Tag Archives: berkshire

Black Legend 2016

On to the next sportive.  Which was a little while ago, so some of the details may be a little hazy now, not helped by the fact that I failed to make copious notes afterwards.This time around I’m talking about The Black Legend Sportive, run by Purple Patch Running.  Which seemed a bit odd to me.  A running club organising a cycling event?  Weird.  Still, that didn’t mean it wasn’t going to be a good event, right?  It was off to a good start by being based in Hungerford, which is not a long way away from me.  HQ was at the John O’Gaunt School in Hungerford, which is just a 10 minute drive from Jct 14 on the M4, and thus easy for me to get to.

registration start-line-riders

I rocked up sometime after registration opened to discover a small car park that was half empty, and didn’t seem to be filling up fast.  I started to get the feeling that this was going to be a small event…  But hey, good things come in small packages or something.  Registration was in the school hall, once cleated shoes had been removed, where the tumbleweed was metaphorically blowing around…  Still, not having to queue is a good thing, right?  My entry envelope included a bike number, helmet number, and 2 cable ties.  But no timing chip…as timing today would turn out to be a manual affair.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that but still, it was a bit unexpected.

rider-briefing out-on-to-the-downs

I didn’t have to queue for long at the start either.  I think there were only six or so of us who arrived at roughly the same time to be briefed and sent on our way, as riders had been being let go in dribs and drabs for quite some time before I’d done enough faffing to consider myself ready to go.  During which I discovered that my iPod shuffle had somehow managed to completely run out of charge, even though I’d charged it the day before, so I was going to have to do the whole ride with just my thoughts for company.  Marvellous.  I had three route choices today, the Epic 80, the Standard 65, or a Short 45 miles.  Given that it was only a week since my last sportive, which hadn’t gone well, I was already thinking that taking it easy might be wise.  Lack of musical accompaniment wasn’t going to make the long route any more likely…!

up-a-green-tunnel-hill caution-steep-hill

Not that I had to make that call straight away.  All of the routes covered the same first 25 miles to start with so there was no rush to decide.  We headed off and I was very shortly out there on my own, which was how things pretty much stayed all day.  Off out through the affluent area of Hungerford, past a great many lovely properties I’ll never be able to afford.  I went through the village of Inkpen, which made me think of Inkheart, and Inkwings.  After a nasty hill five miles in, I turned left in the village of Faccombe to go up another hill, which made me giggle (think about it…).  Did I mention it was just me and my thoughts?  They do go weird places when unaccompanied and undistracted… 😉  And yes, that was two killer hills in the first 10 miles.  No fair!  It was chilly and grey which may sound unattractive but actually made it easier to follow the route and (very large) signs than the recent early morning dappled sunshine on events has done.  Besides I had my layers pretty much spot on today, having been very keen that I not be cold, so I was a fairly happy bunny with things the way they were.

selfie-pair country-pile

Having gone up there were some lovely views, and I actually passed another couple of riders who’d stopped at the top to take selfies and photos of the landscape, which was novel.  Not the photos – the riders!  I took my photos en route, as ever, but stopped playing David Bailey in time for the steep and rather technical descent.  Things flattened out after this, and also started brightening up nicely.  Things were looking up, but not up 😉

first-food-stop-well-labelled the-swan-inn

The first food stop came at 25 miles in, the car park of the Swan Inn in Great Shefford where the landlord was very kindly letting his (very swish) facilities be used.  I kinda wished I could have stayed there, it looked like a lovely place, and the thought of sitting in its beer garden in the sun with a cold beer…?  Ah well, maybe another time.  The lady manning the food stop was friendly and chatty and probably bored witless after standing there for hours more or less on her own.  Initially it was just me there, and even when joined by the top of the hill two and a whippet who could probably do the long route twice over in the time it was going to take us three to do the Standard route, it was never what you’d call busy!  And yes, I’d pretty much decided to do the Standard route.  I had places to be later, and no desire to push any boundaries today.  Anyway, the food stop was pretty well stocked (and labelled!) and I discovered that today mini scotch eggs were what I wanted, which wouldn’t be what I’d normally opt for but hey, they tasted good, and I’d been told to make sure I ate properly for a change.  So I sat down, chatted a bit, ate those, and kicked back a bit.  Sometimes it’s just nice to sit still in the sunshine.

mini-scotch-egg route-split

I headed back out again on my own.  And headed into more familiar territory.  I’ve done a fair few sportives around here, and have a couple ahead too.  It’s a beautiful area, even more so under blue skies.  But that wasn’t enough to make me change my mind.  I still turned left 5 miles later at the route split.  Right then.  15 miles to get to the next food stop.  And those miles weren’t flat!  There were another couple of big hills between me and that, but the descents were better this time, and I was loving being out in the sunshine not feeling too terrible and just being me and my bike.  More cute cottages, more well behaved countryside.  All good.  There may even have been some stashing of layers and rolling up of sleeves 😉

10 second-food-stop-emptiness

The next food stop was as quiet as the first, set in a little car park in front of a pretty church, complete with a little toilet block – always good.  Once more, me and some mini scotch eggs took a breather sat on a curb in the sun.  I certainly wasn’t feeling as bad as the last sportive but I was still aware that pacing myself and taking it just that little bit easier than I might want to was the way to go.

second-food-stop-food second-food-stop-church

By my reckoning I only had around 20 miles to go, which seemed doable.  Which it was, being more of the same.  Scenic.  Rivers to cross, and canals.  A couple of fairly big climbs.  Including the kicker that is on the White Horse Challenge and that somehow I always forget, I think maybe my memory blocks it out!  And as I turned a corner there it was in front of me again…dagnamit!  It’s long, gets steeper, and wiggles…  Still, I got up it,  Again 🙂  To be let out to play on top of the world for a while, amongst fields of gold, playing tag with the range of awesome cars doing the Classic Harvest Tour, who I crossed paths with several times.

rolling-golden-hills classic-harvest-tour

They were having fun, I was having fun, although I probably admired their cars more than they admired my bike 😉  Before long we were back in Wiltshire, where the rich people were still living, and I was still being somewhat envious.  Can’t afford their cars, can’t afford their houses neither! *grin*.

canal prosperous-hungerford

Did you know there’s even a village called Prosperous?  It didn’t surprise me…but it did make me giggle *grin*.  Well I presume it’s a village, not just a adjective used to describe Hungerford, which is kinda what the signpost made it look like 😉  The miles counted down, as I passed from  Wiltshire and back into West Berkshire, and very shortly I was back at HQ, and rolling under the Finish Arch with a complete lack of fanfare, bells, or whistles.  Ah well, at least it was purple 😉  Two ladies were sat watching over the finish line, probably a fairly thankless task, and one of them gave me my medal, while the other noted my admission to having bailed to the short route (though that doesn’t seem to have made it as far as the official times list).  There you go.  Black Legend done.

Cycling time: 4:36
Official time: 5:11
Distance: 65.9 miles
Avs: 14.3 mph

finish-line black-legend-medal

Usually when I write about a sportive I use “we” rather more often than today.  But it was definitely an “I” day.  99.9% of all the cyclists I saw today were not on this sportive, just out on Sunday rides with their teams/groups/whatever.  It turns out that only around 60 riders took part.  Which would explain a lot.  The lack of atmosphere for starters.  I pushed my bike over to the main school entrance and parked up, so as to go to the toilets and try and purchase something cold and fizzy.  Which I did – well kinda.  It was the only can of such on offer – coke I think – and it wasn’t cold either.  But hey, at this point beggars couldn’t be choosers, it was better than nothing.  As I sat outside on the steps drinking it, and checking in with the world, there was just one other rider loitering around, who came over for a chat.  He’d done the whole route and still had a reasonable ride home ahead of him – so chapeau to you Andy!  We both agreed that today, though pleasant enough, had been somewhat lacking.  However scenic, I don’t think I’d do it again.  I can ride around pretty places completely on my own, and time myself, any time…and there are other events around here that are better.  Harsh maybe, but true.

Guide Dogs Tour of Berkshire 2015

Another Sunday, another sportive.  Which is the story of my life this month, and I’m not complaining 🙂

This time it was the Guide Dogs Tour of Berkshire, running for its second year.  It’s not a huge event, and it’s about raising money for the charity, not laying on an imitation Etape for Mamils.  It is also one I haven’t done before, somewhere I rarely ride, and there’s a lot to be said for novelty value.  I also knew that it was only 77 miles max, the forecast was good, and it had a whole heap less climbing than last week’s Cotswold Spring Classic.  What’s not to love?

So, with kit lessons learnt from the Cotswold’s sauna experience, I headed off down various motorways to HQ wearing considerably less layers than usual.  HQ was, unsurprisingly, at the HQ of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association near Reading.  Which would have been easier to get to if “they” hadn’t closed a railway bridge a couple of miles down the road for re-surfacing, thus confusing both my TomTom and I.  Cue a confusing and circuitous detour…  But I was there pretty much as planned, around 8:00am, and parked up in the walled garden staff car park.  All very pretty, just like the house and grounds itself.  It was all fairly low-key, but very sportive.  Portable toilets, tent to sign up in, various catering outlets, all set out on the lawn.

Guide Dogs HQ

Even though the instructions had insisted on photo id, as did the desk itself, nobody checked.  I do wish people wouldn’t do that, I only have my passport, and I always feel a bit nervous lugging it around and then leaving it in the car – those things cost serious money to replace!  Anyway I was duly handed my bag with my official numbers and various small goodies, which I took back to the car, so as to faff.  Just as well I hadn’t gone over there, all ready, with the bike, as I’d still have had to go back to the car to leave it there…

registration seat post number

First off – the bike number.  I’m not a fan of seat post numbers.  They just don’t work with my bike/saddle bag combo, as you can see.  And the “don’t bend” instructions for the timing tag on it had me a bit worried, but hey, there wasn’t much I could do about it.  The helmet number was easy, though I’d rather not have bothered, but felt I ought to.  I continued to potter in the sunshine, debating what layers I had and which to actually wear.  The trick was to have enough space in the saddle bag and pockets to stash anything I might have to take off, without compromising on the other stuff I had to carry – food, drink tablets, etc.  But I reckon I had it covered, and although warm was due, it wasn’t quite here, though the potential was definitely in the air.

Since kit recitals are becoming my thing, today’s tally was as follows: toe covers, shoes, socks, lightweight tights, s/s bamboo base layer, merino s/s jersey, arm warmers, gilet, and winter collar.  See, wasn’t that interesting?

I missed the horn for the start as I was queuing for the toilets.  Btw, life is so much easier without bib tights 😉  As I headed to join the start queue in my turn, it turns out there wasn’t a queue if you were doing the “Epic” route and I was ushered straight through.  I was off, just like that!  The lack of waiting and a briefing was a tad disconcerting, I’m a creature of habit after all 😉

rolling up hill into the wind

Right then.  Here I go again, on my own, as ever.  But I was up for that.  A Sunday spent riding my bike in the sun?  Oh alright then 😉  Mind you, as it turns out, it was a pretty linear loop – mostly out to the west, mostly back to the east – and it was pretty darn windy!  A wheel or two to hide behind would have been bl**dy lovely.  When you’re doing your best and still only doing 9mph, you sometimes lose the will to live!  Luckily, if you can put it like that, the first half was mostly head wind, with the second half being mostly tail wind, as you’d expect.  And although there was, according to Strava, more climbing than I thought, it was mostly a case of ups and downs rather than distinct climbs and descents.  Rolling maybe.  Or Andalucian “flat” 😉  Mind you, the bigger climbs were all in the first half really, and gee, I really love slogging up hill into a killer headwind, it’s just the icing on the cake! 😉

thatched cottage posh property

That wind kept things pretty chilly, despite the wall-to-wall sunshine.  The winter collar might only have lasted for the first 20 minutes, but my gilet stayed on until around 11:30am which is probably round about when I turned to face the other way, surprise surprise, and my arm warmers came off shortly after that.  The sunshine did make it all very pretty out there though.  Cultivated fields, thatched cottages, elegant country houses.  It being Berkshire it felt a little less countryfied than the Cotswolds had, there were lots of little villages to cycle through, interspersed with rolling fields, woodlands.  All sort of well-behaved.  England’s green and pleasant land or something.  And somehow the miles just ticked by…

second food stop swallowfield pack

There were three food stops.  One around 25 miles ish, which I passed on, one around 50ish I think where I did stop, and a drinks one at about 68 miles which I also decided against, it being too near the finish for me.  They were a little makeshift – a van and tables in a lay-by, with fizzy coke, water, cake and jelly beans, and sadly no toilets.  Mind you the staff were friendly, the coke was good; add a few bananas and flapjacks and, of course, a portable toilet, and they’d have pretty much hit my mark.

tree lined stately

I was doing my best to push it a bit for a change.  Especially on the flat with the wind behind me 😉  I knew it wasn’t too massive a challenge, and I was fair flying from time to time, and feeling pretty good with it.  It’s odd how the time goes though.  By the time I got in, I wouldn’t have wanted to do 100 miles, I felt like I was done.  But then if I’d known I was going to do 100 miles I’d have paced myself differently, physically and mentally?  It felt longer than some though, maybe because it was a lot of all the same for 5 hours?  Or maybe I’m just getting bored of spending so much time with myself 😉  I did enjoy it though, which is the main thing.  It went pretty well too 🙂

finish line

I rolled over the finish line, camera in mouth to avoid dropping it, and took up residence on the manicured lawn with the traditional can of fizzy orange, to watch the other riders come in for a while and get my breath back.  And catch a few more rays of course 😉  I couldn’t stay there all day though, so I re-established verticality, popped into the toilets, and de-faffed before heading home.  It had clearly been a pretty long day, as having hit the M4 rumble strip a couple of times, my eyes just weren’t going to stay open any longer, so I had to take a break at Chievely Services for a nap before heading on my way home again!  I think I need to remember to eat when I get in too – that might well help.

Cycling time: 5:00
Distance: 77.6 miles
Avg: 15.5 mph
ODO: 8851 miles

It’s not a high falutin’ sportive.  It’s a modest well-run well-meaning event.  There were around 250 riders, and not including the money raised by individual riders, they’ve already raised over £1500 for the charity.  It was well sign-posted, though the odd repeater sign might have been nice, and the wind had played havoc with a couple of the signs – which the friendly marshals were busy fixing as I went past.  With the variety of routes on offer, 41.5km/84km/125km, it’d be a good event for the sportive novice, and with the relative flatness it’d also be a great route to try and do really fast as a group.  According to the results on-line 99 riders did the Epic Route, and I was 50th.  11 of us were female.  I was the fourth one of those, beaten by 3 Seniors but first in my V40 Category.  I’ll take that 😉