Classic Cycling Race Routes
The Toughest 52 European Challenges
by Chris Sidwells
Reviewed by Nick Dey
Published: 15th October 2013
AA Publishing in association with Garmin
An inspiring book to read and then to ride… if you dare!
This inspiring hardback book presents a selection of the most challenging and rewarding routes for road and racing cyclists. From the South Downs Epic and Tour of the Peak in the UK, to Paris-Roubaix in France and Tour of Flanders in Belgium, from Gruyere Cycling Tour in Switzerland and Tour of Lombardy in Italy to the San Sebastian Classic in Spain, this book is the ultimate motivation for cyclists who want to push themselves to the next level.
The fifty-two classic European cycling routes – one ride for each week of the year – selected to appear in this weighty A4 hard backed tome of well over two-hundred pages cater for the aspiring and experienced cyclist as well as those more romantically inclined, inspired as they are by the epic routes raced by the legends of the sport.
Experience an example… The Retro Ronde.The routes have derived their inspiration from the many professional races as well as the ever growing mass-participation events, the cyclosportives. Indeed the twenty-four routes that cover the UK and Ireland are exclusively ‘sportive in scope. I’m ashamed to report that I have ridden only one … but can vouch for the books accuracy; I was indeed Flat Out in the Fens! Several of the European events feature in the World Cycling Tour: an age group series in which participants have the chance to qualify for and compete in an age-group final. You, yes you, could become a World Champion!
Route 34, pp148-150, covers the outstanding Retro Ronde*
I rode this in 2013 and am happy to state without hyperbole that it is my absolute favourite cycling experience, second to none – full review coming soon to Cycling Shorts (Ed. I promise!)
Here I am… climbing ‘The Wall’ Retro Ronde 2013
In the book the route distance is correctly stated as 100 km (I managed 112 km but did get myself lost taking in a few extra Heligen!) but the total climbing was very different to my experience. The book states 525 m however I managed 1200 m. To be fair to the author the organisers fine tune their route each year – and I did do the extra cobbled climbs! All the other information is accurate and succeeds in conveying the flavour of the experience. For experience the Retro Ronde certainly is! I shall be back every year – or as long as the old bike, and even older legs will allow. If you do plan on riding try to make a long weekend of it. The ‘Crit’, ahem, racing on the Saturday is wholly authentic yet rather tongue in cheek, and well worth the entry fee of €5!
Posing for the official photo at the start… the atmosphere was the best I have experienced.
So how does this fine book present the information?
The book in a nutshell …
- 52 European cyclosportive and Grand Tour routes
- Full-colour route maps with directions and elevation profiles
- Advice on ride strategies and techniques
- Tips on training, appropriate clothing, nutrition and fitness
- All routes are available to download for your GPS cycling computer
- Routes cover the UK & Ireland, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Spain.
The author suggests the reader takes two possible approaches, both of which allow them to make full use of the route information. The first, and Sidwells strongly suggests this as the most preferable avenue, is to take part in the official event for each route (if there is one) as, and I can only concur with him in this respect, …
“…the atmosphere and camaraderie of these events, where thousands of like-minded souls take part, all enjoying doing something they love, is incredible.”
Additionally, there is also more than enough information within the book to allow you to ride each route, or your own variation of it, independently of the official event and at any time of year. Words to the wise… check before you leave that roads are open!
Each route is clearly described and supported with often fascinating background information along with tantalising titbits of history; and who amongst us hasn’t unleashed the inner child and ridden a classic imagining the spectres of the greats; Coppi, Bobbet, Garin, et al, riding alongside?
There are maps and directions for each route, including profiles that clearly indicate where each hill is located along with rather useful yet often unsettling detail on how long and steep they are! The ever useful height gain is also presented.
In the words of the author, Chris Sidwells, “Enjoy the book, use it for planning and setting objectives, but above all get out and ride these routes. They represent some of the finest cycling experiences you could ever have.”
Classic Cycling Routes in a little more detail …
The introduction is extensive and covers three very important pre-ride requisites: Basic equipment – your bike, creating a training plan, and challenge-ride nutrition. There is a lot of very useful information here ranging from how to best use a GPS device (by Garmin) to the basics of creating a training plan.
The two-hundred pages devoted to the fifty two Race Routes traverse Europe through seven countries but with the majority set in the UK and Ireland.
The UK & Ireland section contains twenty-four routes, as listed below:
The Fred Whitton Challenge
The Ryedale Rumble
Etape du Dales
The Cheshire Cat
Tour of the Peak
The Shropshire Mynd
Flat Out in the Fens
Hell of the North Cotswolds
The Ups and Downs
The New Forest Epic
The South Downs Epic
The Tour of Wessex
The Exmoor Beast
The Dartmore Classic
The Dragon Ride
The Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive
Tour of Sligo
Malin to Mizen
Megève Mont Blanc
Cinglés du Ventoux
Etape du Tour 2010
Tour of Flanders
Grand Fondo Eddy Merckx
The Amstell Gold Race
Gruyére Cycling Tour
Alpenbrevet Platinum Tour
Tour of Lombardy
A Stage of the Tour of Italy
La Leggendaria Charly Gaul
Maratona dles Dolomites
La Pinarello Cycling Marathon
San Sebastian Classic
Val d’Aran Cycling Tour
A Stage of the Vuelta
La Pico del Veleta
Don’t forget… all routes in this book can be downloaded to your Garmin (the Edge 800 in my case) from the AA website.
As the book itself says, ‘the classic race routes selected here are not for the faint-hearted. Based on the best cyclosportive events in Europe and on stages of Grand Tours, they are much more than just pretty rides in the country. The fifty-two routes are serious mental and physical challenges (in the case of the Retro Ronde… the liver is called upon to do its bit too!) that require training and preparation. Yet each is accessible and achieved by many thousands of amateur cyclists each year.
Classic Cycling Race Routes allows you to cycle these rides at any time, either as preparation for the race events, or for the sheer joy and exhilaration of the challenge. For those rides that don’t have a dedicated cyclosportive route, the author has designed a ride a ride to reflect the demands and history of the race.
Each route contains a map with directions and an elevations and an elevation profile, and Chris Sidwells provides an overview combining ride strategy and techniques with the history of the race.
Practical and aspirational, Classic Cycling Race Routes will inspire a new generation of cyclists to push themselves to the extreme. You never know, the next Chris Froome, Mark Cavendish or Sir Bradley Wiggins may well be among them!
One for the rider as well as the reader + GPS routes = 100% Awarded our Star Buy Rating!
Reviewed by: Nichiless ‘Nicky’ Dey.
About the author
Chris Sidwells is an internationally-respected British cycling journalist and author, with nine books on cycling, ranging from biography through fitness and training to bike repair. His Complete Bike Book has been translated into twenty-four languages, and his Bike Repair Manual is about to reach its fifth edition. Tour Climbs and Race for Madmen were best sellers in their genre. His ‘The Official Tour de France Records’ has the backing of Le Tour Itself. Most recently he has published The Long Race for Glory: How the British Came to Rule the Cycling World… the next book to be reviewed on Cycling Shorts. Chris’s words and photographs have graced the pages of Britain’s best-selling cycling magazine Cycling Weekly (indeed he seems to appear in every issue,) and in all issues of Cycle Sport and Cycling Active, along with Cycling Fitness. He has also been published in Men’s Fitness, Cycling Plus, GQ, Running Fitness and the Sunday Times. Phew!
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
Newquay Velo Road Race- where to start!
Being British I might start with the weather; it was foul! Driving down there the wind was buffeting cars around the road so it was a bit concerning the effect it might have on a mere bike racer! It was raining too, just to add to the charm. But on the positive side it was quite warm, reading 12 degrees on my garmin.
The race course was a triangular layout, the start and finish were on the first leg, half way up a significant but not too steep hill. To add to the fun there was the wind, which seemed to have chosen to blow as hard as it could down said hill! The second leg was downhill with a couple of short sharp undulations. And the final leg was a pretty flat run in to the bottom of the hill.
Unsurprisingly at sign on it became clear that we would be racing with a smaller field than anticipated, due no doubt to the horrible conditions, but still 11 women signed on and lined up for the race. Heading out onto the course the rain began and we all settled down for what we hoped would be an uneventful, but challenging race.
The race started on the hill on the A39, the hill combined with the 49 mph gusts in our faces did slow things down a bit! People were unsurprisingly not that keen to ride on the front, but we did eventually get to the left hand turn where things started to pick up. For a start we had a tail wind and it was downhill!
Mathilde Pauls (Exeter Wheelers CC) chose this point to attack and got clear of the bunch by a good few hundred meters by the second left turn. However things went a little amiss here when the Race Car took the wrong turn. Mathilde and the lead car proceeded to take a wiggly route through various country lanes back to the course – Mathilde at this point oblivious to the fact they were lost! Meanwhile the majority of the rest of the women’s field carried on along the wrong road, heading down wind and down hill. Having ridden 3.5km in the wrong direction our commisaire in the following car eventually managed to get our attention to stop us, turn us round and take us back to the course!
By this point Mathilde and her lost lead car were back on the A39. The call was made to stop Mathilde while the rest of us got ourselves going back in the right direction. So Mathilde, still pretty perplexed about what was going on, was ushered into the lead car to keep warm while they waited for us.
Back with the main group we had just reached the corner where we had taken the wrong turn initially, and were about to get racing again. However this wasn’t to be! On the corner a wet drain wiped out one bike, taking down a few others and stopping most of the field. Cath Newton (Newquay Velo CC), Claire Elworthy (Exeter Wheelers CC) and myself (EWCC) were all that remained of the main group. Following some deliberation we decided to carry on racing. Mathilde was restarted as we approached up the hill, and waited to join our group.
This was the final lap, with this in mind me and Mathilde put in a couple of attacks on the second leg, both of which were chased down. It was then Cath’s turn to take a dig, attacking on the second small climb she split the group, only Mathilde could hold her wheel. Claire closed the gap before the second turn, where Cath and Claire took the correct turn, but Mathilde and her friend in the lead car tried to go AWOL again! Mathilde did the quickest U-turn witness by man and was soon back with Cath and Claire.
It all started getting tactical now. With two Exeter Wheelers in the group, and one just off the back, Cath was left to do most of the work along the final leg. On reaching the bottom of the hill to the finish Mathilde launched another attack. This attack split the group again with the biting headwind making the job of getting up the hill even trickier. The three leaders proceeded to “crawl” up the hill in a gripping, but pretty slow moving finale of an eventful race!
So Mathilde Pauls (EWCC) took the win, closely followed by Cath Newton (NVCC) and Claire Elworthy (EWCC). The rest of the splintered field rolled individually, each fighting the cruellest wind possible up the hill to the finish. Louise Benn (EWCC) came back, having hit the deck in the earlier crash to finish in 5th, not far behind myself (EWCC), I never recovered from Cath’s attack. A hard day’s racing for all I think!
After the finish we all headed back race HQ to get dry and warm with a cuppa and some delicious cakes. The prize giving took place before the men’s 2/3/4 race briefing so there was a good crowd to support us; I think the chaps were marvelling at our brilliant prizes!
Thanks to the Bike Shed for providing Bontranger R2, R3 and R4 tyres for 1st, 2nd and 3rd respectively. Also to Greens of Devon who made up a beautiful bunch of flowers for the winner and gave out 3 Chef’s Garnish boxes. And last but not least thanks to Alpha Vae Solar who gave us some SIS Sports products for the prize stash!
Thanks also to the event organisers Newquay Velo, and all who help out in proper nasty conditions! Also thanks to Primal for providing the QOM prize – won by Mathilde after her jolly through the lanes!
I lost track of who got what on the prizes front in the end but everyone looked very happy despite the drama of our race and that is the importat thing. At least things can only get better for the Series!
The next event is Ilton Crit on Sunday 21st April at Ilton’s Merryfield airbase, It is a great course for novices but has plenty of opportunity for more experienced racer to make it interesting too! Open to Men E1/2/3, Women and Juniors For more information click here to be taken to the British Cycling entry page. https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/events/details/91956/South-West-Regional-Road-Race-Championships#entry
For more information on South West Women’s Race Series visit: http://swwomensraceseries.wordpress.com/
See you there for more prizes, points and fun and games!
Newquay Velo Road Race Results
1st Mathilde Pauls – Exeter Wheelers
2nd Cath Newton – Newquay Velo
3rd Claire Elworthy – Exeter Wheelers
4th Ellie Bremer – Exeter Wheelers
5th Louise Benn – Exeter Wheelers
6th Gail Aspden – Squadra Donne-Shutt VR
7th Alex Sheehan – One & All
8th Sorrelle Johnston – Rutrainingtoday
DNF Kirsty Harries
DNF Mel King – Newquay Velo
DNF Dee Richards – Tavistock Wheelers
Robust construction and a smart design combine to allow for a more comfortable and ergonomic viewing line when riding your racing bike.
Two bolts secure the unit to the bars, adjacent to the stem. A single bolt clamps the adjustable head mount to the unit. All leading to a very secure and well positioned fit.
The simple, and very solid, twist-&-lock mechanism secures the Garmin 800 to the mount.
The positioning in front of the stem allows for a more accessible reading, especially when on the drops and hoods.
Highly recommended. It’s a bit pricey but it’s the most secure mount for your not so cheap Garmin Edge so worth the investment.
You don’t get vibration because it’s not plastic like other mounts, nor is it likely to break, it has a lifetime warranty. What’s not to like? Well some may be unhappy with the price at double the price of models like the Barfly, but I feel it’s more robust. The K-Edge model clamps rigidly around a 31.8mm diameter handlebar with two bolts (unlike other brands), and the length-adjustable arm is solid and flex free. It weighs in at 31g which is about 10g more than the plastic mounts but I feel this design is more streamlined, compact and robust than Garmin’s own mount and the BarFly.
Cycling Shorts Rating: I’d give the mount 96% as its so much better than the one supplied.
Compatible With: Edge: 200, 500, 510, 800 & 810
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The 2009 Milan San-Remo. A warm sunny day awaited the 200 riders of the 100th edition of La Primavera. Amongst those on the startlist, including Andy Schleck, Bradley Wiggins and eventual winner Mark Cavendish, was the quasi Australian Heinrich Haussler. What happened in the preceding 7 hours has been retraced many times since. The coming of age of Cavendish at the tender age of 23 was obviously headline news. Haussler’s second place on the day, inches away from a first classic, rightly remained the subplot.
One day wins can define a career. Fred Guesdon is known for his triumph in Paris-Roubaix of 1997 and arguably the same fate may yet befall Johan Van Summeren who also triumphed in the hell of north in 2011. So, on the via Roma of San-Remo, in the dull sun of an April Sunday, had Heinrich Haussler’s missed the chance to define a his cycling life. Born to a German father and an Australian Mother, Haussler remained in New South Wales, Australia until 1988, when he moved to Germany to pursue a career as a pro cyclist.
His breakthrough year in the pro ranks occurred in 2005 as he won a stage of the Vuelta. Beating Pablo Lastras and Linus Gerdemann and others from a small breakaway on a rolling stage 19 he showed tactical nouse by allowing Martin Elmiger to lead him out to catch Juan Manual Fuentes just before the line. The following years, 2006, 2007 and 2008 remained barren years with sparks of success such as top ten’s at the Tour and Gent Wevelgem.
Yet it was 2009 when the stars aligned for Haussler as he didn’t finish outside the top 10 in all stages of the Tour of Qatar and won two stages of the Tour of the Algarve in the early season. Stages at Paris Nice and the Tour de France followed, yet it was in the Spring Classics that he really hit a purple patch. 4th at Dwars Door Vlaanderen, 2nd at Flanders and 7th at Paris Roubaix and at Milan San Remo, Haussler caught Cavendish by surprise, sprinting from over 500 metres to go, coming within a whisper of the greatest win of his career.
Mark Cavendish pips Heinrich Haussler by a bike throw at the 2009 Milan San-Remo
The jubilant Cavendish hugging Erik Zabel whilst the Australian collapsed to the ground, meters after the finish line could not have been more of a juxtaposition. So what made the difference that year? His growing experience as a fifth year pro, the switch in outfits from Gerolsteiner to Cervelo and an experienced team behind him or a winter of perfect preparation. Whatever the reason, it was clear that Haussler was making a jump to the upper echelons of the sport.
Yet a number of factors kept and continue to keep Haussler at bay. The difficult marriage of Cervelo and Garmin after the former removed their sponsorship at the end of 2010 meant he was now competing for leadership with Thor Hushovd amongst others. This combined with a series of illnesses and injury saw his season peter out after a successful early romp at the Tour of Qatar and Paris Nice. It seemed that he had perhaps transformed from a classics contender to a second string sprinter as the majority of results in the next two years came in stage races and not one day classics. Whilst an astonishing four second places in a row in the Tour of California of 2012 all behind Peter Sagan, can hardly be considered a poor result, his failure to get his arms in the air must have be discouraging.
This brings us to the creation of IAM cycling and Haussler’s switch from Garmin at the end of 2012. The team’s roster built through that year, whilst centred around major Swiss talent, contains a number of journeymen like Thomas Lofkvist, Johann Tschopp, Sebastian Hinault and Haussler’s breakaway companion from that Vuelta stage in 2005, Martin Elimiger. As Haussler himself acknowledges he looks back on his time with Cervelo with rose tinted glasses and he draws some similarities with his new employers. The roster is similar in the sense that the majority of riders are up and coming (like Kristof Goddaert and Matthias Brandle) or have had a barren few years like Lofkvist or himself. In his position as one of the more senior riders he will undoubtedly receive the support of others during the season.
Coming full circle to the 2013 Milan San Remo and IAM’s successful application to La Primavera, could Haussler be in the frame again? As he enters the Tour of Qatar off the back of what he has identified as his best series of winter training in a number of years you certainly wouldn’t bet against him. At 28 years old he may even be entering the prime years of his career and perhaps in the near future he will have that chance to rewrite his script that was so cruelly altered by a barrelling Manx Missile on the 29th of March 2009
The Castle Ride 2007 – Action Medical Research: My very first cycling event and a journey into the unknown.
Here’s hoping to break the 6 hour barrier in 2013!
The Castle Ride was a brilliantly organised event and my thanks must go to Mike Trott and all the team at Action Medical Research for their very thorough and thoughtful planning and I must admit to approaching the event with great trepidation as I’d been rather ill over the previous weekend and had, as a result, missed almost a weeks training.
The Map shows the six castles en route. A simply wonderful 103 miles.
Having received advice ranging from ‘don’t ride when ill from Sue and John (runners extraordinaire),’ go for it, it’s not a race (typical PE teacher talk, Mr. Dainton!),’ and ‘you must be bloody mad! (my mum)’ I decided to indeed go for it and packed my bag with my poshest Lycra (10//2 if any fashionistas are reading, vintage 1995 – rather foolish of me in light of recent events!) and as many energy bars & gels as I could carry.
Team Barnes-Bulllen-Dey (sponsored by Gregg’s pies and the legendary Tour of Britain stage winner, London to Holyhead champion and bastion of all knowledge two-wheeled, Alan Perkins, who gave me some Jelly Belly beans – I assume no sarcasm was intended, Alan) left N E London thanks to domestique #1 Keith Bullen (Winner: Le Tour de Tesco, 1959, The Giro d’Pizza Express, 2007) who provided luxurious ‘white van’ transport (complete with school chair) for which I was very grateful. With domestique #2 David Barnes (Winner Le Grand Stag night and runner up in the classic ‘Paris-cafe in Paris’; who provided the stale whiff of fine wine and stale granite-esque brownies, along with a plethora of mumbled promises about a future embracing only temperance, study and more than four hours sleep, safely strapped into the passenger seat, we made our way through the emerging buildings of East London and onwards towards the more refined airs and graces of Tonbridge castle.
It was now 6 a.m on a Sunday morning and I was not impressed and just a little grumpy, although this silly emotion was loosing the battle with that of a growing sense of excitement!
Having arrived in Tonbridge and changing into our sexy Lycra in a car park, to the cheers – or should that be shocked-jeers – of many a morning shopper (in our defence… it was very cold!), Team Bulllen-Dey, with a green-hued David in tow, headed for the start line and event registration. Little did we anticipate what David would do today, despite his condition.
The level of organisation and the splendour of the medieval castle walls and grounds proved only to enhance the positive emotions of the morning. We were itching to get going and we didn’t have to hang around for long. What an amazingly
friendly bunch cyclists are and what a pleasure it was to finally meet the outstanding AMR staff face to face, busy as they were marshalling the troops.
Castle 2007 start – ©Nick Dey
What a magnificent setting from which to start a sportive.
About twenty five cyclists, from the gathered five hundred or so, set off in a group at around 7.30 a.m. Keith is in yellow, I’m looking down. The plan was to take it easy, to do a pleasant 25 km/h until we had warmed-up and had more of an idea what to expect. So much for the plan. We averaged over 40 km/h for the first eight kilometers!Psychologists, please comment here on the male ego! This was 8 a.m and not only was I bitter and twisted about being dragged from my bed, but now I was also unduly fatigued (a phrase my old PE teacher instilled in us when we actually meant… totally knackered!) We still had a daunting 95 miles to go!
The first hill …
A sharp right led us onto a seemingly endless incline that caught out a few, myself included. David had long since vanished into the distance (so much for the late night!), and Condor-Keith was battling to stay with the mighty ’06 Madone 5.5! Foolishly I decided to ‘have a go’ at the hill. Predictably I was found, a few kilometers later (having thought the hill was a few hundred meters long) slumped twitching over the Bontrager bars about 20 meters short of the summit! My entire body seemed to be bursting with lactic acid and I’m sure I could taste iron and blood. My lungs had long since vacated their cage and only photosynthesis kept me going!
The next 40 miles were not too pleasant as my body struggled to recover from the minds misplaced, and definitely unrealistic, enthusiasm – four months light training through the gentle, but beautiful & cafe laden lanes of Essex do not a Bradley Wiggins make! David, like the good domestique he is, was found waiting for his elders by a field full of gently swaying corn, basking in the sunshine of a glorious morn, sipping from his designer bidon – The swine (one hell of a rider though!) We cycled together for twenty-or-so miles in a peloton of ever changing dimensions and met and chatted to several cyclists about life, the charity, Le Tour and the road ahead. A pleasant morning it made for all concerned. Thanks for the draft to the chap from Sevenoaks (Dulwich CC?) whose wife went to the School I now teach at (Forest, small world) and whose advice probably got us, or at least me, through the event. He left me for dead up the hills though and I didn’t see him again. The route seemed to get better and better as the sun rose high. Some of the scenery was stunning and he roads seemed almost devoid of traffic. Bliss – if it wasn’t for the burning lungs and legs!
Campag Chaos …With each pedal stroke inducing spasms of pain and discomfort Keith and I were focused only on luncheon and Michelin-starred recuperation (OK, the food wasn’t that good. but it was close and never has plate of tuna pasta been more gratefully received). Unfortunately about 10 miles short of the fine Tavern whence luncheon was based; restorative pasta, banana’s and peace, KB’s Campag top of the range set up decided to trap his chain between hub and cassette. Interestingly my sexy shimano Dura-Ace 9700 was performing perfectly, as, of course, I expected it would! With the aid of a very kind motorcycle steward and protected by a deliberately parked, and thus cyclist friendly, ambulance we spent a good half an hour with the Italian beastie before we could resume. Thanks to the steward and to the Ambulance crew for their vital help. After about two miles it was decided that I ‘race’ ahead and meet David at the lunch stop. Keith assured me that he, and his beloved Condor/Campag would be OK. He was.
You don’t want to fall off here – not with everyone watching!David, who’d arrived about an hour earlier, and I were dining heartily when we saw a cloud of dust and heard the clatter of bike, body and road, right in front of the gathered throngs of Castle riders. An ‘unnamed’ cyclist had taken a slapstick tumble whilst coming to a stop… Was that a Condor bike? Isn’t that the dreaded Campag? Who was this mysterious rider? Thankfully nothing more than pride was bruised and about twenty minutes later we resumed our adventure.
Unexpected fun …
The next fifty miles were a distinct pleasure. I’d be very grateful if anyone could explain why I only managed to average a painful 20-23 km/h for the first 50 miles and then an easy, pleasant even, 31 k/h for the next 50, despite the unfriendly undulations? I’m at a loss. I can only put it down to fuel, rest, a gentle stretch and a grupetto going at a pace I could cope with. David, once again, vanished into the distance (to his credit he always asked for permission – not that we would, indeed could, ever say no) and Keith and I decided it would be best to go at our own pace. it made for solitary bit-and-bit along some roads but it also made for a splendid afternoons cycling. Tagging along and playing hopscotch with small groups and individuals we were rarely passed and I owe a debt of gratitude to the gentleman who urged me along for the final undulating 20 miles, without his support, dragging me up the climbs at a pace far greater than I would have managed alone, my average for the final 50 would surely have plummeted. I’m afraid I didn’t catch his name so if he’s reading this … I thank you Sir (you should become a teacher – inspiring stuff.) A big thanks to Helen and Oly from AMR, whom I met at an isolated feed station and whose encouragement was far more important than all the sweets on offer, and also to all the folk who gave up their time to run the event. Special thanks go to the Halford’s mechanics for a free tune up. How wonderful it was to collect our first ever endurance medals and to avail ourselves of the free sports massage in the grounds of Tonbridge Castle.
What a way to end a glorious day.
This image is courtesy of Keith Bullen and his funky Garmin-Memory Map duo. It is the actual route Keith followed – we did a slightly shorter one as we didn’t get lost – did you enjoy the extra hill KB!!!
If Garmin or Memory-Map are reading this then sponsorship would make my life a little more fun, I’ll even add your logo and link!!! Cheers Keith.
Should anyone ever read this then I most heartily recommend the Castle Ride for a superb days cycling.
Can’t wait until next year.
It is the one event I miss most now I spend most of the year in Deutschland.
The Castle Ride 100 today:
SALE 20% off entry fee for limited period. Use voucher code SALE! Offer ends January.
One of the most popular bike rides in the South East, the Castle Ride 100 attracts 1,000 riders on this must do event. The North Downs offer up some big climbs including the mile long climb of Hollingbourne Hill along the way. Quiet lanes make the route through England’s garden a real joy to ride even though this is a tough one.
With a choice of 100km or a tougher 100-mile route
, you’ll have a great day in the saddle with the Action Medical Research team. Whether you are an experienced rider aiming to get a fast time or a rider aiming to make a day of it and take in the sights, this ride is for you.
Expect excellent feed stations manned by friendly volunteers and a buffet style lunch mid-way through the ride that you will find hard to tear yourself away from! Riders will be supported by first class medical support, mechanical services and a sweep vehicle.
Many riders have experienced a RIDE 100 event, and thoroughly enjoyed the social atmosphere and return to enjoy the unique experience that we offer. Make 2013 the year that you take part in a RIDE 100 sportive! You won’t be disappointed.
Still not convinced? Perhaps knight of the realm can encourage you to register?
If you’ve enjoyed this post and have a few pennies to spare please would you consider sponsoring me for my 2013 fundraising for Action Medical Research.
It WILL make a difference.