I did the Endura Trek Lionheart last year, and enjoyed the route so much I wanted to do it again this year. Well how many sportives do you know that start in a safari park? 😉 It has the added advantage of not being that far from here, so the alarm was set for a positively lazy 5:40am, and I actually woke up at 5:35am, thus avoiding that wrenched from the depths of sleep feeling. Great start :).
GB picked me up at 6:20, a little earlier than planned, but what with the necessity to be inside the venue before 8:00am, it seemed like a good idea. Unsurprisingly when I looked out of my window it was foggy, but I’m pleased to say that it cleared up fairly quickly, and, added bonus to late starting, it was also daylight as we loaded up his car. He drove, and I wittered, fuelled by caffeine, painkillers, and nerves. Poor GB ;). It’s almost not far away enough to adjust to what it is that you’re about to do and get into the right frame of mind though…as before you know it, you’ve joined the queue of cars down the long drive into Longleat.
Parking is copious, free, and marshalled. You park on the grass, but there’s gravel road in between, which minimises the puncture risk and the length of time your cleats are walking over wet grass. I hate starting a ride with wet feet, doesn’t everyone?
First things first, coffee related priorities…especially has having been sent the helmet tag and bike numbers in advance there was no need to register. I know moaning about toilets at events is one of my bugbears, but with 1200 entrants, I’m thinking 9 portable toilets may well not be enough?
However should you, as is usually the case at sportives, be tempted to go water a tree – they were very keen to remind you that this was not acceptable and, to be fair, pretty much everyone was doing as they were told, probably to avoid being thrown to the lions! 😉 The toilets may have been busy, but they were still sufficiently equipped, if smelly, so it could have been, as is often the case, worse!
Essentials done and it was time to get back to the car and start the serious business of faffing. Having checked at least 3 weather forecasts before leaving, which were guaranteed not to agree with each other, the layering options were endless. I went with longs, l/s jersey, winter jersey, winter hat, winter collar, mitts + over gloves, woolie boolies + overshoes, and gilet. The saddle bag got winter gloves and a Buff just in case. This was on the basis that the gilet, over gloves, and winter hat could be way more easily removed than a superfluous base layer. Time to join the queue for the start, with a brief hiatus as I returned to the car having forgotten the phone that was supposed to Strava for me. Doh! Back again to join up with GB and Kevin, and where we also conveniently found George and Simon, which was nice.
Right. A quick rider briefing, and it was time to be on our way. After the apocryphal and exemplary Mad March Hare, setting off and it not being pouring with rain meant we were already ahead of the game. The surprisingly lumpy loop inside the estate and the long climb out up the drive meant that the chill started to wear off pretty quickly. The first couple of hours of riding were fairly flat on quiet country roads. It was a bit hairy up until the route split as there was a wide range of bikes, rider abilities, and rider experience. Quite a lot were clearly not used to riding in groups, or in company, so it was every man for him/herself when it came to spotting road obstacles and keeping an eye out for traffic.
The route split took a lot of people by surprise. It was at a marshalled crossroads, about 18 miles in. The “100 mile straight on”, “100 km right” signs were down on the left hand side across the junction. If you didn’t hear the marshalls shouting, and arrived amongst a lot of riders, or were following wheels, it was easily missed, and I already know of quite a few people who ended up accidentally doing the shorter route, and not realising until it was far far far too late! Ooops… Luckily this didn’t apply to us. George and Simon were already behind us, but they made it ok. Kevin was ahead but had likewise spotted it, as did we. Thank goodness! So, onwards and upwards, amongst a thinned out crowd of possibly slightly more experienced riders, which made it easier to relax into the ride.
It’s a miracle I manage to learn anything at all these days, because my brain is clearly full of sportive routes I’ve ridden, and 80/90s song lyrics. It’s amazing how much you remember from years past. Having done this event before, when the bizarrely located italianate church hove into view once more, I knew I was about to reach the first food stop – about 30 miles in.
I love it when food stops are in village halls (or similar) because I get to go to the toilet in civilised fashion, and don’t have to watch lycra clad men lined up by the side of the road doing their thing. Much nicer I’m sure you’ll agree :).
As you can see there was quite a spread laid on and it was proving very popular. Considering my current eating issues I had to give it a miss, resorting to the gluten-free bar I was trialling, and more importantly, the next dose of combined painkillers, since there was no way I was letting them run out! I also stashed the gilet and took the over-gloves off, both of which went in the saddle bag, and replaced the winter hat with a Buff – all as per the plan :). In case you were wondering, that would be a plan coming together ;).
Back on the road again. Life got a little bit lumpier for the next section, with some longer climbs, the use of some more major roads, and a couple of beautiful descents. Shame a good descent is nearly always ruined by a junction at the bottom! A lot of them were well marked with “Caution” signs, but the first one for the A303, although well marshalled at the bottom, could have been better marked, and the second one (also to the A303) somewhat later on came as a nasty shock. Good thing I have new brake pads! To be fair they got us on and off the A303 first time around, which is where the traffic is worst, very efficiently and with a smile and some banter – which is always nice
For scenic interest, along the way I tried to capture the chalk military symbols at Fovant, with limited success, but if it sparks your interest, you can see more here.
There was a nice climb up from the A303, where I actually got teased by another rider for being a typical woman talking going uphill. Don’t think that’s ever happened before. It made me feel all capable *grin*. I had a brief chat with a rider wearing my Etape jersey, but who seems to have found it a whole heap easier than I did, so I’m not sure he’s as deserving of it as me ;). Jealous, moi? 😉 Right, 50 miles in now, time for the second food stop.
I bumped into one of my twitter friends here, who was riding as one of the Strada Cycles team, one of whom had been in front of us in the toilet queue and whom we’d chatted to. It’s a small world after all, right? It’s weird meeting twitter folk – it’s hard to recognise each other in person at the best of times, let alone when clad in lyrca and hiding under a helmet. Hello Rob
Not long after the foodstop came one of my favourite parts of the ride, which I was quite looking forward to. Welcome to Stourhead. Scenic, pretty, and not as crowded as it can be. I stopped to take this photo, and had a brief chat with a couple of elderly gentleman who were enjoying watching the cyclists going through and reminiscing about when they used to do the same. I think a lady (ok, something approximating that) in lycra on a bike was a welcome novelty for them. I hope that’s me one day, full of happy cycling memories, but I also hope I’ll still be riding then :).
There’s an up and down through a forest section after this, which I enjoyed more last year. This year the roads were covered in mud and a bit hazardous, especially on descents. Luckily it was almost devoid of cars, as I was frequently on the wrong (but drier) side of the road! After the final climb out of the valley there’s a beautiful long stretch along a ridge with awesome views before another glorious descent, and it sure does make a change after all the recent fog to actually be able to see the views!
There were three foodstops on this route which I like because it helps me mentally break the ride up into more easily manageable parts. Especially important as I knew the worst climbs of the day were in the last quarter! The third stop is interestingly located, about 74 miles in, halfway up quite a steep hill. Last year I nearly failed to unclip on arrival so I wasn’t going to let that happen this year, and unclipped well in advance! Nothing like ending up on the floor in front of an amused, though possibly sympathetic audience, to ruin your sang froid ;).
They even had coffee inside, and since the temperature had dropped a little, something warm and with a bit of a kick went down a treat. The cakes looked lovely too, if you’re not me, and the staff both inside and out were very friendly and cheerful :). I stuck the winter collar on again, even though I knew hills were looming, because the clouds were ooming. And if you don’t know the verb to oom, it’s a lot like to bode. As in bode ill, or look ominous. Enlightened now? 😉
Can’t hang around all day though right? Time to get the last, and most anticipated section, over and done with. I did have to walk a little way up the hill to a marginally flatter bit to make sure I got on my bike, got going, and stayed upright though! 3 miles down the road comes the King Alfred’s Tower climb which, last year, I had to stop on twice. Rain was threatening, the road was damp and not clean, and I seemed to have blanked out the details of the climb altogether. Worse still they were timing it this year, which, should you look later, will probably show how lamentable my time was. Sod the time though…because I got up in one go! I didn’t walk. I didn’t even stop. I puffed my way up, leaving lesser mortals in my wake…though to be fair since I did indeed sound like a steam train they certainly heard me coming! Somewhere with the top in sight I could feel my front wheel lifting in that slightly heart stopping way…*shudder*. So I leant forward, redistributed my weight, crossed a few mental fingers, and kept going. If there hadn’t been an audience I’d have been whooping when I made it over the top, but there was, so I settled for telling GB (who’s climbed it several times easily) how proud of myself I was *grin*, Go me!
My achievement helped motivate my legs for a while, which was good as they were starting to flag a little and I knew there were two big climbs to come. They were indeed large, and hard work, but at least I knew what I was letting myself in for. Again with the forewarned is forearmed. Massive kudos to the two long haired guys on fixies who we’d leap-frogged a couple of times, and who came back and overtook me going up these – chapeaux! GB gets faster when he’s tired, on the basis that that way he’ll get it over and done with faster. I’ll have you know that this is quite exasperating when I don’t! He decided enough was enough and he needed to get back and dropped me like a stone, leaving me with Kevin who had luckily dropped back to join us, having overtaken us at my last drug top-up stop. Well finishing a sportive on your own isn’t a lot of fun, so company was good :). The last few miles included an extra very busy car laden loop where, as a steady stream of slowly climbing riders, we held up the traffic a treat – man I bet we were popular! There was entirely too much last minute climbing, and we also finished by going down the (admittedly enjoyable) drive, rather than down last year’s glorious sprint finish straight. I kinda hope they bring that back for future years.
I finished, though what with my Strava phone having given up the ghost, and my cycling computer being a tad unreliable these days, my stats are slightly cobbled together from my figures, GBs and Kevin’s Strava ride.
Cycling time: 6:10 hrs
Distance: 103 miles
AVS: 15.6 mph.
ODO: 12647 miles
I think my official time will be around 7:00hrs which, as an 18-39 female, will give me a silver time. ‘Rah! Last year it was 6 miles shorter, took me 15 minutes longer, and I weighed more than a stone and a half more. A lot can change in a year no? – and this year definitely felt faster :).
We headed for the event village where free hot drinks and food were available, toons were playing, and if I had the money I could probably have bought a Trek. The Lionheart beer nearly called my name before I remembered that beer currently disagrees with me….so I was saved from myself 😉
We may not have stuck together like glue, but we started together and finished together, complete with medals to prove it.
Sadly the very lovely looking free five bean hotpot didn’t stand a snowflake in hell’s chance of agreeing with me, so I had to give that a miss too. Having had free coffee, which was most needed and very welcome, I forgot that I could have had superlative coffee from the fabulous Claud the Butler as I did last year. (I’m biased I think, because my first decent bike was a Claud Butler *grin*).
Time to head ’em up and move ’em out…aka head for home. It is Mothers’ Day after all, and last I checked I qualified as one of those. A hot bath, roast dinner, dry cava and chocolates were awaiting me…and I needed all three :).
Things I have learnt today. I can still ride 100 miles. Though I hurt now and will hurt more tomorrow. Mostly in my shoulders and arms though – weird! If I eat enough potatoes and gluten-free pasta in the days beforehand, stick to gluten-free bars on the day, and drink plenty of lemon tea Nuun, I can ride 100 miles without bonking or making my insides hurt more than they do already. Result! Roll on the rest of the season – I need more miles and more hills under my belt :). Oh, and one thing more? 103 miles and camera makes for a very long blog entry! *grin*.
UPDATE: official time is 6:59:47 which is indeed a SILVER :D.