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.

The Exmoor Beauty Sportive

Last weekend I rode the Exmoor Beauty┬ásportive 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” ­čśë 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!