Saturday, 19 April 2014

30th Hell of the North Cotswolds

Three weeks and three events, this time it was the Hell of the North Cotswolds a 100km off road reliability trial. A mere 100km nothing compared to last weeks 300km? Today I was riding with Miles, I say with well that was the idea, but with twelve hundred other riders on the course it was always going to be hard to stay together. It actually proved to be near impossible.
We set off from the event HQ in Winchcombe at 9.15, but with so many riders I think we were still at the HQ fifteen minutes later. Once on the road it was clear that this wasn't going to be a quick start for anyone. First there was the bloke that crashed at the start and held up proceedings. (feel free to comment on my mini rant) but with twelve hundred riders with unknown abilities all moving slowly at the start you have to have your wits about you. If you wanted a race you've picked the wrong event. And don't blame anyone else if you end up on your arse with a bent bike. So excuse my scornful looks as I pass you sat in a ditch with a bent up cross bike.
Anyway....we soon turn into Gypsy Lane and the off road begins, problem is we've only gone a few yards so the bottle neck is inevitable. So begins a long uphill walk, and a lot of angry comments from the weekend warriors unable to show us all their climbing prowess. As the long march thins out near the top we can get on our bikes and ride. I like the comment from the rider I pass who says loudly 'Yeah had to use the granny coz of that lot, never use the granny' You don't impress anyone, you used the granny because it was slow and steep, don't be ashamed. Gears are there to help you, they ain't a challenge. It's now that Miles and myself have become separated.
By now we're riding and I vow not to 'dab' until it's all over. We come to a descent that carries a warning, but the main warning I get from it is that the 50psi I have in my tyres is far to much, fillings intact we climb up to Cleeve Hill. It's stunning up here, fast and dry. We drop off the hill and turn right saying goodbye to the 50km riders.
From this point on I never see much more than half a dozen riders at a time. The riding is a good balance of on and off road, I'm going well. A few riders come past on the descents, and we continue to yo-yo until we hit a long road section where I switch to roadie mode and big ring it off into the distance, the benefit I guess of the 50psi?
I'm on the way to the second checkpoint that also doubles up as the food stop, but it's a way off yet. I recognize  some of the route now. I did this ride many years ago, but there were many differences. First the wheels were smaller, suspension was shorter, the route went the other way and it snowed hard, so hard we had to sit some of it out sat behind a dry stone wall. I reach the river crossing, I remember it very well so I know the halfway and food stop is just around the corner. When I get to the stop I can't believe the sheer number of riders already there, bare in mind I've overtaken every rider in sight up until now, the long long wait at the start and hold up in the crash must have really taken some time.
Despite the slow start, an average of 6 mph up to the quarter way point, I've upped that to over 10 mph by the halfway point. I decide not to loiter, wee, water and food on the move to try and go sub six hours.
I leave the stop over guided out by HONC signs and marker tape, so I'm a little surprised to see riders coming towards me, clearly approaching the halfway stop the wrong way?
On the trail now numbers are very small. I hang onto the coat tails of a fast moving group from a club I recognise from my cyclocross racing, the Cotswold Veldrijden. Luckilly they wait for their slowest member so I can follow them for miles. Still their pace is blinding, a few others try and hang on but are very quickly dropped. The two ladies in their group are setting  an ideal pace for me, and I follow them up the steepest climb of the day, and we clear it wheel to wheel passing all the guys doing the walk of shame. No one else in sight rides it. I'm now in love with these two.
At the top the riding settles so I introduce myself to the group, we talk about cyclocross and drop in names. From now on I share their riding. And not long after I meet up with Miles, neither of us know how he got ahead. We ride for a while, but then a very strong head wind separates  us again, and we don't see each other again until the end.
I'm now on the final stretch. More flapjack and water at the final checkpoint and press on. At this rate I should at least go sub six hours, but all too soon the route throws in some nastys. Headwinds on the road sections and a hell of an awkward climb up freshly laid stone chippings, but that's soon left behind along with some of my energy. What then follows is a sublime descent. We turn right past a sign that states that riding here on any other day is forbidden. I clock 30mph on the tarmac descent. In the distance I can see four riders leaving a cloud of dust. The tarmac turns sharp left, but out route goes straight on ahead, I hit the loose  dusty Cotswold stone trail at 30. I think for a moment about the protection offered by the polystyrene cup on my head and lycra kit, then think **** it and throw caution to the wind. I think I actually say out loud 'Oh come on' when the descent then turns into a climb. I now admit to myself that this is hard going, far and away harder than last weeks 300km Audax. The road I'm on now is one of those heavy slightly uphill ones. I start to get passed, I get frustrated and wonder how come their bikes are so damn clean, every part of mine is covered in baked on mud. I recognise people that were standing in front of me at the start, how come it's taken six hours to catch up with them, even the lets say the 'pretty big' fella and his lad. I feel old. I pass all I can see and ride alone to the finish after a short detour with a Crest CC rider. I arrive at the finish in 5.50 and crash out on the lawn to await Miles.
It was a great ride, and we were lucky with the weather considering it snowed last time I did it, but that'll probably be my last go at it. Next year it'll be the usual North London ride a homage to the Paris Roubaix.
The final kilometres

Saturday, 12 April 2014

3 Down 300km Audax

Another weekend and another Audax, though this week the anté is well and truly upped. Six of us again, but a slightly different six Keith, Steve, Vince, Trevor, Tim and myself. It's 6.00am bloody cold, dark and misty and we're in no real hurry to leave the warmth of the HQ in Chalfont St Peter. But we can't stay here forever, so one last pat of the jersey pockets a quick squeeze of the tyres and we switch on our lights and head off, destination Fordingbridge just the other side of the New Forest.
It's cold, my hands are freezing, it's misty but still. Other than that I'm feeling fine and looking forward to the sun coming out to warm us, then I remember the clocks have just gone back so it's going to be dark. cold and misty for a bit longer!
Our first check pont is in Pangbourne approximately 50kms away. We've set a target of 5 hour 100km sections, that includes navigation, food and check point stops and mechanicals. And if all goes well you build up a buffer. We cross the Thames near Bourne End, it's trés posh down here. We cross the Thames once again at Henley- On- Thames. Then past Sonning Common were once a year they host a round of my cyclocross League, Sonnings far easier today. Then we arrive at our first check point in Pangbourne where the check point is a café that stamps our Brevets and serves a special breakfast for the riders. The food we've taken onboard here will easilly see us the next 100km to the turn around point. As we leave the café and empty plates and head off for Kimbridge at 123kms the sun comes out. For a while we savour it's warmth and enjoy the surrounding countryside. I think it's about at this point whilst riding next to Keith that I say I should really write about this in my blog, but what do you say? I mean what do you say we're just riding from one place to another and nothing much else is happening. Then the weather breaks, first it's drizzle just in time for the climbs over the Hampshire Downs. Then the wind picks up and it's head on. Atop of the Downs it's sideways and poor visibility and in this weather we've managed to split up. So we pull over and re group and push on to keep warm. We arrive at the Kimbridge check point wet but warm and ready for the last outward leg. But first we help ourselves to the 'cyclists specials' and scoff them whilst firmly planted in the cafés comfy chairs. Then it's bottles filled and jackets on and off to the New Forrest which is a short section. Having never been to the New Forest I was feeling a bit excited about getting there, especially by bike so sadly I didn't take much in on this final section. Though I wasn't too focused to avoid the two lots of Deer leaping out from the woods and across our path.
We enter the New Forest and it's not what I had expected, it wasn't very foresty? more like moorland Hound of the baskervilles sort of thing, and it kicked off with a big climb. The rain was now visibly sideways, but the tough weather really was adding to the ride and we were in high spirits up here. In fact our pace lifted all the way through the park and into Fordingbridge.
This final outbound check point was old school Audax, a grim and wet garage were we had to get a receipt to provide proof of passage. We stand in the rain enjoying a hearty meal of flapjack and Powerade among the pumps and propane cylinders.
We leave Fordingbridge for the ride home, but first we have a splendid meander though the forest where we have to find two information controls. This is some of the wildest scenery I've ever ridden through and to make matters worse the place that my Garmin decides to play silly buggers. Thankfully Keith isn't having such issues and guides us along. We gather the info needed and exit the park and my Garmin comes to life again. We've also picked up a seventh rider who will stay with us for the rest of the ride.
Alresford at 216km is our next stop. Although it's going to take us over the 200km mark the journey there is tough and undulating and the wind that was in our faces all the way down isn't playing game for us. It's not hard going, but probably the least enjoyable section of the ride. On top of this whilst leading the navigation I take a wrong turn, Keith calls out I realise my error and turn hard as I do a huge pothole grabs my wheel, it isn't good the wheel won't turn even with the brakes right out, this looks like a show stopper and I can just talk of packing. Keith comes back for me and talks me out of my foul mood,  holds my bike and we get to it with a spoke key. It get's mended in a manner and we ride off to rejoin the others. We get to Alresford a bit late, the Tea rooms have shut so we raid the Co-Op. We're having a talk from a nutritionist next week, it's a good job she isn't here right now. Lets see six sausage rolls, one caramel slice, one flapjack and a pint of cookie dough milkshake for me. Another flapjack in the bar bag and a few bottles of Powerade go on the bike. After a long stop we set off cold for our next stop and final check point in Winnersh at 271kms. It's a long section with little navigation needed so we set off in small groups, each riding at their own pace. We stop at an awkward junction and regroup. We know Keith is riding solo to Winnersh, if he has an issue we'll come across him so that's fine, but we're a man down. Tim isn't here, mobiles aren't doing the job so a decision has to be made. Trevor came down with Tim in the car so Trevor heads back to find him. That's a tough call and Chapeau to him. We agree to meet up in Winnersh or at least make a call to see what the score is. So we press on now in the fading light without Tim and Trevor or Keith who is up ahead, but with our two new fellow riders. It's dark when we reach Winnersh and Keith calls out from the easilly missed checkpoint the kebab van.  It's here that we discover that although Tim managed to singlespeed his bike, Trevor later had terminal trouble so the pair had to call it a day after about 160 miles, such a shame. I really fancy chips here, still wish I had got some now, but we decide to push on for home.
Chalfont St Peter is only just over 30kms away, not far at all and I feel remarkably good. I take over navigation duties, the little Petzl LED head torch does a stirling job allowing me to read the Garmin easily.Though as we near the finish Keith and Vinces local knowledge take over. We get back at about 10.15pm with 307kms covered. Our average was about 14.6mph, just shy of our 15mph target but not at all bad considering the weather, the mechanicals and the navigation.
After a quick cuppa we set off for home, our real homes that is. We talk of the next Audax a 400km to the River Severn and back, myself and a few others are up for it, some aren't so sure.
I entered the 400km a few days later.
Steve, yours truly, Keith, Vince all done.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Stevenage Start of Summertime 200km Audax

Sunday 30th March  a very different year of riding began. 2014 isn't a year like last, a year where I sat focused on my turbos watching all the other cyclist pass my house in the glorious sunshine. Where a whole year focused on just one event, an event that changed the way I now look at my riding, an event so hard I just don't have the time and inclination to work to that level. I won't be riding the National road race championships this year.
Soooo here I am Audaxing instead. We've picked the Start of Summertime 200km because it's not too far away and supposed to be flat....more on that later. I say I'm here, but I'm also with Fraser and Keith whom I've ridden Audax with before. And here also are Gail, Steve and Ross, Audax virgins and also about to embark on their longest rides.
We have an 8.15am start, and the weathers fair with a slight tailwind for the out bound ride. With our Brevet cards collected we mass for the start. We're seen off by the Mayor (whatever happened to funny hats and Ermine?) So anyway we're on our way, 207km to go.
We were already on the towns outskirts so it's not long before we are rolling along country lanes. It's nippy, but riding through the villages with a tailwind is sweet. Before we even get to settle for the journey we come to our first checkpoint at Reed (about 22km) The checkpoint is also host to a motorcycle rally, the place is full with just about every two wheeled machine imaginable.

The next checkpoint is Thaxsted at 55km. We set off chased by the gentle breeze. This is the life, this is what it's all about, just a few of the words we share. It's hard to write about rolling along in such pleasant surroundings, where forward momentum is far greater than the little effort you're putting in, but if you ride a bike you've probably had days like these. We reach Thaxsted in good time. After getting our Brevet cards stamped we allow time for food, drink and some photos.
Our next stop is Lavenham, 50kms away and the turnaround point at just over 100kms. The six of us cruise the section, swapping position to chat and let each other see our smug faces. Lavenham appears very soon. This is our designated lunch stop. We park up our bikes on the square, get our Brevets cards stamped and file into the National Trust restaurant. We have a pleasant lunch, but six people ordering food causes our planned forty five minute stop turn into one and a half hours! Still the sun is shinning when we set off for the 50km plus return to Thaxsted. Although returning to Thaxsted for our forth checkpoint, we are taking a far more Southerly route. The roads and terrain have changed now, very narrow and slightly raised, almost Belgian like with heavily plowed fields either side and the wind that was once our friend is now blowing in our faces. Progress is slowed, banter is reduced, but spirits are lifted when we hit a new stunning village time and time again. We're relieved when we see Thaxsted again. We had thought we'd gone off course, but upon arrival we are kilometre perfect. It's funny how the road seems long when you think you're lost. After we load up on road food we set off for our last checkpoint before the finish. We set off for Hare Street at 185kms, just 30kms away. A relief or so we think after what seemed the longest section. However this far south of our outward journey the terrain is very different. Flat open fast roads have become leafy undulating ones. It's actually very tiring. Thankfully Hare Street is close by compared to the other sections. Hare Street is nicely placed just as the terrain settles down. The final checkpoint is delightful,  deckchairs tea and home made cake. We don't think we'd get back out of the deck chairs so give them a miss. Although the thought of becoming resident on the manicured lawn is strong we have to move on.

20kms to go. Each depart from a checkpoint seems to start with a hill just to get the café legs turning, this one is no exception, still it's a short run back to the finish and we are coming across more and more riders. I make a bit of a tit of myself during the navigation, bringing the ride to a halt when I think I've led us all to a footpath, but its a bridleway and a chance to play at being De Vlaeminck for a few seconds. We're almost home now and the organisers have put us on the red routes which is a fun and safe way to end the ride. We roll into the finish at dusk for the handover of our Brevet cards.
That was a pleasing little ride, all went well, no issues and good preparation for next weeks 300km Audax to the New Forrest.