I have been somewhat spoilt lately, in that my last two sportives have been local. I’d forgotten the horror of the 4:10am alarm call, the chill of getting dressed before the heating has woken up, the joys of loading up the car in the dark and the wet… *shudder*. I was so out of practice that rather than taking breakfast with me to eat nearer my start time, I forgot and had my muesli at 4:30am! Just as well as it happens as it didn’t go down that well, and at least my insides had time to settle before I got to where I was going.
HQ was at Brockenhurst College, Lyndhurst. After a night of torrential rain the drive was a little more interesting than necessary, as the car and I negotiated the river pouring down the Gorge, and headed South East dodging the floods. Bizarrely enough once I reached the top of the Mendips, there was a steady stream of cars heading West and blinding me with the headlights…I wonder where they were all going? It didn’t start to get light until around 6:30am, by which time I was half starting to think it never would!
I arrived shortly after 7:00am, which made me one of the first as usual, and got me into the best car park. ‘Rah! I’ve been there three times now so I do kind of know my way around :). I grabbed my helmet and headed for registration. Being early, a lot of the stands were still setting up, and there were no queues for registration, but there were plenty of people to deal with everyone anyway, so it’s quite likely that there never were. I was given my bike number, two ties, and a ticket for a free tea/coffee, and my timing tag was stuck on the LHS of my helmet. Job done.
The forecast was for dry and sunny and fairly mild for October, which was all good, but actually it was pretty nippy out there to start with. A perfect faffing forecast then. I decide to stick with what I’d chosen, and leave the gilet and overgloves in the bag in case I needed them. Well – if you set off chilly you warm up, and then don’t have to stop. If you set off warm, you warm up to hot, and then have to stop, and I thought I’d try and avoid having to stop if I could. Should you care, that left me in long socks, bib winter tights, Cyclosport jersey, Rapha Team winter jacket, mitts, and toe covers. Don’t you feel better for knowing that? ;).
Having sorted myself and the bike out, and used the more than adequate facilities, I headed for the start line rather early. Registration was supposed to be at 7:30, with starts from 8:00am onwards. Well I registered at 7:15ish, and was at the line at 7:35am. Still UK Cycling Events have been doing this a while now and I guess they’re pretty efficient! I fully expected to have to hang around at the start as riders gathered, but was still kinda surprised to be amongst the first there…
…but there was a reason for that. As I was standing there, with a handful of riders, Martin turned up, gave us a quick briefing, and sent us on our way. 7:38am and I was off. Clearly we weren’t the first group let go either, as there were riders ahead of us – which was probably a good way of spreading us out on the road without too much fuss. It was very early, it was definitely chilly and, <engage understatement mode>, there was some standing water around <end mode>. Ok, let’s be honest, there was lots of water. Lots and lots. Lots of water, flowing and in puddles and in floods, and with debris washed all over the roads by the overnight weather. Not so good. There was no hurtling around to be done in conditions like that, it was far better to be constant and careful, as you never knew when you were going to hit gravel, or leaves, or a hidden pot hole. It was hard to know whether some of the dodgier road surfaces are always like that, or were just like that as a result of the weather!
The sun was rising as we came onto the moors for the first time, and it was quite attractive really, if sunrise is your thing. Especially as the sun may have woken up but the wind was having a lie in, unlike me. Shame it didn’t stay away all day! Anyway, the first couple of hours were shrouded in cloud, and the temperature failed to raise much, though my layers were mostly doing the job. It was also essentially flat or at most, sort of rolling. Just as well since there were plenty of other things to negotiate. Like I said, water, floods, and debris. Lets not forget fords, intentional and otherwise, and countless cattle grids, some of which were vicious enough to nearly shake your hands off the handlebars! I walked around one ford, but that was almost more grief than riding through, so I rode through the rest…and got a soaking as a result. Clearly they’re not usually that deep but still… I also hate cattle grids, though they were inevitable today. I gather there were some grid related accidents, particularly at the one which was instantly followed by a left turn. Wheels need to be at 90 degrees to the grid, not thinking about going anywhere else…! I hope everyone is ok :(.
Back to obstacles – and the “wild”life. Since I was riding on my own today, and talking to the animals is a good a way of alerting to them to your presence as any, just call me Dr Doolittle. I have talked to cows, horses, donkeys and even a ginger cat. To horse riders and local dog walkers and other residents. And even the occasional other rider, albeit only in (literally) passing.
At this point I was quite enjoying myself really. The scenery was stunning, with wide open skies, views as far as the horizon all ’round, and precious little traffic to interrupt the idyll. However being rolling, at best, it was quite tiring. No downs to relieve you from the ups, just constant pedalling which is, on your own, quite hard work. No-one to hide behind, no motivation to go faster. The first food stop came at around 30 miles in, about 5 miles after I’d started hoping it would turn up. With three stops on the route I’d sort of been hoping they were equally spaced…so it was a relief when I turned left, saw the “fuel station ahead” sign, and knew that I was going to get a bit of a breather. Fuel as in Maxifuel – the sponsors – you see? :). It was quite nice to have a quick stop, and I was even engaged in conversation by some fairly local riders who were able to tell me whereabouts Blissford Hill was in the route (about 30 miles from the end apparently), so that I could put off worrying about it until later!
All the foodstops were at village/town halls which meant proper toilets. This one only had the one however, so there was a bit of a queue. However several riders decided to make do later, being male and that being somewhat easier for them, and the rider in front of me proved that chivalry is not dead and insisted I go before him. A proper gentleman – thanks! That done, zip on my bibshorts proving its worth, I ate half a banana, chatted, and enjoyed the time out, before heading back out on my own again.
It was still overcast and chilly, and I was asking myself why, since the forecast had said it was going to clear up later in the day. Then I realised it was only around 9:30ish so it was actually far from later in the day even if I had been riding for nigh on two hours! Doh! It actually got a bit chillier, and I was debating whether or not to put the gilet on when finally, around 10:00am, the cloud started to clear, the sun started breaking through and the temperature improved, along with my mood, a little.
After about 5 miles the “Standard” route went left, and my “Epic” route went right. It didn’t even occur to me to go the other way as this wasn’t billed as being a particularly hard ride, the weather was ok, and I wasn’t doing too badly. However the next 30 miles or so weren’t half as attractive. This is not to say that they were unattractive, just not particularly remarkable. We left the moor behind, and also the official New Forest area, and headed northwards through country lanes and towns. The second food stop came as somewhat of a surprise, as it was only 15 miles after the last one and I barely felt like I’d gotten going again. However I’m very glad I stopped as the ladies there were absolutely lovely and probably provided me with my longest conversation of the entire day – thank you Ms Orbea and Ms Specialized! Apparently I was the first lady through, which is always nice to hear, even if it is because I was away early and hadn’t been overtaken by any other girls ;). See how smiley they are?
Actually I overtook lots of riders as I went along. There weren’t many that went past me, just a couple of groups. I’d have loved a group…*sigh*. The rest was the usual leapfrogging riders, as various kit became familiar, and wry smiles were exchanged when we passed each other again, either me passing them or vice versa. Riding on my own was proving a tad lonesome, and I realised I was dawdling as I was finding it hard to motivate myself. No real climbs to challenge myself with, no descents to make me grin, just lots of riding, with some slogging thrown in for good measure on slow grinds up, or into the now present headwind. I wasn’t getting anywhere near the average speed I’d been hoping for, which was also annoying me. I would have taken more photos but the best views tend to be of things you’re flying past, and I knew that stopping would make me even slower. Here’s a pretty church for you though, in case you were feeling neglected ;).
I started giving myself small goals to aim for, to break it down and try to make it more manageable. 50 miles to be half way. Then 60 miles. Then 66 miles to be two thirds of the way through. Then 70 to start looking for Blissford Hill… 20 minutes until the next bite of bar/flapjack. That kind of thing, you get the picture. Mostly today was about the scenery, which I tried to make a point of enjoying, and let’s face it, even though it wasn’t as nice as the early stages had been, it was fairly pretty.
At around the 70 mile mark, we rejoined the “Standard” route which did wonders for my mental state. Not only were there now far more riders on the road so I didn’t feel quite so alone, but there were an awful lot of leisure, charity, mtb riders etc…also known as plenty of rabbits for me to hunt down and overtake, which helped me start feeling that maybe I could actually ride a bike ok again. As we got the moor back, I got my mojo back. Too little too late, and I was never going to be breaking the speed limit…but hey 😉
I was expecting the next food stop and then Blissford Hill, according to my insider acquired knowledge. However as I turned right at a motorcycle marshal marked junction, there it was and the food stop wasn’t. B*gger – I wasn’t expecting that, and I’d been planning to do some mental preparing myself for it first! Ah well. I was either going to make it up it or I wasn’t, right? It’s the first hill that steep I’ve been up on the Cinelli. It’s the first time I’ve been up it without the very bottom gear on my Cube. It’s the first time I’ve climbed a hill out of the saddle in the Cinelli too. So it was all a bit of an unknown… I was in bottom gear as soon as I hit the climb, and though the legs spun wildly for a while, that didn’t last long as the 25% gradient bit. Up, out of the saddle, climbing, in sight of the top… That wonderful moment halfway up when, in sight of the photographer and the gathered audience of locals, you know you’re going to make it. And I did. As I announced to the waiting crowd, I now officially rock! *grin*. I only went up it marginally faster than the last time but whereas back then I felt the aftereffects, shaky and wobbly, for quite some time – not so today. Today I was all recovered in relatively short time and happily back on my way, safe in the knowledge that the big challenge of the day was behind me :). Cheered me up considerably – I think I’d been worrying about it quite a lot in hindsight!
With 30 miles or to to go, I was mentally getting into the final straight. Not that this was going to stop me stopping at the final food stop of course, where I could have had sweets, sandwiches, cake, the works. The foodstops were a bit like Alice in Wonderland – divided into “drink me”, “eat me” (now), “take me” (eat me later). Guess what I ate? Yep. Same as ever :).
I could have had my bike fixed or tweaked too, and several people were having their tyres brought up to proper pressure. I saw quite a few riders dealing with punctures, probably due to all that debris, and I crossed my fingers to avert the puncture fairy every time I passed one, which seems to have worked. Tyres like those on this bike might have been a good idea…isn’t it shiny and nice? For a mtb/hybrid that is ;). N+1?
Time to head for the end. I played tag team with some Wyndy Milla riders for a bit, before finally finding a Trek to follow. I’m used to following a Trek, it makes me feel at home *grin*. This guy was in MTB kit on a road bike – weird, but it seemed to be working just fine for him. We took it in turns, though I should have taken a few more at the front – and I might have done if it wasn’t for him dropping me on every slogging climb, and there were some grinds lurking towards the end. It definitely helped having him to follow even if only in the distance sometimes. Actually if he’d made it a little more clearer that it was my turn, I would have, but it took me a while to interpret is over the shoulder glance for what it was – an indication that I should stop lurking and start leading! Once I’d worked that out, it worked a little better. We did some together, took it turns to drop each other, but generally spent the last stretch more or less in the same vicinity.
There’s always less forest on this ride than I expect, especially considering that it’s called the New Forest. Robin Hood would have had nowhere to hide here, it’s not surprising that he stuck to Sherwood! (anyone singing this now? ;)). However there was a nice stretch through some sections of Forestry Commission land, with arboretum, and parkland and the like before we ended up back on the moor and heading for the finish. You’ll be pleased to hear that the guy on the right here stopped messing around and got back on the right – ie left – side of the road before the oncoming traffic got too close!
Not much further before we were back and riding through the contrastingly busy Brockenhurst, and finally riding over the Finish line, which came as somewhat of a relief. MTB man and I shook hands, so there were clearly no hard feelings about my lack of weigh pulling ;). One goody bag, one medal, and one very tired me heading for the car.
I found Henry and had a brief chat with him. There’s no way I would ever have survived riding with him and Todd – they were about an hour faster than me! But then I’m probably nearly, or possibly actually, twice his age, so that’s my excuse! He was over by the food tent where there were burgers, and some fantastic smelling paella – generous portions for £4. Not worth the risk if you’re me though.
Having been here before I knew there were changing facilities. I hadn’t realised there were also showers lurking at the end of those changing rooms. I travel with all the wherewithalls as a matter of course so just for once I actually had a shower. Oh man, the luxury! It was SO nice to be all clean and changed and kinda feeling like a girl again, even if only in jeans and a t-shirt. Feeling almost human again, I went off and had my free coffee, and had a nice chat to Steve Hancock, one of the riders I’d met on the route and left behind me 😉 It almost felt like talking to a friendly face, which was a lovely way to round off the day. We both agreed that the massage looked nice…but that we were too lazy to have one! *grin*.
Cycling time: 5:59:35 hrs
Distance: 98.27 miles
Avs: 16.4 mph.
ODO: 736.37 miles
My official time is 6:20:02 which puts me just 5 minutes outside gold, and much slower than my last two Wiggle New Forest rides, which was a bit disappointing, dagnamit! See what I did here, should you want to. I’ll blame the layers, the knee, the insides, the colder air, the lack of company…whatever works 😉 And hey, nowt wrong with Silver, right? :P.