I set myself three century based targets for 2016. My longest… 125 miles ridden in June, my fastest… 4 hours 27 minutes ridden in July and one more challenge for the year… ride a century on consecutive days… my first double!
Wiggle kindly provided the opportunity by putting on their New Forest 100 on a late September Saturday and Sunday. Most riders choose one or the other, but for me, it was both.
I awoke bleary eyed, around 6am, after a bad night’s sleep. I’d made the mistake of choosing the wrong bed. It’s not like I didn’t have a choice. I’d arrived at the three bedroom apartment yesterday lunch time, ahead of my wife and her friend who would both arrive late afternoon. Choice one, and the obvious one, share the comfy king sized double bed in the master bedroom… no, Theresa and her friend Ali would be staying out late and I didn’t want to be disturbed. Choice two, the other double room… no, not very gentlemanly, so I left this for Ali. That left the twin room with two single beds to choose from, they seemed OK, either will do… decision made.
Roll on Saturday morning and decision regretted. As I said, bleary eyed after a night of tossing and turning trying to get comfortable. No use crying over spilt milk however, so I stepped into a cold shower and followed it with a large dose caffeine… bleary eyed no more.
The car journey to the sportive HQ, Somerley House in Ringwood took less than half an hour… “Perfect” I thought to myself as I pulled off the main road and joined the queue for the car park.
Queue! This is a word I’d need to get used over the next couple of hours… it took longer to get into the car park than it did getting here. I’m used to turning up at these rural sportives; parking, registering and crossing the start line all within half an hour of arrival… not today though. After eventually parking, I made my way to registration and noticed that the queue for the start line was already a few hundred riders strong. By the time I got my number fixed to my bike and back to the start line the queue had more than doubled, in fact it was so long that the venue could no longer handle its length as it meandered like a river around the registration marquee and in-between various refreshment stalls.
After chatting with some fellow queuers, we began to realise that we’d miss the 8:30am cut off for starting the century ride, in fact this was missed by an hour as my group eventually rolled over the start line at 9:30am. This had already hampered my timetable; I was hoping to have a post ride massage before lunch, this was already looking unlikely.
Time to focus on the ride, time to think about what lay ahead and not dwell on a frustrating few hours. The plan for the day was to take it as easy as possible, saving something for tomorrow but still fast enough to get back within six hours (my target was to ride the combined 200 miles in less than twelve hours).
Early on I chopped and changed groups a few times until I found the one I wanted… a small determined looking bunch, not too quick, not too slow. I slipstreamed them for a while and although I took the odd turn at the front I didn’t think I was working too hard. My average speed was 18.5mph, well ahead of my target pace… It was going so well, “what could go wrong?” I thought to myself.
I got my answer after 35 miles… I had trouble changing gears and while fiddling with one of my levers I was dropped from my perfect group, but worse than that I could only change down. My fiddling had left me in the lowest gear and that was it… I couldn’t change up anymore… stranded in my granny gear!
I got off and frantically tried to work out if there was anything obviously wrong (bear in mind that I’m not a mechanic) but to no avail. I was too far from the nearest feed station to get help, so my only option now was to call the emergency mechanic number and wait… and wait… and wait!
I called back after some 30 minutes “someone will be with you shortly” I was told again. They weren’t. I called again after 45 minutes and then again after 60 minutes. While I was on the phone for the fourth time, the mechanic finally arrived. “Sorry for the delay, It’s been a bit busy today” he said. “No problem” I replied, trying to disguise my general grumpiness.
After taking a quick look, he said he wouldn’t be able to fix it and it would need to go to a bike shop… my general grumpiness turned to shock, bordering on devastation… I was on a mission to ride 200 miles and barely 35 miles in I’d have to quit!
While I was sinking to the floor, he carried on twiddling with the lever “a-ha, I’ve done it” he declared. My eyes lit up “really?” I queried. Somehow he’d managed to click the lever back into place, he quickly checked all the gears and I was back in business… what a hero! I waved goodbye to my knight in shining armour and I was back on my way.
The elation overshadowed the last frustrating hour or so, watching endless streams of cyclists riding past me. Once I got going again it didn’t take long to realise that the nice speedy groups had all gone, in fact all the riders had gone… I was now facing the next 65 miles or so riding solo!
I arrived at the next feed station some 45 miles in. I don’t usually stop at feed stations, preferring to carry what I need, zooming past them conscious of that ticking clock. Today, however, I had consumed some of my precious energy food awaiting mechanical rescue.
So I pulled in, grabbed a few items… but when I went to pull away a steward announced “You can’t go that way”. “Sorry?” was my bemused reply. “The long course is closed, you’ve missed the cut off, you’ll have to switch to the short course” he explained. This made sense, I started an hour late and lost another hour due to the mechanical. “I can’t do that… I’m a Centurion!” I thought to myself and sped away back onto the long course. Fortunately, the steward was on foot, so couldn’t do much about it.
The course closure highlighted one important fact to me… I was now indeed last. It was another ten miles before I saw anyone else and I only passed a handful of riders before the last feed station… at least I wasn’t last anymore!
From this point onwards, I knew there wouldn’t be any issues with cut offs and course closures as there were about 50 other riders taking on one last dose of sustenance before the last 20 miles or so.
My average speed was still good, but it was gradually slipping with the back end of the course loaded with trickier terrain and a small matter of a strong headwind blowing up from the finish line. The worst of which was a full on, in your face gust, blowing down from the top of the moors. It was a relief to get to the top of that climb, but with no shelter and a 90 degree right turn… that pesky headwind turned into a cross wind… now it was a case of just trying to stay upright on the long descent.
On lower ground and out of the wind, I found myself passing ‘Sandy Balls’ a holiday park where we’d had a family holiday several years ago… I didn’t know this was on the route. I reminisced about the joyful times we had when our boys were children. This gave me a lift making the last few miles fly by and before I knew it, I was riding up the driveway to Somerley House and the finish line.
The ride was not as easy as planned, a lot of energy and time wasted. I was still really pleased with my ‘moving’ time of 5 hours 32 minutes, but I knew I had an uphill battle recovering for tomorrow… no time for a massage, no time for lunch and very little time for anything else.
I arrived back at the apartment in time to catch up with Theresa and Ali just before they went out for their night on the town, while for me it was just a case of eat, sleep and do it all again tomorrow.
And here it is… Part Two!