Sportives – been there, done that, got the t-shirt

The more sportives I ride, the more pointless they seem to become. Waking on a Sunday morning earlier than a weekday; paying cash money to ride my bike on free public roads and then cycling for hours within a heaving swarm of cyclists. This weekend I rode the Exmoor Beauty 60 mile sportive with my father-in-law and a friend. When we signed up for the event in the depths of winter it had seemed like a good early-season fitness target and an opportunity to ride with friends. However, by the time it arrived I was wondering why we hadn’t just arranged a long, social ride on the local roads.

Riding solo over the moors

Riding solo over the moors

I took the first 5 miles steady, unsure whether we were all trying to ride together or do our own thing. But at the top of the first hill I looked over my shoulder, saw I was alone and decided to just go for a hard 60 mile solo ride. We had arrived to the event a bit late so my day consisted of riding on my own and overtaking people. It was a lumpy route with a couple of big climbs up onto the moors and I found my recent time-trial racing had given me some significant extra strength to drive myself uphill.

Pushing it up the hills

Pushing it up the hills

At the halfway point was a feed zone and I dashed in for a quick pee and grabbed some bananas and flapjack and refilled my bidon. Then I jumped back on the bike and consumed my loot on the hoof.

The hills were mostly contained within

The climbs were mostly contained within the first 60% which meant a quick race to the finish

At 40 miles I knew I was over the main climbs and I really pushed hard to raise the pace to the finish. After a morning of overtaking I had managed to pick up a couple of stubborn wheel-suckers. I wasn’t particularly bothered but still tried my hardest to ditch them. I was on the drops for the last hour pushing as hard as I could sustain but I never fully lost them. They never came through once. I had ridden the whole sportive solo so didn’t really particularly want to follow a wheel, but it seemed strange that they were happy to just draft along in my slipstream for over an hour without doing any of the work.

Trying to ditch the wheel-suckers

Trying to ditch wheel-suckers

At the finish line they thanked me for the lift and said they were struggling just to keep up, let alone come through. In the end I covered the 60 miles in 3 hours 36 minutes (including the quick feed stop) at an average of 17 mph. I’m still not convinced about the whole sportive-thing but I had a good workout nonetheless.

Bristol-Bournemouth-Bristol

This weekend I went to Bournemouth to visit my family. I had intended to use a combination of bike & train to get there but unfortunately I discovered that the rail network doesn’t connect directly between the two cities, which would have meant 3 hours of rail travel, plus travel time to and from the stations, plus waiting time. Realistically I calculated that this method would take about 5 hours and would cost £30 each way. The alternative option of just cycling the 70 miles each way would similarly take about 5 hours but would cost nothing. So the decision was made.

Cycling allowed me to take the most direct route (rather than the train which goes via Salisbury and Southampton)

 

I set off early Saturday morning with panniers loaded with food and clothing. From Bristol to Shaftesbury was a series of hills, some of which were a real struggle with the added weight on the bike. However the tops of the hills did offer some spectacular views of the countryside. 

Weather-wise it was a lovely Autumn weekend. I needed gloves, tights and overshoes to keep warm, but luckily there was no rain to worry about. From Shaftesbury it was a flatter run down to Bournemouth, and I arrived in time for lunch to the bemusement of my Dad who thought I was coming by train and took some convincing that I had cycled the whole way.

1500 metres of climbing, mostly confined to the middle 30kms

We had Saturday afternoon and evening together (and for me to get some much needed recovery). After spending Sunday morning together I set off for home just before midday.

On the return leg I did a better job of sticking to the B roads to keep away from fast traffic, but it was still difficult at times when most road signs  lead drivers to the quicker roads. I rode at an easy pace trying to save what little energy I had left for the steep hills.

The weather was fine again on Sunday

 

The only trouble I had on the return was when I prematurely exited an essential run along a busy A road. What had initially looked like a country lane turned into a muddy, rutted track which eventually became impassable by road bike. It was a steep hill and after struggling to get any traction I had to get off and push for 200 metres.

This ‘road’ was not built for a heavily laden road bike

At this point I did contemplate going back but then I saw how far I’d already come and so carried on pushing

The track soon became rideable again so I remounted and wobbled and vibrated my way up to the main road. Upon arriving home and uploading my ride to Strava I saw that I had been awarded a ‘King of the Mountain’ for this section. However closer inspection revealed that nobody else had ever been stupid enough to try and ride this ‘road’ so the dubious honour of being first out of one was quickly ignored.

I was also immature enough to take a detour along a road named ‘Ass Hill’ on my map, however was disappointed by the lack of road sign to allow me to take a photo for ‘posteriority’. Shortly afterwards I was rewarded by the road sign below which better described the condition of my rear end after 10 hours of riding in one weekend.

I made it home before dark and crashed on the sofa trying to ignore the fact I will be up early tomorrow morning for a full week of cycle commuting on my tender Binegar Bottom.

 

 

 

Combien de kilometres?

What would bikevcar do on holiday? Drive a long distance with the bike in the boot of the car, and then spend the holiday trying to surpass this distance by bike. This wasn’t actually the plan but by Day 2 the seed had been sown.

A few days before I set off to the Loire Valley in France, Ms BikeVCar had flown to American to visit her family for a week. She would then be flying back to Paris giving us a week together in France. This gave me 4 days alone to “cycle myself silly” before the more balanced member of our marriage would arrive and ensure we adopted a more sensible approach to holidaying.

En route to France – these kilometres were freebies

After finishing work on Tuesday I came home, packed up the car and then set off to catch an overnight ferry from Portsmouth. From Le Havre the next morning I headed South remembering to drive on the wrong side of the road, the only difficultly coming at the peages where I had to get out and walk around the car to feed my Euros into the machines.

Arriving into the campsite at 1pm I was conscious of the fact that I may have been slightly early for check in. The important thing to remember in provincial France is to never underestimate the locals’ reluctance to do anything in the afternoons. Thus when I was informed that my cabin wouldn’t be ready until 6pm I simply gave my most unsurprised and nonchalant shrug and asked in my best bad french if I could bring the car into the campsite and put my bike together. I then spent the next few hours exploring the roads along the banks of the Loire enjoying the sunshine and the especially generous drivers who would not overtake unless they could fully move across onto the opposite side of the road. A local farmer even slowed down to wave at me through his window and shout some encouragement.

Dead bug bonanza – if our car was french this part of the number plate would say “Allez”!

Dead bug bonanza pt 2 – if these legs were french they would be brown and not “rosbif”

The french think of everything for cyclists – a roadside display to allow you to check the calibration of your speedometer

The stunning Chateau de Saumur on the Loire

One of the 1960s nuclear power plants built along the banks of the Loire due to the ready source of water for cooling

After checking in and consuming a feast of barbecue and beer, I cracked open a bottle of local wine and starting plotting a big ride. What initially started as a sightseeing route along the Loire somehow turned into a quest to achieve 200km in a single day. Plus some sightseeing too. This would be further than I had ever ridden before, although I had ridden between 160 – 180km several times so I thought it was time I conquered the landmark.

An evening of cycle-scheming

The next morning I set off East along the Loire river from Montsoreau. I cycled along quiet D roads in the blazing sunshine passing farmers, cyclo-tourists and a staggering number of lawnmowers. At one point I was overtaken by another cyclist without a “bonjour” or even a friendly smile. He was wearing a helmet so almost certainly wasn’t a local. A few kilometres later I passed him in a small village as he was struggling against the wind to gain control of his fully opened map. I quickly withdrew my photocopied section of map from my jersey pocket and cockily sat up reading it with both hands as I called out the most pleasant “bonjour” I could muster.

My cycle nemesis

The open road

I crossed the river at Langeais and headed into the town centre to have a quick snack in front of the Chateau de Langeais, a stunning 15th Century chateau along the tight streets of the old town. From here I headed away from the river in search of the remains of a Roman aquaduct dating back to the first or second century. The amazing thing with France is that such a beautiful and special piece of history can be tucked away so anonymously. I stopped for twenty minutes to take photos and rest in its shadows and didn’t see another soul the whole time I was there.

The bridge across the Loire at Langeais

Chateau de Langeais

Gallo-Roman aqueduct

From here I continued East towards Tours where I intended to stop for lunch. However, upon arriving at Tours I was put off by all the roadworks, traffic and traffic lights so continued along the river towards Amboise. I had also only completed 80km by this point and wanted to take lunch at the halfway point. This was a bit of a mistake as I had forgotten my ‘rule’ about non-working afternoons. By the time I arrived into Amboise it was 1.50pm so I quickly found a restaurant. After waiting ten minutes while the waiter pretended not to notice me he came over and was proud to inform me that they stopped serving food at 2pm. Being a foreigner with limited local language I again resisted to urge to fight a losing battle and simply stuck out my bottom lip and pretended like I didn’t really care about eating. Clearly this worked as he then asked if I wanted something to drink which gave me the opportunity to reply that I didn’t drink after 2pm.

I got back on the bike and found a nearby crepe cafe and indulged myself in a ham and egg crepe for lunch, with a chocolate crepe for pudding. The waiter was very keen to talk about my bike and suitably impressed by the distance I intended to cycle. “Combien de kilometres?” was asked twice and he only really believed me when I pulled out my map to show the route I had taken so far.

Chateau Royal d’Amboise

Lunch – everything goes well with a crepe

From Amboise I headed South to Blere and worked my way towards the Indre river. There was a small amount of climbing in comparison to the pancake-flat route along the Loire, and also the terrifying proposition of a strong headwind. The flat parts were like climbing a gentle hill and I noticed my average speed slowly tumbling down as the suncream and sweat began to drip into my eyes.

Tree-lined roads offered welcome shade from the blazing sun

Snacking at 58km – homemade roquefort baguette extra matured in my jersey pocket

Snacking at 154km – pain au chocolate 

Fortunately the strong headwind only lasted for about 20 kilometres until I descended to the Indre river and rode the flat and sheltered roads along its banks. I stopped at a boulangerie to refill my bidons and grab a couple of pastries before continuing. In the end I made it back to the campsite in 195 km and so continued 2.5km West before doing a U-turn and heading back. It was at this point that I realised the extent of the headwind I had been fighting for the last 4 hours as I flew home in the biggest gear with the seemingly smallest level of effort. After a long shower to scrub off the sweat and dead flies I lit the barbecue for a well-deserved feast and contemplated an unlikely attempt of total rest the next day.

A trouble-free performance by the bike

A great day on perfect cycling roads

The Exmoor Beauty Sportive

Last weekend I rode the Exmoor Beauty sportive with a few friends. After riding in last year’s punishing 100 mile Exmoor Beast, I had initially been put off entering the Beauty as it sounded like a watered-down version. Then I checked the event details of the Beauty and saw it was 70 miles with over 2000 metres of climbing and I realised that maybe the Beast had needed some watering down.

Exmoor Beauty 2012 - not a lot of flat riding

The route map shows the scale of Exmoor National Park

Like all sportives, the day started with a hearty breakfast at some ungodly hour. Eating porridge at 4.45am while your stomach is still sleeping doesn’t exactly feel natural, but I guess that’s what coffee was invented for.

The week before the event I had replaced the rear tyre of the Fuji bike. It had slipped several times during climbs and had started to show some significant signs of wear. It irked my inner thriftiness to be replacing something which wasn’t actually broken, but seeing as this is almost certainly the first time the words “thriftiness” and “cycling” have ever being used together, I once again ignored my instincts. Once you can feel comfortable turning up to work on a building site wearing tights, then nothing else in cycling can really phase you! Nonetheless, once I had the new tyre on, it was pretty obvious that the old one had been ridden to within an inch of its life.

New tyre looking very ... erm, new?

Old tyre looking very old

I took the first few miles of the event at a relaxed pace, riding alongside Justin and Rachel. The night before the event I was reminded by Ms BikeVCar that I hadn’t given my body any rest recently due to the “stupid Strava challenge” and that the last thing I should do at the Beauty was engage in “willy waving” by trying to match Andy, and potentially injure my depleted body. With these wise words still ringing in my ears, and only 5 miles into the event, I put the hammer down and set off to chase down Andy.

Managing a smile at the top of a steep climb

It took about 5 miles but I eventually spotted him ahead. From 10 to 50 miles we rode together through savage weather on the moors. At times it was a struggle to keep moving forwards against battering winds and rain. We formed a group of about 10 riders and took it in turns to suffer the worst of the headwinds while the others sheltered behind. I was mostly riding on my limit which meant that a couple of times I was forced to drop off the back in order to recover, before expending a colossal amount of the energy I had recovered, just in order to catch back up. This certainly wasn’t the most efficient way to ride but it was all I could do to keep going.

Focussed on a fast descent before the storms arrived

At 50 miles, with frozen fingers and soaked to the skin, I felt a loss of control to the rear wheel and looked down to see a flat tyre. Not seeing the need to make Andy freeze himself further I let him go and pulled over to carry out the repair. Being a brand new tyre it was a complete bugger to remove, and I was almost in tears on the umpteenth occasion when a tyre lever pinged off across the grass verge. A number of riders passed by asking if I was ok, to which I shouted back “Yes, thanks” – this was clearly a lie.

And when a local kindly stopped to ask if I needed a lift anywhere, it took inner strength I didn’t know I possessed to politely turn him down. “No, I don’t want a lift in your nice warm van, I want to be kneeling down in this river of a road, close to tears and fumbling with a non-compliant tyre, but thank you” 😉 Eventually I got the blasted tyre off and completed the rest of the repair with surprising ease.

15 minutes of my day were spent swearing on this exact spot

The last 20 miles were a war of attrition. I found myself preferring the climbing to descending as it gave a chance to warm up my frozen bones. I eventually made it to the finishing line in 5 hours & 5 minutes where I was able to calculate that my puncture repair had taken 15 minutes, and not the hour it had felt. I was only 20 minutes behind Andy, 6 minutes ahead of Justin and 13 ahead of Rachel putting us all in the top 100 of over 700 entrants. A great result all round, but also some real lessons in suffering.

The event had started and ended in Butlins, Minehead. After putting on some dry clothes we sat at a cafe to refuel and silently surveyed the hideous nightmare of a Butlins weekend in full flow. Suddenly my puncture experience didn’t seem quite so bad!

The end of a big cycling week

I cycled over 300 miles this week. This is my biggest week ever and has seen a few notable events along the way:

300+ miles for the bike. A nominal amount for the car

The (insane) Strava Challenge continues at a good pace

A rapid blue line recovery here too. Go bike!

My first roadside puncture. There's surely never a good time to get a flat, but during a 70 mile Sportive in the wind and freezing rain wasn't great. It took me 15 minutes to replace the inner tube. I'd like to get quicker but could honestly do without further practice!

Managing expectations

My plan for this weekend had been to try and ride 60 miles three days in a row as preparation for the Tour of Wessex where I’ll need to ride over 100 miles on three consecutive days.

For a number of reasons things didn’t quite go to plan but there were also some positives so I thought I’d analyse the results.

  • Day 1 – 35 miles ridden, 1242 metres climbed, 2 hours 42 minutes (including 16 minutes stop time)
  • Day 2 – 60 miles ridden, 880 metres climbed, 3 hours 51 minutes (including 15 minutes stop time)
  • Day 2 – 28 miles ridden, 665 metres climbed, 1 hour 52 minutes (including 12 minutes stop time)

Day 1 was cut short by a mechanical issues (broken chain) and Day 3 was cut short due to psychological issues (broken spirit).

Over these three days I covered 37% of the TOW distance and climbed 38% of its ascents.

The rider thinks "10 out of 10 for effort", the Garmin says "3.8 out of 10 for achievement - why have you stopped pedalling?"

On the plus side I learned how to repair a broken chain, and the fairly obvious fact that three long days of cycling is very hard work. I also made it home on Sunday to catch the last hour of Paris-Roubaix, the race distance being further than my 3 days added together but over extremely poor terrain. Just incase the pro teams come knocking, I will try and remember not to enter that event next year!

Cotswolds Day 2 in photos

Busted chain link removed. Chain cleaned. Master link purchased

Master link fitted. Chain & derailleur sparkling clean

Muddy roads = muddy bike + rider

The chain was clean for less time than it took to clean it

Definitely a day for overshoes

60 mile route

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