This year was even worse than 2016!
Sportive around Lake Geneva…
The weather conspired against this year’s goal…
The clue is in the name……
A great club event with superb weather
Return to Cob Lane! And other delights of the Ashdown Forest…
Tough sportive more suited to mountain bikes!
Distance: 79.5 miles. Elevation: 3950 ft.
Looking at the target times for this sportive, I saw that I would have to complete the 79.5 miles (128 km) in 4 hrs 29 mins in order to achieve a gold time; that equates to an average speed of more than 17.7 mph (28.5 km/h). That is really fast! I have never averaged that kind of speed over such a distance before.
The route ends with a steep climb up Carter’s Hill. From previous rides I know how long it takes me to climb that hill. So I calculated the average speed I would need to achieve by the time I reached the foot of the climb in order to finish the ride at the aforementioned 17.7 mph; this gave me a target to aim for during the ride. The answer was a shade over 18 mph! That was really going to take some doing.
The morning was cooler than it had recently been and I pondered wearing a long-sleeve jersey for the first time in months. In the end I didn’t. The weather was a mixture of sunshine and showers. I got quite wet twice on the ride. Although somewhat ‘friendlier’ than others I had competed in, this sportive was maybe not quite as slickly organised. In particular I found the start quite frustrating. Normally you can be on your way shortly after registration, but for this event they only let the riders loose after everyone had signed-in. Consequently there was a huge queue of hundreds of cyclists which meant standing in the cool morning air for over half an hour until I reached the front of the queue.
As is the norm we were released in batches of twenty or so at a time. With my 18 mph target firmly etched into my mind I was on a mission from the start. While others took it easy settling into the ride, I was off and gone. I overtook all of my batch and got on with the job in hand.
A few miles into the ride we were treated to the wonderful mile-long descent down Stumble Hill. Touching speeds of just under 40 mph, this helped me attain a healthy average of 19.8 mph by the five-mile mark. But, with every ‘down’ there must follow an ‘up’, and soon we were grinding up the 400 ft, mile-long climb to the top of Roughway Lane and The Hurst. (Looking at my data later, I saw that I climbed it three minutes quicker than I had done just a few days earlier! That shows the sort of extra effort I was making.) Inevitably my average took a hit and was now down to 16.4! Over the next 8 miles I built it up again to 18 mph, but already I was beginning to realise how difficult it was going to be to keep that up.
At about 16 miles two more ‘lumps’ in the route further conspired against my time. The second of these culminated in the very fast descent of Yalding Hill where I hit 45 mph, which is probably faster than I do it in my car!
The next 30 miles were reasonably flat, as the route made its way into the Vale of Kent, through Staplehurst, Frittenden and Sissinghurst. I missed the first feed station because it was too crowded and I didn’t want to waste time there. Besides, I still had enough energy gels and juice. Despite a concerted effort, I could only manage to raise my average to 17.5 mph. I rode the majority of this sportive solo, although I was able to join a couple of trains at various points. I remember one group of riders going by and I tried to stay on the back of them but just couldn’t manage to hang on. By about 50 miles I realised that I was not going to be able to get my average up to the target 18 mph. After all, I had just done 30 miles of flat and there were more hills to come. That was when I resigned myself to Silver.
By the time I reached 70 miles, my average was 17 mph. Very respectable! Shortly after that I started to ease off a bit because I knew that Carter’s Hill was just eight miles up the road. I was psyching myself up for it; I even emptied-out one of my bidons which was still almost full of water – I didn’t want to cart that extra half a kilo up the hill! When it came to actually climbing it, I was thinking that it’s not actually that bad a hill; I could stay in the saddle for most of it. I mean it’s not as bad as the one at the end of the Mendips Sportive. Nevertheless, many of the other riders, probably most, were walking up it.
With Carter’s Hill done with, the event ended another mile further down the road, after one last-ditch sprint to the line. My final average was 16.2 mph. As I drove home I saw the rest of the field struggling back in dribs and drabs up that hill, this time from the comfort of my car seat. There were moments during the ride when I thought “Never again!” But now it’s over I’m already booking the next one!
My ability to focus leading up to this sportive was compromised somewhat when the clutch failed on my car the previous evening, just as I was arriving in Bristol to stay with friends overnight before the event. I ended up stranded on an industrial estate late on Saturday night and waited over two hours for the recovery service to haul my car to my friend’s place. Luckily I was able to borrow their car to get to the event the next day. I ended up getting about 4.5 hours sleep.
Next morning I got to the event at 7:40. The weather was fairly mild, mainly overcast, and I could see that it was raining in the distance over the hills. Also it was windy! I took my helmet to the registration area to get the timing chip stuck to it and get my competitor number which had to be attached to the bike. I put my gear on, stuffed my pockets full of food and gels and headed to the start line. To avoid traffic congestion they only allow the riders to start in batches of about 20 at a time. We were given a quick lecture about route signs, safety and suchlike; then we were let loose.
In order to achieve gold standard I needed to average 15.5 mph over the 91-mile ride, but to be on the safe side I had a figure of 16 mph in mind. The elevation image showed that there were three main climbs; I made a mental note that they were at 20, 30 and 62 miles into the journey. There was also a 25-mile flat section through the ‘Somerset Levels’. This is where I hoped I could make up time lost in the hills.
I averaged 15.7 mph over the first 20 miles. The first climb, Burrington Combe, is a gorge through the limestone of the North side of the Mendips. It climbs 700 ft in 2.5 miles and was not difficult, just a bit of a slog. But it still ate into my average and by the time I had reached the top it had dropped to 14.2 mph. It had started raining midway up the hill and continued for the next 8 miles – I got pretty soaked, although my feet remained dry. The rain really cools your legs down. My right knee began to ache quite a lot as it got cold – I’ve definitely got something wrong with that knee and I need to get it sorted. I was aware that the next hill was coming up at the 30-mile mark and as I approached it the rain had stopped and the sun was coming out so I was trying to dry my knee and get it warmed up again before the climb. By now I had recovered my average to 15 mph again. As usual I scoffed a couple of jelly babies just before the hill.
This one was Cheddar Gorge and apart from a really steep but very short bit on one of the bends (shown above) it was a piece of cake really. My knee had stopped aching by this point. The climb starts off fairly steep in the rocky bit,
but the gradient progressively eases over the next 4 miles of climbing. And my average dropped back down to 14.4! But I now had that flat bit coming up – an opportunity to make good. A glorious 800 ft descent over 2 miles plunged us down into the Somerset Levels. Although flat, the wind was directly in our face now as I rode with a group of 5 others keeping a really decent pace of about 18 mph, enabling me to once again recover my average to 15.7. But I knew it wasn’t enough to keep gold in my sights; I needed a much higher average than that to act as a buffer for all the slow climbing that was yet to come; so, reluctantly – but realistically, I changed my target to Silver, but it still took a concerted effort to keep on track for that. I stopped at the 53-mile feed station and topped up my juice, ate a piece of flapjack and grabbed a couple of fig rolls. I was stationary for 4 minutes. By the way, 53 miles was the furthest I had ever ridden without stopping.
I had forgotten my mental note of when the next hill was. I had it in mind that it was 70 or 80 something miles, so at 62 miles I wasn’t prepared, jelly-baby-wise, for Ebbor Lane and Deerleap, a climb of nearly 800 feet in just over a couple of miles, with a 17% section halfway up! The far-away views to the South were stunning. It was a long slog, but not too bad. Especially as it was the last of the big climbs of the day (or so I thought!). There were less than 30 miles to go now and, riding on my own, I concentrated on keeping the pace as high as I could manage.
I don’t think many riders were ready for Woollard Lane at 85 miles. I certainly wasn’t. After all, it’s just a small blip on the right of the elevation image. We started to climb and as I looked up ahead I saw the gradient of the road increasing as it turned the bend ahead. “That looks steep” I said to another rider, or to anyone who was listening; I was really just saying it to myself. But around that bend there was worse to come. The road ramped up to what felt like 20%, but in reality was probably ‘only’ 17%. (Addendum 26/8/13: I recently measured this on an OS 1:25000 map and the steep bit was well over 19%, so my original estimate was close).
There was no choice but to stand on the pedals. My legs were screaming. They felt like they were literally going to seize up with cramp. My pace slowed to a crawl as I ground the pedals round. Others were walking at this stage. And I very nearly joined them. I was seriously thinking of ending the pain by getting off, but then I saw the gradient easing up ahead just around another bend, so I forced myself onwards and eventually made it to the top. That was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do on a bike. I think that Woollard Lane, on any other day, would just be an interesting climb, but after 85 miles in the saddle it took on a whole new meaning. That was evil of the event organisers to put that climb in the route so near the end! Mercifully the next 5 miles to the finish were nearly all downhill. I finished the ride at an average of 15.2 mph, enough for a Silver.
After the ride I didn’t feel too bad. Certainly the bits that ached the most were my knees. I had my protein recovery milkshake and did some stretches before attempting the drive back.
The thing I got terribly wrong on this ride was hydration. When I got to that feed station at 53 miles I only topped up one of my bottles because the other one was still full up. That meant that I had consumed just one bidon over 53 miles or 3.5 hours of riding. That is way too low. It should be one bidon per hour. I think the rainy weather at the start of the ride wasn’t making me feel thirsty enough to keep drinking. Even though I didn’t get much of a headache I did later get one of the other extremely painful symptoms of dehydration.
So I didn’t get Gold. I am still really pleased with what I achieved. To put it in perspective, almost a year ago to the day I did this 15-mile dead flat ride in an hour, at 15.2 mph and I was so pleased at the time. Now, a year later, I have achieved the same average over a much more tortuous 91-mile route! That’s progress!
My third sportive. This time I had decided to go a bit further still – 75 miles.
It was an early start for me, getting up at 6 AM, after less than five hours sleep! A large bowl of porridge and a ninety-minute drive later I found myself in the increasingly familiar surroundings of a car park full of MAMILs, YMILs, MAWILs and YWILs (my favourite) unloading their bikes from cars, adjusting, pumping, checking, chatting. The weather was gloriously sunny but not too warm – ideal conditions. After a painless registration process I made my way to the starting pen and started with about 20 other riders.
Quite a bit of the first 50 miles were spent riding with others, keeping my pace higher than it would otherwise have been. I was bracing myself for a hill at 11 miles (the huge spike on the elevation data above). It had a rise of 265 feet in half a mile which is steeper than my guideline threshold of 500 feet per mile, which I know is quite steep. I need not have worried – I went up it in second gear, and managed to chat a bit as well! I don’t know if it’s the adrenalin or what that makes that happen!
I had made a mental note that there were feed stations about every 25 miles. I stopped at the first one and had a piece of flapjack, topped up my juice with some isotonic, stretched my legs and was on my way again. This sportive didn’t quite have the atmosphere or the dramatic scenery of the Jurassic Beast but was nevertheless a nice experience cycling through pretty villages and quiet lanes on a sunny day. Around about the 32 mile mark my average had dropped from over 17 mph before that hill to 15.6 mph. That meant I was slipping into Silver medal territory!
At the second and last feed station I topped-up my drink, grabbed a fig roll and jaffa cake, and stuffed an energy gel in my pocket, all without even getting off my bike. In just over a minute I was on my way, hastily scoffing the jaffa cake down. Over the next 25 miles I pushed my pace quite hard, mainly riding solo. I kept looking at my Garmin checking the average speed – I managed to get it up from about 15.7 to over 16. Someone was following me for quite a bit of that section but they eventually got dropped on one of the last hills. Towards the end the pace was not comfortable but I kept pushing, helped in part by that energy gel I had bagged. I constantly checked the distance left – 20 miles, 15 miles, 7 miles, 2 miles, less than 1 mile, and then…..DISASTER! I heard a familiar 2-tone alarm; I looked up and saw a level-crossing barrier coming down a couple of hundred yards ahead. Expletives flowed spontaneously. I couldn’t believe it had happened again; I checked the Garmin – there was just 0.7 miles to the finish! My immediate thought was that it would cost me my 16 mph average. For a split second I considered going between the barriers – then I wondered if there might be a footbridge that I could carry my bike over. In the end it didn’t matter; the train went through almost immediately, the barriers lifted and I was on my way without even having fully stopped.
I virtually sprinted the rest of the way to the finish and was pleased to find that I still had 16.1 mph average showing on the Garmin. I had beaten the 15.5 mph average required for gold – yay! I collected my medal and goody bag and went back to the car. I had my now customary chocolate milkshake protein recovery drink and did a few stretches, hoping I wouldn’t get cramp while driving back. In the end the drive back was fine.
This was the first ride I had done since ‘flipping’ my stem. I felt totally comfortable. The Selle Italia was great too – still felt fine after 75 miles.