In case you hadn’t noticed, ie you haven’t been in touch with the outside world at all for days, it may be October, but actually it’s doing a pretty good impression of summer. Imagine a sportive in October when you don’t have to pack layers, or waterproofs and instead have to apply suntan cream. When you start your ride wearing the same as you finish it in, ie, as little as possible. Twilight zone time? Bizarrely not.
I set off from home at 4:15am having had an early night and, handily, having woken up to go to the toilet 4 minutes before the alarm went off. This meant I actually felt fairly well rested, and didn’t have that horrible moment where the alarm drags you kicking and screaming into the day. Result! I was away by 5:00am as planned, and I’m very pleased I know Cheddar Gorge as well as I do because driving up it in the dark isn’t a lot of fun. It was an uneventful but not that pleasant a drive until the sun started to rise around 6:30am, and the sky turned the kinds of colours you couldn’t paint if you tried and if you did they would just look trite and clichéd rather than glorious and promising as they actually were. Good start. I did my best not to arrive at Brockenhurst College before 7:15am as instructed, but at that time of the morning there ain’t a lot of traffic on the roads, and even having stopped to eat my muesli I was there by 7:00am. However draconian the instructions may have sounded about when things should be done, I was parked and registered in about 10 minutes, before registration was due to have even opened, and I was by no means the only one. Since I was ostensibly doing the ride with a group from Twickenham CC there then followed a whole heap of people arriving and faffing in the burgeoning sunshine before we could get underway at around 8:20ish.
OK so even in that sunshine it was a tad chilly to start with, but I figured I’d warm up soon enough, and I wasn’t wrong. My arms started and finished the event in the same place – my saddle bag! There was a group of 10 or so of us, most of whom I’d never met before, other than my etape partner Kevin, and I sat in the middle of them for a while. The first hour or so passed, as we warmed up, admired the scenery, and debated whether or not it would be this flat the whole way round. I really didn’t want to be seen as the one hitching a ride and the pace wasn’t killing me so I tried to take my turn at the front, but it’s tricky when you don’t really know anyone and haven’t always got a partner to ride with, though I muddled through for a bit. At some point muddling ceased to work, and for some reason I ended out in front. Bearing in mind the first food stop was at around 2 hours in, I decided just to keep going. Well it was flat or rolling, I was flying, it seemed a shame not to. I also found some lovely groups to hitch on to, which is unusual for me. However there must be something about the male ego – they don’t mind you sitting on the back, and they may possibly even talk to you, but if you try and take a turn on the front, they seem to disappear backwards in the haze. Well you can’t tell me I was that much faster than all of them! Having said that, when I checked at the food stop, I’d done the first section at an average of 19.3mph…
The rest of the group weren’t really that far behind me, so I joined up with them again after the stop. I was a little more successful at staying with them for a while, although I did end up out in front again, as being a group that stays together that mean they were going slower than I bet most of them usually do. My legs were feeling great, the scenery was gorgeous, it wasn’t (yet) too hot, and the terrain wasn’t that challenging. There were a few hills but as far as I was concerned, these mostly just meant I could have lots of fun going downhill! *grin*.
On to the second food stop, which we arrived at together, and left together. But when we left, and I dropped them again instantly, this time I just decided to put my foot down and keep going. To go as fast as I could for as long as I could and see what happened. So I did. I used groups where I could, pushed up the hills I could, slogged up those I couldn’t, tucked in and flew down them, and generally had a blast. Around half way up one of the bigger hills somewhat later on Kevin caught me, which I gather had been rather hard work, which is nice to know. We flew along for a while, including a lovely stretch over the moorish bit where we sucked the wheels of two rather fast gentlemen who weren’t even on our ride but who did make lovely wind breaks. Then we hit Blissford Hill, which I gather is notorious, and I’d heard a rumour about it from another rider earlier on. It just goes straight up! It’s a 1 in 4, or 25%, and it’s good thing you can see the top, or I don’t think I’d have even tried. But I did. Got myself out of the saddle, pushed as hard as I could, and I made it! Killer! Man did I feel awful for the next couple of minutes though and it was with great relief that I discovered the next food stop was there. It took me a little while to stop shaking and wobbling, but the intake of fluid helped. Besides which I didn’t want to stop too long in case I ruined my time, so we were back on the bikes asap, just as a breakaway couple of the original group arrived.
That left us with around 25 miles to do, depending on who’s gadget you believe. By now it was much hotter, which I don’t cope so well with, and although I was still by no means hanging around I definitely noticed the hills more. Kevin, aided and abetted by innumerable gels and caffeinated substances, ended up on the front for the last hour or so, and I was happy to let him stay there (like I could have caught him by then!), especially as we were probably going to get in faster that way. Every now and then I’d look back and we’d have picked up people for a while, but they always seemed to fall off the back again eventually, which was quite satisfying. The last little bit through whichever town it was was a little tedious as we met up with the New Forest traffic, and it was a relief to finally cross the line.
Cycling time: 5:28:46 hrs
Distance: 98.28 miles.
Avs: 17.8 mph
ODO: 10376 miles
Deity Almighty ,have you seen the speed I did? Talk about completely gratuitous and totally uncalled for! *grin*. From a ride point of view it was awesome. I have never attacked a sportive like that before, and may well never again. If it had been hillier – there were only 1378 metres of climbing – it would have been a whole different ball game of course, but hey, it wasn’t. Just for once I got to be the one over-taking everyone, got to ride in groups, got to arrive at the finish line not to discover the village packing up *grin*. It was a gorgeous route, and there’s not a cat in hell’s chance the weather will ever be like that for it again. You couldn’t have asked for better. For cooler maybe, but not better. The New Forest is scenically gorgeous with, luckily, a lot of shade to make up for the heat, with gorgeous views, long rolling roads… I was less keen on the sheer amount of roaming animals to be dodged – horses, sheep, donkeys, cows, pigs – and I do literally mean dodge as I nearly got taken out by various horses and particularly one less than sacred cow!
So we crossed the finish line, and found a patch of grass to collapse on. A while later the breakaway couple came in, with the rest of the group a while behind that. Finishing a ride is always a bit anti-climactic especially when you’ve pushed it hard enough to be temporarily knackered, so I left the group to be a group, stashed my bike, washed up and put “normal” clothes on, rejoined them for a bit, but wasn’t really feeling it so headed for home. 3 hours spent in various queues of traffic heading home doesn’t do a lot for your joie de vivre I’ll have you know, especially when you’re dehydrated and hungry and there isn’t a petrol station for hours! When I finally found one a diet coke and my freebie carob bar thing perked me up a bit, but I still wasn’t in the mood for writing this until today. I’m really hoping I got a gold time, but it’s going to be close, as I think my official time, ie including stops etc, needs to be under 6 hours 4 minutes, so…I have my *fingers crossed* and will probably be hitting refresh on the Wiggle website on a regular basis for the rest of the morning :).
UPDATE: official time from the draft results is 5:49:08. GOLD!!! Get in! Mind you, there are a lot of them, so I think it really just shows the standards weren’t that high, but hey, who cares, I got my first ever GOLD!!! 😀