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

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