Having reminded myself where I finished last time I’m ready to recount the rest of the ride!
As we set off in our largish group of 50 or so riders it was amazing. We had a presence large enough to command control of the road and had officials waving us across the roundabout on the main road! It was probably the closest I’ll get to how the riders on Le Tour feel without doing the Etape Calendonia or the actual Etape (one day!)
The pace was certainly higher then I anticipated but riding in a large group meant it was a bit easier then going at it solo, however after a few miles we decided the pace was probably a little to hot for little group of 3 and let the fast group go, along with our 2 other friends who where in training for much tougher rides 🙂 We soon formed out own mini pelaton and made good progress to the first first feed station at around 38 miles. Before that however we had the “Scorpion Tail” triple whammy combo of hills! I believe this was a 20% climb, followed by a 14% then a 10% which resulted in us getting up and over the highest point in south England. As usual the reward for a few minutes climbing was stunning views across a beautiful landscape – something you’d easily miss when on 4 wheels in a metal box but is quite easy to take in at a leisurely 8-10mph whilst trying your best to control your breathing 🙂 And of course what goes up must come down, much faster! Descents are probably an even nicer reward then the views but one I was wary of to start with as I wasn’t to confident of my descending skills. As I got more comfortable I was using the brakes less and the speeds starting picking up, such huge fun!
We made it to the feed station in good shape, despite me managing to drop my chain on the roller coaster-esque approach as we went up and down a rather fun stretch of rolling “bumps”, I managed to knock it off on a down section so coasted in my most aero position in an effort to get as high up the next hill as possible before hopping off to put the chain back on. I said to my mates to carry on as I was still feeling fresh I thought that making up a 45 second gap could be fun. I just missed a extremely fast moving Torq train of riders but got on the back of another group of riders and was soon tooling along at a good rate of knots again and once we hit a downhill I opened the taps and tried to chase down the Torq train. At that point I spotted my mates waiting so eased off a bit and we re-grouped and actually caught up with our original group – no guessing which riders did all the work for them eh?
After re-filling water bottles and stuffing some banana and lovely sugary sponge cake down my throat we set off again however we had to stop after a few miles as Rob was cramping up. He’d fallen off the back after some of the rolling sections so we pulled over to wait for him. Plenty of fluids, an energy gel, pain killers and stretching meant Rob was ready to go after about 10 minutes. I took the chance to get rid of my arm and knee warmers which certainly weren’t needed now as the ever improving weather had got to a pretty much perfect cycling temperature!
After setting off I took the lead, as I was probably the freshest of our trio and we pressed on towards a “drag climb”. What this actually turned out to be was a climb with a nice gentle gradient that went on for a couple of miles. As I was going up I kept checking behind me and seeing a person in blue gear and thought nothing off it. I thought Rob had gone off the back again and Stephen was behind me but it wasn’t until I got to the flat section that I realized the person in blue behind me didn’t have a familiar face! I couldn’t see Stephen back down the road so carried on riding.
That was around 55-60 miles and from then I pretty much spent the rest of the ride counting down miles to rest stops on my computer and hopping between little groups of riders. I’d go from riding solo and seeing a rider on the road ahead and catching them. If it was a couple of people or the terrain starting heading up or down we might have ridden together for a while but eventually I’d get off the front and lose them again and the process would repeat again. I had a few riders who where a bit more persistant and took a good few miles to shake off! One who springs to mind was an older chap aboard also aboard a Giant bike, although I think his was a TCR (the carbon version of mine!) Rather skinny looking legs but he certainly could climb and had a decent turn of speed on the flat! I managed to eventually shake him on a long straight followed by a downhill section!
My next “goal” was the final control at 81 miles, which would not only be my final chance to get food on-board (or so I thought) but signify a point which every mile beyond it was pushing me into a new personal best. I set off from that control thinking “well lets see how you cope with this!” and again starting clock watching on the computer as I counted down towards my next goal – 19 miles down the route when I crack the century! As the old saying goes a watched pot never boils and I found glancing at the computer every 5 minutes didn’t make the miles disappear any faster, if anything they seemed to drag more 😀
After a few more fun downhills the computer started getting closer to the magical triple digit distance……it was an incredible feeling to see it tick over from 99.9 to 100.0 and I let out a rather loud “yes!” as I celebrated my little victory of covering 100 miles using nothing but my bike – an immensely satisfying feeling, now I just had to finish and with about 80% of the ride behind me I was feeling pretty good now.
After that it was just a case of grinding out the miles, with that niggling voice in the back of my head reminding me of the warning in the route description. Warning of The Wall that is Ashford Hill and appears at the 110 mile mark. A 10% hill thrown in by the sadistic route planners to really test our mettle! As we approached on the main road a sign on the right announced the arrival of “Ashford Hill”. It started off with a couple of gentler, short and sharp climbs which saw me searching for the granny gear for the first time that day. That however wasn’t the 10% “wall” that didn’t arrive until we took a left and saw the signs warning us as the road rose up in front of us and wound through the trees. It was a nice little climb. Not overly long and thanks to the low gearing and my knowing not to race up it I made it up in fairly good shape.
One more water and basic feed station before the dash for the finish allowed me to refill my bottle and get a few pieces of banana down me. The road around the edge of the town (can’t remember the name now) that they chose for the final stretch was very nice, not as exposed to the wind as one previous section of the route which practically saw us riding along the edge of a ridge, with winds gusting across us and over the fields to our right. It was a great feeling to see the 12% signs for the final glide descent to the finish line. Soon I was on roads that I recognized which could only mean that the racecourse was nearby!
I rode back into the finish with an immense feeling of satisfaction, I’d done it! My first proper sportive and after jumping in at the very deep end I’d popped up and pulled myself out of the water at the shallow end. I done it – 127 miles under my own steam on my bike!!
Of course having completed this I now need a bigger challenge! Without heading out to Europe and taking on a few Cols I think this leaves me with a few options: The Dragon Ride – certainly do-able as it’s only in Wales, maybe one for next year. After that I think I’ll need to head up North and tackle some “proper” hills as I have developed a rather (un)healthy fascination with seeing what I can get up on my bike, the Lake and Peak District look to have some rather interesting roads…….