The Story of the Day…
DAVE HAS A CUNNING PLAN
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The Story of the Day…
TACTICAL BROMANCE BLOSSOMS ON THE BOX HILL ORIGINAL
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The story of the day…
TOUR DE NORFOLK REPORT: DAVE STEAMS THROUGH THE FLATLANDS
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Are we sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…
Having completed a few centuries now, and with a previous ‘best distance’ of some 130 miles already bagged, I was going to have to come up with something decent as my next challenge. But planning isn’t really my strong point, and all my ideas for long rides seemed to lose credibility when closely examined. Mainly because I like to “fly solo”, as no-one I know has both the time AND the inclination to hit such big distances whilst being happy to slow their pace down to accommodate mine.
The problems though, are almost all logistical. I simply cannot (or at least prefer not to) carry all that I’ll require on the bike or in my pockets from the start. I also like to ride quiet rural routes which, as many of you will no doubt have experienced, means shops and cafes are pretty thin on the ground at the best of times. Creeping home through the darkness inevitably means that any shops in villages on the route will be closed by the time I pass them. So it’s a balancing act to carry enough to cater for the gaps between planned stops or larger towns.
Fast forward, then, to Friday 1st September 2017. I’ve come up (just the previous evening, in fact) with some harebrained scheme to ride from Farnborough to Bournemouth and back in a day. I broach the subject with my wife, announcing the plan with “tell me if you think this is a stupid idea”. Not a great start. The look on her face says it all. But bless her, she plays along and gives me permission to stay out past my bedtime if necessary. I’ve consulted Strava already, and the Route Planner feature has come up with a 152 mile route to follow.
The plan is to start early. 0730 hours at the latest, just as soon as get home from dropping my wife at work. This is a good plan, because it gives me a ‘fudge factor’ on top of the 12 hours that Strava’s route is forecast to take me. Sadly, the thing with plans is that I’ve never seen a plan that could survive first contact with the enemy. And so it was with this plan.
Admin, not an alien concept to me as an ex soldier, seemed to have deserted me. I couldn’t find stuff. Basic stuff. Where is it? I’m sure it was here yesterday. Who’s moved my slap-wrap reflective bands? Where are the charged spare batteries from the cupboard? Who’s eaten all my bleedin’ cereal bars? Where are those bottles I put down not more than five minutes ago? Arrrrrrrgh!!
Sit down. Breathe. Make more coffee…
There now! Isn’t that a whole lot better? One thing at a time. Bike OK? A quick pump of the tyres, and give everything a shake. Yup. That’s all good. Now lights. We’ll be back after dark, so the usual lights were charged last night and fitted. Extra lights from the household cycling “community chest” are found, filled with freshly charged batteries, and fitted. A quick tot-up reveals four front, and four rear, plus some ‘dire emergency’ lights too. We don’t want a repeat of the Combe Gibbet debacle after all. Eventually the slap-wraps and velcro reflective arm bands are located too. Two 710ml bottles are filled and added to the cages and the Garmin secured in the mount with rubber bands (it’s broken – don’t ask!) The bike is ready! Woohoo!
But what about me? Lycra needed. No phone box available so it’s back upstairs to change in normal time. Then the ceremony of the filling of the pockets can begin. Nutrition isn’t something I worry too much about. I don’t use gels or proprietary energy bars, so it’s off to the kitchen. The ‘pump sock’ goes in first. Vital that, CO2, pump, patches, multi tool, all wrapped conveniently in an old grey ‘trainer sock’. Next the little jacket, some cereal bars, a couple of peanut butter sandwiches, phone, ID, cash, camera, spare batteries…
All that in three jersey pockets? Nope! Not going to happen. Jacket out, and dangled off the back of the saddle. Jiggle some bits about, push hard on the peanut butter sandwich, and Hey Presto! It’s all in, after a fashion.
By now it’s very nearly 1000 hours. Two and a half hours later than planned. With some stops, if I keep to the Strava plan’s schedule I’m looking at a midnight finish. Lucky I got those lights together then. It’s OK. No-one really knows the plan, so if needs be, I can bail out in the New Forest, turn for home and call it a round century, and no-one will know any better. The preparation has been stressful. Very much last minute and a bit manic. I roll out down the driveway and begin to relax. Get to the start of the Strava route, “Course Found”! Reach up to clear something from the corner of me eye. Noooooooo! Glasses? Where are my shades? I can’t ride without them. Retreat, recover glasses (two pairs, clear and dark tint) and off again. Obviously the first 30 miles or so are quite familiar, but even so I go “Off Course” compared with the planned route. But I know better than Strava/Garmin, so I’ll cut back onto the route via this quieter, better detour, instead of that horrible ‘A’ road. I’m enjoying myself now. Getting into a rhythm, appreciating the beautiful weather and the scenery.
Villages come and go. Odiham, Upton Grey, Weston Patrick, Herriard. A long gap to the Candovers. A shop stop in Preston Candover when I spot a sign pointing to the village shop just back out of sight of the road. Fluids only as there’s not much food in the fridge. A bottle of Oasis isn’t going to get me far, but I’ve realised I’ve put a big dent in what I brought with me already. The rest of Preston Candover, Chilton Candover, and Brown Candover are dispatched quickly, mostly downhill after my climb to what my GPS trace suggests was the highest point of the route. This is most definitely NOT a “climbing day”. Northington is next, heading South before turning right through Itchen Abbas, over the M3 motorway into Abbots Worthy. The Worthys? There’s surely a joke in there somewhere. But before we hit Kings Worthy and Headbourne Worthy the Garmin Edge 500 curse strikes! You see, I’m following a ‘breadcrumb trail’ with no base maps, and about 50% of the time it gets to the route screen and simply refuses to draw the route for me. I guess, and guess wrong, heading onto the A33 Winchester Bypass. Thankfully though, I realise my error before it becomes a fully-fledged four-lane dual carriageway. Bail out onto the shared use cycle path, roll to a crossing point, and head back up to the correct turning. Plain sailing into Winchester city proper now, a slight downhill until the turn to climb up Romsey Road from the Great Hall. Up and up we go, passing the Hospital and the Prison. This is where I pass Keith (more on him later) as he breaks for lunch in a cafe at The Rifles Museum. Now it’s opening up. Pitt, Standon, Hursley, past Nan Trodd’s Hill, Ampfield, skirt the northern edge of Romsey. We’re off the Downs, and into the Test Valley. Old Salisbury Lane to Shootash, and on to the A36.
Well this turns out to be a mistake. Getting across the A36 is harder than it sounds. It’s still holiday season, and the road is very busy. I need to get over a right/left dog-leg into the New Forest National Park. It takes patience, and a few precious minutes, but I manage to make a small gap work for me. This is it! Cover me, I’m going in! (To the New Forest, that is).
I’ve been covering new ground since The Candovers, and this is another first for me. I’ve never cycled in The New Forest before, and I’m in full tourist mode. A photo by the National Park sign just after the cattle grid? Yup, that’ll be me. At the crossroads with Furzely Road there is a sign for a place called ‘Nomansland’, and a trio of Donkeys milling about in the middle of the junction. Another photo stop. Donkeys, interesting place names, all cool subjects for poor photos (I have a very cheap camera for bike trips). It’s warming up nicely now, so before I get too hot I take off my long-sleeved base layer. This is where Keith (remember him from Winchester?) passes me on the road. I head off behind some gorse bushes for a ‘comfort break’, having chomped through half of my squashed sandwiches. As I wander back to the road I spot some free food. Foraging! Hooray! A big old handful of fresh picked blackberries later and I’m under way again, but not for long. I get to the far edge of Bramshaw and there’s a cyclist sitting on the grass. A slow to check all is well, he raises a hand in reply, and I roll on past. But something nags at me to stop. I turn around, and it dawns upon me that this chap is wearing a Farnborough & Camberley Cycling Club jersey. I stop to say hello, and this, it turns out, is Keith. We are properly introduced, as I’m surprised to spot a ‘home’ jersey at an ‘away match’. Turns out we’ve left from barely two miles apart, and are heading to exactly the same place. He’s loaded with bike luggage for an overnight stay, but our planned routes turn out to be identical. What are the chances, right? Anyway, we sort of fall into plodding along on the bikes again, chatting.
We’ve not worked out that our routes are identical just yet, but two junctions later, when we’ve prepared to wave one another farewell, we realise that we’re on the same mission. At this point I’m struggling, too. Mentally, rather than physically, but I’m struggling to keep my rhythm and maintain a decent pace. Keith is a hero here, and really rises to the occasion. We are by turns riding side-by-side, and with me dropping in behind him to grab his wheel when there are cars trying to pass. I feel bad for leaching off a chap already laden with luggage but Keith seems cool with it. We’re fairly motoring too. Just north of the M27/A31 and heading south west through Fritham, Linwood, and Poulner, into Ringwood itself. From here I have the advantage of a little local knowledge, as Bournemouth is my wife’s home town.
Keith’s route wants to drag him down Matchams Lane. Not too bad in a car, but pretty grim for a cyclist. It’s just too narrow, and too busy. He decides to give my plan a whirl,so we drop south along the B3347 through Sopley and on to Christchurch. It’s not the prettiest road in the area by a long way, but there’s width and it’s not too twisty, so cars can pass OK without squeezing us to the verge. Somehow I’ve regained my Mojo, and I know that I owe Keith a favour. I lead us out, and stay in the wind all the way to the A35 roundabout. It’s a good workout. Keith is more comfortable ‘on my wheel’ than I was behind him, so I feel like I’m being pushed along by him. I nearly lost him on one small hill (he’s lugging 17 kg of kit with him remember) but i’m aware enough to rein it in and get him back on. We return a pretty decent joint 177/714 on the 7.1 mile “ringwood-christchurch” Strava segment at a shade over 20 mph average.
Nearly there, we relax a little, follow the cycle path along the A35, through the underpass, and on to Tuckton Bridge. As we reach the roundabout, and begin the climb up Belle Vue Road, we need our wits about us. To celebrate our arrival in town, the good people of Bournemouth have arranged for an air display by none other than The Red Arrows! Obviously this means that all eyes are cast skyward, with drivers craning their necks for a glimpse. We survive the climb, and the inattentive drivers, to arrive on Southbourne Overcliff Drive in time to catch a pretty decent chunk of the display.
Then the Red Arrows are over, as is my time riding with Keith. A proper gentleman, and an absolute pleasure to ride with, but we say our goodbyes as he heads toward Boscombe Pier, and I retreat toward Hengistbury Head in search of something to eat. A wander around some cafes turns up nothing promising. One is too busy, and I’ve not brought a lock, the other is dead quiet (the Air festival has killed trade inland this afternoon) and has stopped serving hot food. In the end I settle on ‘Simon’s Traditional Fish & Chip Shop’ on Broadway. Pie and chips and a drink, a little seating area fenced off to the side of the shop, so somewhere safe for the bike, and best of all the chips are close to perfect. Worth waiting 15 minutes for it to open in the end, but so annoying when you can see the lights on and the food going into the glass cabinet. I even catch a glimpse of the WWII B-17 bomber “Sally B” as she turns to land at Hurn while I’m waiting. Perhaps I should have stayed longer at the air show?
No. Not really. I’m behind schedule as it is. I’m riding faster than the ‘virtual partner’ in my Garmin is, but that’s just creating a buffer for my food and photo stops. No time to let my food settle, I’m going to have to crack on if I’m to get back on the same day I left the house. Yikes! Realisation is dawning. Best get cracking then.
I head off, same route back to Sopley. I turn too early for Bransgore (Garmin won’t draw the route again, so I’m guessing at times). No matter, I’m parallel with the palnned route and can get back on it easily at the next village. Sorted. But it turns out I’d have been better sticking to my incorrect route – correcting it has added some distance, and I’d have ended up in the same place anyway. Another Garmin refusal to give me a clue means another wrong turn. Quickly corrected but it’s all time penalties added on. Into Burley and another wrong turn. Damn you, Garmin! But this time it isn’t the Garmin’s fault. Damn you, Strava! It’s only gone and put me on an off-road section between Burley and Newton. To Hell with it, it’s not a massive issue. I’m still short on fluids, and there are signs for Lyndhurst. I’ll follow those to shops, I know Lyndhurst has shops. But this means a trip along the busy A35 in the growing darkness. Not the most pleasant route through the New Forest, but it all goes OK. Stop at ‘Forage’ to find that it’s a bit errrm? “Wholefoody”. There are no bottled soft drinks aside from locally produced touristy presses and sparkling juices. I tell the chap what I want, and he points me next door. A Budgens! Yay! Lifesaver. I order a coffee in Forage, they let me stash my bike in the garden out the back, and nip next door for still Lucozade, 1.5 litres thereof. Back to sup my coffee, use the toilet and wash my hands, and redistribute the stuff in my pockets. There’s great live music on too, but I can’t stay. I wait for The Real Raj to finish his track, give him some applause and a thumb-up, and I’m off again. Happy now that both bottles are full and I still have that squashed sandwich to keep me going.
North now, heading for Bartley, via a missed turn off the A337. Garmin playing the fool again. Another missed turn! Pah! This is not helping at all. Ower. Past Paulton’s Park. Bad news. This road looks familiar. A3090 dual carriageway, in the dark, up hill, heading into Romsey. I’m now wondering what other surprises await, I should really have checked the route before saving it. Over the River Test, passing Broadlands, out of Romsey to Crampmoor and Ampfield. This is where I get back on the route i came out on. Easy-peasy now, surely?
Through Hursley, through Standon. Into Winchester, down that nasty hill you climbed earlier, but now without the hazard of traffic. Through the one-way system OK, and on to The Worthys. I clear Kings Worthy at 2100 hours. It’s been well and truly dark for some time now, so a stop to check lights are still lit, and that batteries are still providing power is in order. All is good.
Over the M3 again, and on to Itchen Abbas. I miss my left turn. The Garmin is in melt-down, telling me to go up into a housing estate. I know it’s wrong, as there’s a “No Through Road” sign. Up the road, turn left, still off course. Reverse the route. No use. The Garmin is now dead. Low battery warnings have been a regular thing this last half hour, but I had hoped it was just being pessimistic.
Ah well. I’m guessing now. Up the road, turn left, then right. It won’t be the road I planned, but the end result should be the same. Restart the Garmin. It lives! Albeit briefly. Come on Garmin! Give me more than 45 seconds at a time! All I need is for it to get me to the Candovers and I know the way home from there. So I battle on that ten miles or so, repeatedly restarting the Garmin hoping to keep the GPS trace alive. It’s costing me speed, but “if it isn’t on Strava…” – I need this damned thing to keep going for just another hour and a half. Northington comes and goes. I finally hit The Candovers. I’m still repeatedly restarting the GPS unit. Every time it comes back to life, records a little stretch, then promptly dies again. It’s also massively under-recording my mileage now. Only tallying up the parts where it’s actually on. It knocks my mental maths right out when it comes to how far I have left to ride, but it’s OK, because Strava will sort it out when I get back.
The Candovers. Southrope. Herriard. And still the Garmin comes back to life in short bursts. Maybe I’ll get ALL of this data back after all? Weston Patrick, Upton Grey, Odiham. All is quiet save for some Friday night drinkers at pubs in the town, and the Kebab van at the roundabout. It’s 2300 hours. Not far now, we’ve got this one cracked! Then it finally happens. The battery in the Garmin is so low that it cannot get beyond the initial start-up screen. Scarily it’s just looping round between blank, and the initial screen. I’m just short of Winchfield at this point, only 8 miles short of home. I’m also thinking that I’ve pushed my luck too far, and all the ride data will be gone too.
Ho-hum. That’s not what this is all about really. It’s been a really nice day out on the bike, I’ve ridden 148 miles with no mechanicals, no punctures, no cramps, nor any aches or pains. This truly has been a good day. So with no more tech to worry about, I set about putting the hammer down a little, and just enjoyed the silence of the night. Until Fleet, anyway. I dodged the town centre, with it’s associated drunks and crazy taxi drivers, and set a course for home. A few minutes later, and having passed the temptation of yet another Kebab van (Marmaris Kebabs at the Fleet Road roundabout – they’re really rather good) I arrived home without further drama.
I’ve got to say that I’ve felt a lot worse after shorter rides than this. I certainly felt that I could have tacked another 50 miles onto this one if I’d left myself enough time by leaving earlier. The weather was pretty much perfect too, and I’d dressed just right for it. I’d put my base layer back on in Lyndhurst, switched to full finger gloves, and resorted to a windproof packable jacket a little later, but only at the very end was I feeling a little chilly. I even had a few cereal bars and half of a very squashed peanut butter sandwich left, along with a full bottle.
Not bad at all for a long old ride that had only been conceived as an idea a little over 24 hours earlier. Proper planning and preparation? Phooey! Just get on your bike and ride…
The story of the day…
LA MARMOTTE PYRÉNÉES: DAVE BATTLES THE TOURMALET…TWICE
|Spin back to town||19.7||31.7||1:16:05||1,711||521||685|
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The story of the day…
RIDELONDON CALLING… CAN THE CYCLING CENTURION BEAT LAST YEAR’S TIME?
This ride is organised by Open Cycling who advertise this event as “a stunning 150 mile road ride from the mountainous Western Lake District, through the Yorkshire Dales, across the flat Vale of York and finally the Northern Valleys of the North York Moors, finishing by the sea in Whitby. What better way to tick off this iconic cycle than by doing it in one day?”
From when Alan first mentioned this ride to me in early 2016 I really wanted to “tick it off”! It’s a popular ride and books up early, so as soon as 2017 registration opened Alan said he would register us both. He went a step further; “I’ve registered a 16-man team! I’m sure between the Fat Bellies and Nomads we can fill the places”. It was in my calendar!
Alan’s also done the Tour of Wessex before and was keen to do it again, so we booked that as well. The Tour of Wessex is the biggest multi stage cyclosportive in the UK. The challenge of riding 324 miles in 3 days back to back was another challenge I was well up for.
Approaching the end of 2016 I started thinking of personal challenges for 2017. I decided I wanted to ride at least one century ride in every month of 2017. I didn’t realise until close to the C2C event what fantastic preparation the century rides and ToW would prove to be.
The C2C is advertised as 150 miles with 4,500 metres (14,763 feet) climbing. My Garmin actually finished the day on 148.3 miles, 11,693 feet. Anyway, my longest ride ever and most climbing as well in a single ride. It just trumped the Dragon Ride, which I’ve done twice. That ride clocked 142.3 miles, 11,631 feet. C2C is tougher because the climbs are steeper.
We set off from Ditchling Village Hall about 10am Friday morning; one mini-bus full of Fat Bellies & Nomads and one van full of bikes. I knew the journey would be long but nine hours was longer than I imagined. We really didn’t need the van driver to lock the keys in the ignition at Warwick services. Thankfully the AA were close-by and the van was back on the road in no time.
We arrived, registered, shoved down some pasta bolognaise and headed for the nearby pub for a couple of much needed pints. We stayed at Wasdale YHA, 14 guys in one dormitory, with a generous three feet between bunk beds. It was the worst night’s sleep of my life before the longest ride of my life!
Early next morning, we ate porridge and toast at the church hall courtesy of the Women’s Institute and then made our way to the start, which was literally on the beach! This is June, this is the Lake District…..it was freezing!
We discussed the four groups we were going to ride in with myself, Ian and Yuriy forming Group two. We were the first through the start after Brian, so we immediately cracked on.
The first 12 miles were relatively flat and we had a good pace on. The Group one boys caught us after a couple of miles but we managed to hang with these guys more or less to the ferry at Windermere. This was at 29 miles.
What happened between miles 12 and 29 was brutal… HARDKNOCK PASS & WRYNOSE PASS… arguably the hardest two cycle climbs in the land. Corners and switchbacks at 25% and 30%, if you can get up Hardknock, you can get up anything. I didn’t! Gutted, I got so close but got off for twenty yards before getting on again. As consolation, I was fifth quickest up there in our group of 15. The descent is tough as well, ridiculously steep, I was on the brakes the whole way down.
You barely get your breath back when you get to Wrynose and at 2.5km, 278m height gain, it is comparative to Hardknock, but a little easier with maximum gradient of only 25%!
From the ferry, at 29 miles, to Hardraw Feed Station two at 64 miles there were four more significant climbs after Wrynose. The temperature had also dropped, it was cold and drizzly. The soup was very welcome but with a lot of climbing in the legs already we were still facing a tough five to six hours ahead.
Hardraw 64 miles Elapsed time: 3:34hrs.
After what had preceded, the next 25 miles to feed station three were relatively flat and we managed to work well as a team. Our average speed between feed stations two and three was 19.6mph. It was at Tunstall when I began to run low on electrolyte drink and gels. Although the feed stations were well stocked with different foods at each station, there were no gels, energy drinks or energy bars.
Thankfully Clive, who was driving the mini-bus, had managed to navigate round Lake Windermere and was parked up and at Tunstall to meet us. He grabbed some energy drink powder for me and I was very thankful for that.
Tunstall 89 miles Elapsed time: 5:14hrs
The temperature had warmed up, our legs had recovered after the early climbs and I said to Ian at 90 miles that I felt better than I had at Hardraw (64 miles).
Queue Yuriy time. The terrain remained fairly flat again, until Feedstation 3 at 122 miles, and Yuriy turned into a machine spending most of the time on the front. Our average between feed stations three and four was 18.2mph.
The Feedstation was great; full fat Coke, coffee, quiche and pork pie. We were there for ages! This cost us a lot of chip time but it was worth it!
Ingleby Greenhow 122 miles Elapsed Time: 7:18hrs.
I felt good, recharged and ready for the climbing across the North Yorkshire Moors. We knew this would be tough and certainly not flat. There were six significant climbs in the last 28 miles, none to compare with Hardknott; much shorter but still with some ridiculously sharp gradients.
We’d been warned about a very steep, but relatively short climb (0.26 miles) at Glaisdale, which I came to learn is Limber Hill. I was ready for it and ignoring the 33% gradient road sign, already in the lowest gear, decided “to smash it” to the top which I pretty much did. I like this screenshot although Jason was probably in the big chainring smoking a cigar!
The last four miles into Whitby were all flat or downhill, so this was Ian time, leading the sprint to the finish on the sea front. The sun was out now and there were lots of people cheering us in. Passing the finish line was a great feeling!
The Finish 148.3 miles, 11,693 feet, average speed 17.4mph, moving time 8:32:14, elapsed time 10:08:19.
A great ride and if you haven’t done it then sign up now for 2018.
What if this trip was thought of in stages of “what if?”?
What if the bike van was able to be unlocked when the key was deadlocked inside half way to Seascale?
What if I had had 5 pints of beer instead of 4 the night before?
What if we’d all had more than 3 hours sleep?
What if I’d had porridge instead of that bacon roll for breakfast?
What if I’d actually started the same time as everyone else?
What if I’d taken the KOM on Fobbles?
What if I had remembered to set the auto-pause on my Garmin?
What if I’d known when Hardknott Pass finished and waited for the others instead of carrying on to the Windermere Ferry?
What if Ross had his split time recorded at the ferry to get his bonus time taken off?
What if I’d managed to have a quick Tom Domoulin before the ferry crossing instead of waiting till Whitby?
What if I’d had just 5 ham baguettes at Kendal instead of 6?
What if we had a nutrition plan other than eat everything you can as often as possible?
What if Ross’ heartrate didn’t drop between the first 2 feed stations?
What if I hadn’t forced Ross to eat a banana?
What if the all the feed stations hadn’t cut all the bananas in half?
What if the second feed station wasn’t so busy?
What if I hadn’t ramped up the pace to the third feed station?
What if I’d continued to eat 6 baguettes at each feed stop instead of 2?
What if Ross hadn’t eaten fistfuls of everything?
What if Kev didn’t start singing?
What if Gary hadn’t taken 2 successive turns on the front of the group?
What if Gary didn’t get covered in lube?
What if the fourth feed stop didn’t have lemon squash?
What if Kev didn’t give me extra squash?
What if I didn’t eat 20 millionaire shortbreads at the fourth feed stop?
What if Ross hadn’t stolen the uncut bananas?
What if Ross hadn’t started to pull away towards the end?
What if I hadn’t double-bluffed on the antepenultimate climb and sprinted 5 yards to distance Ross?
What if Gary had told us about Limber Hill?
What if I hadn’t been able to keep the margin till the end?
What if I hadn’t been caught in traffic?
What if I hadn’t almost been run over 400 metres from the finish?
What if we hadn’t been talked into starting it all in the first place?
What if this was just one of the best experiences with great friends?
“Slow down! Slow down! STOP”. The marshal stood before us with his hands out ready to hold us upright.
Kev and I gave each other a handshake trying not to look too pleased it’s over.
“Now gents, well done! You’ve finished. Stop your Garmin, I’m afraid you’ll have to walk from here. That way, past the bar to collect your recovery pint, and out of the finishing area.”
That’s quite an approach to recovery drinks, but this is quite a ride. The Fred Whitton Challenge is billed as the hardest sportive in the UK. You may or may not agree with that, but it is undoubtedly amongst the toughest. We’d just ridden 112 miles and climbed 11,000ft on hills as steep as 30%.
After collecting our drinks and our Fred Whitton tankards we made our way to a clear patch of grass. The sun was shining. It was warm. We were amongst the spectacular scenery of the Lake District. It couldn’t get much better than this. Until we were given our recovery meal of pie and beans. And then it certainly couldn’t get better.
The sports field slowly filled with bambi-legged cyclists, some wobbling to a halt and awkwardly lowering themselves to the ground whilst others were working through a series of twister-inspired moves to get back up again.
All this was unimaginable a few months before when I entered the ballot for a place on a bit of a whim as a training goal. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like, in fact I avoided thinking about it as that always resulted in worrying about the climbs; what the weather might be like on the day; how I’d prepare for the ride from a hotel room; taking the right kit; and lots of other things. It all seemed very worthwhile now. The whole weekend had gone incredibly well and ‘The Fred’ had become one of the best Sportives I have ridden.
It turned out that Kev and Terry had also entered. They’d got different accommodation to me, but we agreed to meet at the start and set off together. At just after 6:30 in the morning we rolled out of the sports field and past the timing point. This was it. We’d decided to ride together until our individual pace and schedules broke up our group. Unfortunately Terry got separated from Kev and I quite early on and we didn’t see him again until we met in the sports field at the finish. Cycling through great scenery early in the morning is always enjoyable. It certainly helped distract us from the first climb of the day. Combined with fresh legs, worrying about what was to come and the banter of “not going too fast too early” the scenery kept us distracted until we were at the bottom of Honister Pass. At that point there is nothing to think of except the tarmac in front of you, and occasionally looking up to where the road climbs and climbs and climbs out of sight. On the plus side, there was only one more big hill after this and we were half way!
After half way we were in a bullish mood. We were ahead of schedule. So far ahead that we might’ve got too confident. We sped past the second feed station, tagged onto a fast group that came past, predicted new finishing times we hadn’t previously dreamt of. Then came Boot, the village at the base of Hardknott Pass, and the 30% gradient sign. For the second time that day our distractions were stripped from us and we had nothing to do but face the reality of what we had to climb. Or at least I did. Kev’s brain retreated somewhere further and refused anything except several lines of an old Sussex song that I hadn’t heard of. For a while his singing was the only sound, but gradually it was replaced by our exclamations of disbelief, our swearing, our puffing and panting and our search for lower gears than our bikes had. We got over both Hardknott and Wrynose passes but I still don’t know the words to Kev’s song.
From there it’s all down hill. At least that was the lie we were told by the marshal. The finish was 10 miles away and although the last 2000ft of climbing had ruled out our unrealistic finishing time, we were still in with a chance of A Very Good Time. But ironically those last 10 miles were the sting in the tail of this ride. The distance ticked by very slowly, making each mile seem many times longer than it was. And they weren’t all down hill at all.
We’d reached the point where neither of us had any energy. ‘The Fred’ had taken everything. All that was left of our thoughts of a good finishing time was just finishing. Kev suddenly shouted and pointed. Somehow he sped up and we covered the last half mile to the sports field.
To the huge shared sense of accomplishment.
To the comfort of sitting on the grass.
A quick mental check of how I felt was surprisingly encouraging; aches but not pains. But then it was my turn to get up to go to the bar… lets see what I remember from playing twister.
This was meant to be one of three, my last big weekend before Wessex… but it was almost none of none.
My problems started during the week. I had barely recovered from a hearing problem, when the high pollen count starting playing havoc with my allergies. This was followed by a more serious problem which knocked me sideways… blood in my stool.
I have a condition called Ulcerative Colitis, fortunately I’ve been in remission for a few years now, but the sight of that blood scared me… was it all coming back?
These problems affected my mood, my sleep and most importantly my appetite. Not the ideal preparation for my first triple century. As the weekend approached I switched focus to concentrate on the task in hand, banishing thoughts of my health problems to the back of my mind.
Saturday morning arrived and I was up early as usual… usual routine, usual preparation… three bowel movements. “Hang on that’s not usual” I exclaimed. “Banish these negative thoughts… I’m OK, no really… I’m OK” I commanded myself.
Fate however, had other ideas and started to drop hints. First up it was Garmin bike computer, deciding to freeze as I loaded today’s course. This was easily fixed by a reboot, but then my cycling glasses snapped… I can’t reboot them! After scrambling around on garage floor for a few minutes I found the stricken temple and crudely re-attached it with some electrical tape.
“Right, that’ll do… have you quite finished fate?” I enquired, and then I was off.
The first hour was reasonably straight forward, my average speed was hovering around the 20mph mark helped by a nice little tail wind. You see nature does like me… well occasionally. But what about my complaining bowels? They were suspiciously quiet… but not for long.
Somewhere between mile 30 and 40, I sensed all was not well. Some discomfort in the bowel region started to creep in while I was simultaneously feeling weaker and slightly nauseous .. “shut up bowels, shut up body… I’ve got a century to ride” I told myself.
Half the battle with riding centuries is psychological, so I never think too much about how far I’ve ridden or how long I’ve got left to ride. But when I whizzed passed the road sign declaring that I was now in Hampshire, it dawned on me that I had just ridden the 50 miles across the whole of West Sussex and now would need to ride the same distance back across my home county to reach home.
It was starting to hit me how weak and empty I was feeling, how sick I was feeling and the enormity of the challenge I was now facing. “Call home” I hear you cry. Can you imagine the conversation… “Can you pick me up?”… “I’m in, errr Hampshire!”… I don’t think that would have won me any popularity contests. The only contest I was entering was the battle to get home, fifty miles… depleted… into a headwind… I was destitute.
I decided to pull over, rest and consider my options. I had been riding for three hours and had the best part of another three to go. Time for a plan.
I took the opportunity to rest for several minutes. As usual on these long rides, I had brought more than enough supplies… so I forced down a double helping of a gel and some energy sweets. Not ideal when you’re feeling nauseous, but it had to go down one way or another. Although the sickly treats didn’t help my grumbling stomach, they, combined with the rest gave me a bit of a boost.
So, that’s my plan, stop every hour for several minutes and have a double helping of energy food. Forget what I had done, forget what I needed to do… just ride for one hour, rest, feed and start thinking about the next hour.
My mind games worked to a certain extent, I was pedalling squares for the first hour and pedalling through quick sand for the next, but these were soon ticked off.
Stop number three left me about eight miles from home. “I’m almost there now, maybe about half an hour, dig deep… I can do this!” I told myself. I dug so deep I was close to finding water.
The last few pedal revolutions and I was home. Bottles empty, pockets empty and me… empty! I spent the rest of the day on the sofa.
Sunday’s century was a non-starter, I just rode for a very sluggish 30 minutes or so. An improvement on Monday found me riding a slightly more sprightly twenty miler, but nowhere near the intended third century.
My last big training session ruined by illness.
Having said that, in my world there’s always a plus… the message I’m taking away from last Saturday…
If I can get through that, I can get through anything!