Sodbury Sportive

Bless me father, for I have sinned.  It’s been four weeks since my last sportive, and I’ve been on holiday…  I know it had only been four weeks but it felt like a lot longer and having not put in many miles last week, I was actually a bit worried about how I might get on today.  In an effort to give myself half a chance of getting through it, it was important to have a decent meal the night before – I’m a bit lazy about eating properly these days what with it being so bleedin’ difficult!  Hubby knocked up a low FODMAP gluten free lasagne which turned out to be absolutely lovely and which was actually as safe as it was supposed to be.  ‘Rah!

So.  A decent meal the night before.  A good night’s sleep.  And, as these things go, not a hideously early start.  Chipping Sodbury is only a hour’s drive away, which meant the alarm was set for 5:15am.  Yes, I know, that probably sounds horribly early to you, but it’s not as horrible as 4:15am!  Up with the alarm, packed and sorted in no time at all, and I was away.  The forecast for the day was for warm and clouds/sun, but there was no way of telling what it was actually like out there, as my motorway world was covered in a blanket of fog.

By the time I arrived at Chipping Sodbury RFC, after a small argument with the satnav, the sun had come out.  Registration opened at 7:00am, which is more or less when I got there.  If I’d followed the written instructions I’d probably have been even earlier!

The event was being run by the local Rotary Club who had turned out en masse to do everything.  I was marshalled into the car park, which was rapidly filling up, and as HQ was just next door, I went over to register before coming back to the car to do the usual faffing.  Being early – yes  I know, I always am, my queuing time was minimal, but the queue did grow later as you can see.  I think there were quite a few signing up on the day, encouraged by the finally seasonal weather forecast, and having to be properly processed.

HQ had hot drinks and bacon rolls etc available to purchase, as well as having toilets , showers, and the like available.  All the facilities you could need basically, including a bar which, I imagine (hope?), was to be of more use afterwards than before.

There was plenty of bike parking, and lots of seating, respectively full of bikes and rider getting ready, enjoying the early morning sunshine.  There was also mechanical support available if you needed it.

That sunshine was already pretty warm, and it did cross my mind that if it was starting out that way, and carried on likewise, it was going to be a scorcher.  Not my favourite kind of riding conditions, so I made a mental note to keep my bottles topped up and to drink whenever I felt like it.  I’d run out of things to do by now since, let’s face it, I do so many of these that I’ve kinda got the hang of it by now and since the weather was nice I didn’t even have to faff about clothing.   A single Cyclosport layer day.  Simples.  Time to go and line up at the start then.

Rider numbers were marked with a coloured dot indicating which distance they were doing – 100, 60, or 30 miles.  The idea was that all the 100 milers get away in the first few pens, followed by the rest, although this wasn’t being strictly adhered to.  As you can see I was right near the front.  Raring to go?  Well no, not quite.  Oddly, and unusually, I actually felt a bit nervous for a change, possibly because I was on my own.

There were no timing chips – just your number marked with the number of the pen you joined.  I’m presuming that’s what the number 1 on my number meant anyway,  I’m guessing they gave the whole pen the same start time, and then recorded your individual end time when you crossed the line – we’ll see when the results go up.  When the time to go finally came, they moved the pen up to the front for a delightfully unpolished, yet comprehensive, rider briefing.

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears…“.  It’s not a race, this is what the signs look like, there are some potholes, play nice with the traffic, and have a good ride.  That essentially covers it.  With a “Gentlemen, be on your way”, we were off.  “and Ladies”, chimed in the rider behind me – which was nice.  I wasn’t the only one, so the plural is appropriate too.  Time to cautiously filter through the slight bottleneck of an exit, through the gate, and out on to the open moor land in the early morning sunshine.

The riders spread out fairly quickly.  I think there were 50 or so in a pen, about 40 or so of which seemed to stay behind me.  Off we went…  This was clearly not going to be a day of groups and pelotons, I just don’t think there were enough riders for that, but maybe if I’d started a bit later on I’d have had more luck?   As ever, the first half and hour or so felt horrible as both I and the day warmed up.  At least the first five miles were flat…

Now, let’s have a alliteration challenge  See how many you can spot today?  Well it is the Sodbury Sportive after all.  As we approached the hills I could see a tower on top.  There is no way, given a tower on a hill, that any sportive organiser, let alone a novice one, or maybe especially a novice one, is going to resist the opportunity to make you ride up to it, now is there?  I’m not daft, I’ve been here before.  King Alfred’s Tower anyone?  Well I’m pleased to say that the Hawkesbury Howler was nowhere near as bad as that, though quite hard work that early on in a ride.  There was a little sign at the bottom of this, and every “proper” hill, with a picture of the hill profile, average gradient, max gradient, and length of the climb etc, completed by a sign at the top to tell you that the misery was over – a very nice touch, even if I didn’t usually have time to read all the details.

The descent from here was one of the best I’ve done in a long time.  Long, wide, not too wiggly and with a nice long straight run out at the end.  More of those please!  The next two big hills came in quick succesion, at Alderley and Tresham.  Is this what we’re in for I wondered?  3 climbs in 5 miles…  To be fair, though they were hard work, and clearly very hard work for some, they weren’t very long as these things go, which made me feel a bit better about what the rest of the ride might be like.  So I was thinking it might be hard, but then things settled down to what was essentially fairly flat, for miles.

Having done quite a few Cotswold’s based sportives it was a new side of the region to me.  I kept expecting hills…and not getting them.  Not that I’m complaining you understand.  Well ok, maybe I am a little bit.  It had clouded over a bit by now which, and I know I shouldn’t diss the weather, was actually a good thing for me as I don’t like to be too hot riding.  Warm but not too warm, breezy but not annoyingly so.  Perfect riding conditions really.

In addition to the lovely hill signs, we got these mileage signs too.

Every 10 miles.  As well as signs giving the distance to the next food stop, the usual marker signs, caution signs, pot hole signs.  And then my favourite, the 15, 10, 5 mile to go signs.  There were a few stretches where, riding on my own as I was, the odd repeater sign would have been nice and in Yate where the roads were busier a few more signs would have been good as it’s easy to miss one if you’re busy trying to negotiate traffic on a roundabout or at a busy junction.  But essentially the signage was great, as long as you were vigilant and paying attention.  As I was pushing along on my own I had to be quite careful not to zone out, because if I had I could easily have missed one, and I hadn’t downloaded the route beforehand.  Actually I’m not sure you could.  It was on a website I’m not registered for and I’m signed up to enough such sites without joining another one just to get this route.

Back to the ride, and the first foodstop 25 miles in, which came 3/4 of the way down a hill, so the turning was being marshalled.  In fact quite a few junctions were marshalled, those where you might get lost, or that were that bit busier.  There is clearly no shortage of luminous yellow tabards in Gloucestershire!  Anyway, 25 miles in may seem soon for the first stop, as they said in the briefing, but on a hot day it’s important to keep topped up, right?  Actually I didn’t need to, having not drunk much by this point, but the toilets were handy, proving I wasn’t dehydrated ;).

Even the bike got a brief rest while I ate my homemade flapjack and stretched a little.  My left calf twinged on and off all day and I was worrying about cramp – yet another good reason to keep drinking.

After the food stop there was a long climb out of Nailsworthy which I’d heard talk about as I waited around first thing so I knew it was steep at the bottom and then just a grind, so I was prepared, and it was as described.  Doable.  Forewarned was forearmed so thanks to whoever it was told me about it.

The roads were unbelievably quiet all day.  On a sunny Sunday in the Summer holidays in the Cotswolds I was expecting way more traffic.  I don’t know where everyone was, but apart from in Yate, they weren’t out there!  There was one road that was an exception to the rule.  It’s a narrow road with so many passing places that it’s clearly always like that, but I don’t think we were adding to the general sense of well being of those drivers being forced to negotiate past us as well as each other…the little men in their little tin boxes were looking distinctly grumpy, and judging from what little lipreading I can do they had some choice words to share…

Here’s one for MaxiMe.  We like these.  Well, they’re not in our back yard are they? 😉

Even those few occasions when the route crossed the A46 or A420 were easy.  Where was everybody?  Unprecedented.  I don’t think I’ve ever done such a quiet sportive.  Just me and out there.  Since the next 30 miles were pretty flat, would it be wrong to say I got a bit bored?  Riding on your own makes it easier to stop and take photos, but it doesn’t make the ride any easier.  I’d have cheerfully sucked wheel, or worked with someone but I didn’t get the chance.  Which didn’t stop the occasional rider sitting on my ar*e for extended stretches.  Ah well, I’ll take it as a compliment shall I?  Basically there just weren’t enough riders around for me.  Cyclists are like liquid,  (bear with me, it’ll make sense in a moment), they find their own level.  The fast hurtle past and off, the slow are behind you, and you end up with a little group of similar speed riders who you play leapfrog with, depending on food stops, calls of nature etc.  Faces and kit that become familiar, with the odd cheery “hello again” as you pass each other.  Quite friendly really.  Which is a good word for today.  Those riders I did see were friendly, there was the odd chat here and there.  None of this head down nonsense.  The staff, all Rotary Club members and friends I presume, were without exception friendly, and cheerful.  That makes a massive difference to the atmosphere of a ride – I’m not sure you get the same with paid staff.

The Cotswolds was full of the usual picture postcard villages.  Churches.  Massive stately piles just glimpsed through hedgerows, with never a clear view at the right time to grab that all important photo.  Berkeley has a castle.  Though probably not a square nor a nightingale.  I didn’t see the castle, I expect I was looking the wrong way at the right time, but I did see this.

Well it’s a castle compared to my place :).  The next food stop came along shortly, being a couple of trestle tables set up on a village green.  No toilets – as the rider manual had pre-warned us – but liquid and food and yet more happy shiny people.  I forgot to photograph it because I was chatting to the rider who I’d towed in there ;).

Only 10 miles to go to the route split., which was practically back at the start.  I mentally flirted with the idea of bailing and calling it a day, but let’s face it, that was never going to happen.  Which is the whole point of flirting right? 😉  Having negotiated a slightly busier and less pleasant Yate, it was time to (wo)man up.  As I approached the split it a whole heap of dayglo marshalls were making sure we all went where we wanted to, and I went right.  If I thought I was on my own before, man was it ever quiet now.  There was a hill shortly afterwards – the Dodington Drag I believe – which another volunteer photographing half way up.  She reassured me that I wasn’t the only one out there, which was good to know.  Having made it up that hill, it was back to the undulating again.

No-one in front of me.  No-one behind me.  For miles and miles…  I hit a bit of a flat spot.   Predictable really, as it happens on many rides, especially the solitary sportives.  That patch when you’re over halfway but there’s still quite a way to go, and you’re physically and mentally in the middle of nowhere.  But slowly the miles ticked by…  I stopped to take a photo of this, just before a junction.

Then as I was standing there, five riders went past me.  “You are not alone...”.  Well, ok, not true for long, but hey, it made a nice change.  I followed them for a bit, just to enjoy the novelty value.  Besides they made a change from green and blue and yellow…

Then it was back to being me, myself, and I, having perked up a bit.  I could show you more Cotswold sights, but hey, google image search the Cotswolds if you’re that desperate.  Have one of these instead.

Far more interesting, right?  One of the slight downsides to the very quiet country roads was that sometimes they were a little more like tracks than roads.  Shaded sheltered damp tracks which, with the brightening skies above, were like tunnels and the transition into them meant pushing your sunglasses down your nose to try and see which bits of the road surface to avoid.  One of these turned out to be a climb; cue more slow plodding for me.

The final foodstop came at 77 miles in, where I was pleasantly surprised to see a few other riders.  It’ll be interesting to see how many riders did the 100 miles – I’m thinking not many!

The pub next door was providing toilet facilities, as well as serious temptation.  Well the sun was coming out, there were people sitting at the tables outside, with long tall cold drinks… Time for another mental note – I was definitely having one of those later!

I’ll have you know that those are entirely the wrong kind of bike though… 😉  I topped up my bottles as by now I’d definitely been drinking more.  It may have been blessedly cloudy up until now, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t warm and I was very conscious of the fact that I needed more fluid than usual, so I wanted to make sure I didn’t run out.  Judging by the comments from those able to eat them, the homemade goodies were fabulous.  Being me, it was half a banana time, but they did look nice.  I would if I could!

Ok, 25 odd miles to go.  But how flat were we talking?   Flat apart from the up and down bits said the comic volunteer.  Apparently I was the first woman to the foodstop, which I hasten to add doesn’t make me fastest, just first.  I did feel a little urge not to be overtaken before there and the end as a result though *grin*.  Hey, take your motivation where you can get it, right?  So, 25 miles to go.  Well, having set off again, and flying along the flat for a while at 22 miles an hour made that look like a little over an hour, but that was never going to be sustainable on my own.  I reckoned on it being more like 1 1/2 hrs, or thereabouts instead.  Again, fairly flat, with not much by way of hills to my mind, but then the metres climbed kept slowly racking up somehow.  Some of the other riders I passed were bemoaning the long dragging hills, so I guess I must just be used to them by now.  Or not consider them hills compared to Shipham, or, well, the Giau ;).

I did actually catch and pass some riders.  I really didn’t want to, as by now I was pretty happy on my own, but I was faster that they were and keen to get to the end.  It kept not really being hilly, and I kept pushing.  Barrelling along on the flat I can do, though the wind had inevitably become a headwind by now.

I chatted to, and passed, this one last rider, before hitting the country park roads that indicated that I was nearly back at HQ.  Doesn’t this look like the perfect place for a sprint finish to you?  Oooh…if only :).

I crossed the finish line a little while later, where a little welcoming committee was waiting to clap each rider in.  I bet they had a very long day!

The goody bag, one High5 bottle and some Zero tablets, included a food voucher.  I grabbed it, parked the bike up, and headed back to HQ.  The bar was indeed proving popular, as predicted, but with a car to drive home that wasn’t an option.  The lovely canteen ladies seemed a little crestfallen that I didn’t want my free pastie and beans – so we had to have the “it’s not you it’s me” conversation.  Sorry – they did look lovely!  I was also all sweet stuffed out so didn’t buy any of the lovely cake.  I did have a coffee and a glass of lovely cold Cotswold Spring water while sitting in the sun watching everyone else relaxing though.

Being all on my own meant there was little else to do than drink up and head for home.  One of the things Howie was brilliant at was approaching people and interviewing them – he had no qualms at all about it.  I keep meaning to take a leaf out of his book, but I still haven’t quite got the nerve.  Must do better *slap wrist*.

It took me just under an hour to drive home and staying awake was a struggle so it’s just as well I avoided the bar or I’d never have made it.  I made up for it later though *grin*.

Cycling time: 6:19:55 hrs
Distance: 102.11 miles
Avs: 16.1 mph.
ODO: 15333miles

I think that entitles me to a Silver – and it would even if I was male.  Which is kinda cool :).  As you can see, 1973m climbing turned out to be more like 1500m, and it certainly wasn’t, to my mind, a hilly ride.  I do wonder if that’s just because I’m better than I used to be though?  Maybe I’m getting a little blasé in my old age?  It was still hard work mind, as however you do it 100 miles is a fair few hours in the saddle.

Doing an inaugural sportive could easily give you cause to worry as to how well it would be organised.  With Andy Cook involved as Race Director.  I guess it’s no surprise that it all went swimmingly.  He kinda knows what he’s doing by now *grin*.  Actually I’d like to wrap the whole of the Chipping Sodbury Rotary Club up in a parcel, tie it up with a bow, and give it to myself for Christmas.  They were all so lovely and friendly, warm and welcoming, and helpful.  A large part of the success of any sportive is the manpower you can mobilise, and man, can they ever mobilise!  All in all, a Successful Superlative Sodbury Sportive :).

UPDATE: 82 registered for the 100 miles. 6 DNF.  6hrs 35.  Silver :).  And no I wasn’t the fastest woman.  But I wasn’t the slowest either.  Official Cyclosport review is here.