It’s 102 miles to Stratford upon Avon, I got a tankful of gas, it’s actually not dark and I’m wearing shades…at 5:47 in the morning! Does that make me a Blues sister? ;). Another Sunday, another early start – this is definitely sportive season. And unlike the last couple, the Wheel Heroes was not next door.
However, having not slept well, I woke up before the alarm, to rising sunshine, and less wind than that which woke me up in the middle of the night. Not a bad start. I took myself off up North, up a very quiet and peaceful M5, and got to HQ at Stratford upon Avon racecourse half an hour ahead of schedule. Really must stop racing my satnav ;).
Parking was in rows in the middle of the racecourse, on recently mowed long grass which got everywhere! I parked up and headed over to the racecourse building, complete with all the facilities you could need, to sign on.
There wasn’t much of a queue to sign on, possibly because I was early, and they had me down for the 100km not the 100miles but were happy to annotate my entry accordingly. Minor niggles – the cable ties for the rider numbers were way too short, and I had to attach my number to the brake cables not the handlebars. And – sorry stuweb – for the second event in a row, I still don’t like the timing chip sticker/seat post combo. It’s hard to attach, so I may well have bent it more than a little trying to get it on properly, and it’s just not user friendly! Mind you, my ride number was kinda cool…
I’ve recently been having issues getting bits in my eyes, and I tweeted an “help me” bulletin. My mate AJ took pity on me and sent me one his spare pair of Oakleys (people have spare pairs of Oakleys?!) to see if they’d help. I tested them out fairly successfully yesterday, which he was pleased to hear, and I did joke that I’d painted my fingernails to match. I wasn’t joking – I really did! *grin*
Claud the Butler was in residence again – making very good coffee as ever, though it’s not free. I guess you get what you pay for, right? However gassing over coffee is all very well, but at some point you have to go ride the bike, so we went and joined the queue for the start.
The top signs are for the 100mile route, the bottom for the 100km route. They were a bit too similar for me. Put it this way, if you’re going to differentiate between two routes then two different colours of arrow – eg red and green – is easier. Trying to remember if yours were the orange on blue or the blue on orange is a bit confusing…
Right. 3…2…1… and off we go. Even at 8:00am it was already warm and sunny as you can see.
The first 25 miles or so are pretty flat – plenty of time for groups to form. Lots of flying along in the sun faster than is wise that early in a sportive! We kept discovering ourselves leading packs of riders – which is all very well – but hey, come take your turn at the front too please?! Here’s a group dropping back behind us on a hill…
While I’m here, I’m about to have a rider etiquette moan. I know this was a charity ride, so this may well not apply to a lot of the riders, being less experienced etc. However I can eavesdrop with the best of them, and if you and your group are talking about the sportives you’ve done, up to and including the Fred Whitton, then this most definitely applies to you, and also to others of you out there so…<begin rant>
- if you’re going to hurtle past me without warning – don’t! – an ‘on your inside/outside/coming through/excuse me’ wouldn’t go amiss.
- car coming? even just yelling “car” would be a start. Car back, car front, car up – added bonus.
- hole/obstacle in the road? point, shout, whatever…and save the rest of us from hitting it too.
- been sitting on my arse letting me/us pull you along for miles? Well when you finally go past, having dismally failed to take any sort of a turn at the front, may I suggest a thank you would be a nice touch?
- coming past me in the middle of nowhere on a long ride? how about an ‘hello’? or some other form of ‘nice weather we’re having’ small talk.
I’m sure there’s more, but that’ll do for the moment. <rant over>
25 miles in, and time for the first food stop. At a village hall as promised, thus had toilets, which always pleases me. There was a range of sweet and savoury goods on offer – which meant jelly babies and half a banana for me.
Back on the road, in the knowledge that the hills, such as they were, would be starting soon. One of the advantages of having done it last year – no fear of the unknown for me. Kevin led the way for a bit, as you can see.
There’s only one way of avoiding being photographed by me, and that’s being behind me. In fact, as you’ll see here, that doesn’t work either! Which would be why this, particularly guilty of many of the sins above, peloton is here. Well you can see some of them anyway. They sucked our wheels, at a good 20mph+, happily chatting away behind us for miles…and then when we finally decided enough was enough, with food to eat and hills to climb, went past us without so much as acknowledging our existence! Very poor form chaps.
One of the nice things about the Cotswolds is the number of trees that have been allowed to remain standing. There are the (blurry) country estate variety – as seen here, near posh houses. There were a LOT of posh houses. And large numbers of prestige cars…over compensating much? 😉 However the roads were actually very quiet all day, remarkably so for a sunny Sunday.
There’s clearly money in them thar hills… There were also various foresty bits, but the best trees were all over the hills and therefore most importantly all over the climbs. On a day like this shade is greatly appreciated when going uphill! The hills were my kind of hills – slow gradual gradient slogs – and I actually spent a lot of time over-taking people. How cool is that?! 🙂
Clearly I’m still using the camera to distract myself going up hill…
At least if you go up, you get views right? This would be a green and pleasant land presumably…
The routes – 100km/100miles – split around 40 miles in. There was a CFC clad gentleman on the RHS of the fairly main road holding up a hand drawn sign to demonstrate this which, I’m afraid to say, being on a white board and not the backgrounds described, was not the easiest thing in the world to spot. Good thing we did! The 100km went left – which was easy – leaving the 100 mile mob to start heading downhill, and then discover a right turn half way down…which was not easy what with main road traffic both behind you and coming the other way to cross through. Luckily the classic car behind me paid attention to my indications and let me pull over…but it was a tad hairy there for a moment as we gesticulated at each other…
Things got a little quieter after that, as a lot of the faster groups were clearly faster because they weren’t going so far. Riding became a little more relaxed and less pressurised – no more pet pelotons for us. The second food stop was at 50 miles in – again at a village hall – and very importantly had plenty of cold water available, as well as two portable loos. Not ideal but a darn sight better than none.
Both the shade and the water were very welcome, as the day was just getting hotter as it went along. I was mighty glad I’d applied my sun cream first thing! We were underway again shortly, but Kevin was not feeling his best, man flu or some such, and we had to stop a few times. Around 60 miles in he decided to take a “short” cut and head direct back – 20 miles – to HQ. Feeling more than a little guilty for leaving my wingman, I carried on following the arrows, but to be fair I think he was probably happier left to get on with it…
Which left me 40 miles as me, myself, and…my music. Those few other riders that I saw were mostly ahead of me…for a while…until I went past. There was a distinct lack of wheels to suck, and a whole heap of headwind to fight against. Why is the headwind always at the wrong end of the ride? Even so my average speed was going up all the time.
Being on your own is when you start realising how few signs there were. No repeaters, not enough signs at junctions, no reminders after junctions, and not enough warning other road users of cyclists on the road, which made the odd sharp narrow corner rather more interesting than usual. I love being in the middle of the road and meeting a white van coming the other way likewise located… The gpx course was great – with all the waypoints marked and popping up with turn right/left/straight on messages – but not everyone has such gadgets, and neither should they have to to feel sure that they’re on the right route.
There weren’t a lot more hills to come, but there were some. Besides, the more miles you have in your legs, the more an incline feels like a hill! In the meantime, following in the great tradition of sportive blogs with castles in them, here’s another one for you.
This is the Castle Inn, with a pub garden with views from the ridge to the left that were just stupendous, and plenty of people were sat in the sun enjoying them… Stopping there, and not getting going again, was seriously tempting! Still eventually there was a well earned descent…totally ruined, almost dangerously so, by having an unexpected sharp left turn off it halfway down just as you’d truly built up momentum. Another hairy moment that coulda shoulda been avoided.
I diluted what was left in the bottles I had, and took advantage of the toilets to wash the salt off my face and cool myself down a bit. Man it was hot out there! The only advantage of the headwind was that it cooled you down a bit, and actually the same went for descents. I should mention that some of the downhills today were truly epic – and only a couple of them were ruined by premature T-junction syndrome!
As I was going down a lonely hill, around 80 miles in, 3 riders went past me at just the right speed. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I latched on to the rear and pedalled for all I was worth. At some point I had to yell “car” due to the presence of such behind us, and thus alerted them to my presence behind them, which they took with very good grace. I hung on for ten miles or so, until the fastest of the three got on the front, and upped the ante a little at the same time as the headwind hit again. Having to push that bit harder, and already feeling a little guilty for being unable to take my turn at the front – it being hard enough doing what I was doing, let along doing that – I decided the time had come to give in gracefully, so I dropped back.
That only left me ten miles or so to do, and since I was flying solo but flying pretty fast, I pushed as fast as I could to get back. See – I even look fairly happy :). OK, so I was bored, and I’d run out of things to take photos of. The scenery was lovely, and wide, and rolling, and so on but it was, to use the word literally, unremarkable. I can only take some many pictures of rural landscapes!
Right then. A bit more wind, a bit more wiggle, some rather more major A roads to get back to Stratford, and there, finally, was the Finish line.
Kevin was waiting for me at the end, which came as somewhat of a relief as I’d been a tad worried about him getting lost on the way back…and to get his revenge he photographed me for a change! Look at my magical floating feet *grin*. Good to see him back in one, still not feeling great, piece though.
Cycling time: 5:55:50 hrs
Distance: 101.63 miles
Avs: 17.1 mph.
ODO: 14038 miles
I stashed the bike in the car, and went back to HQ to get changed and showered. It turned out that I needed 50p for the shower, which my £5 note was not going to help me with, so I’m afraid it was the usual sink/babywipe combo for me. At least I ended up more presentable than I had been, right? Then on handing in my rider number I got my free bacon roll. Well bacon, no roll, due to my dietary foibles. Which probably meant I got more bacon than everyone else too – so mock my finickyness as much as you like :P. Very tasty it was too. It could have been a beefburger, or veggie burger, but bacon is safer.
So – another sportive done, and apparently done at speed! Well, in my defence, it really wasn’t very hilly – only c 1300 m of climbing all in according to Bella. I seem destined to do this ride with another rider who’s not on form, and with a nasty headwind at the wrong time! (see last year’s blog). However there are far worse ways to spend a Sunday than riding my bike in the sun. I may have new suntan lines – but I appear to have avoided sunburn – result! Quite pleased tomorrow is a rest day though… :).
UPDATE: official times are up already – and I’m 92nd of 222 – which I’m quite proud of. If I’d stopped a little less, I’d have been even faster…and I might be third girl in! :). My slightly toned down, less personal, more PC review is now up at Cyclosport too.
Let me just get this straight. I drove 102 miles to cycle 102 miles?! I could just have ridden home! *grin*