The final build-up:
I don’t know if it’s just me – but I doubt it is – I always feel under prepared for a race. Or in this case a stupidly long ride. I have done more training miles than ever before for this time of year. I had targeted 1000km – on top of commuting to work – by the week before the ride, of which I came about 13km short. In previous years it has taken until mid-to-late May to get up to this kind of pure training millage. I think the training is working, to a point. The last two slightly longer rides, each about 50km and 789m and 874m of climbing, have been noticeably quicker than rides of that length have been in the past. Not quick, but quicker. I also set some personal bests and personal top 3 times on some of the longer climbs within these rides. It’s just whether short and sharp can now be translated into pure endurance, I guess only time will tell now. To be honest this is what worries me. I know this kind of training works, and works well, for 100 miles but will it work for nearly two and a half times that?
Just to add to the pre ride anxiety, on what ended up being my last longer burst before to big one, I broke my back wheel. Coming up a bit of a power climb, i.e. no gear change just get out the saddle and hammer it, I heard the tell-tale ping of a broken spoke and the wibble wobble of a wheel out of true. This wouldn’t normally be too much of a concern, just a trip to the bike shop. This wheel though, had only just been re-trued three weeks ago and is only 4 months old. So a return to the boys at the local bike shop and a quick chat, and the wheel is off for a warranty return and repair. As time ticked by I became more anxious about the wheels and their progress. I called up about them a good few times to check what was going on. The anxiety reached fever pitch when on the Thursday before the ride, I still had neither news nor wheels. I called up again, and with only a surname given, I was told cheerily that ‘they are being dispatched today, and will be with you tomorrow’. I have also had to contend with front derailleur issues. I’ve also to change the chain set for a smaller ‘granny-ring’, going for an unconventional 52-34. A seized limit screw has made this more difficult, but after changing the derailleur for another one and a bit of an adjustment, done. With my wheels on their merry way back to me and my shifting woes apparently sorted the relief was palpable. Now I could get back to being neurotic about my training, you know the important stuff.
After hours fettling around with the bikes in the morning – fitting mud guards, brakes checked etc. – we finally ride down to Plymouth Hoe to get started. As we approach we notice there is a fun fare on the promenade, luckily with the weather as glum as it was there were only about seven people there.
La Petite Départ
As we got up onto the promenade I notice some friends and their children have braved the elements to see us off, complete with banner! After a few photos we set off into the pea soup, just a pair of red lights blinking off, enveloped in the gloom.
After a few wrong turns, as I try to get us onto a cycle path I rarely use we make our way across, and then out, of Plymouth on the ever popular Plym Valley Cycle path up to Yelverton – on the edge of Dartmoor. Once out onto the moorland roads the high winds really become noticeable, in the good way. With the fateful hand of a tailwind at our backs we motor towards Exeter merrily chatting away as we go. All is good with the world, but too good?
About 80km in, PING! That tell-tale sound again, a spoke had gone on the ‘freshly rebuilt’ rear wheel. We stop in a lay-by on the other side of the road to assess the situation. My mood has hit rock bottom, and the language would make a miner blush. We are in the middle of nowhere, on an unlit minor road, so we have no option but to carry on – at least to the next sign of civilisation. Once we are moving again, the wheel seems to behave itself, some slight rubbing on the mudguards but nothing too outlandish. So we push on, tentatively at first, but slowly my confidence in the wheel, and my mood, increase.
As we approach Taunton our peace and tranquillity is broken by the chittering of drinkers and the screech of boy racers’ tyres. Our first food stop was scheduled for Taunton, but we feel ok, the wind is at our backs and we’re making good progress, so we decide upon a bit of on the wheel navigation and take the A38 straight up to Bridgewater and stop there for food – I may be glossing over some discourse in the ranks over navigation on back roads.
We arrive at the services in Bridgewater ready for some food, but with an improvement in moral. With limited options for food, we make do with a panini, an instant porridge and a disgustingly fatty tasting latte – I don’t normally do milk in coffee. We replenish our drinks bottles and on board snacks at the ubiquitous newsagents and head back out into the night to begin working the redeye.
By now it’s about 2am (our, non british summer time, time – 3am now to the rest of the population) and we have the shortest and flattest leg across Somerset to Aust ahead of us. Having gone off route along the A38 to reach Bridgewater, we have to continue our navigation-as-we-go approach. We continued to head north along the A38, before swinging off towards Cheddar, at which point the promised rain finally reaches us. My word does it reach us. My waterproof kit holds up admirably well, and I am thankful of the time spent pissing about fitting the mudguards before leaving. After an hour or so of non-stop heavy rain I’m wet right through, which is no criticism of the kit, you’d need a dam to keep this amount of water out. When we reach Cheddar we join the Strawberry Line, a traffic free route all the way to Yatton. When initially routing the ride I had had reservations about using the Strawberry Line, opting for a more urban, and direct, route to Clevedon, but as dawn broke the rain stopped and with the dawn chorus in full effect I wouldn’t have wanted to be cycling anywhere else. We reached Yatton as the sun’s glow was beginning to show. I would love to say how inspiring and beautiful the sun rise was, but I really didn’t notice it.
As the sun rose and the sky began to show signs of clearing the conversation began to flow again. Certain parts of the Strawberry Line are a bit too narrow to cycle two abreast, especially in the dark, so with the early morning light giving everything a golden hue we happily chat away. Our thoughts turn to Chepstow. The plan was to meet a friend, Kash, in Chepstow at 9 and then ride across Wales as a trio. It was now about 6, or 5 disregarding the clocks changing. A quick calculation and we figured we would have time for a spot of brekkie in Aust before crossing into Wales and be in Chepstow for 9. The going had been good.
Then, all the good progress was thrown out the window. We were somewhere between Nailsea and Clevedon, while the mood was good and the chatter was light, that ping again. More swearing. Two more spokes had gone and the remaining spokes where either so slack they may as well not be there, or as taught as a piano wire. The mental low I was expecting at about 4am had hit, and hit hard, at just gone six. We cycled on, slowly in near silence to Gordano services. My dad did his best to keep it chirpy and raise my spirits, but my heart was broken. It was like riding a clown’s bike; I could feel it going up/down/left/right with every revolution. It had done incredibly well to get this far, but that was scant comfort. Finally we arrived at Gordano.
Bontride over? Wife phoned.