My first Audax – the Hoarwithy 100

Hoarwithy Toll House

Hoarwithy Toll House

Simple pleasures. Maybe it’s because I’m getting on a bit now, but some of the things I most enjoy about cycling are the simple pleasures – sunshine on your face, birds in the air, rolling green vistas, chatting on the wheel with your cycling buddies. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy, say, a thundering downhill headlong charge, setting a PB on my steepest Strava segment (KoM is just never going to happen, unless I create one that goes through our house) or getting that tricky rock garden just right on the mountain bike – I do, I love them and all the myriad experiences a cyclist goes through on a good day just as much as I ever have. It’s just that, over time, I’ve gained an appreciation of the less-adrenalin-filled aspects of the sport. Maybe it’s not about getting old, as such – more a matter of growing up.

Whatever it is, I think I may have found the perfect outlet, if Sunday’s adventure in the Hoarwithy 100 was anything to go by. As part of our continuing exploration of the world of cycling, three members of the nondescript, half-baked, semi-imaginary cycling outfit that is NTG RCC dipped a first, timid toe into the welcoming  waters of the Audax over the bank holiday weekend, with Jon, Luke and I assembling at a very reasonable 9:00am to get signed in. A small event, we never saw more than about twenty or so riders even for the depart (although there were more doing the 200km event), so signing on was simplicity itself, just a matter of finding the village hall and getting our brevet cards. After a pleasingly brief briefing, the keener types rolled merrily on their way, whilst NTG collectively thought they’d better ask if they needed to get their cards stamped at the start (a pointless question, in hindsight – we had arrived and collected the cards, why would they need to be stamped?). Thus, by the time we saddled up, everyone else was long gone.

Which meant that we only went about three hundred yards before the first navigational mishap, Jon and Luke’s Garmins unable to indicate “left a bit” when the road split. Somewhat worse, as we made our way over the Severn vie picturesque Hawbridge was the awareness that three had become two just a couple of miles in – Jon had gone missing, and as we got to him, the back wheel was coming out of his Genesis. A flat – that same tyre had been flat and a new tube fitted when they’d arrived barely half an hour before. This was not good.

Although the tube had gone in the same place as the one he’d changed earlier, there was absolutely no sign of the cause of the puncture – fortunately, there was a spare tyre back in the car, so I took a gentle spin back with the dead one over my shoulder, and within a couple of minutes of my return, we were on our way. It might not have been the brightest start, but we were thankfully untroubled by the puncture pixies for the remainder of the day.

And what a day. The sun was out, but there was just a smidge of cloud and the merest hint of a breeze to take the temperature out of the air, really perfect cycling conditions. As if that wasn’t enough, the route rolled us through the loveliest Gloucestershire countryside, all quiet lanes and green fields and coppices and villages – there was the occasional transit section on busier roads between lanes, but they were brief, rare and far between.

All, however, was not well. As Jon and I span merrily along, Luke was not feeling well – acid indigestion was bad, but worse he couldn’t eat and this was going to be a long day for us. Long before we hit Littledean, we were looking for shops as a source of Gaviscon but we’d clocked 26 miles before we found anywhere. After a brief respite to neck some tablets, we were all set for the off – however, if I’d known what was awaiting, I might have rested a little longer…

Right from the off, there was a stiff climb out of the village, and it sneakily went on further than you thought, straight runs to corners that hint at a flattened section for some respite, that then raise themselves to another long, straight drag with an evil laugh. What goes up, however…. The descent the other side down St White’s Road was adequate recompense, and served as a kind of gateway to the Forest of Dean. It had been all about the green and pleasant fields – now it was all about the trees.

But we needed more drama before we really got stuck into the woods. An ambulance had already come blaring past shortly before we reached Speech House, and as we crested the climb our hearts sank – a police car had evidently just pulled up, and diversion signs were in evidence. Trying not to think about what might have happened, and hoping it hadn’t happened to another cyclist, Captain Jon took out his map, but the omens weren’t good – already behind schedule, none of the obvious diversions were anything short of lengthy, but when Jon sought advice from the police officer deploying signs, she very kindly advised us to go through the section that had been closed; there was debris on the roads, so we were to take care, but we would be able to get through. It was very good of her – it would have been just as easy (easier, maybe) to tell us we had to go around, but she didn’t. Thank you ma’am!

Rolling steadily down the deserted road, you did wonder what we were going to find – a sharp, downhill right-hand bend, was the immediate answer, with the verge torn up on the outside, and a small hatchback upside down on the other side of the road. Fortunately, judging by the lack of urgency in the movements of the emergency services in attendance, and the slightly-shocked looking group of people who we presumed were giving statements, it didn’t seem likely that any serious injury had occurred, but it must have been a very lively few moments while it was all in progress.

It wasn’t long after that before we reached Symond’s Yat and the halfway mark checkpoint, signing in with minutes to spare before we ran out of time. Taking a break in the sun and getting some proper food down our necks (Luke still couldn’t eat, so I did my best to make up for him), our options were fairly limited – Luke felt ok to carry on, although understandably lacking zip, but the shortest way back was pretty much on the course, there were no train stations to hand so the only other bailout plan was to get someone to drive down and pick him up. Pluckily, Luke decided to just crack on, so after a very nice chat with the gentleman on the checkpoint, we re-kitted and headed on. Let me tell you, the vertiginous descent from Yat Rock down through Riddings Wood is quite the perfect post-lunch warm up, raising your heart rate without stressing your legs.

Once north of the A40, we were back into rolling fields territory, where even the most testing inclines ran out of steam before too long, the sun beaming down as the afternoon drew on, bouncing diamonds of light off the surface of the Wye. The second and final checkpoint was at Much Marcle, where we paused for a final brew and a chocolate biscuit at a control in front of an immaculate, curved-roof garage straight out of the Fifites and wonderfully still showing signs of everyday use – recent trophies sparkled in the front windows, whilst on the walls hung prints of Graham Hill and Jack Brabham, and the maestro, Fangio, four-wheel-drifting his Maserati through Rouen’s high-speed curves.

With Luke still unable to eat, we made our way steadily over the last fifteen miles or so into a sneaky little headwind that started off gently then began to build – taking turns on the front, by the time we drew close to Apperly the novelty of the breeze had started to wear off, so it was with an element of glee that we turned off into the village itself, another drag up a hill but sheltered, and all the better for knowing there wasn’t far to go. Rolling up to the final checkpoint invoked the sense of accomplishment that makes it all worthwhile, and we got to have a nice chat with both organisers and fellow participants. You don’t always get that at a sportive.

It had been a really good day, although I was glad I wasn’t Luke – I can’t imagine how tired he must have been feeling. The pace had necessarily been gentle given how under the weather he had been feeling, so we must have been pretty much the last back, but the whole ethos of the Audax seemed entirely non-competitive – if ever there was an event that stressed that the spirit of competition is with yourself, rather than externally, with any other person, this seemed to be it. Everyone we met had been very friendly, open and chatty, and probably the biggest surprise to me was how small the attendance was – there are just 27 finishers listed for the 100km, and 40 for the 200km. On the one hand, I’m staggered that such a well-organised, well-routed event should attract such little interest. On the other, I suspect that’s part of why they’re so great…

 

For more information on the Hoarwithy 100 and other Audax events visit: www.aukweb.net

The Unexpected Randonneur

The Unexpected Randonneur

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I quite often like to jump on my bike after work and pootle about town. Working in a bike shop, there’s not much time to actually ride the damn things. So on a nice day I’ll take my road bike into work, make sure she’s good to go and head straight out after locking up the shop. Head east, maybe do a few laps of Regent’s Park, an unspecified number of ascents up Swain’s Lane (aka the Alp d’Highgate), a ride south into Soho for a coffee and cake.
It’s the times when I think to myself that ‘I should head north’ that the world becomes more interesting and infinity more painful.

Cycling is an odd hobby. Some rides will be utterly unmemorable, others will burn themselves into ones neurons for life. The sights, the smells! See the magnificent Ikea, the glorious Tottenham substation, the enormous Matalan at Brimsdown! Experience the heady aromas of Hackney municipal dump!
Sometimes, this is all I see: London in all its disgusting, but very beautifully human, glory.

But there are times, the odd time, when a small alley or lane catches ones eye and I am pulled towards it, intrigued by the promise of the unknown. Without warning, I find myself tumbling down the rabbit hole and being sucked into the magnificent world of *le rouleur*.

I took one such turn earlier, and as the busy main road fell away, the landscape melted almost instantly into the kind of scene that would make Nigel Farage shed a single tear and salute a pint of warm bitter.
The willows formed an arch across the road, a single track that wound it’s way west from Enfield. The few houses are collecting moss and fallen twigs on their roofs. the owner carrying in firewood for the evening.

I push on, finding my legs in this novel summer evening sun. Short hedges enclose the road, half concealing the miles of rolling fields on either side. A line of electricity pylons snakes across the landscape, disappearing far into the distance on my right.

That such sights can be found within the m25 astounds me, it leads me to explore and discover more and more. It draws me in, pushes me to ride further and further.

Before I know it, it’s 9pm, the sun is setting and, most disturbingly, my ipod is showing signs that it’s not been charged in a while. My front light cuts a path in the badly potholed near-dirt tracks, the rising full moon, almost orange in the sky, casts a warm glow over the rollings fields either side of the road.
The thrill of discovery is beginning to be offset by a cold wind.

I roll into Potters Bar with numb fingers. I should eat something, I’ve not had anything since lunch. A BLT and a packet of fruit pastilles from the Co-Op, and a lucozade to refill my energy bottle – having consulted the gps, I’m ready to go again.

Now this is a race. The cold is setting in, I’m in short bibs and  short sleeve jersey. My feet are numbing from the wind. I need to move fast, to build heat and to get home before the worst of the night takes hold. Cadence must be high, speed must be high, effort must be high. I smack up a few gears and start working my quads. Knees out, sweeping through arcing turns, illuminated by the light of the moon my legs pump in time with the symphony in my ears (Elgar’s Planets, for the interested). A fork in the road. Stop, check Google maps. Go.
Cut through little hamlets, houses solitary with wood fires burning, visible through the front windows as I power past, a red and white streak in the night.

It’s hard to explain why or when I started to panic. I knew where I was going, but the cold and the tiredness and the fact that I’m 20 miles minimum from home took its toll. While I was skirting the m25, this village world around me felt like I was riding hundreds of miles from home with nowhere to stay and no way to get back. Stop, check gps. No, I took a wrong turn a while back there. Turn around or find another route?

When I finally find myself in Radlett, which while far from home, is at least on an old training route of mine, and therefore familiar, it’s the boost I needed. Turning south, I know I’m on the home straight. I can ride to Stanmore and jump the tube back to Kilburn from there.
Hills that used to have me panting in the granny ring are now stomped at 21mph. I have conquered, and everything will be ok. Then, without warning, my front light turns off. The cold has shorted the switch and it’s now flicking through the settings, cycling between 100 and 500 lumens. I power onwards into the night.

The transformation from gentle rise to powerful sprint is not something I resent (especially now I’ve had a chance to warm up!). There are many sides to cycling. Relaxing in the warm evening sun and belting through the freezing night air are two completely different angles on an activity that seems to have as many faces as it does riders.

Riding fixed, single speed, town riding, commuting, randonneuring, audax, touring, sportive, racing, polo, 4 cross, downhill, bmx – hundreds of ways of enjoying the simple sensations of riding a bike.

Needless to say I got home. My light switching off on the final descent into Stanmore was interesting. I was travelling at 40mph with no helmet, no goggles and now, no light. But it switched on at the bottom. The stop start all the way home (do you really think I’d have caught the tube?) was offset by the warm London air (heated by 7 million people’s bodily emissions). My iPod held on to the bitter end, finally running out as I rolled into my estate. Front light was on and off, but I survived with my 10 lumen backup. All in, 59 miles or 95 kilometres in 3 and a half hours. Not too shabby for a quick ride after work.

While great training for the long rides I have planned this year, something more profound hit me. The beauty of riding is dulled by working the shop, selling people the idea of what I’ve just done. The freedom, the sunshine, the exploration of nature’s wonder.
Unlike other professions where romanticised ideals are used to sell, in cycling I have a hobby that can take me out of my front door and show me that ideal – and make me fall in love with it all over again. For that, I am truly grateful!

Hardtail MTB or CX?

Hardtail MTB or CX?Can you ever have too many bikes?

Well I suppose it depends who you ask the question of! In our household I would naturally answer No of course you can never have too many, however my wife might just answer rather differently posing a question of her own. How many bikes can you ride at any one time!

Seriously though you do need a bike for each discipline you ride, don’t you. Who in their right mind would use a track bike to ride a BMX course and like wise who would ride downhill on a CX (cyclocross) bike! OK so I have chosen some extremes but I still recon that you need more then one bike.

Unlike some I am not totally mad with the number bikes I have and I have a sensible mix, a road bike (actually two if I am honest), an full suspension XC MTB, a track bike and a BMX.

Over the years the type of riding I have been doing has changed a little and the Full Suspension XC seems a bit of an over kill for riding things like Preston’s Guild Wheel and some of the disused railway lines locally, however a full carbon road bike does not quite fit the bill either! Leaving me with a bit of a conundrum, what to get to fill the gap? A hard tail MTB to replace the Full Sus or a CX bike?

Hmm tricky coz I really do not want to get rid of the Full Sus because it is really useful for those days out in the hills and trail centres. I know I could do these on a hardtail but then just maybe this would be over kill for the local trails.

Yes you guessed it I plumped for a CX bike, as I said you can never have too many bikes!! But I set myself a challenge I had to do this on a budget no more then £300 could be spent. I had a donor bike for most of the drive train and bars etc, so all I needed would be a frame, brakes, wheels and tyres.

My natural port of call for these parts was going to be ebay or discount online stores. First things first find out what is needed for a CX bike and which parts are the most robust for a bit of a hack bike and how much parts typically are. This is key to avoid over spending on eBay. It always amazes me that many buyers on ebay get carried away. The worst I have seen is a set of wheels go for £30 more then the buy now option for the same set from the same seller who had one set on open bid and another set available as buy now!

The donor bike was a Specialized Allez Sport with Shimano Tiagra triple chainset. I pondered long and hard over the triple chainset as my gut instinct was to go for a double CX specific or a double compact until I read this article http://bikehugger.com/post/view/the-rise-of-the-compact-crank which clearly defined the pit falls of a compact and the benefits of the triple. The decision to stick with the triple also meant I had less to buy with my budget, meaning more to spend on the frame.

Kinesis Crosslight Evo4 Cyclocross Frame 2010

Kinesis Crosslight Evo4 Cyclocross Frame 2010spend on the frame.spend on the frame.

 

Step 1 Frameset.

 

Having trawled eBay and the internet it seemed that the choices boiled down to a selection from:

 

  1. Graham Weigh frame and forks £199.99
  2. Forme Hiver (Paul Milnes) £274.99
  3. Paul Mines CT Wing £295
  4. Dolan Multicross  £249.99

 

From these the best value for money seemed to be the Dolan as it included a seat post, headset and front cable hanger. However this did not leave me with much in the budget for wheels. So back to the drawing board and review the second hand options via eBay. Patience and timing had to be the watch word now. As I write there are very few frames on open bid. I missed out on a couple by a few pounds but I had set my target and was sticking to it.

Finally I hit the jackpot with a rather good Kenesis Crosslight EVO4 and BikeRadar’s review seemed to rate the frame

(http://www.bikeradar.com/gear/category/bikes/cyclo-cross/product/review-kinesis-crosslight-evo-4-11-45404)

Brakesso in for a penny in for a few quid!

 

Step 2 Brakes

 

The frameset was set up for cantilevers only but which set to get? Shimano CX50’s, Avid ShortyTektro V brakes, Empella Froglegs or Tektro CR 520?

Cash had to be king here and simplicity had to rule so a big thanks to Paul Milnes eBay store Tektro Colorado’s at £21.99 a full set it was

 

Step 3 Wheelset.

 

I struck gold here as a friend who had switched from a CX bike to a 29er still had a set of Shimano wheels that came off his Cannondale CX bike so £40 landed me 5 tyres and tubes and a set of Shimano WH-RS10’s. Not the most amazing Cablesetwheelset in the world but functional.

 

Step 4 cable set.

 

Having used a mix of manufacturers in the past decided to try a new manufacturer for me and bought a set of low friction PTFE-coated stainless steel Goodridge cables from Chainreaction (user reviews 4.1/5).

 

CX ForksThe Build.

 

The first thing to do was to strip down the donor bike a Specialized Allez Sport running a triple Shimano Tigra groupset. I would be using everything from this bike except the caliper brakes and saddle, or at least that was the plan.

As soon as the frame arrived from its original Coleford Gloucestershie home it was time for close inspection. The frame was pretty much as described on eBay except for a very small dent on the downtube and a small gouge hidden under a sticker on the headtube. If I am being really picky the packing of the frameset could have been better and I was rather disappointed that the seller had not used fork and rear end frame spacers to avoid crushing during shipping as I had requested. The good news was the frame was in full alignment and ready to build.

A quick clean down and removal of old cable protectors and it was time to apply helicopter tape to areas which might suffer from scuffing, cable wear or chain slap.

This done it was in with the bottom bracket, crankset and front mech, quickly followed by rear mech, handlebar stem, seat post, handlebars and finally cantilever brakes and wheels. Time to check the fit. First hop on and it was immediately obvious that the handlebar stem was going to be a tad too short. So out with the tape measure and size up the fit vs my road bike. It was very obvious that the 100mm stem going to be too short. 110 mm might just work but even this might leave me a little hunched up, so it would need to be 115 or 120mm. I plumped for the longer of the two a quick trawl on the internet and a 120mm Deda Zero 1 was acquired and fitted. Perfect sizing and hey presto one bike ready for setting up with cables.

First Impressions CX

The Goodridge cables where new to me and I was itching to find out how good they really where. Unlike normal brake cables which have flat spiral wound metal the Goodridge set are the same set up as a gear cable outer, with steel strands in the sheath orientated in the same direction as the cable (along the length of the outer).  For gear cables this reduces compression of the outer and improves reliability of indexing.

Kinesis Pure CX Cyclocross Fork

Kinesis Pure CX Cyclocross Fork

I will be interested to see the effect on braking. I suspect that it will improve modulation and feel reducing any sponginess caused by the outer compressing during braking. The brake cables certainly proved to be very stiff and somewhat tricky to cut.

With careful measuring and cutting (measure twice cut once) all was well with both gear cables and brake cables. A really nice touch with the Goodridge set is the long leadin tails on the cable ferrules allowing for improved

water and grit protection. With careful fitting of the blue plastic outer it is possible to run the cables fully water and grit proof.

All finished time to ride.

 

First Impressions.
Bars CXWOW this is a quick bike. From the first turn of the pedals it is clear that this is a race bike with a real eagerness to move forwards quickly. To quote What Mountain Bike’s review

“The Kinesis Crosslight Evo is a highly evolved racer that proves even hardcore cyclo-crossers can be a fun and versatile trail/tarmac crossover option on non-race days.” 

Very true and great fun was had on the first few rides proving that it was a very good choice to go CX and not Hardtail. However as time went on a couple of limitations started to show through and once again these confirmed the finding of Guy Kesteven

‘A major – but surprisingly common – technical terrain limitation soon becomes clear though. While the Tektro cantilever brakes on the Kinesis are usefully powerful – at least in the dry – the brake judder caused by fork flex on rough terrain makes the front wheel skip alarmingly.’

fork crown cable stopfront wheel skip was the least of the problems the fact was that the amount of front brake judder, especially during descents, made the front brake totally redundant. Solution simples, fit a fork crown cable stop to replace the headset one. Cost £8.99 from Paul Milnes. Fitted cable recut and off we go again. Amazing the front brake is a different beast no judder at all even under the most powerful braking, bringing a high level of confidence to tackle technical descents with ease. Does make you think as to why Kenesis do not fit this simple device to the OEM bike in the first place. £8.99 is not a major cost to transform the ride.

 

Conclusion

 

MTB or CX well this being my first CX ride ever I am totally sold. This has to be the perfect tool for riding the local disused railway lines and simpler off road tracks, where to be honest even a hard tail MTB would be overkill.

What is even better is that I have managed to build a CX  worth over £1000 for £300, result! Will I get rid of my Full Sus MTB? No it is horses for courses and to attack trails like Gisburn, Winlatter, Grizedale etc this will still be the machine to use but for a qucik blast along many of the SUSTRANS off road routes the CX EVO 4 will be perfect.

If you have never tried a CX bike and want to venture offroad but do not want to wreck your best road bike then find a frame on eBay and switch all your winter hardware onto a CX frame.

 

The Rawlinson Bracket

Competitiveness, an urge to do your best, is within human nature, a part of all of us. But in the drive to further yourself, there are steps that you need to take – only the very few are born with a natural ability at any sport, and even for them there’s time to be spent and effort expended  in order to hone skills and enhance physical attributes. Cycling is not immune; indeed, there are not many sports where the amount of time you put in so clearly has an impact in the amount you get out. So it behoves you to spend time in the saddle if you want to improve, and part and parcel of that is that there are boundaries to cross in your long personal voyage of self-improvement.  I’ve just crossed two of them – my first sportive, and my first half-century.

The event was a new one – the Rawlinson Bracket commemorates the untimely passing of Nick Rawlinson, who passed away in his sleep at the shockingly unfair age of thirty. A keen cyclist, Nick was training for the Maratona dles Dolomites and his first season of racing – accordingly, his friends and family put together the Rawlinson Bracket to allow riders to experience some of the roads Nick knew well and loved to train on, but also to raise funds and awareness for Sudden Adult Death Syndrome. Whilst not a county particularly noted for verticality, Warwickshire nevertheless boasts some fairly beastly climbs along the Edgehill escarpment, and although the more leisurely 24 mile Bottom Bracket would give them a swerve, the 50 mile Top Bracket would utilize these and other climbs to the full.

Registered with British Cycling, online registration and entry was simplicity itself, and a couple of weeks before the event, my event number and on-the-day instructions hurled themselves through the letterbox. The day itself dawned grey and distinctly chilly, but at least it looked dry with no precipitation – parking at the Heritage Motor Centre, however, there were undeniable flakes of snow tumbling from the slate-coloured sky, although we were blessed to have nothing heavier fall during the event. Signing on was just a matter of turning up and signing your name in the appropriate place before heading out into the cold to get kitted up, and one thing was becoming very in-your-face apparent; although nothing was falling from above and the roads were dry, it was painfully, blisteringly cold. I was pretty well prepped, but in a moment of jaw-dropping stupidity, I’d left the winter gloves at home in favour of some slightly cooler* handware, cooler in both senses of the word. With Team NTG pedalling nervously to the startline, my fingers first started to protest, then yell angrily, then finally start to fall silent – and numb.

The briefing was cheerily delivered, useful and to the point, and before we knew it, we’d been set free and were off and running. From the start, the key note of interest was our fellow participants zipping past us at great pace and then disappearing into the distance – Team NTG’s scratch squad were a fairly fit bunch but they were carrying a hybrid-mounted  great pudding in the form of your correspondent, and although I had been prepared for Vince, Jon and Steve to similarly make themselves very small on the horizon in no short order, I was very grateful to them for riding at my gentle pace. For the first mile or two, we followed the B4451 towards the amusingly-monitored Bishop’s Itchington and although traffic was by no means heavy, there were a few cars about – once we turned onto Knightcote Road, however, we were into the lanes and the remainder of the ride was blissfully quiet.

It was still flat, though, and digits were definitely on the chilly side. Riding two by two, we pedaled along in amiable fashion, honking about the cold and hoping for a hill to warm us up – Vince was on a box-fresh spanking new Specialized Allez bought only the day before, settling in and reveling in the step up from his Apollo hybrid.

It wasn’t long before we were passing Northend Manor, which meant Burton Dassett and the first serious climb of the day wasn’t far off. Burton Dassett is a lovely piece of parkland that normally calls on you to be shoo’ing sheep out of the way between heavily-gasped breaths – this time there were no sheep in the road as we passed, although my companions made like mountain goats and quickly dropped me. I wasn’t bothered; although tactics hadn’t been discussed, I’d half had it in mind that they might scoot off and ride at their own pace, which wouldn’t have bothered me – I knew that 50 miles would be quite a test for me, and that I couldn’t afford to try and match an unachievable pace, but if they wanted to test themselves, I certainly wouldn’t begrudge them. I also knew from riding with Jon that my modest climbing pace was uncomfortable on his steeper-geared Genesis Croix De Fer, so I was unsurprised that the others would ride away from me when it got steep. What was pleasing, however, was that the others took it steady on the ride away from the top, and it wasn’t long before I was back amongst them.

In companionable fashion, therefore, we proceeded along the way chatting as we went, the next challenge being a climb up through the village of Shotteswell. This led us to the B4100 which runs from Banbury to Gaydon and forms a part of my regular commute, so I was overjoyed to launch myself down the familiar Warmington Hill in spite of the biting wind – by this time, even my trendily-attired fingers were adequately warm…

Turning west before the military camp, I gulped down a gel before we hit the B4086, turning south to aim at Knowle Hill. Knowle Hill is a proper climb, not too long (little more than half a mile), and the guys again worked their way ahead of me as we hit 14% – I’d done a recce a couple of weeks before, as I knew it to be an awesome piece of downhill tarmac, so I knew I was capable of riding up it in the middle ring, but it was still a bit of a shock to see dismounted riders pushing up the hill. My sense of inferiority born of taking a lowly hybrid to the start line against a sea of proper road kit diminished with every revolution of the granny ring.

Our ascent of Edgehill marked an approach on the halfway mark, and the rest stop at the top of the hill gave me time to assess – I felt ok, pretty good after a banana, and in my head there was only one more serious climb left. I’d had a bit of a play along Edgehill prior to the event, and thought I had things covered, but although I felt strong on the restart, once we’d descended into the picturesque village of Tysoe (there’s a great downhill on the way in – I unclipped the inside foot into a hairpin left just to be on the safe side, and my team members were asking if I was worried about impacting the scenery on the outside of the turn. Pff – bunch of old women). Tysoe led us onto Lady Elizabeth Hill which was a comparative long grind, at the top of which I struggled to make the time back up to the rest of the squad – I was definitely starting to lose strength. Just to make things more tricky, I managed to pull out an energy bar on a flat section shortly afterwards, but struggled to open the beast – as a result, I ended up trying to chomp on chocolate and orange as the road swooped up and down, turning the simple act of eating into a tricky prospect.

As we got to Compton Winyates Hill, passing the 35 mile mark, my legs had definitely got it into their collective head that they’d more or less had enough of this pedaling lark. Vince had to stop right at the foot of the climb to locate an errant gel, but came past me at a blistering pace on his way back to joining Jon and Steve – I was indifferent; by now it was all about trying to make the finish, and my legs felt like mush. Trying to generate extra power was like pushing water uphill.

The route then rejoined at the top of Lady Elizabeth Hill, and I sped gleefully down back into Tysoe before rejoining the lads just a couple of miles before Sunrising. I knew Sunrising of old – as a family we’d been driving up it on the way to Silverstone since the Seventies, and since I’d worked in Banbury, Sunrising had been a frequent part of the commute if I couldn’t face the motorway. I’d only cycled up it once, but it was and is the steepest hill I’ve cycled up so far. That was the end of January, and I’d managed to hold the middle ring, but on the day, little more than three weeks later, I had to drop to the granny ring almost as soon as the climb started; it seemed almost endless, but my bloody-minded spinning eventually had me round the top corner and at the apogee of the hill. From there I knew the route home – we’d cleared all the serious climbs. It was an overwhelming experience.

Once atop the escarpment, I put in some effort in aero mode to try and catch the rest of Team NTG, but we were through Edgehill before I rejoined with them. By then we were poised over Edgehill, a hill I’d ridden down a couple of times before and with my gravitational potential energy advantage, I managed to open a small gap on the rest of the team before we started to span the plain to Kineton. Putting in a turn to try and catch a couple of riders ahead of us, I gave it a dig before Vince took over, dragging us past them but also separating the team, the new Allez giving free expression to his prodigious ability. Steve gave vain chase as Jon and I worked our way more steadily home, but there was no doubting who finished with the most ammo in their legs.

Still, 50 miles, done; my first half century, and first sportive. It was a brilliant feeling just to finish the event, and it ranks high amongst my thus far meager athletic achievements. But complete it we did; cheerily run, the event was fun from start to finish and with over £4000 raised for SADS, there was a clear correlation between the fun had and the funds raised. No-one I spoke to had anything but praise for the event, and there was a pleasing finale when Steve and Jon looked to donate. When they went unsatisfied in their hunt for charity buckets, they asked a SADS-t shirted lady who advised them that there were no buckets, but they could leave contributions with her. In jest, Steve asked if they could be sure that contributions left with her would be safe and she smiled as she said that yes, they would be safe, as she is Nick’s mum. I thought it symbolic of the quality of the event that Nick’s family were there to pitch in, a year to the day after his untimely passing.

Nothing that I saw or heard leads me to conclude that the event was anything other than a complete success. I’ve no idea if there are plans to make it an annual event, but if there are, sign me up now!

 

 

*Coolness, of course, is in the eye of the beholder, but for me, the gloves I wore were as cool a pair as I own.

For more information SADS (Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome) visit: www.sadsuk.org.uk

To learn more about Nick and details on The Rawlinson Bracket event visit: www.the-rawlinson-bracket.co.uk

 

 

 

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