Halfway through today’s Tour of Cotswolds I honestly forgot I was doing a sportive. I was just having such a nice time – riding my bike in the sun, in lovely scenery, in good company. Busy doing nothing, working the whole day through. A totally zen moment. It’s not been a great week – a lot of pain, back on the pills, etc etc. But to still have, and to be able to do, this? Awesome :).
Right. Stories are supposed to start at the beginning, and I have jumped in halfway through and ruined my narrative. Slap my wrist why don’t you? ;). So…
Sportives start, more often than not, early in the morning. Even though it was daylight 5:50am, when GB collected me, definitely qualifies as early. Ride HQ was at Shipston on Stour Rugby Club, only a couple of nice easy hours drive way up blissfully quiet motorways. When we arrived the official car park was already full and the marshal was advising everyone to find a spot on the local housing estate roads as best you could. Not ideal, but actually we did so easily, no distance away, though the same may not have been true for those who came after us. Since at that point we weren’t entirely sure how far away we were, we did our faffing at the car, got ourselves ready, and rode the bikes to the start.
The rugby club was easily large enough to cater for a 300 rider sportive, with outside space, inside toilets, and catering facilities. I signed on inside and went back outside to put the number on the bike, stick the timing label on the LHS of the helmet as instructed, and get even readier. GB was complaining of gear issues so had the free mechanic service have a look at it before we joined the queue for the start.
We were hanging around for longer than I expected. Long enough, in fact, for Gary to turn up and join us. Wearing bright orange again, which is apparently the in thing now. At least you can see him! Actually there was someone else wearing the same kit – who knew bright orange was so popular? ;). We were given our safety briefing in batches and then let go forward to have our numbers taken down before riding past the timing scanners and out into the Cotswolds, at 8:23am.
It was already sunny though being early it was still a bit chilly. For a while anyway. GB had told me I wouldn’t need arm warmers. He had also told me I should make my own decisions. Which counteracted the first statement. And left me none the wiser. So I decided to wear them, and my gilet, all of which I was grateful for, for about ten minutes before the sun got higher and brighter and I started wishing I wasn’t wearing them at all. Somebody may have said “I told you so…”. The first climbing started about 6 miles in, so even if I hadn’t been feeling warm, that would have done it! It also set the scene for the day ahead – being a gradual climb in the sun, through wheat fields with poppies and expanding views. Very pretty :).
I left it a while but there comes a time when various needs become pressing, the need to be cooler being but one of them, so I took a break, sorted myself out, planning to catch up with GB and Gary as soon as I could. Catching up with GB actually took me 20 minutes or so, what with hills and headwinds, and he hadn’t seen Gary for dust. Given a choice between chasing Garu and trying to catch him or waiting and letting me catch up he’d chosen the latter for which I was very grateful.
It was gorgeous out there in the Cotswolds. Sunny. Scenic. Typical yellow stone houses. Or maybe mansions would be a better word for some of them. Expensive rural idyll time. I definitely can’t afford to live around there!
As there were only 300 riders doing the entire event and, as it transpires, only 163 on the long route, there was a much more laid back feel to the event than some. No pelotons, no groups racing, no rider traffic to negotiate. In short, it was quite relaxing, although possibly slower than it is when there are more wheels to lead/suck. We were in a mini-group here though, albeit only briefly.
While I’m here, let me introduce you to David, who introduced himself to me, because he reads my articles! I’m always beyond chuffed when that happens, it’s very flattering that people read this, and enjoy it. And it’s nice to have people say hello to me too – so if you ever spot me out there, please say hi like David did :). He was the second person of the day to tell me off for taking photos when on the move though *grin*. Which, clearly, didn’t stop me!
After chatting for a while he joined the rest of our little group, which had drawn away from us by now, and headed off into the distance, never to be seen again :). By now GB and I were having a Sunday ride in the country. It just felt like that. OK, so we often say we’re going to do that, and then ignore ourselves completely, but not this time. It was a bit like a holiday on the bike. Aided and abetted by the actual tourists visiting Cotswolds sights that we rode through, which made me feel a bit like one of them, especially with my ever present camera capturing the same sights they were.
All that honeyed yellow stone had them swarming around like bees :). But, mysteriously enough, not on the roads, so I have no idea how they were getting from A to B! Lovely quiet country roads, with fairly good surfaces, apart from the inevitable weather induced gravel piles and one ford which was a bit slippery – as the injured rider to one side, awaiting rescue, bore testament to.
Having engaged pootle around the Cotswolds mode, we chatted our way around, and it was thoroughly enjoyable. There are some great place names around and about, not least of all “The Slaughters”.
Apparently there’s money to be made in slaughtering. Have you seen the size of Upper Slaughter Manor? And this is but a fraction of it… Probably not a recommendation for a career path though ;).
We did think about killing it up the next hill, in honour, but it just wasn’t happening *grin*.
Look how colourful and summery it was out there. A great day for colours like this. Actually most of the kit out there was colourful – and there was a distinct lack of black white and red all over – novel indeed.
As it would turn out, today was the perfect day for such patriotism, but if I was to explain that here, then I’d be tangling up the narrative thread again, and we can’t have that, now can we? 😉
There were climbs, as the route map will attest, but by this point, nothing that seemed too challenging. Just ups and downs. And there were some lovely downs :). As it happens I’ve done quite a bit of this route – on the various Mad March Hare rides and the Wheel Heroes, though mostly in reverse. I think it was prettier this way around, you got more of the views somehow. Although on a day like this everything was prettier :). Hey, it wasn’t snowing this time!
The food stop was at Temple Guiting village hall which, though a lovely venue – meant a mile or so detour to get there and a mile or so retracing to get back on track. It also came 45 miles into the 80 mile route which was, for me, a bit later than I’d have liked. As you know I do like to break things up. However it was a great venue, very laid back, lots of food, hot and cold drinks, and tables to sit at outside in the sunshine. Our stop was definitely more leisurely than is sometimes the case. And why not? It’s not a race, and we weren’t even racing each other :).
Can’t hang around in the sunshine all day though, right? Having said that there was something very nice about the fact that, other than in vague terms, no-one knew where I was. No emails or phone to answer. Nothing but me, my bike, the countryside and the sun. No rush to be anyway. It was just lovely :).
Time to get going again. Through fields of gold..
…past chateaux glowing in the sun…
…under shaded trees…
I think it’s safe to say we may have been lulled into a slightly false sense of security as the “worst” hills were all in the last section of the ride! No fair! ;).
Most of the time I didn’t know the name of what I was riding up. I think there was Campden Lane, Stanway, Dovers Hill…amongst others. Long slow and frequently quite steep slogs. Two of them were so close together as to be a tad annoying as no sooner had we descended from one we were going straight up the next! Gratuitous, according to GB. I’m not going to pretend they weren’t hard work, and they were enough to reduce some to walking but not me, not quite. I listened to my breathing, paced myself from one spot on the road to the next, and tried to ignore how far there still was to go…until I got to the top of whichever climb it was. Which worked. Up to awesome views, and then down well earned descents…to start all over again.
The last 5 miles or so were pretty flat, but it still wasn’t really sprint finish territory, and it didn’t feel like the time or the place either :). It was nice just to get back in, over the finish line, to the beeping of chips passing the sensors, in a ride time of around 5:14.
That wasn’t the end of our cycling day though. Oh no. Today was a good day to be a cyclist. After our lovely ride in the sun it was time get changed, to kick back in the bar, drink lager because I wasn’t driving, and watch other British cyclists make us proud.
I could have, should have, been interviewing other riders to see what they thought of the event, and to be fair, I did have a chat with Simon Proctor who was one of the organisers for a bit, but with the last day of the Tour de France up there on the big screen, the rest just wasn’t going to happen!
However exciting the suspense was, it had clearly all been too much for some… *grin*.
Even the rest of the management team found their way into the bar to join the growing throng, unsurprisingly. I don’t usually do spectating, I’m more of a doer, but the Tour de France is one of my rare exceptions. Boy has it ever been worth it this year…
It was so close. Fingernail biting stuff. A lead away group seemed almost uncatchable…but with mere laps to go the peloton reeled them back in, Wiggo led ’em all out, and Cav sprinted from way further back than usual to take his fourth Champs Elysée stage win. He seemed quite pleased about it… As were all of us. There was cheering and clapping and everything. Just awesome :D.
Which means the eventual winner of the Tour de France, mr Bradley Wiggins himself, led out the stage winner Mark Cavendish – a far from usual thing. He looks quite pleased too *grin*. Just amazing all ’round. Historic. <insert your impressive adjective of choice>.
Cycling time: 5:14:04 hrs
Distance: 78.68 miles
Avs: 15.0 mph.
ODO: 15037 miles
They’re not the only ones who won today. We may have had a fairly laid back ride in the sun but get this… There were 163 riders on the long route. There were 8 women – the usual 5% or so. And who was the first woman in? Yep – that would be me *grin*. ‘Rah! :D.
However… When we arrived it turned out that Gary, having left us behind, had had a major pothole accident ten miles from the end, and when we got in was in hospital having various bits stitched up – and the bike is probably a write off :(. Ah well, you can buy a new bike. At least he’s in (essentially) one piece though. Who knew he was so desperate for a new bike and kit? 😉 Happy Healing…!