I completed the Rapha Festive 500 again between Christmas and New Year’s Eve 2016. The challenge is to cycle 500km over 8 days during the darkest, bleakest and most social time of the year.
Part of the reward for completing the challenge, other than the massive leg muscles, is a woven roundel patch to commemorate the achievement. This year’s has just come through the post!
Not quite as nice a package as two years ago, but the patch itself is just as good. Previously the card it came with was full of facts such as how many riders completed the challenge, which countries they were from and so on. This year it’s just a cartwheeling figure on the figure. Maybe too many people completed it and the cost is starting to climb!
A nice touch this year is a jersey available at an actual reasonable price (unlike the usual ones, jealously griped about here), I bought one, mainly to be able to show off – standard, I’ve had previous for this.
This Christmas, I set myself the challenge to complete the Rapha Festive 500 again. The challenge that Rapha set is to cycle 500 kilometres between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, which given the Winter weather and social restrictions of that time of year presents a fair obstacle. I completed the Festive 500 back in 2014 so knew that I could do it again, provided the weather was kind and I was sensible.
Day 1 was tough, a ridiculously windy day and I didn’t get to enjoy much of the wind behind me on the fun sections! The headwinds were on the already more difficult rolling sections with the climbs and long steady gradients. Disappointingly towards the end of the ride when I should have been able to tank along with the wind, I had to keep stopping because round seemingly every bend was a horse – it turned out the local hunt were out doing their thing. I slogged through 39.6 miles on my own, but didn’t particularly enjoy it – an inauspicious start!
The second day was Christmas Day, just like two years before I split today’s mileage into two separate rides. Making sure I’d done the bulk early in the day, it was another windy solo day but thankfully dry. With the wind in the right direction, it was fun blasting along the lanes using the body as a sail. A nice easy 10 miles later on in the dark along the flat roads not far from home.
I get some company on the Festive 500
Boxing Day saw me join the Stratford Cycling Club’s Boxing Day ride, a leisurely jaunt of 50 miles for me. Meeting up at Box Brownie, a great cafe in Stratford, we headed up towards Shrewley and Lowsonford before heading back to Stratford via Alcester. I sat in the wheels for most of the ride, being told I was showing off because of my trackstanding whilst waiting at junctions, before taking the reigns near the end of the ride. Somehow we managed to get split up coming up the rise by Billesley, but being so close to Stratford it settled into two manageable groups. Just about 1 mile from Stratford and on a short rise I decided to liven things up by attacking on a small rise, blasting away with only Max managing to bridge the gap on the way into Stratford. We decamped into a cafe for some more coffee before heading home.
The next day was another social club ride with most of the same (allbeit smaller) pack. We did 25 flat miles to begin with towards Bretforton and Badsey before making the turn back towards Stratford, someone was clearly bored and fancied a hill or two so we ended up both Saintbury and Baker’s Hill. Max smashed up miles ahead of everyone else, I was setting a good pace ahead of John and Dave but thinking we were making the left turn halfway up Saintbury pulled in, only to find we weren’t as those two went past. Momentum lost, the rest of the hill was a struggle. Leading the charge past Chipping Campden and down into Mickleton, Baker’s was taken far more sedately. Again a last little sprint was had just outside of Stratford, pleased to say I got the tactics right having sat at the back to begin with, moving up the line as people dropped out and making the sprint count at the end. Back into town for more coffee again! Managed to get another 11 miles done that evening cycling into down for some drinks.
After the harder previous days, the 28th was a relatively rest day, just a ride over to Shipston on Stour and back to see my grandparents. Still 17 miles though to keep things ticking over nicely.
The legs were beginning to ache and felt very heavy on the 29th. It took me most of the day to work up the energy to head out and I only did 21 miles that day on flat roads. I accidentally set a bit of a PB on half of a local TT circuit, which I ended up using as a banker time to try and beat later in the week.
Festive 500 Ice and Mechanicals
The club had another group ride on the 30th, the weather had changed from earlier in the week and got colder, ice was now an issue. The main road into Stratford was fine, but as we headed out towards Tysoe we found a particularly icy stretch and one of our group managed to hit the deck because of it. As we all stopped for a check up, it was hard to even stand upright at the moment and it became easier to get going again by starting on the grass verge! Tim and I decided we’d had enough of looking over the front wheel for ice all the time and bombed back into Stratford along the main road. Coming out of Stratford, crossing an island, my chain unexpectedly fell off. It turned out I’d completely destroyed the chainring, snapping it good and proper because a couple of chainring bolts had fallen out at some point. The bike was still rideable in the big chainring so that’s how I finished the ride. I got home, had some lunch and then popped out for another 20 miles on the main roads to get some miles advantage in again and have less to do the following day.
New Year’s Eve, just 25.5 miles left to complete. I went out solo, did a couple of loops of the Stratford Tuesday bash circuit by Ilmington and found time for a half-proper TT attempt to finish off. Into a headwind, I knocked over 50 seconds off the time of the first half set a couple of days earlier and set a time for the circuit which is a good starting point. Finishing in the dark I was glad to have it all over and done with – 500km in 8 days!
The Great Shakespeare Ride was the first sportive I ever did in my fledgling pre-lycra, pre-clippy shoes days. I remember it being very hard work with plenty of stops to recuperate and the last ten miles were a huge struggle. In the end I finished 108th out of 134 in 8 hours 10 minutes, whilst people I now regularly ride with finished in the top 10. I also did it in 2014, but chopped off the end to go home after 100 miles rather than do a 15 mile loop to the finish and back again.
The route itself is very hilly, so not something I’m naturally suited to as a heavier rider. Lots of early leg testers designed to tire you out are compounded by the finishing climbs of Sudeley, Saintbury and Larkstoke. In many ways the route was similar to the Liege-Bastogne-Liege Sportive I did in the Spring.
The ride started with the Stratford Cycling Club leading the pack behind a car providing a neutralised start, designed to get everyone off the busy main road and through the small lanes safely before depositing everyone in Wellesbourne. What happens once the car pulls over is someone takes up the pace and a whole long string of people follow waiting for the dual kick of Spring and Frizz Hills leaving Wellesbourne – once on the hills, it ends up as free for all as the once cohesive pack turns into smaller groups. I ended up in quite an elite group, happy to let the guys from the Cycle Studio team do the work as they were only doing the 100km route. We followed the wheels and the next ten miles flew past on a pretty much flat part of the route.
I lost touch with the group on the designated timed hill-climb of Lady Elizabeth hill leaving Middle Tysoe, despite taking half a minute off my previous personal best, I was still a minute slower than the mountain goats that I was with. I ended up isolated, with my previous group out of sight and no-one behind appearing to catch me up either, as it was I spent nearly ten miles on my own holding off the hundreds of cyclists behind me before getting caught up by a couple of randoms and Mark, a familiar face from the Stratford club. I sort of rode the rest of the way with Mark, with a few mishaps and unplanned stoppages along the route.
Our small group might light work of the easier mid-section of the sportive, which was flat after the rolling hills before it and a nice rest before the climbing began again. The section around Guiting Power is a series of 3 or 4 short drags followed by a long 3 mile drag and really eats into the leg strength, it didn’t help that I lost touch with the group as my Garmin came out of its holder on landing as I jumped the bike over a pot hole on a descent. Despite my best efforts to come to a stop, turn around, locate and pick up the Garmin, the group had disappeared and were gone. Again I was on my own cresting the top of the hill before zipping across the valley to the other side and gently climbing up to Belas Knap. The descent has a nasty 90 degree right-hander but this one was in my mind’s directory of local knowledge so I took it sensibly. A club mate managed to break his collar bone going down the straighter parts of the same descent a year or two previously so I made sure to give it some respect. At the bottom is the village of Winchcombe.
The first feed station is in Winchcombe and I fully intended to stop there but somehow managed to completely miss it and had to tackle the steep Sudeley climb with no break. It’s one I really struggle with, the gradient kicks up to 20-22% gradually so you end up really grinding away, barely moving at that point. It didn’t help that my gearing wasn’t too suited to the climb, riding in 52-25 meant lots of zig-zagging to get up (bike tech geekery now over). The upside to missing the feed station is that I was caught shortly afterwards by Mark, I’d managed to undercut him as he stopped and had pressed on. We joined ourselves to a group and ended up blasting down the Stanway descent, a favourite of mine, that was used in a Tour of Britain stage in 2014. The close to two miles long road has lots of gently angled corners that allow you to fly down without having to touch the brakes and make fun controlled swoops.
We followed them to Snowshill (also used on the Tour of Britain 2014) where it all broke up again. Now reduced to steady pace on the climbs, it was a case of powering through the pain and reaching the top somewhat together. The small gentle climbs up to Lavender Fields continued to suck the energy from the legs but a tractor provided some entertainment, waiting behind it at a junction, I ended up drafting behind it up a hill for half a mile and now get to claim 4th place out of over 5000 on that Strava segment. The best part was overtaking other cyclists with the tractor and speeding past whilst using almost no effort.
We took in Broadway Tower before beginning the descent to Chipping Campden, I had to refill my water bottles in Ebrington, losing touch with Mark as I attacked beforehand to try and create a bit of a gap – halfway up Larkstoke I found him again though. We crawled up it together and kept each other going as first I hit the wall followed by Mark as we both passed close to home and the temptation to turn off and finish kicked in. The final drag back up out of Hampton Lucy nearly finished us off but we got a good photo out of it.
We finished 19th and 20th out of 144 riders and just snuck under 6 Hours with my time of 5 hours, 59 minutes and 31 minutes. The ride finished with a well earned beer.
So three years ago now (time flies) I did the Paris-Roubaix Challenge which went well (sort of) and frankly it was time for another challenge. 2016 would be Liege – Bastogne – Liege.
This time of year is the Spring Classics in Belgium and the Netherlands, with several iconic one day races. I chose Liege – Bastogne – Liege largely because it doesn’t have cobbles (done them, see link above) and because once you’ve ruled out the Tour of Flanders for that reason, it’s the next best race anyway.
Liege – Bastogne – Liege (from now on LBL out of my laziness) is known for its hills. There are plenty of steep, reasonably long climbs to negotiate with a spate near the finish which normally sorts out the men from the boys on race day. For the amateurs, there was a choice of doing a 76km taster route, a 158km route covering most things or the full race distance of 273km – I did about 273km cycling London to Paris and personally I reach a point after about 6 hours where I get bored more than anything and wished I was doing something else. I chose the 158km route, basically 100 miles, perfect.
I was staying about 5 minutes cycling from the start point so I was able to almost fall out of bed and be there. This time nothing was forgotten unlike the infamous Paris-Roubaix debacle, I had pumps, tubes, the kitchen sink and filled water bottles. The weather however was just rubbish, it had rained all night, it was still raining and I was in shorts with no overshoes, I was definitely going to get wet so had to suck it up. Now I’m pretty sure if you google ‘how to get through a 100 mile sportive’ every result will tell you to take it steady to begin with, don’t over do things too early – I however like to blitz the first 30 miles if I can and get through a large chunk before the hurt starts…it’s also probably down to showing off. We departed our start and by the time we got to the ‘Depart Pro‘ 8km in, I’d gone past lots of sensible people and it turned out we were going straight into a solid unmentioned climb. I found a group I could sit behind that were pushing the pace along and zipped along with them past lots more sensible people.
I did learn a few things on the ride, early on I learnt that I am about as effective as Bradley Wiggins descending in the wet, a combination of brakes that seemed to work less well than others (note to self, upgrade the brakeset when I get home…and don’t be a cheapskate) leading to a couple of hairy moments where they suddenly dropped their speed and I was still ploughing on; as well as seemingly having a bit more self-preservation and cautiousness on hairpins whilst on the wrong side of the road. It meant that I lost the initial group I’d been with, but there were plenty more wheels to follow, that is until the split between the 158 and 273km routes happened, when all of a sudden there was hardly anyone. An unspoken alliance was formed as three of us began to ride together, rotating turns on the front. An American who didn’t speak and turned off at the first food stop (42km in, too early for me), a Frenchman and myself. Mr FDJ (all of the kit and even the team’s actual make of bike too) and I rode together for around 40km, him being better on anything steep but me being better on the flat so it always evened out.
The first marked climb was L’Ancienne Barriere and it was a long long drag, it felt like it went on forever. As was typical throughout the ride, you would descend from the top of one side of the valley, over a river bridge and find yourself with a solid climb to get back up the other side. This climb was 3 miles long averaging 4.7% (a relative baby on this route) but the length was the issue. We got overtaken by someone better and Mr FDJ went off with him only for a mile later to be back within sight. The next mile was spent reeling him in and we rode the last mile or so together with my pidgin French breaking the ice (c’est longue!). The descent over the other side of the summit was surprisingly dry, more or less, and it turns out I become a fearless descender in the dry, wooshing through corners on the racing line and barely tapping the brakes. At the bottom of the valley however, I found myself on the front of our twosome going into a headwind. We’d been overtaken by someone tanking along and the easiest way in my mind to get out of the wind was to speed up and reel this guy in, which I did by putting the power down. I hadn’t checked on my new friend but a couple of miles later I realised I’d dropped him, not being an actual friend I didn’t sit up and wait.
I took a tow from this new rider to the next food stop in Stavelot, I definitely wanted to stop here, the food on offer was amazing (waffles, honey cake, stroopwaffel, wine gums, bananas, all sorts). I was happily munching on a well earned waffle when Mr FDJ appeared and gave me a bit of an earful in French – I understood the gist, he wasn’t happy I’d sped up and dropped him but all’s fair and that. I don’t recall seeing him again after this point. Coming out of the food stop was a shock, second waffle in mouth, straight onto a short, sharp, cobbled climb – but I thought there were no cobbles! Once that was over it was time for the second named climb – Col de Haute-Levee. really steep to begin with (making me definitely not suited to it) and then a drag as it slowly began to flatten out. I didn’t do it especially quickly.
The route went back into the hills and valleys, 10km further on was the Col du Rosier which on a sunny warm day is probably beautiful. Not too steep but very long, there was a switchback section that was like it had been designed for bike riding, with the forest around you and the fog in the trees; I even caught a glimpse of a deer lurking in the trees, a sure sign I wasn’t putting too much effort in and was wildlife spotting again. The Rosier got hard near the top, with the legs already drained it got nasty. The descent on a newly tarmac-ed road was amazing and the lower down you got the drier it became. Long wide easy hairpins made for great fun leaning in. I was about 45 miles in at this point and absolutely frozen, my feet were wet and felt twice their normal size (not that I could feel them) and my left hand had gone numb. Frankly I was miserable, cold and on my own. This was my mental wall of the ride, where I had to really dig deep to plough through – the lack of any alternatives is a good motivator, but when a group of 6 came past I sat on the back of it down the valley and before I new it the left hand worked again and we were 10 miles further on.
The next bit of drama was in the town of Sprimont where the event route signs caused something like 50-100 riders (just from what I saw) to go the wrong way – we’d reached the middle of a figure of 8 and this is where the split was earlier. Lots of us followed the signs again for our route only for it to start looking very familiar – I had a quick check of the Garmin and realised I was about 3km into doing another lap of what I’d already done, sod that! I turned around, tried to point people back but most ignored it, can only guess at what point they put two and two together. Almost straight after the island causing the problem was the Col de Redoute, containing the steepest sections of the route and it was an absolute killer. I’m honest that steep stuff is something I’ll never be quick on, but I know I can grind through it – there were plenty of people walking up the sides, including a 5 year old girl (who I’m guessing wasn’t on the 158km route), those walking were going the same speed as her, a harsh comparison to make!
Being a popular climb, there was a flotilla of caravans and motor homes on the lower slopes, all proudly declaring their support for riders and teams, mainly Belgian, but there was a definite Team Sky fan too. With so many people milling around and clapping, it gave a flavour of what it would be like the next day when the pros did it. Halfway up, with each pedal stroke barely moving me forward, my Garmin decided to start acting up going into test mode and moaning that it had an incorrect adapter fitted. I thought it was something to do with it getting conflicted with something on another rider’s bike (I did overtake a few) so turned off my heart rate monitor to give it a chance. Despite resetting it over and over, it kept throwing its tantrum and went into test mode – after cresting the Col, I decided to give the thing a blow through thinking maybe some of the gallons of rain had worked its way inside. It seemed to do the trick, with a few warnings continuing to pop up throughout the rest of the ride and 24 hours later it sorting itself out.
Another fun dry descent followed and a short bit of flat before the next named climb of the Col du Roche-au-Faucons – this turned out to be steep, long and after getting to the top was followed by another steep part to the real peak where Carlos Betancur had a stab at attacking the next day. This one was timed by the organisers so we could all see how we did compared to others, I was in something like the 66th percentile so not amazing, but my back was killing (core muscles need more work!) and the legs were not happy either. I don’t remember too much of it, just the start and end so I must have been spaced out trying to cope.
We began to hit the outskirts of Liege, apparently past the Standard Liege football ground although I didn’t see it (based on the aerial shots in the pro race, it’s because I was head down chasing down a group at that point). Through a lovely picturesque industrial estate and we were onto the Col du Saint-Nicolas, not the nicest of areas and certainly no reason for tourists to normally go there. This was more my sort of climb – nice steady 6-8% where you could stick it in the one gear, stay seated and just work up a good rhythm up to the summit. Passing a guy in the World Champion jersey was a highlight.
A decent sized group had formed as we negotiated city streets and traffic lights, when all of a sudden there was a cobbled stretch (them again!). Everyone else seemed to slow down, whereas I clicked up a couple of gears, upped the power, sped over them and created a gap – the Roubaix experience clearly giving an upperhand on knowing what to do!
The group came back together on the final drag to the finish, a solid mile of 7% on which I just about hung on before having a race back down the hill (on a cobbled descent of all things, turns out all my best Strava times were on the cobbled sections) with the World Champion jersey rider all the way back to the start point where we finished.
My reward for completing Liege – Bastogne – Liege, was a medal and a t-shirt and by handing in my race number (with the timing chip on it) I got a proper sized pot of sports drink. I paid up for a proper hot dog and a glass of Leffe – very well earnt. On my way out, ready to get back and go to bed, I was accosted by two guys who had spotted my Stratford club gear and gave me a welcome from the Solihull club. They’d both done the 76km ride and we had a chat about how tough some of the climbs had been and a shared acquaintance and happily parted ways. Once back, I did nothing but lie in bed.
All in all I’d done just over 100 miles and arrived back in Liege with the brief diversion in 6 hours 53 minutes.
Last weekend I went out braving the cold to do the Mad March Hare sportive from Wythall, Birmingham. It’s one I’ve wanted to do for a couple of years but always sells out rapidly around the start of January as the New Year’s resolutions kick in and everyone looks for an early season target to complete. I’d managed to convince George to join me but we’d come to an agreement to do the ride at our own paces as the route was signposted so I wasn’t required for navigation – the idea being it’d give me a chance to see how I was going at ‘race pace’. I managed to find another Stratford CC rider to join but that didn’t work out particularly as planned.
Mad March Hare Sportive
We set off under the inflatable arch which housed the start point for our timing chips at the front of a group but already 2 groups behind John from Stratford CC who I’d been intending to ride a lot with. I set off at a quick pace in an effort to catch up and dropped George fairly quickly but it took the best part of 20 miles and 45 minutes for me to catch up the 3 minute advantage that John had. We’d been warned before about ice and there was plenty about at the edges of the road – it meant that corners were taken sensibly and there were plenty of maybe patches where there was water on the road that looked shiny so could’ve been an issue. Going at the quick pace it meant that I passed plenty of slower riders, probably the best part of 100, as I hunted down John.
Eventually I caught a group (containing John) heading into Great Alne where one of the signposts had been turned slightly (or caught in the wind) and wasn’t pointing where it should be. There was a bit of a conflab before it was decided that we would make the turn and the sign was righted. We headed on, getting closer and closer to the signature climb of the route, Dover’s Hill. The large group broke up on the climb after the Alcester Road with a number of Boldmere Bullet triathletes going backwards and there was a nice period of tempo riding as we reached the village at the bottom of the large climb.
It’d been well over a year since I’d last tackled this one and with plenty of climbs left in the route I didn’t want to bury myself mid-sportive, a bit of a gap appeared between John and I as the climb ramped up around the right hand bend and it was never closed. I kept up a solid rhythm, distracting myself by looking down at the Garmin which seemed stuck on a 15% gradient for ages before the top came. I’d managed to overtake two riders and not be overtaken myself and wasn’t too far behind John at the top. The descent down into Mickleton is always a fun one, it lasts a long time and allows you to power along having given you a helpful push. We went up over the back of Meon Hill and then down into Lower and Upper Quinton for the feed stop.
There was a great selection, I helped myself to a banana, some flapjack and a bottle refill before heading off. Strava tells me that George was only about half a mile away once I set off from the stop, the closest we managed to get on the ride. John and I tagged onto the back of a group of Beacon riders, but on the long drag up into Binton my right leg was threatening to cramp and I couldn’t keep up and that was the last I saw of those guys until the Mad March Hare finish. I ended up tucked in behind a Stourbridge rider and another unidentified rider for a 10-15 mile stretch as we went into Alcester and out the other side before the gaps on the short climbs were getting harder and harder to close as the legs reached their limit. I kept catching up again on the descents and the flat but each time the road went up, I couldn’t keep up.
I ended up finishing the Mad March Hare on my own, a few minutes behind John, exchanged my rider number for a bacon roll and sat with some of the guys I knew and had a natter about the ride for awhile. As people started leaving I set out retracing my steps with the plan to find George and ride with him to the finish, after around 7 miles and post-toilet stop I gave him a ring to find out just exactly where he was. It turned out he’d got himself into a group and someone had a missed a sign so they’d gone well off route and were in the process of doing an extra 5-6 miles – I eventually met him at Earlswood lakes and we finished the final bit together. Being a great friend I bought him a pint of the Fixed Gear Brewery stuff that was in situ to help him recover.
The official timing says I finished the Mad March Hare in 77th place out of 688 riders on the day with a time of 4 hours and 22 minutes.
This Valentine’s Day, having no other plans to worry about, I headed out to lovely Burton on Trent with Rich (his first event) to do CC Giro’s reliability ride event. 3 events in 3 weeks is a good start to the Liège – Bastogne – Liège preparation – only 2 months left to go! CC Giro are a club from the gap north-east of Birmingham around Lichfield, Tamworth and Burton on Trent, well known for their Pink jerseys (inspired by the Giro d’Italia) and for being the home club of pro rider Dan Martin (of Liège – Bastogne – Liège winning and also crashing on the final corner fame).
Having caught the train up to Burton, we had just enough time to reach the starting point (Rosliston Forestry Centre), stand around for a couple of minutes, take a selfie, watch a man repair a puncture (puncturing before even starting is unlucky) and play guess the price on a Cervelo S2 with Zipp carbon wheels that was resting against the wall (correct answer is somewhere in the region of £3000+). Unfortunately we didn’t have time for a pre-ride coffee but Pret at New Street on the way up had sorted us for that anyhow. It would be nice to be able to ride a corner of the country I’d managed to never ride in up until this event.
John Perks (CC Giro) Reliability Ride
Repeating the same mistake as the Stratford ride, we tried to set off, only to see a group waiting to be released so looped round onto the back on that. Rich started receiving comments on his bravery for being the only person out wearing shorts, he was also the only person not with clippy shoes or a club rider. We sat comfortably on the back of this group for 15 miles, when we came to a hill where it all got very messy. As slower people at the front fell backwards, people had to work themselves around them, as a female rider suddenly swept across in front of me I decided I wanted out of this and shot off up the hill overtaking about 20 riders and getting some clear air. Once we were at the top I sat up to wait for Rich who surprisingly wasn’t too far behind – the big group had split into two smaller ones as a result of the hill and a roundabout shortly afterwards the guys on the front pretty much stopped to let people catch up. Rich and I pressed on.
The theory was that we could get a gap and if we started struggling we would be swept up by the group, rather than trying to hang onto the back of it. We’d been spared the headwind in the group but now in the headwind on our own it was tough work. Every now and again we could see the group behind us and the competitive instinct for the breakaway to stay away kicked in, pace was good and Rich was doing well. As we turned out and let the wind push behind us, a difficult section and a steep hill killed Rich’s knee which changed the rest of the ride for us.
Speed on the flat wasn’t too bad to begin with but each time the road went upwards, we were slowing right down. Eventually riders began to catch us, one by one, and we managed to jump onto the back of a group of 3 for awhile until a long drag meant they pulled a gap that couldn’t be closed. Eventually on this long straight stretch of road, our original group caught us after being away for 25 miles – I like to think that if the knee had held up then we’d have beaten them back. As it was we were firmly in stubborn resistance mode with Rich determined to finish at any speed. We did make it back, doing the 50 miles in 3 hours and 5 minutes – a respectable time, and I actually took my own photos on this event! Rich has also now bought clippy shoes ready for the next one…
After taking a year off last year because of rain, or more likely laziness I made the trip home from Birmingham to take part in my home club Stratford CC reliability ride. I wrote about the same ride in 2014 and whilst it followed exactly the same route, I wasn’t out there freelance as I was again on escort duty after the previous week’s ride in Stourbridge making sure that George made it round the route.
The Stratford CC Reliability Ride
Signing on for the slowest group with a 4 hour estimated time, we reckoned we should be able to come in under that as it was an average of 13.5mph. We tried to set off only to get shouted back by Wedge as we’d managed to completely ignore the group that had been formed ready for the starter’s pistol, we did the right thing and looped round and joined the back. We followed the decent sized group until I accidentally took a turn on the front trying to turn the single file line into a double one – it was into a strong headwind and whilst I thought I was doing a reasonable pace because I had someone still next to me, when I turned around it turned out I’d split the whole thing up and lost George too. So I sat up to wait.
We ended up behind everyone tackling the long 3 part climb up to Broadway Tower from Mickleton by ourselves at a sensible pace. I was giving details about the climbs to George so he knew what to expect and stuck with him all the way up. We ended up seeing a few hi-vis jackets further ahead that we both steadily gained and lost time on the whole way up but never caught. On top of the hill going through Lavender Fields the exposed nature meant that the wind really kicked in and slowed us right down, making each small gradient feel far worse. It was up here that George pointed a sign that said ‘Trail’ and made a move to take the turn before I double checked the Garmin and kept us on the right path. This sign undid a few of the quicker guys behind who did follow it and found themselves at some manner of horse riding event nearby instead.
Dropping off the top of the hill, we had the run down into Stow on the Wold which has a couple of nasty kicks and a long drag up into the town. The odd blast of crosswind whilst descending at 35mph+ made for a couple of interesting moments, but it was on this stretch that we were caught by the first of the groups behind and moved out the way to let them blast through. We didn’t spend much time in Stow, instead negotiating the potentially sketchy descent into the village of Broadwell. I’d told George to watch out for the sharp left hand near the bottom and whilst acting as a pilot guide on the way down gave him the signal to slow down as the tricky bend was both tight, wet and covered in gravel – far from safe.
We briefly tagged onto the back of a couple of groups on the next stretch as we were caught by more and more, managing to stay on for a reasonable while with a couple of the Stratford CC guys until a climb coming out of Todenham stretched us out and we never got back on. It was in this group though at we saw something rather unexpected in Great Wolford. Coming up to a junction we came across a man on his own out taking his falcon for a walk. He had the proper bird of prey glove thing (sure I could have googled its actual technical name) and was just stood around like he was waiting for the bus, before greeting us with a cheerful ‘Good Morning!’.
George’s legs were beginning to tire out at this point and I began wildlife spotting pointing out three deer in nearby fields – the final couple of climbs up to Ettington and over Loxley Hill proved hard work. I lent a hand by helping push him over Loxley as we overtook another ride who was also struggling on the hills whose mate had left him.
We made it back to the finish after 3 hours and 40 minutes, beating our chosen time limit. Post-ride rewards included hot soup followed by cake, a just prize for getting ourselves around the Stratford CC Reliability in one piece.