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!
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.
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….
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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* 😉
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.
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!
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 🙂