up a couple of riders at the traffic lights just before St Davids, and we played tag for a bit before I dropped them for a while…and then there were two of us again for the final stretch, counting down the last few miles.  Then it was back down the drive, past various supporters to the Finish line, to have my head scanned (well people have been known to say I need my head read!).  My timing number was removed, and I was given my commemorative coaster and some sort of fruit drink.  Job done.

30 the drive home 31 waiting to be scanned at the finish line

I walked slowly down the road towards HQ, and had a brief chat to Elizabeth who I’d met the day before and who had ridden the 50 with Peter for charity.  There were happy riders everywhere posing for photos, sitting outside on the grass in the sun, eating, drinking, with music blaring – and there was a really nice atmosphere.  Which sort of passed me by.  I bumped into Peter himself and we agreed to meet for a beer shortly.  I was feeling a bit other worldly myself…and very gently walked my way to my car to tuck the bike back into bed, before joining him in the bar.  On the way in I met Jim, a friendly, familiar ToP team face.  He asked me if I’d had a good ride…and I tried, but oh man, talk about an awkward question…  I’d like to have lied, but I was a bit raw at the time, and I sort of explained, and he gave me a not awkward hug, which I really appreciated.  Peter appeared as if by magic and took me off to the bar, but I had to leave him there queueing to go and sit down, where he joined me with the Perroni I had so earned!  However when asked once again how I was and how it had been, by a friend?  Yep…lost it completely…again *sigh*.  Which brings the tally of complete meltdowns today to two.  I guess you don’t know how hard you’ve been holding it together until you don’t have to anymore?  Sorry Peter!  Chapeau to him for coping so well too.  And I got it together fairly quickly I think – I don’t do weak and girly for any longer than I absolutely have to, and besides my lager would get warm, right? 😉  We got back to talking about the ride more generally and how it had gone for us all.  Not that I had much to contribute.  Yes, I’d done it, and I’d love to say there was some massive sense of achievement which, I suppose you could argue that there should be.  72 miles on top of all that…?  But I just felt disappointed by myself, wiped out, tired, & emotional.   F.I.N.E?   Ah well….

32 the fabulous bath

Although food wasn’t my problem today, I figured it wouldn’t do any harm to eat, and it would be a shame to miss out on my free pig roast roll (beef was also on offer) from Gwaun Valley Meats.  The marquee outside was now housing them and the massage team, and I’m glad I queued for that which I was entitled, as it was lovely, and by this point I’d ceased worrying about safe food!  🙂  (For those that wanted something else, the same £10 meal option was still available in the Cowshed, along with cake, tea, coffee etc).  Having got it together a bit more, eventually I took myself off with another beer, to take refuge in that massive bath as I’d promised myself I would.  Which was, as hoped, truly awesome.  Tour of Pembrokeshire done. Again.  Well.  Kinda 😉


It was, and is, a great event, with the best weather I’ve ever seen for it.  You should do it.  It just wasn’t a great, or the best, me.  The really ironic thing is that according to Strava, I actually had a pretty good ride.  Some PRs, some 2nd bests, up a lot of the climbs, and of course downs, around there.  With a max speed of 51.4mph! (not that I believe that…)  And other than the obvious I felt pretty good out there.  It’s just SO frustrating!  Even writing about it is a bit upsetting…it’s the first time it’s ever been like that for a ride, and what with ‘it’ getting worse as time goes on, I do worry about what that means for the rest of my very full season…  But hey, don’t go borrowing trouble right?  Hopefully I’ll be back again next year, and I will kick the ar*e of the long route!

Cycling time: 5:37
Actual time: 6:23 (I think)
Distance: 71.4 miles
Avs: 12.7 mph

PS: – apparently the timing system that actually turned up – chip to be scanned manually on helmet – wasn’t what was ordered…so a little critical leeway should be granted for that… 😉

Meon Vale Spring Classic


Welcome to the first sportive of my season.  Which is actually the second review.  I’ve gotten all behind and out of sync and well…whatever…here it is.

I was a bit nervous beforehand.  The forecast had not been great, it’s early in my season, and all the other usual worries that bother me were bothering me.  I’d spent all week telling myself it was only 80k so not a big deal really.  So it’s just as well I checked a couple of days before and discovered it was actually 100k, not 80k.  This is fine when you’re prepared for it, but not when you’re out on the course, tired, and spending an hour not reaching the finish line you’re looking for.  That can definitely do your head and PMA in.  Forewarned, forearmed 🙂

So, which sportive are we talking about?  Well this year I’m trying to do more events that I haven’t done before, which is why I’d picked the CFC Meon Vale Spring Classic – aka the Daffodil Ride – to start the season with.  (Sadly the page for the event no longer exists on their website, so I’ll point you at their Events page instead in case you want to do another of their events instead).  As with quite a few of my events, due to proximity and easy access, it’s in the Cotswolds – and in this case the northerly chunk.  HQ was at the new Meon Vale Leisure Centre, about two hours drive from here.

It was not the nicest drive in the world.  It was early, I was tired, it was cold and grey and dreary and just, well…a bit snooze inducing.  I took a break at one of the usual M5 service stations, where the early morning tumble weed were blowing around the empty car park – most normal people still being in bed at such an ungodly hour on Sunday.  HQ opened at 8:00am and I was there not long after.  It’s a new leisure centre on a new housing development, all of which is shiny and new and clean and possibly just a little bit toy town, but hey, it’ll all age and bed in.  When the pre-event email had said that coffee etc would be available at the Londis shop/cafe in the village – the big purpose built shop here was not quite what I’d imagined…not that I’d be visiting it anyway.  I had my own very good coffee with me  🙂  Interesting the pictures your brain paints with very little information though… 🙂

registration pack horse

I drove past the shop, into the leisure centre grounds, and was marshalled through a security barrier onto a gravel car park section, the small tarmac section directly adjacent to the leisure centre being full already.  Some poor marshal was having to make the barrier work every time, which struck me as a bit of a chore, so I wasn’t surprised when, walking back from registration later, I discovered they’d found a way to make it be open all the time.

There weren’t that many riders around inside yet, so no queuing for registration, or the toilets – all new ‘n clean ‘n nice ‘n all, but not very generous in number – there would be queues later…  As for registration, this is a charity ride – CFC stands for Cyclists Fighting Cancer.  So to keep costs down there was to be no official timing, though for those that wanted to compare times they’d set up Strava segments for the two routes available – 100km and 60km.  So, no timing chip to collect, just a map, bike number & cable ties, in return for a signature as usual.  Talking of costs, entry was just £12 for 100km and £11 for the 60km, plus it’s for charity…doesn’t that make a nice change?

heading to start ready

I headed back to the car, past that open barrier, to faff as usual.  It was COLD!  Even though the forecast was now actually ok, what with it going to be a fairly short ride, I didn’t think there was much chance of it getting too warm before I was done, so I had pretty much every winter layer I own on.  Having resorted to posting a photo of the bike on FB, as you do, apparently it looked like I was going on a camping holiday…oh ye who mock my saddle bag!  And top tube bag.  Well I’ll have you know they’re both very useful!  And if you’d like some better more sports related excuse, call it training under load or something…  Just think how fast I’ll be when the summer bike and summer wheels come out to play? 😉  At least my pack horse was all clean and oiled and everything – yes, I do occasionally wash it.  And photographic proof is always good…as no-one ever believes me when I say that *grin*.

route signs 1 route signs 2

Getting the bike set up was a bit of a pain in the ar*e actually.  Or is that literally?  My new (ish) mudguards may be wonderful things, but they don’t like it when the bike gets put in the back of the car…and the front one had gotten all bent of shape.  I got all bent out of shape trying to get it back in to shape!  My hands were clearly freezing, as I somehow managed to cut a knuckle without realising it…until I realised I was dripping blood all over things!  Not a big deal – just one of those little irritating on a joint things – and it stopped soon enough.  I did finally get the wheel and mudguard to stop touching each other though, which was the main point.

The rest of my car park was full now, and the marshals were busy on their radios debating whether or not it was ok to park the still arriving cars on the grassier bits.  I guess they didn’t want to the the ones who trashed all the new landscaping if it wasn’t!  I’m guessing it was though because I didn’t see them turning anyone away 😉  All wrapped up, both bike and me, I headed back to queue for the toilet, before queuing at the start line along with everyone else.  And it was as cold standing around as feared.  The guy next to me was doing his first sportive, having come back from Dubai last year…I bet he was feeling it, and I kinda felt for him!

hill ahead

We reached the front of the queue, and after a short safety briefing, were let go on our merry way.  The ride itself is a lot like the Mad March Hare, unsurprisingly as it covers a lot of the same ground.  That did add a nice degree of familiarity to it, without it being same old same old (I’ve done the MMH a good few times).  I recognised bits.  Hills especially.  All of which today turned out to be ones I’d done before, if not all on the same event, which was nice because I knew that they were totally doable.  It was all very doable really.  Pretty countryside, ploddy hills, bit draggy from time to time, not stunning, but pleasant enough.  I’d not studied the route too much and, it being the Cotswolds, I’d sort of been expecting it to be hillier, and it’s always nice when a route turns out to be easier than you’d expect!

pretty not busy more pretty

The route split came at the top of Dovers Hill though, which was one of the biggest climbs of the day, so whichever route you did, you didn’t get to get out of it.  I quite enjoyed it, in my own odd way.  I can get up hills.  And I like that 🙂  I also liked the Snowshill descent afterwards which is long, fast, and straight, without a junction at the bottom – perfect!  Especially with there being no traffic on it – of any variety – not even horse riders.  Who are a bigger problem here than in some places, as we’d been warned.  It’s a popular area for equestrians, which is probably somewhat related to the affluence of the area! 😉  Mind you, it may be affluent, but that doesn’t mean the road surfaces are better here than anywhere else.  By which I mean that a lot of them were pretty crap.  Which has nothing to do with this sportive in particular and more to do with the state of UK roads in general, and I spent quite a while from time to time hankering after the beautiful smooth Spanish roads from my training camp…*sigh*

Broadway Tower its a sign of course

The first food stop was due a little bit before halfway, in the very pretty village of Stanton, but my painkillers were wearing off well before then.  I was tempted to wait but…as it happens at the top of a long hill I found a car park that even had a toilet block so I took an impromptu break there to top up and unload, as it were.  I even went so far as swop the winter gloves for the summer ones…a decision which I reversed about twenty minutes later when I realised I was losing feeling in my fingers!  Yep – still cold out there then!

food stop portable toilets

That foodstop actually turned out to be at the 24 mile mark which, on a 62 mile sportive, really seemed a bit too soon.  That would leave 38 miles still to do…and after 24 miles I’ve usually only just sort of hit my stride.  However there it was, and it was well stocked, with a variety of food on offer, and a few portable toilets.  I topped up my bottle, grabbed a few jelly babies – my current foodstop fodder of choice – before heading off again.  It was, as I’ve probably said a few too many times, too cold for hanging around much.

pretty town houses small pile

As the miles ticked by under grey skies, the very cold continued.  However miraculously, around the middle of the day hints of actual shadows started to appear.  Both skies and spirits lightened, and by 1:30pm it was actually blue and sunny and even somewhat warmer.  Warmer I said.  Not warm 😉  On the upside, there wasn’t much wind to speak off all day – and that’s always a very good thing!  I was glad of my kit choices; it’s always nice when you get that right.

slow blue straight

Country lanes, Cotswold stone houses, thatched cottages, cute villages, daffodils, snowdrops…sounds nice doesn’t it?.  There was the slightly busier, more developed and larger, Stow on the Wold thrown in though, and even the odd traffic light for us all to dutifully stop at…though I may have cut it close at one of those busier junctions…hope I made it!  Well, I know ALL cyclists jump red lights, right?  But… 😉

The second half of the ride was flatter, and the last 15 miles even more so.  Flatter, faster, sunnier…oh go on then, this IS fun…and then all the miles were done, and there I was, crossing the Finish Line to be greeting by a small welcoming committee.  My number was clipped off for me, and I was presented with my bunch of daffodils – lovely.  Both nice touches, and I do like daffodils 🙂  I grabbed a free bottle of water and headed back to the car feeling quite pleased with myself really.  I’d enjoyed it, and it was a great way to start my season.  I didn’t beat any records, but I did feel sort of capable out there?  Like this girl can?  The first sportive of the year was under my belt – a slow but solid ride.  Cool beans 🙂

pretty pointy church finish line reception

I could have had a shower in the changing rooms.  I could have taken my bike number to the Londis cafe area and got a free hot drink.  But I didn’t.  Hey, I’m lazy…I just packed the car up and headed for home.  Back to the kids, to a cold beer, and to a nice roast dinner 🙂

Cycling time: 4:31
Distance: 62.8 miles
Avs: 13.9 mph

daffodils for riders


Cotswold Spring Classic 2016

Easter Monday dawned with a 5:00am alarm call.  I’d managed to get a reasonable night’s sleep but that didn’t stop it feeling early.  And I woke up to the kind of weather that I wouldn’t usually leave the house in, let alone drive my slightly high-sided car anywhere in.  However my normally rational brain fails dismally when it comes to sportives for some reason.  Even with Storm Katie battering down the door!  It’s something to do with having said I’d do it, and that I’d review it, and having a conscience and being stubborn I guess…

Regardless (clearly!) of the weather, I’d left by 6:00am, in the dark, since the clocks sprang forward yesterday, robbing me of an hour of my birthday (rude!).  I spent 1.5 hours driving in the wet, windy, slowly lightening dark, through standing water, clouds of spray, and roads covered in debris, clenching my insides slightly every time the wind relocated the car on the road.  Good core muscle practice…or something…honestly, I must be mad…(and yes, I know you’re all nodding, and agreeing, and thinking that the cycling has nowt to do with that..).  All this, just for a sportive?!

Actually, oddly, one of the biggest challenges to sportives these days is getting me there and back in one piece, which has nothing to do with the weather.  As with last week’s sportive (which I’ll blog after this – I’m a bit behind and out of sync), partially as a result of being tired, but far more to do with my drug regime, I found myself getting drowsy both on the way there and back, and even on the bike sometimes, which ain’t great!  It’s sort of ok on the way home, because I can stop and nap if I need to.  There’s no provision for doing that on the way there, other than getting up earlier to allow for it, which would just make me more tired, and somewhat defeat the object methinks.  As for feeling drowsy on the bike…well that’s just plain weird.  Still…I’m writing this right, so clearly I made it there, round, and back in one piece 🙂  However I am grateful to those of my mates who have volunteered to accompany me to some of my other sportives this year.  Some of them have even agreed to ride around with me too.  That’s supposing they can stay vertical going that slowly of course… 😉

wet windscreen

HQ for today’s Cotswold Spring Classic Sportive was Cirencester Deer Park School.  Registration opened at 7:00am and I was there sometime around 7:20 ish.  Well wrapped up and luminous marshals guided the small peloton of cars that I’d become part of into the car park.  Having a smaller car than them I was pointed to a different aisle, marginally nearer to HQ – result!  I was half tempted, having done this one before, to sort everything out and then go register when all ready to go, as it is a bit of a walk and it would be a walk in the cold, wind, and rain.  So why do it twice?  But if I did that I’d be far too early for the 8:00am start time, and hanging out, even inside, killing time whilst wet, cold & damp didn’t really appeal either.

registration desks route map & list

So I didn’t.  I grabbed my camera, wrapped up as best I could, and made my way across campus to register in the hall.  I was far from the first there, and there were plenty of people milling around, using the facilities, drinking coffee, and checking out the various stands in the halls.  I bet any waterproofs for sale disappeared pdq!  The registration desks were still pretty empty though, and having looked at the list of entries to get my rider number, I headed for ‘my’ desk.  It’s possible that that look-up stage was unnecessary, as my pre-ride event pack never reached me, as often happens due to the nature of my role/registration but, since the website had had all the requisite event information on it, I didn’t much notice its absence 🙂

The nice lady behind the desk instructed me to fill in the usual details on the list and sign all liabilities away, whilst she dug out a plethora of things for me.  One bike number, two cable ties, one map, two High5 gels, and one large foam backed velcro wrap around timing tag thing to be affixed to the headset, handlebars or top tube.  Which was a new one on me – apparently it’s a triathlon thing.  Which is as close as I’ll ever get to being a triathlete… 😉  Time to head back to the car, get the bike assembled and outside the car, and to crawl into the boot to get sorted, so as to keep out of the inclement weather for as long as possible.  Btw, did you know that weather can also be clement?  No-one ever says that though, do they?

view from wet boot

It was pretty miserable out there, and not much better in here.  As I faffed I realised I was losing feeling in my fingers.  But I still didn’t know what to wear.  The forecast was for improvement.  And recently when things have been drier and brighter they’ve also been considerably warmer. I don’t like to overheat.  I don’t like to freeze either.  Oh dear…  After much mental mulling over of things, I decided it’d be best to dress for the weather that there was now rather than the weather that there might be later on the basis that I would at least be right for some of the time rather than risk being wrong all of the time.  Which I did, with the odd nod to options and flexibility.  Which meant…normal socks, shoes, shoe covers.  Winter longs. Short sleeve base layer, long sleeve jersey, winter jacket, and waterproof.  Head tube, head band/ear cover.  Winter gloves on, with summer gloves in the saddle bag.  And all the usual crap in all the usual pockets.  I emerged from the car (chrysalis?) in reverse butterfly stylee!  And once all assembled and riding across the campus to the start, it now being a little past 8:00am, I was glad of all of it. Hey, I know it sounds like way too much, but some of you know how cold I can get…

timing chip rider briefing

I think a lot of people had probably bailed today.  Certainly there was no massive queue to start, and when I joined the latest small group of riders gathering to be briefed, there clearly wasn’t going to be too much hanging around.  The briefing guy, Andy Kirk I think, actually thanked us all for turning out!  Thanks to the weather the roads were clearly going to be horrible, and we were admonished to be extra careful out there.  The cut-off time for the long route had also been brought forward an hour to make sure that everyone could get around and back safely and properly, and we were warned not to do that long route, which involves a lot of steep climbing, unless we were proper on one.  As if!  Besides, having done the long route last year, and having no real intention of doing it today for a whole heap of reasons, this didn’t bother me too much 🙂

So…shall we go and ride bikes then?  Oh go on then.  Out on to currently quiet wet main roads and heading into Cirencester.  My chain promptly came off.  At which point I should mention that thanks to Chris’ expert tuition, I changed the cassette and chain on this bike yesterday.  And although the indexing had seemed ok then, it turns out that it wasn’t now.  This was by no means the only time the chain came off today.  And changing gear was sometimes ok and sometimes…well…not!  I was tempted to fiddle with it, but forbore, as I stood as much chance of making it worse as better.  Besides, I was having enough problems with my mudguards which had to be readjusted a few times, and also got clogged up from time to time.  What with stopping to change layers, eat, take pills, etc, there was going to be enough of that…the whole point is to be moving forward not standing still!

It’s hard to take photos when the weather is like this, so for a while you’re going to have to ride blind with me.  The wind was mental, the roads were soaked, frequently flooded and covered in debris, mud and gravel.  Riding was more of a case of gingerly picking your way through an obstacle course than looking at the scenery while making decent progress.  At least it stopped constantly raining – soon there was more water coming up from the road than coming down on to it, which was an improvement.

I try not to talk to myself for the first 45 minutes as I know I haven’t warmed up yet and how I was feeling now was not how I was going to be feeling later.  So I listened to my music and took it easy.  As things started going up, my left knee started twingeing which reminded me that it’s done that for the last couple of rides, and which is not the old twinge, it’s a new one in a new location – ooh the novelty.  So I spent some time fretting about that and if it was going to get worse…until it didn’t and at some point it went away.  The same cannot be said for the usual internal pain but I had that mostly under control, although keeping it that way was, as I said, making me woozy from time to time.  Novel…

first break before hill climb timed stage 1 1

There were soon ups, but I was doing ok up them.  In fact I was preferring the ups to the rest of it.  Up kept me warm,  Up has been going well lately – no records beaten but feeling good, if that makes any sense – so oddly I like to keep going up things to see if that’s still the case.  Which it was.  Plodding along as ever, admiring whatever views there were, dodging potholes and crappy road surface, and walking riders, and generally getting up them happily.  My serene crawler gear was engaged, and a little bit of me was giggling at those going past me huffing and puffing like the Flying Scotsman!  OK, so they were getting up the hills faster than I was but…*grin*

timed stage 1 2 timed stage 1 3

Although I’d been grateful of the waterproof for a long time, enough of those ups and I was feeling a bit ‘boil in the bag’.  After a down that would have been a lot of fun in other circumstances, and the rude interruption of crossing a main road at its bottom, I took a quick break about an hour in, in some pretty Cotswold stone village, to stash the waterproof, eat some flapjack, and take the odd photo.  Just as well I ate then, as just down the road was what turned out to be the first timed stage – up a hill of course.  Ha, ha, ha…as if that was of any relevance to little ole’ me!   Still, it was kinda nice?  At least I knew I was in for a decent climb.  It was long, slow, with the odd almost hairpin, and kept going on when you went around the next corner…  So my kind of hill 😀  I have no idea which one it was – Strava suggests it might be Lime Kiln or Hyde Hill…?  But I enjoyed it whichever one it was, or even if it wasn’t.

second break for mudguards blue flowers

My next break came around two hours in.  Something was making a noise, and it wasn’t me, and it wasn’t my temperamental gears.  As it turns out it was the front mudguard, something else that had been sort of repaired yesterday, and with all the bumps it had gotten itself misaligned.  I also needed to take more painkillers, being a little overdue, and although I was feeling ok, letting them wear off more would probably be daft.  They’re also cumulative and having had a couple of ok days last week, I had been playing catchup since then…  I also swopped my winter gloves for my summer ones, because I was that bit warmer still, and because it’s easier to take photos with those on.

lurking photographer posh gate house

Fighting that wind had been hard work, which is an understatement.  But now for a stage in the middle of the route, it would be more behind us than anything else.  I wasn’t complaining!  This middle section was also mostly flat, the roads were drying out, the sun was shining if not warming, and I was pretty much in my zone.  As you could tell from the number of times I looked behind me as I hurtled along happily, to discover that I had APS (Acquired Peloton Syndrome) again.  And not one of the f*ckers took their turn at the front!  They either fell off of the back or enjoyed the rest and then hurtled off into the distance.  Tut tut chaps, not very sporting…or even very sportiving? 😉

first food stop ahead bike parking

It might have been brighter, and it was that bit warmer, but that wind was still really chilly.  I unzipped a bit occasionally, and when I did get a bit warm I just pushed up my sleeves so that my wrists/pulse points could meet that cold air, which pretty much had me covered.  Onwards past the Cotswold Water Park, across the top, long straight and (blasphemous I know) just a little bit boring…which didn’t help dispel the woozy that cut in as the pills cut in.

waiting to top up food stop goodies

Luckily this tedium would be broken up by the first food stop, which is also the only food stop on the medium route, at Performance Cycles in Poulton.  It wasn’t yet as busy as the staff were busy worrying it was going to be, but the bike stands were still full (extra were being added) so I parked mine up against a wall, and headed into the courtyard with an empty bottle to top up.  There were a few portable toilets with no queues – result!  And then also a variety of food and drink on offer, so I could fill up the bottle with water (I figured I’d add a Nuun tablet later if I needed to), and grab a few jelly babies.  I know, I know, as ever I should probably have eaten more, but I wasn’t hungry!  I didn’t hang around long, and headed back out for some more flat fun.

village junction wide open

All good things must come to an end…  Which in this case would mean saying goodbye to that helping hand, and turning to face it and be slapped in the face by it again instead.  Oh man!!!  Not only was it hard work, but it also so noisy!  Every hedge, fence, coppice, or obstacle was a blessing.  Was it better to be pushing into it head on, or to be being pushed sideways unexpectedly, and crabbing your way along?  Tough call…!  Still, even with that all going on, I didn’t really mind, because it was just so pretty out there 🙂  Wide open skies, blue cloud strewn skies, pretty villages…  Actually the whole route was mostly pretty rather than stunning, but that’s The Cotswolds for you, and that’s more than ok 🙂

property hill climb 2 behind

Of course there was more up to come, and the next section of ups included a second timed hill climb.  Still wasted on me… 🙂  Having slogged up things I’d really earnt the downs…and it was galling to have to be so careful today.  Just as well though as at the bottom of a couple of them were nasty cross road trenches that if you’d hit them at speed would have definitely pinch punctured you.  As riders strewn left and right were sadly demonstrating…  Luckily at that point there were other riders around me and I’d been forewarned by them.   Which is just as well, as it turns out that my bike was minus pump today.  I don’t know if it’s on the other bike, has been taken off when this bike got washed and not replaced, or has fallen off but…it certainly wasn’t where it should be!  Which left me worrying about the inevitability of a visit from herself and, when I did hit the odd log or hidden pothole, with serious puncture paranoia.  I had to stop and check the tyres a couple of times to reassure myself that I was imagining it!  A couple of those trenches could definitely have used CAUTION signs – which the worst descents and junctions all had – as they really were unavoidable 🙁

cottages up hill not a selfie

Sometime in a valley somewhere, mid puncture check, I realised I was stood next to a pretty water fountain which, at closer inspection, turns out to be a crocodile.  Or maybe an alligator.  As I was immortalising it, a rider pulled up besides me and asked if I wanted my picture taken with it.  Well…  No, actually.  But since you’ve offered and I’ve been drug up all polite n’ sh*t, I said yes, so you know, here I am.  I suppose it makes a change from the usual en route selfies..

cirencester church finish line

See you later, alligator…time for more ups, more pretty towns, more chilly sunshine.  I reached the route split, around 60 miles in, at 10 to cut off and a little bit of me was actually tempted to do it, since I really was having a pretty good day.  But no – tempt ye not fate, enjoy the moment, don’t push it, etc…  Sometimes it’s best not to carpe diem 😉  Another time.  Going right would have meant an extra three hilly hours or so before I’d finished and today that wasn’t for me.  So very soon I was back negotiating a much busier Cirencester, without my chain falling off this time.  I’d go so far as to say that the worst part of today’s ride, by far, was the last mile of so up the dual carriage way back to the school.  Holy crap it was busy!  Sod the wind at this point, it was the traffic flying past, very fast and very close, that had me worried.  It was properly actively scary, as was trying to get into the right hand lane through it to go right at the final roundabout.  Luckily a few other riders were coming up behind me by then and they did the hard work, thank goodness for safety in numbers!  It was quite a relief to get back to the school, back through campus and over the Finish line.  My timing chip was reclaimed and I was presented with my goody bag containing a medal, various bits and bobs and, more importantly a Cadbury’s Creme Easter Egg 🙂

wrist band post ride food fest

I pootled my way over to HQ again where lots of people were taking advantage of the free hot food (mostly pasta as far as I could tell) and hot drinks – courtesy of the arm bands that entitled them to such.  I walked around the hall a bit, and discovered I could print out my time, which was kind of cool, even if the data recorded wasn’t 😉  I decided I wasn’t in the market for pasta, even had gluten-free been an option (I didn’t ask).  Instead I opted for a cup of tea to take to drink outside in the sunshine.  I wasn’t in any rush so, tea drunk, I ambled me and my bike back to the car to reverse the process started around 5 hours before.  Back into the boot to get changed, chill out, load up, and head home again, complete with Orangina – the post-ride drink of queens 😀  It’s a bit short on caffeine…so it didn’t do much to keep me awake on the way home…  But I made it.  Cotswold Spring Classic done.  Slow, but solid, and I felt good.  And that’s what matters 🙂

post ride refreshment goodie bag

Cycling time: 4:30
Distance: 63.1 miles
Avs: 14.0 mph

timing print out Part 2

Right then, time for Day 2.  Which would be with the entire U23 RP Vision Racing team.  As if the  girls hadn’t been bad (good!) enough!  So I was kinda apprehensive…never great for my PMA.

More breakfast, and thanks to now being familiar with the route, an easier ride back to the Meta Bike Cafe for coffee and faffing.  It’s a nice ride really – flat, fairly fast, and once you get off the main road, nice and quiet too.  And even on roads like that, the road surface is good!  It’s a good way to warm up, but it wasn’t as sunny a day out there, and it was chillier and still breezy than the day before.  I was wearing everything I could again, with the waterproof in the bag just in case…

Meta Bike Cafe cafe culture

Back outside their hotel, it took quite a while to herd young cats into order, but eventually various groups of riders were being briefed like pros whilst I stood on the side feeling very much like an amateur.  Something that would be rapidly enforced as we headed off on today’s ride – with the goal being the big climb up to Tudons.  Keeping us altogether was tricky even when the road didn’t go up, as we headed out through various towns with associated traffic, junctions, roundabouts, and the like.  It also became obvious that today was going to be a painful day in more than one way… 🙁  I got dropped on a regular basis, though one or other of the guides always kept me company, as did Chris mostly, and got me back to the group as soon as possible.  There were ups, even early on; less of a warm up section today, or at least it felt that way to me.  Although maybe this was their warm up speed, which didn’t bode well…  We stopped a few times to regroup, or sort mechanicals etc, and I was reminded to eat a bit, something I often forget to do on “short” rides which, in my head, is always anything that isn’t a sportive!  Daft, I know…

wrapped up ready to go RP team mixing

After a lumpy loop near the coast we headed inland, over hill and dale, up more climbs, and then we were on to the big long climb of the day.  Which quite predictably took me a very long time.  I wasn’t actually feeling that bad, even having been left at the back to get on with it, as I actually quite like long slow wiggly climbs.  I’m a huge fan of hairpins.  I’m usually happier plodding up such things in my own way.  Sadly it just happens to be far slower than everyone else’s way, but there wasn’t a lot I could do about that there and then.  I was absolutely freezing though, which wasn’t getting any better as we got higher, and I was finding plodding harder work than usual .  Somewhere on the way up, struggling somewhat, as my PMA faltered a bit, and the pain was kicking off, I was informed that I’d do better if I ate more than a few anchovies for dinner.  Talk about a perfect storm…I have to admit to (fairly quietly) bursting into tears.  Ever tried cycling up a mountain whilst trying not to cry?  It doesn’t make breathing any easier for sure…  Pull yourself together girl!  After a while focussing on the road and the scenery and the bends and…well…anything…and the going up carried on, and I got it together, ish.  Eventually we reached an unremarkable junction near the top somewhere, amongst tall trees, where guide Daniel and a couple of others were waiting.  We could go left to go all the way up to the top, get higher, colder, take even longer, and slow the whole group down further as they’d have to wait for me, or go right and join those already down there at a café.  Like, duh, bit of no brainer that!  I put my waterproof on, being really cold now, and going downhill not being likely to make me any warmer.  At least going down hill, which I did on my own a way behind Daniel and Chris, cheered me up.  I do like downs, especially long sweepy curvy not too technical downs.  Especially as I’d now gotten the hang of my lovely Ridley Fenix and wasn’t being overly cautious any more *grin*.  Much fun 🙂

slogging up towards Tudons

Sadly all good things come to an end.  Mind you, the idea of sitting inside a warm café sounded good.  And that’s were we stayed for a while, even though the sun was starting to shine outside.  Quite a few of the girls had done the same as us, with the odd lad too, and the rest of the team completed the higher loop and joined us in dribs and drabs for coffee, hot chocolate (which I couldn’t figure out how to order) and food.  I never did get warm though.  Proper frozen to the core I was, even after two cups of strong black coffee with added sugar.  And if you know me, you know that’s desperate; I don’t believe in polluting my caffeine with anything!  There wasn’t anything I could eat though, and I figured sugar would be better than nothing!  It may have been warmer inside, but it wasn’t warming me.  Man I was cold!  Apparently up at the top of Tudons there it had been 3C.  Which explains it…none of us had been dressed for that!  Having made a trip to the toilet, as you do, the mirror informed me I was even whiter than my waterproof which, believe me, isn’t a good look…

I must have warmed up a bit though, because when we went outside, into what was now sunshine, it was definitely colder, and I wasn’t looking forward to getting going in that again.  Still, there was a friendly cat wandering down the street to talk too, which made me think of my daughter (she’s a cat whisperer), which made me smile, and cheered me a up a little more too.  I’m pleased to say that the rest of the ride was essentially downhill, and getting warmer all the way.  This is not to say that I removed any layers though!  I just enjoyed the views, kept up with the group, who were mostly being a group, best I could, as we retraced our steps/pedals back to Albir Playa.  Somehow recognising bits of the route made it easier, it helped me know where I was with regards to where I wanted to be, and knowing there wasn’t all that far to go then helped mentally.  Even the ups there were didn’t seem so bad like that.  Have I mentioned that cycling is mental lately?  I’m fairly sure I demonstrated that today!

beniform towering over

We were back at the hotel a little earlier today, just in time to catch the end of the lunch sitting, which meant that eating could be done, and possibly I could spare myself getting told off on a future occasion.  And we weren’t going to have problems finding dinner either, as the RP Cycling Team very kindly invited us all to join them for their end of trip meal out.  After a quiet afternoon washing kit, getting some sleep, getting the analgesia level up, and faffing for the following day, we all went out for pizza at a town down the road, with transport equally kindly organised for us by the Meta Bike Cafe team.  Believe it or not, the restaurant had gluten free pizza!  It could have been better…but it could most definitely have been worse 🙂  We all ate, chatted, laughed, and the team got debriefed with various riders awarded for their weeks performance end the like. It was a really nice night out – thanks guys!  Food done, Tudons done 😉