A Brevet upon St Lucy’s Day – 200km Audax

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I’ve written about Audaxing before here mentioning how relaxed and economical they are compared to Sportives. In an effort to keep me riding good distances throughout the winter I’ve signed up to be a fully paid up member of Audax UK so I can take part in the many rides available.

This was my second ever Audax, with the first one being a short leisurely 100km in the sun in July 2013, as well as my first proper attempt at a 200km ride. I did a 195km ride riding to and from a sportive earlier in the summer and went over 200km technically on one Dunwich Dynamo but they’re not quite the same.

The planned route was to go from Whitchurch in Shropshire almost 100km directly West to Dolgellau in Wales….and then back again. Knowing my train was going to be a tiny bit late getting in after the published start time, it was agreed I could set off from the station. Audaxes work partly from honesty and partly from evidence – I had to visit a cash machine and take a receipt as confirmation that I had started from a set point as well as a time stamp.

So many train tickets for one return journey!

So many train tickets for one return journey!

The whole of Whitchurch was covered in sheet ice and I managed to fall off less than 1km into a 200km ride. It was going across a crossroads and I only turned slightly but it was enough on slick tyres to throw me off. Keeping my arms in (like a pro) I fell onto my shoulder which thought about popping out but then didn’t. With only pride properly damaged, I picked up the bike and carried on.

Covering new ground across Shropshire there was nothing too distinctive, just countryside and the odd 10% hill. Dropping down through Cefn Mawr and into Llangollen, the scenery changed as we were now in the A5 valleys, which despite being on the main road were still picturesque. A quick toilet stop and a necessary stop to re-attach my saddlebag and I decided to up the pace and go quickly for the next 20 miles which resulted in me overtaking about 8-10 fellow audaxers and riding through Bala and into Dolgellau on my own.

View from the first comfort break, could do a lot worse!

View from the first comfort break, could do a lot worse!

The Bala valley looks amazing and very similar to the Lakes, I realised I’d underestimated the size of Lake Bala as it seemed to go on for miles and miles. Climbing up out of Bala itself and up to the highest point of the ride, I was now in a pass with no houses and the odd loose sheep looking for a way off the road and back into the fields. It was surprisingly well tarmac-ed and I could look around and enjoy the distant snow-covered mountains further North.

There was a steady 15km descent into Dolgellau and a well earnt food stop and information control. I ordered myself a jacket potato (with chips) and a coffee and remembered to pocket my receipt (proving I’d reached Dolgellau at a certain time) and sat down with 3 Audaxers who it turns out had been ahead of me. Everyone else came in as I was eating, which shows I was never too far ahead of people despite it feeling that way.

I left the stop with one of them and we rode back up the gradient we’d just come down – he was riding a fixed gear which is something I couldn’t picture myself doing over such a distance. We caught up the other two who had left before us and reached the top together, then the advantages of not riding a fixed gear kicked in as I was able to go much quicker and go out of sight on the descent back into Bala.

This was the last time I rode with someone as I headed back up to the A5 and back into Llangollen alone. The other side of Cefn Mawr I had a quick comfort break, took a photo of the sunset which was very impressive and saw what was distinctively a bike light coming towards me. The competition instinct kicked in and I set off with a blast to make sure I didn’t get caught and passed and ended up looking over my shoulder a lot for the last 40km.

Sunset that day...not bad

Sunset that day…not bad

It was getting darker and darker and finally I had to give in, took the sunglasses off and put the lights on. My goal had been to ride as much as possible in the light in order to avoid having to ride too much in the dark, in the end I got away with just an hour or so riding with the lights.

The finish involved navigating the dual carriageway Whitchurch by-pass which wasn’t as interesting to see and then reporting to a waiting man in a car. I showed my evidence and it was noted what time I turned up at the finish, apparently I was the second person back, an hour behind the first person (who I suspect had no lunch).

It looks like about 20 of us did the ride, a solid sized group dotted throughout the mid-Wales countryside that day.

 

 

A Brevet upon St Lucy’s Day – 200km Audax

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I’ve written about Audaxing before here mentioning how relaxed and economical they are compared to Sportives. In an effort to keep me riding good distances throughout the winter I’ve signed up to be a fully paid up member of Audax UK so I can take part in the many rides available.

This was my second ever Audax, with the first one being a short leisurely 100km in the sun in July 2013, as well as my first proper attempt at a 200km ride. I did a 195km ride riding to and from a sportive earlier in the summer and went over 200km technically on one Dunwich Dynamo but they’re not quite the same.

The planned route was to go from Whitchurch in Shropshire almost 100km directly West to Dolgellau in Wales….and then back again. Knowing my train was going to be a tiny bit late getting in after the published start time, it was agreed I could set off from the station. Audaxes work partly from honesty and partly from evidence – I had to visit a cash machine and take a receipt as confirmation that I had started from a set point as well as a time stamp.

So many train tickets for one return journey!

So many train tickets for one return journey!

The whole of Whitchurch was covered in sheet ice and I managed to fall off less than 1km into a 200km ride. It was going across a crossroads and I only turned slightly but it was enough on slick tyres to throw me off. Keeping my arms in (like a pro) I fell onto my shoulder which thought about popping out but then didn’t. With only pride properly damaged, I picked up the bike and carried on. Not the best start to any Brevet!

Covering new ground across Shropshire there was nothing too distinctive, just countryside and the odd 10% hill. Dropping down through Cefn Mawr and into Llangollen, the scenery changed as we were now in the A5 valleys, which despite being on the main road were still picturesque. A quick toilet stop and a necessary stop to re-attach my saddlebag and I decided to up the pace and go quickly for the next 20 miles which resulted in me overtaking about 8-10 fellow audaxers and riding through Bala and into Dolgellau on my own.

View from the first comfort break, could do a lot worse!

View from the first comfort break, could do a lot worse!

The Bala valley looks amazing and very similar to the Lakes, I realised I’d underestimated the size of Lake Bala as it seemed to go on for miles and miles. Climbing up out of Bala itself and up to the highest point of the ride, I was now in a pass with no houses and the odd loose sheep looking for a way off the road and back into the fields. It was surprisingly well tarmac-ed and I could look around and enjoy the distant snow-covered mountains further North. It was a very enjoyable winter Brevet so far!

Half-way through the Brevet

There was a steady 15km descent into Dolgellau and a well-earnt food stop and information control. I ordered myself a jacket potato (with chips) and a coffee and remembered to pocket my receipt (proving I’d reached Dolgellau at a certain time) and sat down with 3 Audaxers who it turns out had been ahead of me. Everyone else came in as I was eating, which shows I was never too far ahead of people despite it feeling that way. Time to head back to the start of the Brevet.

I left the stop with one of them and we rode back up the gradient we’d just come down – he was riding a fixed gear which is something I couldn’t picture myself doing over such a distance. We caught up the other two who had left before us and reached the top together, then the advantages of not riding a fixed gear kicked in as I was able to go much quicker and go out of sight on the descent back into Bala.

This was the last time I rode with someone as I headed back up to the A5 and back into Llangollen alone. The other side of Cefn Mawr I had a quick comfort break, took a photo of the sunset which was very impressive and saw what was distinctively a bike light coming towards me. The competition instinct kicked in and I set off with a blast to make sure I didn’t get caught and passed and ended up looking over my shoulder a lot for the last 40km of the Brevet.

Sunset that day...not bad

Sunset that day…not bad

Evening time

It was getting darker and darker and finally I had to give in, took the sunglasses off and put the lights on. My goal had been to ride as much as possible in the light in order to avoid having to ride too much in the dark, in the end I got away with just an hour or so riding with the lights.

The finish involved navigating the dual carriageway Whitchurch by-pass which wasn’t as interesting to see and then reporting to a waiting man in a car. I showed my evidence and it was noted what time I turned up at the finish, apparently I was the second person back, an hour behind the first person (who I suspect had no lunch). Brevet complete!

It looks like about 20 of us did the ride, a solid sized group dotted throughout the mid-Wales countryside that day.

 

 

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A Brevet upon St Lucy’s Day – 200km Audax was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

The Gannets ‘How Hard Can It Be?’ Circuit Race – Stourport – 13th May

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I headed over to Stourport on Severn after work to go back to where my season began and where I destroyed the back end of my bike warming up, way back in January now.

This race was following the full purpose built circuit, anti clockwise as usual (well for me anyway) and a nice change from the tight courses at Leamington and Solihull. With a lot more room the race should be crash free, despite being a 4th Cat Only race.

The weather had been inclemental all day with some rain a few hours before the race making the tarmac surface a little bit greasy. With that day’s Giro d’Italia stage showing how badly some people are at going round wet corners on road bikes, I decided to be conservative in the corners and aggressive on the straights when I needed to be – the golden rule being that you have to reach the finish to contest it.

Gannets Stourport Criterium May 2014

Continental advertising tonight…

People must’ve been put off by the weather, 19 showed up and 1 warmed up before calling it a day. With 18 starters the odds were very good that I’d be finishing in the top 10 and getting my first points on the licence.

The early pace was quick, someone decided to solo attack from the start which never works so he was left to it for 5-10minutes to do his own thing. The bunch was strung out but together for awhile, keeping things sensible. Eventually though, it happened, someone decided to fall off. It was a bit of an odd one as it was the leader rider who just lost it, his front wheel slipping out from under him at low speed in the top hairpin. The rider following him took evasive action, looked to be clear and then fell off too. The bunch at the slowest part of the track anyway managed to make it through their carnage and carry on.

We had a huge shower that drenched the circuit, the greasiness turned into genuine wet with lots of water spray. In these changing conditions it became clear there was a group of around 5 riders (and me sitting in 6th wheel with them) who were stronger than the rest and they consistently took turns at the front and seemed in control. I was busy totting up numbers and worked out with 10 people now in the group, as long as I stayed upright, I would surely get some points.

Shortly afterwards we had the shout there was a Prime coming up, usually a sprint for a prize, it’s also a code word for ‘crash ahead’ as people become unpredictable chasing down something unimportant. Predictably we then had the second crash, the rider in front of me lost it coming out of the adverse camber corner at the bottom of the start/finish hill. I watched his rear wheel catch on the muddy grass and he speared off to the right and took someone else out. A very close near miss!

Post race train home

Post race train home

The race settled down and we all followed one rider who seemed to be stuck on the front pulling everyone to the finish. With 3 laps to go the pace ramped up again and it was back to proper racing. I was holding sixth wheel behind the five other strong riders comfortably until we reached the final hairpin on the last lap.

This is where in my first race I ran out of energy and dropped right back. Unfortunately this time it was lapped riders getting in the way. I got to the corner at the moment these riders took to the inside of the corner, only to have one swerve across me taking to a very odd line. This created a big gap at the crucial moment and I called the obstructive rider all sorts of words I wouldn’t want my grandparents to hear.

I was now effectively leading out the few people behind me for the finish so knew I had to accelerate hard to drop them and whilst sprinting hard up the hill, well into the red zone, a look under my shoulder showed I was on my own.

I coasted in for 6th, good enough for 4 British Cycling licence points. A third of the way towards the next level!

The Gannets ‘How Hard Can It Be?’ Circuit Race – Stourport – 13th May

Standard

I headed over to Stourport on Severn after work for the Gannets circuit race and to go back to where my season began when I destroyed the back end of my bike warming up, way back in January now.

This race was following the full purpose built circuit, anti clockwise as usual (well for me anyway) and a nice change from the tight courses at Leamington and Solihull. With a lot more room the Gannets race should be crash free, despite being a 4th Cat Only race.

The weather had been inclemental all day with some rain a few hours before the race making the tarmac surface a little bit greasy. With that day’s Giro d’Italia stage showing how badly some people are at going round wet corners on road bikes, I decided to be conservative in the corners and aggressive on the straights when I needed to be – the golden rule being that you have to reach the finish to contest it.

Gannets Stourport Criterium May 2014

Continental advertising tonight…

People must’ve been put off by the weather, 19 showed up and 1 warmed up before calling it a day. With 18 starters the odds were very good that I’d be finishing in the top 10 of the Gannets race and getting my first points on the licence.

The early pace was quick, someone decided to solo attack from the start which never works so he was left to it for 5-10minutes to do his own thing. The bunch was strung out but together for awhile, keeping things sensible. Eventually though, it happened, someone decided to fall off. It was a bit of an odd one as it was the leader rider who just lost it, his front wheel slipping out from under him at low speed in the top hairpin. The rider following him took evasive action, looked to be clear and then fell off too. The bunch at the slowest part of the track anyway managed to make it through their carnage and carry on.

We had a huge shower that drenched the circuit, the greasiness turned into genuine wet with lots of water spray. In these changing conditions it became clear there was a group of around 5 riders (and me sitting in 6th wheel with them) who were stronger than the rest and they consistently took turns at the front and seemed in control. I was busy totting up numbers and worked out with 10 people now in the group, as long as I stayed upright, I would surely get some points.

Shortly afterwards we had the shout there was a Prime coming up, usually a sprint for a prize, it’s also a code word for ‘crash ahead’ as people become unpredictable chasing down something unimportant. Predictably we then had the second crash, the rider in front of me lost it coming out of the adverse camber corner at the bottom of the start/finish hill. I watched his rear wheel catch on the muddy grass and he speared off to the right and took someone else out. A very close near miss!

Post Gannets race train home

Post race train home

Getting to the Gannets finish

The Gannets race settled down and we all followed one rider who seemed to be stuck on the front pulling everyone to the finish. With 3 laps to go the pace ramped up again and it was back to proper racing. I was holding sixth wheel behind the five other strong riders comfortably until we reached the final hairpin on the last lap.

This is where in my first race I ran out of energy and dropped right back. Unfortunately this time it was lapped riders getting in the way. I got to the corner at the moment these riders took to the inside of the corner, only to have one swerve across me taking to a very odd line. This created a big gap at the crucial moment and I called the obstructive rider all sorts of words I wouldn’t want my grandparents to hear.

I was now effectively leading out the few people behind me for the finish so knew I had to accelerate hard to drop them and whilst sprinting hard up the hill, well into the red zone, a look under my shoulder showed I was on my own.

I coasted in for 6th at the Gannets race, good enough for 4 British Cycling licence points. A third of the way towards the next level!

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The Gannets ‘How Hard Can It Be?’ Circuit Race – Stourport – 13th May was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

No Frills Racing – Race 1 – Solihull – Cats 2/3/4 – 7th May

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A relatively quick turn around between races this time and heading back to Solihull only a few days after racing there.

This race was a new experience, racing with higher categories – around 40 riders raced across three different categories, I was very much the small-fry in this race with not many 4th Cats apparently giving this one a go.

To get things off to a bad start, I realised in the queue that I’d forgotten my race licence and potentially couldn’t race. Luckily however I remember I’d taken a clear picture of my race licence to show it off and had it on my phone. Quick check later of the massive screen on the phone and I was ready to go.

The photo of my licence

The photo of my licence that scraped me onto the starting line…

From the off it was clear that this sort of racing was completely different to what I’d experienced a couple of days before. People immediately went off hard and I found myself following someone who didn’t take the corners hard or fast enough but also couldn’t get round due to the strong winds. The end result was being dropped very early into the hour long race.

Two other people ahead had also been dropped and I put in a long turn to create a group of four. We carried on, the winds making us progressively slower and eventually conceded two laps to the main field. I had a few goes on the front where after a lap of effort the other three would drop back making it pointless – I sat on 4th wheel waiting for the bunch to come back round again. We’d probably spent 20 minutes of the race together as a four and another 15 as a five as another rider was caught.

When the bunch came round again, it was missing a group of 2nd Cats who’d raced off the front and after making an effort I managed to get attached to the back of them. I spent the final 20 minutes of the hour long race racing around on the back of the main bunch and eventually finished there, albeit 3 laps down.

Bike at Solihull Station

Waiting for the train home

Naturally I didn’t feel great about the result having been lapped 3 times, but did learn a lot from it. Mainly that some races start very quick, especially with non 4th Cat racers in them and some wheels are better off not following. The 20 minutes I did spend with the bunch of primarily 3rd Cats showed that I could hang with them with the right positioning. I out sprinted a few too for good measure, being 3 laps down it was somewhat irrelevant though.

This definitely turned out to be a learning experience rather than a race for me. With the wind being as strong as it was that day, it was essentialy to stick in the bunch – as it was I didn’t come last, the other 4 riders I’d been with all finished behind me as they weren’t in the finishing bunch.

35th out of 40 sounds pretty bad but there are positives!

No Frills Racing – Race 1 – Solihull Circuit – Cats 2/3/4 – 7th May

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A relatively quick turn around between races this time and heading back to Solihull only a few days after racing there.

This race in Solihullwas a new experience, racing with higher categories – around 40 riders raced across three different categories, I was very much the small-fry in this race with not many 4th Cats apparently giving this one a go.

Solihull No Frill Race

To get things off to a bad start, I realised in the queue that I’d forgotten my race licence and potentially couldn’t race. Luckily however I remember I’d taken a clear picture of my race licence to show it off and had it on my phone. Quick check later of the massive screen on the phone and I was ready to go.

The photo of my licence

The photo of my licence that scraped me onto the starting line…

From the off it was clear that this sort of racing at Solihull was completely different to what I’d experienced a couple of days before. People immediately went off hard and I found myself following someone who didn’t take the corners hard or fast enough but also couldn’t get round due to the strong winds. The end result was being dropped very early into the hour long race.

Two other people ahead had also been dropped and I put in a long turn to create a group of four. We carried on, the winds making us progressively slower and eventually conceded two laps to the main field. I had a few goes on the front where after a lap of effort the other three would drop back making it pointless – I sat on 4th wheel waiting for the bunch to come back round again. We’d probably spent 20 minutes of the race together as a four and another 15 as a five as another rider was caught.

When the bunch came round again, it was missing a group of 2nd Cats who’d raced off the front and after making an effort I managed to get attached to the back of the bunch. I spent the final 20 minutes of the hour long race racing around on the back of the main bunch and eventually finished there, albeit 3 laps down. Definitely a learning process racing in Solihull.

Bike at Solihull Station

Waiting for the train home

Naturally I didn’t feel great about the result having been lapped 3 times, but did learn a lot from it. Mainly that some races start very quick, especially with non-4th Cat racers in them and some wheels are better off not following. The 20 minutes I did spend with the bunch of primarily 3rd Cats showed that I could hang with them with the right positioning. I outsprinted a few too for good measure, being 3 laps down it was somewhat irrelevant though.

This definitely turned out to be a learning experience rather than a race for me. With the wind being as strong as it was that day, it was essential to stick in the bunch – as it was I didn’t come last, the other 4 riders I’d been with all finished behind me as they weren’t in the finishing bunch.

35th out of 40 on the Solihull circuit sounds pretty bad but there are positives!

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No Frills Racing – Race 1 – Solihull Circuit – Cats 2/3/4 – 7th May was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

University of Birmingham Criterium – Solihull – 3rd May

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My first race since the Leamington Victoria Park Crits 3 weeks before took place in Solihull on the Tudor Grange Park cycling circuit – another new track to learn!

The race was a 40 minutes + 5 laps type and the track itself was quite interesting – there’s barely a straight line on the circuit, lots of sweeping bends and little kinks to be aware of and also a nasty kick of a bump to make things interesting.

Tudor Grange Park Race

I’m not in this picture…

Keen to avoid a repeat of Leamington’s wobbles and antics, I drifted around at the back for most of the race sticking to a line on the outside – the race itself was a 4th Cat Only race and as such not a lot really happened. A couple of people tried to move away only to not get far off the front, someone attacked and I went with him but we were caught within a lap. Deciding that was a pointless endeavour I drifted back to the back.

I managed to avoid the crash by the skin of my teeth – someone on the inside on the sweeping bend on the fastest part of the circuit wobbled, the person on my left shoulder pushed outwards and I had to make a detour onto the grass. Straightening up and sprinting out the saddle on the bumpy grass I only lost a second or two and recaught the bunch. The next time round though, a couple of people were off their bikes and were resigned to their race being over. I’d just about avoided the same fate.

Tudor Grange Park Race

Sweeping bends…

Coming towards the end of the race, the Garmin was saying 38, 39 minutes of racing completed I found myself back right on the front – scenarios played themselves out in my head and went with powering round as fast as I could at the front thinking that I’d make the top 10 (and points) if I could hold it until the last lap.

As it was, I held off the pack in the gap between 6 laps to go and 1.5 laps to go – being caught on the steep kick as I began to struggle. Almost immediately a counter attack went and my chance was gone, I’d effectively spent 3 miles at the front going flat out.

I stayed in the bunch and overtook a couple at the end – I can’t give an exact finishing position but 20th seems about right from 40. Again, I was strong enough to never be in danger of being dropped but just need to be better at finishing off races.