Tag Archives: cycling weekly

Malvern Mad Hatter 2016

selfie as ever

Right then. Time for another sportive.  Which in this case would be the Cycling Weekly Malvern Mad Hatter.  Which already had a couple of things going for it.  First off it was on a Saturday.  I like Saturday sportives.  It means I don’t spend my entire weekend waiting for and then doing the sportive.  It also means I get a Sunday afterwards for R&R, which is allegedly what weekends are actually for.  Secondly I’ve done it before.  Ok, so it didn’t go that well as it came just after my life went to hell in a hand basket, but I did like it, and clearly I liked it enough to want to go and do it again.

As usual my pre-ride preparation left a little to be desired, and after precious little sleep, the 5:45am alarm call was a far from welcome one.  But hey, who needs sleep anyway right?  So it was time to get up, drink coffee, eat porridge, and faff some as usual.  Matt was down for the weekend, and rather than just play chauffeur for me, and also because he worries about me riding on my own at the moment, he’d decided to actually do the sportive himself.  So that makes two people faffing…except he doesn’t really faff, he just laughs at me while I do…!  I can cope with being laughed at though, especially if it means I don’t have to drive and, since he drives a massive van, loading the bikes and assorted crap up was easier than usual too 😉  Besides, what with this being his first ever sportive, and one that he was about to do on a single speed (insanity), I figured I might get my own back by dropping him on the odd hill… 😉

riders heading off as we head in to register registration desks

1.5 hours up the motorway, in the sunshine, got us to HQ at the Three Counties Showground.  It wasn’t a great journey.  There’s something about sitting cars, or even vans, position-wise that makes the pain worse, and since these days proper pain seems to come with mild nausea, I really wasn’t feeling great by the time we arrived.  Having a massive van mean that we were marshalled, after some debate, into a corner of the field right by the entrance road, which was handy as it would mean less walking on the grass in cleats.

waiting at the start rider briefing girl

We set off for registration, walking rather slowly because that was all I could do, through other riders already setting out on their way, and via the spacious and clean toilet/shower block.  Yes I know, I go on about it, but decent toilet facilities are important!  Ablutions performed, it was time to register.  As Matt had only decided to join me the day before, but as he was playing chauffeur and ride escort, a very nice lady in charge called Dawn kindly gave him a free place on the day to ride with me, which was exceedingly nice of her.  Credit where credit is due – since if Matt hadn’t been with me, I don’t think I’d have have made it to do the ride at all – and then this review wouldn’t exist…even if it is a bit late in getting completed.

car park maneuvres heading off

While Matt signed up, I went and registered myself, signing my name to get my bike number, two cable ties, and the timing chip for the LHS of my helmet.  It wasn’t at all busy, no queues at all, although there were plenty of riders around, and parked up outside, so I guess they must just have been well organised!  We headed back to the van to get sorted in the lovely sunshine.  Yes sunshine again.  In fact it was so warm that I even ditched the base layer, just putting that & my gilet in the saddle bag just in case.  Well I know it was due to be warm, but when I’m having a bad patch I sometimes get cold so…  Oh, and it wasn’t even windy!  How rare is that?  We took our time getting ready, as although I was signed up for the Epic route, I figured today was definitely a Standard day at best, and Matt was doing the Short route, so my nominal 8-8:30am start slot was fairly academic so it’s not like there was any need to rush.

sunny country lanes cute white house

And when it came to it the Start was, as I briefly sort of alluded to earlier, a little weird, so let’s get on with that.  Time to head there, via the toilets again of course.  We joined a bunch of riders near the start line, waited for that bunch to become orderly groups, and then shuffled forward in our group’s turn to be given a long, fairly humorous, briefing.  Possibly the girl giving it hadn’t done as many such as some other folk usually have so was still finding it enjoyable 😉 However when we went over the start line – which I’m sure points straight ahead to a main site entrance gate, or at least it did last time – instead we had to negotiate the way around the car park, up through one aisle, and then back out the way we came in to the site, through other riders milling around and cars still coming in.  Not great.  Maybe someone forgot to unlock a gate?

manse tractor

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned already, today’s event has three possible routes, and they work kinda petal stylee.  Everyone does the first loop, including the big climb up the Malverns, back around to near the start.  At which point the Short route goes home.  The route then carries on for another 10 miles, before you decide if you’d like to add the extra 26 miles that make the Standard route Epic, as long as you get there by 12:30 that is.  Or just carry on and loop back around to the Start, happy with your less than Epic status.  It means the route is really flexible.  And in this case I meant I could do the Short route with Matt and see how that went before having to make my mind up about anything.  It’s a really nice way of letting different levels of ability of cyclists ride the event together, and please all the people all of the time, and it also makes deciding on your route on the day easier as you don’t have to commit to anything too early on.

a new sign me and gate

So Matt and I headed off into the sunshine for our first 43 mile loop.  It was fairly flat to start with, for the first 15 miles or so.  I’m not complaining though, what’s not to love about 15 miles of flat and sunny and scenic and easy?  Especially if you’re not feeling great and are a little apprehensive about how the day might go.  Matt was getting a bit bored though…so it’s just as well we hit a few draggy climbs.  Apparently that’s more fun…even on a single speed.  I wasn’t loving them much because they made things hurt…but that didn’t mean I wasn’t getting up them just fine.  Then came some bigger ups…and I was sorted out now, pain under control, warmed up, settled down, and back to feeling happy. I did get to leave Matt behind on the bigger hills, but downs we pretty much did together, and some of them were a blast.  Well, apart from the one where our descent met a tractor’s ascent…without a lot of space…with my back wheel locking…  So I stopped braking, it stopped locking, there was just about enough room, and we got to carry on downhill a little more cautiously while the rather scared tractor driver probably went on his way cussing us a lot!

war memorial first food stop

The first food stop came 25 miles in, at a nice shady village hall.  Fodder tended towards the sweet, but since that included Haribo, both normal and Tangfastics, which I love, I wasn’t really complaining! I would have grabbed a Power Bar Smoothie, but since I already had my own with me, that seemed a bit pointless…  So I filled up my bottles with water, used the toilets, and we spent a little while hanging around and chilling out, a little literally.  Well it was hot out there!  Besides, it’s all part of the experience, and since this was Matt’s first sportive, might as well make sure he was getting the full show, right?  Besides, he looked like I needed the break more than I did 😉

oast house trees and views

Duly refreshed we headed off for some more draggy rolling in the sunshine – with Matt continuing to get kudos from all and sundry for his single speed insanity.  Well if they were struggling up the hills on proper bikes…then he was proper putting them to shame, apparently 😉  It continued to be nice out there, and we weren’t rushing.  Sometimes it’s nice to just ride around in company, chat, stop and take in the view occasionally?  In fact I can’t tell you as much about the scenery as sometimes.  Well when you’re on your own you have nowt to do BUT look around you…when you’re not, it tends to fly past you more.

tennis court mansion

I can tell you it was all very pretty in a cultivated, well groomed and expensive fashion.  Properties with drives, and tennis courts, and so on.  Oh and the odd oast house.  Lots of fields.  It reminded me a bit of Kent, or Hampshire, in a green and pleasant land way.  Luckily the signage was mostly really good so even though we weren’t paying as much attention as we might have been, we didn’t get lost.  There was just the odd dodgy bit where it was hard to convey with a sign how sharp right turns were from where you approached them, which made navigating them a bit hairy…  Talking of the roads, a lot of the road surfaces were SERIOUSLY crap – even more so than I’d usually expect.  And there were a few ‘interesting’ crossings of main roads that, though well signed, and sometimes marshalled, were tricky when there was traffic.  And when on more main roads for any length of time, they tended to be a bit too busy too, which is never that pleasant.

big hill behind climbing the big hill ahead

Enough talking.  Enough bimbling around in the sunshine.  Time for the BIG climb of the day.  Which was not the climb previously advertised, thanks to roadworks and a road closure I believe.  Instead we all went on a little detour which added a couple of miles and meant that the climb wasn’t the long, hard but steady one I vaguely remembered from last time…  Nah, this one was a doozy.  (Croft Bank apparently).  It was long, a bit steppy, mostly steep, went on forever, and got worse towards the end…  Killer in fact.  As a great many other riders would probably tell you.  Whilst I was plodding my way up, those riding were few and far between.  I’d spot a pedalling rider ahead, only to pass them by a little while later, as the gradient had defeated them.  And just for once, the single speed was defeated…  So as I doggedly, determinedly and more than little stubbornly pushed my way up, Matt was left behind to walk.  I made it up in one go though – I love that I can kind of do hills now 🙂  I spent quite a long time waiting the top, at what was clearly the unofficial point to wait for your team mates, until you were all back together and recovered enough to ride on again.  Matt finally arrived with a little posse of guys who’d ended up walking up together – sounds like they’d had time for quite a chat on the way up!  Oh, and apparently I’m well ‘ard for making it all the way up without stopping or walking 🙂  Well…since you come to mention it… 😉

view from the top views and scenery

After that slog, we spend a fair few scenic miles bimbling around the top of the Malverns, with it being mostly flat or down.  Well earnt views and descents – nice 🙂  Lots of nice shady trees too – coolth being a good thing.  (And yes I know coolth isn’t a real word).  The route split came about 40 miles in, up on the top somewhere, that I failed to photograph, next to a very tempting pub where a great many non-cyclists were clearly having a splendid time sat outside in the sunshine and watching us all.

And so…the time had come.  I’d had a really good ride so far, I’d been taking it fairly easy (sorry Matt!) and since I was feeling the love, and not the pain, and I knew the next 30 odd miles weren’t due to be too challenging, I wanted to do what I’d set out to do.  Matt wasn’t tempted to join me…after initially considering it, the last few miles had finally taken it out of him.  No gears will do that to you 😉  So we parted company for the time being, and I left him to turn left while I turned right and headed out on my own.

forestry riders in the road

It’s a little novel to feel that fresh more than half way into a ride, but I really did.  And as it turns out my legs were raring to go.  Head down, time to go!  To be fair, I think the first loop had the best of it though, from a challenge and scenery point of view.  This is not to say I didn’t have fun.  I did.  Masses of.  I spent a couple of hours bombing around the countryside, on mostly quiet roads, in the sun, overtaking as many people as possible, generally having a blast, and seeing how far I could get my average speed up from the 14.6mph I’d started with…  I was definitely in the Zone 🙂  I know, not sociable, probably a tad juvenile, but SO much fun.  Flies in the teeth fun.  And I may even have been singing along with my music at one or two points, which is generally a good sign, though probably less good if you end up as accidental audience!  Still when I passed the route split for the Epic route around 20 minutes before its 12:30pm cut off, I wasn’t tempted.  I might have decided to push it, but I’m also occasionally sensible enough to know not to push it too far!

heading back second food stop

The second food stop was much like the first.  Well-stocked with sweet stuff, at a village hall, conveniently under a shady tree and, I think, being used by both riders on the Standard and Epic routes, with riders suffering from different degrees of tiredness as a result.  I tried a PowerBar gel, as they didn’t have the smoothies this time, and I know these things are a question of taste…so let’s just say I’ll stick to my own pocket-heated smoothie next time 😉  I stopped for a bit, clearly, and then headed off again.  After some more hurtling around, with a somewhat more boring stretch at the end, and some annoying temporary traffic lights that stopped play, I was back at the Showground, doing another weird car park loop to retrace my steps and head under the Finish Line.  Malvern Mad Hatter done.

traffic light me finishing

T’other side of the Finish line I was given my medal, and a slightly bizarre collection of goodies – a cycling mag, bar, and men’s toiletries – and was reunited with Matt, t’other side of the hoardings, complete with camera.  Having been in for a couple of hours he was all recovered and fresh as a daisy – you’d never guess he’d just done 43 miles,and was a recently deflowered sportive virgin 😉  Oh, sorry, make that 47 miles; that earlier detour added a couple of miles, and it’s apparently important that I don’t discount that 😉  On my way round, I also bumped into Herbie who’d used the event in a similar to us – his Mrs had done the shorter route and he’d done the long one.  Told you it was a good route set up for that – it’s not just me after all!

Photo purchased from the very lovely sportivephoto.com :)

Photo purchased from the very lovely sportivephoto.com 🙂

So, how much fun was that??  I love it when this girl can 🙂  Although I think I probably overdid it a bit in the heat, as I tend to.  Even after restorative fizzy orange and some chilling out on the lawns, I slept most of the way back in the van, and I was a bit wobbly and off balance for quite a long time.  But that’s ok, least said soonest mended.  Just as well I wasn’t driving though, no?

Cycling time: 4:43
Official time: 5:38
Distance: 75.9 miles
Avs: 16.0 mph

Anyway, it turns out we both really enjoyed the ride.  It was a really good balance of riding his way, my way, in company, and not.  If Tash ever gets up to doing such things – it’d be a perfect one to do with her.  Maybe one day…  Oh, and I got a Silver time too 🙂  Looking at the standards, and judging by my usual waiting around times, it’d probably have been a Gold without all the time we took out actually enjoying the ride…but that’s never going to happen, because that’s what it supposed to be all about, and it really was 🙂




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

Cycling Weekly Welsh Raider 2015

Apologies for the delay…usual excuses…etc.  But hey, better late than never so here goes…

Most of my sportives are only a couple of hours away.  It means they’re within driving distance and I can get there and back in a day.  And the Welsh Raider was no different.  But what with the nights drawing in and not feeling great these days, I figured I could use a couple of extra hours sleep the night before, and booked myself into the nearest Travelodge. Presumably that’s travelodgical…*groan*.
in the right place
So on Friday night, off I went.  Yes, Friday.  The Welsh Raider was on a Saturday.  I always like that, it means you have Sunday to recover and relax, and you don’t lose your entire weekend to one sportive.  It was getting dark as I set off, and and proper dark when I arrived, having spent a couple of hours blindly following my satnav along a whole range of pitch black country roads.  with no idea of what the scenery was like.  Mind you, at least that kind of road means I stay awake – motorways + medication tend to send me to sleep, which ain’t great.  Anway, I may have had no idea where I was when I got there, but I was pretty sure I was in the right place, as I parked up next to the UK Cycling Events van!

Having checked in I took myself off to the pub next door, The Squirrel, for some food.  Scampi and chips, in case you’re interested.  Having ordered, and whilst looking for somewhere to sit, I spotted a group who looked a lot like fellow cyclists to me, and as we chatted, they kindly asked me to join them.  Apparently they were from the Grench cycling club – which is something to do with concatenating two village names, and nothing to do with Dr Seuss.  I’m not good with names, but I think they were Mark, Nigel, Neil and Owen.  Hi guys!  It turned out to be a very amusing and enjoyable evening – which made a nice change from my usual pre-sportive nights.  Sometimes doing these things on your own is actually good – you get to meet new people 🙂

I got a reasonably early night, and then predictably slept like something not at all resembling a baby.  Why do hotels not have plug sockets next to the bed?  My phone is my alarm clock.  My phone needs charging overnight.  So my phone is now not next to my bed.  I must therefore now wake up at least every hour to check the time on my watch (old skool!) just in case something has happened to the phone and I have missed the alarm  I’m not sure why this would be improved by the phone being next to the bed, but I just know it would! *grrr*.

Right then.  Time to get up.  Outside the window was…well, who knows?  The sun wasn’t properly up but there was enough light around to reveal that last night’s meteorological fog warnings had come to fruition.  It also looked pretty chilly out there.  Marvellous.  I made some guesses as to which layers of what kit was going to work for this, and with minimal faffing was on my way down the road to HQ at Ludlow Racecourse, all of 10 minutes away.  I was there around 7:30am, when registration opened, and I was amongst the first arriving.  It was cold, darkish, and still very foggy, which also meant it was damp.  Lovely…

P1000157 registration

On my way to register I was quite impressed to see that each of the bike racks outside came with a track pump attached, which struck me as a really good idea, even if I didn’t need one.  Mine was in my boot if I did.  I headed inside, and after a brief spell in my queue, was given my map, cable ties, bike number (3713) and helmet timing chip.  After nipping in to use the facilities I headed back outside to the car to faff for a bit.  It wasn’t exactly inspiring weather for a sportive but I was here, and it was there to be done, so I could only put off the inevitable for so long!  It was time to head for the start…

getting inflated foggy start line

Today’s rider briefing was short and to the point which, as it was freezing standing around, was a good thing.  Around 8:00am I, and a small group of other riders, headed off for the day ahead.

Right, once again, like the Bristol Belter, I need to explain the route set up.  Think uneven figure of eight, with HQ in the off-centre middle.  The right/east loop is sort of 40 miles, the left/west loop is sort of 65.  The Short route does the 40.  The Standard route does the 65.  The Epic route does the Short route and then the Standard route – making up 105 miles.  Which pretty much means you have to make a call between Epic and Standard within about 2 miles of setting off.  I was here to do the Epic one so I duly turned right when the option arose, whilst almost everyone else didn’t!  Too late now

rider briefing foggy out there

About 2 miles after that, whilst still freezing and not at all ready for it, came the first hill of the day.  A pretty steep one has it happens!  I may not have enjoyed it much but actually it proved fairly motivational as it didn’t feel as bad as I’d thought it might, thus leading me to think that today might be going to go ok.  Mind you I’ve have been even happier about it if the roads across the top and back down again hadn’t been so sh*tty.  And to the four riders who hurtled past me downhill one by one with absolutely no warning, while I was trying to avoid potholes, mud and gravel…?  No, I won’t say it, but I did then, albeit probably under my breath.  Probably.  It didn’t amuse me at all when one of them undercooked the following corner and ended up in the hedge.  Much.  And before you tut at me for my black heart, he was absolutely fine, not even his ego was dented.

There was another bigger, or make that longer, hill a few miles on, and then after that the route settled into rolling.  I’d looked at the profile before and had presumed it only looked relatively flat between hills due to scale.  But it really was like that.  It was also still foggy, freezing cold, and without views to look at or any sense of anything, it was a bit depressing.  Life picked up at one point though, when a gentleman called Ray (I think) pulled alongside me and asked if I was me, which of course I was, and it turned out he reads my blog!  How cool is that?  Hi there!  That definitely cheered me up a bit, and he also rode with me for a while which also helped, even though it would turn out to be the longest conversation I had all day.  After a while, and another small up splitting us up, he headed off with my blessing, and I carried on my own without having to keep up 😉

shimano support first food stop

The first food stop came at around 27 miles in and though I wasn’t feeling too bad it was nice to have a brief break.  The fog meant that I was proper damp and although it wasn’t windy, the air temperature of the air going past me made for a significant wind chill factor – I was frozen right through!  Remind me to not use that base-layer again – bamboo doesn’t seem to wick, and once that layer was cold and damp it just sat there keeping you that way!  It was actually warmer being stopped, but I still didn’t hang around for too long.  Places to be, many miles ahead, etc.

The route split came another rolling 13 miles later.  I had been mulling my route choice over, since I wasn’t having a whole heap of fun out there, but having driven there, paid for a Travelodge, etc…well, that ain’t worth it just to ride 45 miles right?  With a quick “you can do this” to myself, I didn’t go left, I carried on in to the foggy grey yonder on the Standard route, with another 65 miles ahead of me.  Most of which I spent not just on my own but without another rider in sight – another side effect of the route set-up.  The official times show just 96 riders doing the Epic route and judging by the times some of them recorded, some of them definitely didn’t!  That means that there weren’t a lot of Epic riders out there and we few were also a long way behind the Standard route riders.

trees roads foggy fields

The route carried on rolling through the fog, with the odd actual up and down but nothing too noteworthy.  None of it was making me any warmer or drier.  I was breaking the time and miles left down into blocks to deal with, mentally & physically.   I broke things up further with breaks for food, drink, and occasional photo ops as taking pics with the gloves on was tricky.  I was really looking forward to the halfway mark since that’s always a bit of a mental attitude tipping point…and it even came with a church to photograph at precisely the opportune moment.  There wasn’t a lot of scenery out there to admire, as I mentioned earlier and even the villages and towns seemed a bit unremarkable to me, so a pretty church was a sight to behold.

half way church second food stop

Time for another foodstop then, which I think was around the 56 mile mark.  The ‘staff’ were lovely and friendly, and there may even have been a bit of banter 🙂  And there were fig rolls!  At this point I was feeling ok.  Just ok, but ok is ok.  Ok and over halfway.  The terrain was proving to be doable even if I wasn’t doing it as fast as I felt I ought to be given the lack of big hills.  What’s new?  And I was bound to warm up sooner or later as the forecast had better things in store for the afternoon, right?  Time to go and get the rest of it done then.  Off I set, up through the town, up something that I guess was a small hill but really wasn’t anything special.  However…  Halfway up it my left knee “went”.  I can’t describe that really.  I wasn’t doing anything different to usual, I was just pedalling, which I’m fairly sure I’ve done before!  But something failed/scrunched/popped…and it started hurting.  Now I’ve had a niggling knee problem since my L2P in 2009 but that’s sort of background.  This wasn’t that.  Well ok, it kind of was, in that it was in the same sort of place, but it was most definitely foreground!   And for the next 49 miles every left pedal stroke hurt a bit.  Nice, no?  No!  I have to say it did very little for my joie de vivre…

another rider pretty town

There was nothing to be done about it, I just had to keep going.  The only way I was getting back was to get myself back.  So I rolled on.  I knew it wasn’t going to stay rolling…there was at least one proper big hill between me and HQ, in fact between me and the next food stop, which had me a little worried.  In the meantime it brightened up a bit, and the fog cleared, but I still didn’t get as far as needing to remove layers, I just carried on and counted down the miles to that hill…  At a couple of points I even saw a couple of other riders!  There was also some scenic stuff to admire too; I vaguely recall a nice bit along a tree covered river, which reminded me of similar in the Pyrenees last year.  However I figured I must be in Wales when I saw my favourite road markings 🙂  And there was even a level-crossing.  Train tracks have been known to be the bane of my life but I made it over these at the recommended 90 degree angle and stayed on the bike…

i be in Wales level crossing

I was getting increasingly tired and less with it.  Being cold, the knee hurting, the relentless rolling, I think it was all just getting to me.  And my performance up that very big long hill was abysmal!  I mean I made it up, hairpins and all, but there really wasn’t anything in the tank.  There was a sign by the road calling it “Ceri” at some point but I’ve no idea if that’s the name of the hill or the nature reserve on it, or what.  I just know that it went on and on forever…most unusual for English hills.  Which is probably because it was Welsh 😉

sunny hairpin a view

Still, just briefly there, on the way up, there was sunshine, and views, and hey, after this hill it was going to be essentially downhill all the way back.  It wasn’t that bad, right?  These are the things you keep telling yourself to keep you going…  A little sign at the top told me I should cheer up, because I could be mowing the lawn.  Actually mowing the lawn sounded like a perfectly acceptable alternative to me… 😉  But it did mean the hill was finally behind me, and it was time for the third and final food stop.

lawn mowing third food stop

There were other riders here, the same faces as I’d seen before at food stops and occasionally on the road.  There weren’t many of us though!  We chatted briefly, and I wasn’t the only one not feeling it, or not feeling my feet for that matter.  But chatting wasn’t going to get me home.  I set off on my own again and the last 20 miles were, yes, you guessed it, rolling, although with a downwards trend overall.  And those miles were also pretty much purgatory.  It clouded over again and got colder.  I got tireder, my lower back started hurting, the knee got worse, and even with gels and eating and drinking I was definitely running on empty.  I can’t tell you much more about that last section other than it seemed to take a very long time!  I’d assumed that defeated, head sunk between shoulder blades drooping, position and the world had shrunk down to just me, the road ahead of me, and my need to get back.  Then 105 miles turned out to be 106.4 which isn’t a big deal really, but did mean I spent the last mile or so wondering if I was lost on top of feeling out of it!  Luckily, as with all UK Cycling Events, the plentiful signage kept reassuring me I wasn’t.  I kept following the arrows, kept pedalling, and finally I was back at the race course and limping under the Finish arch.

finally the finish line

Cycling time: 7:13
Distance: 106.4 miles
Avg: 14.7 mph
ODO: 11326.3 miles

There weren’t many people left around, unsurprisingly.  The timing team handed me my medal and various goodies – a Power Bar recovery drink, a magazine, Craisins, & pistachios – and I parked up on one of the racks I’d seen so many hours before.  There was no sign of the tea/coffee on offer, and the masseur was busy, so I gave up looking, retrieved my bike and headed for the car.  It took me a while to figure out how to get into the car however…my brain had so gone elsewhere.  I’d gone so far beyond, that I couldn’t think straight.  Everything hurt, nothing wanted to move anymore, and I was wiped out!  Looking back later, I realised that it was my longest ride this year, and my first century since May, so maybe it’s no surprise that it was hard work?  After a while sitting in the boot of my car, I got it back together enough to get changed, load up, and nip into HQ for a quick freshen up before heading off.

the course map

Not that I got far!  A couple of miles down the road I realised that there was no way I was going to get home in one piece in that state, so I pulled into the next available lay-by, locked the doors drank a can of Red Bull, closed my eyes, and was out like a light.  It’s a good thing I set an alarm, otherwise I might have still been there the next morning!  As it was, 45 minutes later, I was up, feeling much better, and had a lovely drive home down through the Wye Valley and over the new Severn Crossing which, as you should know by now, I love 🙂

So.  I guess it’s a nice enough event.  I’m sure on a good day it’s much nicer.  It’s well run – let’s face it UK Cycling Events know what they’re doing by now.  But 2 average hills, 1 big one, and a lot of rolling means that the only real challenge to it is the distance.  The way the route is set up reduces your options on the day and leaves long route riders lonesome.  There are also prettier parts of the country, in my opinion anyway.  So of all the events they run, for whomever, I’m not sure why you’d do this one, and I don’t think I’d do it again.  Having said that I am still perversely pleased that I did what I set out to do.  Goal achieved.  My knee was not and is not…  But I do feel like I earned my little reward on Sunday, not that I ever need an excuse to drink fizz 😀

medal and fizz