I have a thing about cycling over the Severn Bridge. As some of you probably know. I love it. Dunno why. Just do. So I have a tendency to do sportives that cross it just because they do. And when last year’s Severn Bridge Sportive turned out to not just cross it but to actually cross it using the main carriageway, I was made up. It was AWESOME. So doing the event again this year was pretty much a given. Sign me up now.
Well it was a given back then anyway, back when I did all my signing up to stuff. However just a few days beforehand, as part of the final pre-event meal, we were informed that due to Highways, Health & Safety, and various things, crossing the road on the main carriageway was no longer an option. We would instead be using the cycle path. Considering I wasn’t having a great week, being mid mad pain patch, this was almost enough to make me not do it. But I didn’t. For starters I’d still be crossing the bridge, and a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But more importantly I wasn’t the only one signed up to do it. Letting myself down is one thing, letting others down is most definitely an other.
Yep, Matt had decided that he was up for trying another sportive. His second. The next step up from last time’s 47 miles – to more like 62. The plan was that we would do the first leg together. Then if I was up for it I’d do the extra loop. And then we’d head back in together. Or variations on that theme anyway. So however the bridge was to be crossed, I was going to be doing it whatever.
Which brings us to another Sunday morning with, due to HQ’s proximity, a slightly later start than usual. HQ was at the Castle Combe Race Circuit, which was about an hour’s drive away in my little car, crammed to the gills with two bikes and two loads worth of kit and stuff. Less Hyundai, more Tardis 😉 I was feeling fairly rubbish, even when equally loaded to my gills with analgesia. Anyway…the sat nav, and official venue signs, got us there and into the car park easily enough. We were marshalled down the road past lots of earlier arrivals to park up on the grass in the paddock, rather further away than I usually am here. It was grey, but dry, and neither warm nor cold, and the forecast was for both better and worse, depending which one you’d read. And what’s in a forecast anyway?
Thanks to prior experience I knew the best way to deal with this sportive is to do it the pre-ride stuff in one go, with no to-ing and fro-ing. Ie: faff, get ready, sort bikes, and ride/walk to the start. Quicker and easier and less hard on the cleats. So faff we did. Easier for me than Matt though. Experience and lack of options in my case – so I ended up in the same as the recent usual. Summer kit, s/s base layer, arm warmers & gilet. However this sportive lark is still all kinda new to Matt. And not only is it new, he was also doing it on a bike new to him, with actual honest to god gears, having been persuaded of the error of his single speed ways. Well, not really, he’d just decided that that many miles might be easier done with gears first time around. So he faffed some, deciding on layers and food and stuff, and so did I. Well, to be fair, I wasn’t faffing, I was more sort of loitering because there wasn’t any rush. It was kinda weird to realise how blasé I’ve gotten about some things. Like riding 60 miles. I wasn’t even really thinking about it. Matt however was a bit nervous. Aw bless 😉
Finally we were both ready, and it couldn’t be put off any longer. A few paces across the rather long damp grass to the drier path. This soon turned into the road in which took us conveniently past a toilet block and, once a brief detour had thus been made, we were on the little wiggly path around the circuit which opened out as we reached the main venue. It felt a bit empty as there weren’t heaps of riders around, and I don’t think that was because they’d all left before us, as we weren’t running particularly late. However with the change of route, the less than fabulous weather, and the Sodbury Sportive taking place the weekend before on very similar turf, I’m guessing there weren’t as many people around as in previous years. There were certainly no queues for registration…which was good if you were Matt, and less good if you were me because they’d lost my registration, and I had to play the sign up on the day game instead. Given that that gave me number 214…I’m thinking that must be roughly how many riders ended up taking part…but I could be wrong!
Did I mention I wasn’t feeling great? Well I wasn’t. So I put myself down for the 60 mile route, which still left me the option to do the long route, but seemed more honest, and likely, and that way I probably wouldn’t have to tell the timing team, post ride, that I’d bailed. I was given my helmet timing chip, bike number and cable ties, and helped myself to a route map on the way back outside. Not being able to trim my cable ties did leave long plastic ends sort of waving around which annoyed my sense of order somewhat…but hey, not exactly a big deal. After a quick trip, on the bike, across to the toilet block a little way away, I was back, and we were ready to join the queue for the start. A short queue, which is always good when you’re nervous, and fidgety, and just keen to get going. There was no sign of Rob, who I knew was also doing it with friends of his, but he could have been ahead or behind us, or have bailed completely, so there didn’t seem any point waiting around in case he turned up. Instead we waited for our turn to be briefed by organiser Andy Cook. Well it’s run by Andy Cook Cycling so… 😉 Shortly we were on our way, and after last year it was a relief to be let go on to a dry race track to enjoy a section of the track before hitting the route proper.
However this just served to show that my indexing, all sorted and checked yesterday pre-ride, was well off when actually under way and under load. B*gger. I hoped it would settle down but…shortly after we’d left the track and joined the lanes leading away from HQ, I had to stop. Matt tried to fix it, since I’m technically inept, and he’s not, but it didn’t really help. Ah well, nowt to be done about it really, and we couldn’t hang around all day, so we set off again, ready to make the best of a bad deal. Time to ride the bikes, and head for that Bridge which, on this leg of the route, was about 24 miles away.
Quite a few bits of today’s route turned out to be from last week’s route but done in reverse. And it was a fairly direct route that took us to the Bridge. Quiet country lanes, over the M4, bypassing Yate, over the M5, through Tockington, to put it in sight. Uneventful, a bit grey, country piles, railway bridges, cute cottages. Although it was sort of essentially downhill overall, that didn’t stop there being ups, and those ups, though doable, were proving that my life was still proper painful. Marvellous. I don’t remember a lot of the route out, partly because it’s been a while since I did it, partly because it was pretty uneventful, partly because I was a bit distracted by the ouch, and partly because Matt and I were talking most of the time. I was just looking forward to getting to that bridge really, and it definitely perked me up when I spied it in the distance. Even the weather perked up, with patches of blue sky appearing. Nice 🙂
Getting on to the bridge was fairly easy. A bit of more major road, a bit of slightly circuitous cycle path, and then with no further ado we were on to the cycle path on the North side of the bridge. It’s a path you always have to be a bit careful on. There are quite a few ramps, bits of road furniture, lumps, and so forth. It quickly became clear that the same path was being used for our return route so not only were we occasionally overtaking riders going our way, we were also dodging those on their return. Still, it meant some of my “cyclists on bridge” photos had faces in them instead of behinds for a change! To our left, the South side cycle path was full of runners – since we were sharing the day and the bridge with a half marathon. The main carriageway between us was eerily quiet, with only a few highways vehicles doing whatever maintenance they’d decided they’d like to do today, with it closed, rather than letting us on it. However crossing the bridge was still lovely. I still enjoyed it. The views are great, and I waved in the general direction of my folks’ place in Portishead, and generally took my time to look around and make the most of it.
Getting off the bridge in Wales was rather more tricky than getting on it had been though…as we joined the runners, who had crossed under the road, so that we were all using the same path. The riders were on the left, the runners on the right, both nominally, with spectators on both sides. All a bit chaotic and occasionally a bit scary. When we reached the main roundabout at the end they bore right while we were marshalled through a gap in the spectators to go left onto the road, to go around and then take the exit opposite. This took us down to the first food stop, which was tagged on to the end of the runners’ event village. It was definitely time for a break. Matt had been doing really well, especially considering it was only his second sportive, on that unfamiliar bike, but refuelling was called for. So we parked the bikes on the grass, grabbed food from the range on offer, and then parked ourselves up next to them to sit on the grass in the sunshine and take 5. Or 10. Or quite probably longer.
There just didn’t seem any rush to get anywhere. I was still tempted by the Welsh hills. It would have been a lovely day to have done them – what with the sun and lack of wind. But being realistic, there was no way that was going to happen. Not today. Especially not on my own, which is how I’d have been for that loop. Given company I might have risked it…but it’s probably just as well that that wasn’t the case, as I’d more than likely have regretted it. Sometimes I beat the pain, sometimes it beats me, and today I was beaten. So we sat in the sun until it seemed like a good time to leave. First things first though – a trip to the toilets, which were a little way up the path, so rather than further trash my cleats (I must remember to get new ones) we rode there instead. And once that was done we had another go at fixing my indexing, just for fun, before setting off again. Just as we were leaving, we came across Rob who had presumably not long arrived, with his mates. After a brief chat we left them, off to do the Welsh Hills for me, and headed for the bridge again.
As expected, we retraced our steps, through the runners, and back on to the bridge. The weather was starting to look less nice, but the views were none the less impressive. There were still cyclists coming the other way, so even with all our hanging around, at least it looked like we wouldn’t be the last back to base. And the route back, though longer than the route out, was also nicer. Prettier, more pastoral, more pleasant somehow. There was also a bit more up on it, most of which came near the end when we had to go up Hawkesbury Hill. Oh, and my indexing seemed to be working now, which was a bonus.
Before that though, with Matt getting a little slower and dropping back from time to time, and with me starting to feel a little woozy and worse for wear, it was time for a fizzy orange stop. Matt spotted a little convenience store lurking in a housing estate on the edge of somewhere, and we took a break for me to drink such, as well as adding some to my bottle for continuing restorative purposes. And we stopped a little further on, to stash layers, next to a lamppost that was painted sparkly silver, which was bizarre! Somewhere after that the sparkle wore off in more ways than one as the rain came in, and came down proper and somewhere on a moor like bit we had to take a break under a tree to let it get the proper flinging it down bit over, which also conveniently let me get it together again. Yes…there was a lot of stopping going on today… There weren’t a lot of riders around to notice though, and although the signage was good, we did on at least one point wonder if we were still not the right route. However just at that point a motorcycle medic rode past, and checked we were ok with a quizzical thumps up, so that sorted that. Still, a few repeater signs wouldn’t have gone amiss… Oh, and that rain? Made me feel better about not doing those Welsh hills 😉
Right, shall we do Hawkesbury Hill then? 48 miles in, the biggest, and the last challenge of the day. I’ve done it before, knew I could do it, and actually quite like it in an odd way. It was of course new to Matt… So we split up for a bit, rather than trying to stick together as we had been. Hills are best done your own way, which in my case went fairly well. It’s longer than you think because it’s deceptive, goes up in steps, and goes around corners. It’s pretty, even when damp. And unfairly the worst section is the last. But I plodded along in my own way, and made it to the top in one piece. And although I’d left Matt behind, I didn’t have to wait that long for him to join me, though I did have enough time to take photos of the Somerset monument at the top 😉
This left us with just another 10 miles to do to get back. Which, after a bit of down hill, turned out to be pretty flat. Easy peasy. Well, ish. Probably a bit harder for Matt than me…he was definitely looking a bit tired around the edges now. The last 10 miles of a sportive are often where I speed up and head for home, but since this was about to be his longest ride, I might have left him behind, which would have been rude. Especially considering that today would have been a whole heap harder without his company and support. I did get to have a bit of a blast when we got back to the race circuit to complete the lap we’d started hours before and get to the Finish line though 🙂
Cycling time: 3:55
Official time: 4:55
Distance: 58.1 miles
Avs: 14.8 mph
So there you go. Severn Bridge Sportive done. Matt did awesome – again! As did I, all things considered 😉 There weren’t that many people around as we rolled under the Finish arch, and the wretched weather had probably put somewhat of a dampener on the Family Cycling Day element of the event. However there were still some hardy families out enjoying the circuit together, and also checking out the various bits and pieces on display. We were given our free pasta tokens, and goody bags (which contained a High5 bottle, various leaflets, High5 Protein Recovery, EnergyGel, and Energy Bar), and we walked through to park up and settle down. Even I had pasta – and it really was quite tasty, even if I didn’t eat it all. It was getting a bit chilly hanging around though so, after a chat in passing with Andy Cook himself, we headed back to the car to head home and celebrate our respective achievement and survival properly 🙂 Hopefully next year the event will be able to cross the bridge on the main road as planned…and in that case, I’ll be back to do it again 🙂