The Joker

Early night.  Very early morning.  Guess it must be sportive time then :).

time to go...

In this case, the Joker, what with it being April 1st ‘n all that.  I tweeted about it in advance, along the “more Fool me” lines…  So maybe that would explain why my ride, and I emphasis the MY ride bit, I do not mean THE ride, was a comedy of errors.

Let’s get the usual moaning out of the way first, in stuck record fashion.  Whilst there is unlikely to be anything seriously wrong with me, in the meantime until we figure out what the wrong is, there are issues, and of late I’ve been having pain control issues, which I courteously texted GB about yesterday, as forewarned is forearmed.  As a result of whatever is going on, I also did not get a good night’s sleep, which is far from ideal pre-event.

Last night I discovered a slow puncture in the front tyre.  Then we (being I and my pit-crew) realised that those tyres, lovely though they are, were fraying on the side wall.  Cue a last minute changing of tyres and inner tubes.  I hate doing such things at short notice though – it totally wrong foots me.  Though I should be grateful I happened to have a spare set of fairly decent summer tyres…better safe than sorry.

It was also really hard to figure out what to wear.  The recent gorgeous weather has reset my layer gauge, and having the forecast return to seasonal resulted in much faffing and debate, and inevitably meant that I didn’t get it right.  I think the entire car park was having the same conversation though!

Toilet block - all events should have one!

It was sunny, with the tentative promise of later warmth, so I opted for various layers on top (tick), mitts (fine after the first 15 minutes during which my fingers froze off), longs (tick), and normal socks with no overshoes (uh-huh, our audience said…).  Winter socks maybe.  Overshoes maybe.  One or the other.  Neither?  Bad call.

queuing for the off

rider briefing

However, standing in the sunshine, listening to possibly the longest pre-ride briefing ever, ignorance was bliss.  All was ahead and yet to come…  We set off at around 8:30am into the Wiltshire countryside.  Lots of low morning sunshine, quiet country roads…but not for too long, the first hills started 20 minutes in which, considering how cold we were, wasn’t a bad thing.  For whatever reason I just wasn’t feeling it though. I couldn’t get warmed up, my back tyre seemed to be a bit flat and I could feel it dragging without getting any worse.  Slow puncture?  Under-inflation?  I don’t know, but it wasn’t adding to my joie de vivre.  It just felt like one of those days.  I sat on GB’s wheel, and hung in there in the hope that things would get better.  After all, it was far from horrible – riding the bike in the sun right?  I was happy enough, ish, but let’s face it, some days are just better than others.  This was turning out to be happy, but not happy plus.

view over my shoulder

trees, shadows, sunshine...

Now, you may be wondering why this ride is called the Joker?  Well it’s not just because it’s April Fool’s day, though I particularly loved the rider in complete jester costume, with hat & bells sticking through the ventilation bits on his helmet – there’s dedication for you.  It’s because there were 4 optional Jokers’ Challenges, that generally added climbing & distance, and some Fools’ Choices which cut distance but that came with a catch.  For each Joker achieved you got a Joker card for both souvenir purposes and to let the organisers figure out what you’d done in what time.  I’m thinking that might be quite a logistical nightmare…wouldn’t surprise me if it takes them a while to publish the official times!

The first Joker was entitled “Straight Up”.  At which point GB’s chain came Straight Off.  Mine followed shortly after.  Did I mention things weren’t going that well?  I took advantage of the impromptu rest to immortalise Easter Sunday lunch ;)…

..before uneventfully climbing the hill.  Might have been easier if I could feel my feet.  I’d forgotten how distracting their absence can be.  GB was doing a very good job of not abandoning me, which I appreciated whilst feeling guilty about it at the same – apparently it’s what I do and if he’d wanted to leave me he would have done.  Fairy Nuff.

Joker 1

Shall I immortalise him to show my gratitude?  Oh go on then…  You can appreciate the views at the same time, if that’s more your thing.

GB in ever appreciating HTC kit 😉

Conveniently he stopped at around 10:10am for some reason which was only ten minutes after the next dose of analgesics had been due.  I’d temporarily forgotten, and maybe it was just co-incidence, or maybe he remembered…either way it was a good thing.  Best not to let the pain relief run out I find, plus the views were lovely from there too :).

We headed off again, and at some point in the miles there, some eejot went past the two of us with a rather snarky “on your right please”, as clearly our brief two-up chat was annoying him.  Some people have no patience…  And before you think I’m being judgemental, at the next T-junction he blithely slipped left and joined the main road with nary a glance over his shoulder, leaving one very justifiably p*ssed off GTi driver having to brake so hard to avoid him that he stalled, before re-starting, and revving off with an angry toot of his horn.  Oh look, well done, yet another motorist with his opinion of road hogging, rule ignoring cyclists reinforced.  We actually happened across the car and driver at the next village and we did some damage limitation and some work on motorist-cyclist relations by apologising for the rotten apple in the barrel.  It doesn’t matter what you’re using to use to the road, we all use it, and we all have to use it properly and follow the rules!  Prat *sigh*.

I was starting to get hints of mojo back, and also the odd tingle that implied that my feet might still exist as we got to the food stop, somewhere around 25 miles in.  There was a support van (more of which later) with a track pump so I was able to put some more air in the back tyre and hope that that did the trick.  My valve cap was mysteriously missing, so maybe it got bashed in the car?  Who knows…  I also grabbed half a banana, as you do.  I can eat those :).

Food stop - used twice

Shortly after this, approaching the Joker 2 turning, one of my gear changes felt weird…and when we took the turning and stopped, it became clear that the rear gear cable had actually snapped, reducing me from 24 gears…to 3.  Top top, top middle, and top bottom.  My day was REALLY not going well, and there was nothing to be done about it, other than the use of of some choice anglo-saxon and a girly urge to resort to frustrated tears.  Hey, I am a girl, right?!  Time for a parting of the ways.  Well I’d been worried enough about getting up Gold Hill as it was, let alone with no granny ring!  I wished GB a good ride and headed back to the unadulterated long route.  No more Jokers for me.  No Gold Hill.  No Zig-Zag hill.  *sulk*.  Mind you, having been considering earlier that GB might be better off riding without me, maybe I should be more careful what I wish for? ;).

So I followed the route as best I could, reduced to Shanks Pony up the big hill near Fontmell, feeling properly sorry for myself, missing being able to test myself against the long climb properly, and deeply resenting those cycling past me.  Ho hum.  I think I was kind of hoping that when I got back to the food stop again that the support van would fix me, that someone would rescue me, broom wagon me home…anything!  Nope.  I couldn’t even get my phone to work to ring home for sympathy…although considering the litany of such things today I shouldn’t have been surprised.  Having limped my way there it turned out there was no get out of jail free card, and no real alternative option other than to possibly take a more direct but main road route back to the start.  Apparently the biggest hills were behind us however, and the rest of the return route (47km) was mostly undulating.  The thought of having to walk in more major traffic whilst also running the risk of getting lost didn’t appeal, so I had no choice but to MTFU and decide to follow the route.  I figured I would do the best I could when I could, and walk if it came to it.  Stiff upper lip…

In some respects this was good for me.  I stopped wallowing quite so much and got on with it.  I’m pleased to say “they” hadn’t lied to me either, which is great, because if there had been a lot of hills like that big one for me to walk up I’d still be walking up them now…   A lot of it was doable, though I have to say the headwind added serious insult to injury.  Like only three gears wasn’t enough of a challenge?  And, on a triple, who uses top top gear anyway?  Practically two gears then.  Ah well.  Luckily I can be fairly fast on the flat/gradual incline, to make up for the rest, and I did, bizarrely, overtake some people and keep up with some others who clearly knew what they were doing.  Which helped on the PMA front.

I like sportives to have enough riders that I can usually see one from time to time, but am generally happier once everyone has spread out so that I can stop comparing myself to how everyone else is doing and get on with doing what I have to do.  A few riders chatted to me, including one who nicknamed me “no-gears girl” having learnt of my plight, and whom I saw several more times.  His cheery “go no-gears girl!” did wonders to boost my morale, which seriously needed it.  However I spent a lot of time riding on my own, and was very pleased therefore that this was an event with regular repeater ribbons.  If you’re on your own, having a bad day at the office, and starting to think that you might be lost as well, the sight of a fluorescent orange ribbon can proper warm the cockles of your heart :).

Some of the hills were, unsurprisingly, a proper slog.  I’m usually a sit in the saddle and plod kind of girl, and having to get out of the saddle and climb until my legs ran out was hard work, and I’m going to feel it tomorrow for sure!  When my legs ran out, I walked…a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.  I’m sure it’s all good training, right?

another hill behind me...

Even with everything, there are worse ways to spend a couple of hours than riding a bike in the (still rather chilly) sun, albeit slowly.  It’s not the Tour de France, I wasn’t going to be winning any fancy jerseys, and there were no sunflowers but…

...close but no cigar... 😉

The main downside to all this sunshine and scenery and shadows?  It hides the potholes and bumps a treat, and the road surfaces were NOT good today.  Even without the dry weather and the farm traffic induced gravel etc some of those roads would be hard pushed to be described as having a surface at all :/.  Pretty though, right?

I was getting closer and closer to the end, counting down the miles, and getting back into familiar territory as the final section retraced the start of the route. I can’t tell you how relieved I was when Salisbury Racecourse hove into view, as a couple of hours before that I’d been in serious doubt that I’d get there at all.  I’ve never had a DNF and I didn’t want one today!

Rarely have I been so pleased to see a finish line, which I happily crossed, before handing in my tag, picking up a tea/coffee voucher and free-shirt, and taking a pew for a bit to recover.

Riders were spread out in the sun everywhere, no doubt recounting tales of derring do, or maybe just adding to the tan lines 😉

So what was the final damage?  Well according to Bella, it goes like this:

Cycling time: 4:29:14 hrs
Distance: 66.31 miles
AVS: 14.8 mph.
ODO: 12880 miles

And you know what?  All things considered, taking the walking into account, I think I did pretty well.  GB arrived a while after me, having successfully taken on the other Jokers, and possibly surprised to find me not all that cheesed off.  I was just happy to have made it round and triumphed over adversity.  Although I’m not sure I’m talking to my bike… 😉 *grin*.

UPDATE: official Cyclosport Joker review is now up.  My official time is here, 4:57, and after all that, still makes me a Bronze, which is cool :).