“Avon Cycleway” 100 mile loop

I decided late last night to ride the Avon Cycleway loop around Bristol today. Like some of the best and worst ideas I’ve had, this one was discovered somewhere near the bottom of a bottle of wine.

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Sunny and windy on the Avon Cycleway today

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The sun slowly broke through the clouds 

I woke this morning without too much of a fuzzy head, ate breakfast twice before then preparing my bike. I had a completely free day to myself as well as a personal point to prove after my only other 100 mile ride this year resulted in being painfully towed and finally dropped by my fitter and faster mate.

With my jersey pockets and stomach stuffed full of food I set off at around 9am heading towards Bath along narrow country lanes. The Avon Cycleway is an 85 mile loop around Bristol along quiet lanes and bike paths. Looking back this was one of the first long rides featured on this blog almost four years ago.

One of the problems on long rides in unknown territories is refuelling. Especially on a Sunday with most shops shut. I ended up barricading my bike between two signs outside a little shop and checking on it several times. The thought of it being stolen miles from home was a hassle I could do without.

Finger crossed it'll be here when I come back

Finger crossed it’ll be here when I come back

Having successfully navigated around 70 miles of twists and turns, I got lost at the exact same point as last time. Somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle of Avonmouth the signs just seem to disappear. Fortunately I could see the looming Avon Bridge and headed in the right direction. As with all 100 milers the final 20 miles were fairly tough, but the warm breeze of a welcome tailwind helped me home. I was just around the corner from home when I realised I was going to finish up on 96 or 97 miles. Putting fatigue aside I took a small detour to hit the magic 100.

The never-ending Tour of Wessex

This past bank holiday weekend I rode the ‘Tour of Wessex’ with a few friends. Essentially a three-day cycling indulgence covering 340 hilly miles, followed by barbecue, beer and camping in tents each evening. Day 1 was a romp across Somerset and Wiltshire taking in many of the roads I ride regularly. Differing fitness levels dictated that our group split into pairs and I rode every day with Mike, each of us taking it in turns to fight the wind and spur each other on.

Rocking the new club jersey while riding on home territory

Rocking the new club jersey while riding on home territory

Let the battling begin

Let the battling begin

Day 2 was a race to the South Coast and back. A whacking 120 miles that was thankfully the day of least climbing at ‘just’ 2000 metres. We managed to find a group of similar ability and rode in a pack of 12 for 20 miles maintaining an average speed above 20mph with seemingly minimal effort. Then the hills arrived and the group imploded, never to be seen again. However we still made it back to base camp having maintained a very healthy average speed of 19mph for the day. That evening we went out for a few beers in town before stopping for takeaway where we got chatting to two motor-bikers who told us they’d earned their dinner with a hard day in the saddle covering 100 miles. The look on their faces when we said we’d just cycled 120 miles was priceless.

Still locked in battle

Day 2 – still locked in battle

Pushing up a climb

Pushing up a long climb

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However, after two great days of riding, Day 3 was unfortunately a day of slow torture. 110 miles of killer hills – 3000 metres of climbing in total, going up and down Exmoor several times in horrendous winds. I started the day with a bit of a hangover, the legs then refused to comply, we suffered a couple of punctures and then a niggly injury appeared giving me persistent grief. The result was that we set off at a pace I couldn’t really handle and I was left hanging on for the whole day. Walking a never-ending tightrope between wanting to quit and forcing myself to carry on. It was a day of pure suffering and completing the route was as much a mental as a physical challenge. It’s at times like these that you understand the toughness of endurance sports. I swear that a couple of times I was close to crying on climbs, but then suddenly you find yourself laughing at your own stupidity before gritting your teeth and pushing on.

On top of Exmoor

On top of Exmoor and feeling the pain

In the end I relied on my mate to pull me around for most of the day and tried not to whinge too much. Back at base camp I just chucked everything in the boot of the car and headed straight home, calling my wife en-route to run me the hot bath I’d been fantasising about for the previous seven hours. Sinking into the hot bubbles was ecstasy. The sort of feeling that is only be experienced as a consequence of coming after such prolonged unpleasantness.

In hindsight I probably should have just ridden two of the days. Three days at my hardest pace was definitely a step too far. However, it’s only by pushing ourselves that we discover our abilities and our limits.

A wintry century

I was a free man this weekend so decided it was a suitable occasion for a first attempt of the year at riding 100 miles. However, with daytime temperatures currently hovering around freezing and my bike with mudguards currently out of action I was having second thoughts this morning.

The nice bike received some winter abuse today

The favourite bike received some winter abuse today

The first few miles were uncomfortable. It was snowing lightly, my face was burning from the cold and the bike was making a strange buzzing noise. I needed to stop three times to twist and turn a few bits before managing to stop the worst of the buzzing noise. I also adjusted my head buff so that it was covering my face and ears. A balaclava might have been more appropriate headwear today.

Uncomfortable but effective

Uncomfortable but necessary

I opted for two different 50 mile loops so that I could return to the house at lunch to warm myself up with soup, toast and tea. Leaving the house again after lunch I bumped into a neighbour walking his dog. He remarked that it was too cold to cycle and asked how far I was going. I said around three hours, to which he replied that I was mad. He was probably right so I decided not to tell him I’d already been out for three and half hours in the morning.

Hills and light snow

Hills and light snow

The furthest I’d ridden over the last few months was two hours. So today’s ride of 6 & 1/2 hours really took me beyond my threshold. The endless hills left my legs with little strength in the last hour and the cold seemed to keep finding its way up my sleeves, down my collar and into my face.

Two separate loops with a midway lunch stop

Two separate loops with a midway lunch stop

The Cotswolds is typically uphill and downhill with little flat riding

The Cotswolds is typically very hilly with little flat riding. In total I climbed 2200 metres today

The final test was arriving home for the second time with 96 miles on the clock. I rode past the house and down the hill for 2 miles knowing I would have to climb my way back to finish. By the time I arrived home I felt completely deflated. I’d been out from 8am to 3:30pm, it had snowed for most of the time and the temperature had never risen above 0’C. So I lit the fire, poured myself a beer and collapsed onto the sofa. This ride will certainly have put my body under quite a lot of stress so I’m planning to take a few days off the bike to fully recover. I think I’ll sleep well tonight.

Winter in the Cotswolds

Winter in the Cotswolds – I’m looking forward to Spring …

Blenheim Palace 100 mile Sportive

After the painful intensity of Saturday’s time-trial, the fact that Mike & I had also signed up for a 100 mile sportive the next day didn’t seem like such a big deal.

Saturday’s TT in the grandeur estates of Blenheim Palace

The 20k time trial was a great event and there was also something nice about having participated in a cycling event but still having the best part of the day left to enjoy yourself. We spent Saturday afternoon with our ladies, out and about in the Cotswolds and ensuring not to lose athletic-focus by ‘carb-loading’ with several fine local ales. There was a bit of banter on the assumption that I had stolen a few seconds off Mike, much to both of our surprise. We were unable to find any official results from the TT online so we went into Sunday’s 100 mile event thinking that he needed to recover about 3 seconds on me.

Mike, Tim, Chris & Tom waiting to start …

… and six hours of sitting on a slim, plastic wedge gets underway

The first hill of the day draws a few sharp breaths

We rode the first 30 miles with Tom and Chris who were doing the 60 mile version. At the first feed stop we had a quick bite and then departed with Tim on the 100 mile route via Cheltenham. It was a hilly extra 40 miles and we worked as a team.

A warm day in the Cotswolds

I’d been waiting for it to happen and finally, after nearly 6 hours it did – Mike went for a break for the finishing line. Although, actually it might have been me who started it. All I remember is that the two of us were suddenly taking it in turns bursting to escape and then laughing when we looked behind and saw the other stuck on our tail. It ended with me flying through the grounds of Blenheim Palace thinking I’d done enough to escape, only for Mike to sprint past me with a few metres to go and then thank me for ‘leading him out’.

The end of a good weekend of cycling

We had to wait until Monday evening for the official results to arrive. First was the 100 mile sportive – Mike had snatched the 3 seconds we thought he needed, finishing in a time just shy of 6 hours. Then the 20km TT results came in and I had finished in 33:50 to claim 9th placed novice in the 300-strong event … and 6 seconds ahead of Mike. So after six and a half hours of riding, we were separated by just 3 seconds. Great fun and incredibly close.

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 Dartmoor Classic 2012

This 105 mile sportive was a tough challenge. Setting off in the wind and rain and getting a puncture in the first few miles was a blow, but I’m glad to say that I recovered from that blow and then from the subsequent punishingly hilly route to finish in a respectable time.

Them hills’ll get ya

After the epic Tour of Wessex I went into this event with a certain amount of confidence. However, confidence is nothing that a few steep hills can’t smash to pieces. The event was well organised with marshals at every junction and a good number of locals out cheering us on. However, I never truly recovered after my puncture and just seemed to be fighting negative thoughts for hours on end.

Digging deep, but it’s difficult to dig yourself out of a hole

The most recurring thought in my head was the one where I climb off my bike and then throw it across the moors before sitting down and crying. Fortunately the toughness of the event didn’t break me!

Wearing a rain coat and leading a straggle of sufferers up the moors

For 70 miles I pushed and pushed. And then pushed some more. Strong winds, persistent drizzle and a dodgy front wheel were all affecting my thoughts. After 80 miles and with a repaired wheel, the sun finally broke out of the clouds and I knew I’d broken the back of the event.

Wait a minute … I’m enjoying myself

And having had the mechanical delays meant that there were lots of people ahead of me to overtake for the final hour. Admittedly this may have dampened some of their moods as they struggled home, but it’s important to share around the experience of suffering on a bike.

On the drops and making up for lost time

In the end I scraped home in just under 7 hours. I then had a short working week of 2 days, before getting ready to head off to France (avec velo) for a two week holiday with my wife in the Loire Valley where we’re looking forward to good weather, wine, food and some relaxed cycling together.

A painful day

On Sunday I rode a 105 mile sportive with a few friends. It included over 3000 metres (almost 10,000 feet) of climbing and part of me was looking forward to the hard work. As it turned out, the day was pretty much all hard work, with a reasonable amount of satisfaction at the end, but to be honest quite minimal enjoyment levels. Having worked 6 days this week, setting the alarm for 4.15am on a Sunday was not the most enjoyable start.

Wake up – it’s a different type of work today

I had been hoping to take lots of photos for the blog. I had also been hoping to ride with Andy all day. Unfortunately a tyre sidewall blow out on a descent at 6 miles ended both of those plans. It was the front tyre and I was lucky to stay on the bike as I lost control at a fair speed. By the time I’d stopped the tyre had half come off the rim. Luckily Andy was carrying a spare piece of tyre which he handed over before I told him to carry on. I put the piece of tyre inside the damaged tyre and replaced the punctured inner tube before setting off again.

Basically my day consisted of:

6 – 16 miles – thrashing it up endless hills trying to catch up with Andy but overcooking it and suffering badly

16 – 30 miles – fighting up more hills alone into headwinds, sidewinds and rain. Lots of rain.

30 – 60 miles – quick feed stop and then as per 16 – 30 miles

60 – 70 miles – finally found somebody going at a similar speed and teamed up. This helped in fighting the wind, but I was starting to notice a constant d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d from my repaired front wheel.

70 miles – stopped at feed station and inspected the front wheel. The repair was starting to bulge out of the split but luckily there was a mechanic at the feed zone who replaced my tyre for a small fee.

70 – 104 miles – after the stop, the weather and my mood seemed to change and everything improved to the point where I was finally enjoying myself. I crossed the line in just under 7 hours which felt good for all the hills and mechanical issues.

At the finish I found out that one of our friends had fallen and had been taken to hospital with a broken femur and possibly damaged her hip too. All in all it wasn’t a great day and there were certainly some lessons in suffering all around – some unfortunately far more serious than for others.

The event was however extremely well organised and maybe in a few days I’ll do it justice with a more positive write-up.