Rapha Festive 500 2016 – Getting it done


Completing the 2016 Rapha Festive 500

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.

Christmas Day Festive 500 2016
My Christmas Day…

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.

Stratford Cycle Club Post Ride Coffee 27th December 2016
Post ride cafe fun

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.

Stratford Cycle Club Social Ride 27th December
Waiting for John to sort his puncture out

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.

40 miles to go Festive 500 2016
40 miles to go…

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!

Rapha Festive 500 2016 Rides Wheel

The patch for completing the challenge.


Rapha Festive 500 2016 – Getting it done was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

The Great Shakespeare Ride 2016 – 100 Miles


Great Shakespeare Ride Logo

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.

Great Shakespeare Ride 2016 Elevation

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.

Mathew Mitchell climbing Lady Elizabeth Hill Warwickshire
Climbing up Lady Elizabeth Hill

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.

Mathew Mitchell and Mark Lampitt Hampton Lucy Great Shakespeare Ride 2016
Struggling together up the final rise before the finish. Still plugging away…

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.



The Great Shakespeare Ride 2016 – 100 Miles was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

Warwickshire Wanderer 105km Audax – 21st May 2016


CTC Logo

An early start after sleeping on Rich’s deflating airbed saw Rich, George and I head down to Birmingham New Street to catch the train over to Hampton in Arden. Breakfast was acquired on the way (sausage and bacon rolls are excellent for cycling) and we rolled out for the short ride over to Meriden for the Warwickshire Wanderer 105km Audax.

Warwickshire Wanderer

I did this Audax in 2015, but the longer 160km version, however this time I was using it to help build up the miles for George and Rich ahead of this year’s Dunwich Dynamo and a planned trip to cycle from Brussels to Cologne in September. We made it to the start at the church hall, had a cup of hot brown, picked up our route cards and were on our way.

The beauty of the Audax is that most people are sensible, don’t rush off from the start and quietly plod along on their way at a leisurely pace enjoying themselves. There is a little bit of a climb straight away from Meriden however and despite trying to sit in the wheels, ended up dragging the guys with me through the groups (albeit still being sensible) until we found one going at a speed we liked. The route meandered through the Birmingham/Coventry gap before working its way past Hatton and into countryside that I recognised the look of – this naturally meant I ended up speeding up a bit before taking it easy to make sure we were all together again.

Norton Lindsey Windmill

The first control was in Norton Lindsey and was a simple matter of reading a road sign as we went past, later on seemingly everyone else was asking the answer as they’d missed it whilst making the turn out of a junction. The next stretch was windy and we’d ended up in a group that was spaced out quite a bit which meant keeping track of both the guys was difficult, I ended up losing them briefly on a descent before picking them up again the other side of the A46 after having a bit of a chat with another rider as he went past. We were heading for Wellesbourne and the road was kind and in our favour, allowing us to pick up speed for a bit. We entered the village and looked for the next control (a proper village hall, tea and cake stop) but after turning off the road we weren’t sure where to go next, until 30 seconds later another rider went flying past down a driveway, that confidence convinced us to follow. It had turned out we’d been the first riders to get there (just) so it wasn’t obvious with no-one else to follow (we were also spot on the earliest time of arrival allowed). We put a sticker in our card and treated ourselves to cake.

We allowed ourselves a leisurely break before setting off again, now properly into a stiff headwind. We took the back way out of Wellesbourne to Kineton rather than going over Spring/Fizz Hills and then started heading towards Edgehill. I teased Rich about us maybe having to go up the impending climb, knowing full well we were going to turn off right at the bottom of it, eventually I put him out of his misery. It was along here that someone ahead somehow managed to crash going over the railway lines that go from one part of the Temple Herdwycke army camp to the other. He seemed alright and turned down the offers of help from us so we left him to it. We began to see the Burton Dassett beacon and I let the guys know that we were definitely going up this one and that once it was done, we’d done the hardest climb.

Burton Dassett Climb
The climb up to the beacon

I’ve done this one a few times, the climb starts by going across the cattle grid before gradually rising itself up into a double figure gradient on the turn, a brief respite gives the legs chance before the short final kick up to the beacon. I’d gone at a fast but reasonable pace and figured that’d be enough to beat everyone, near the top I could hear Rich’s gears and breathing making a racket as he’d taken on the challenge of catching me up. On the top bend with a car for cover, I spun up the legs and across the top to the next cattle grid distanced him properly. I then had to go back because I’d missed the answer to the next control question which had been on the bend where I shot off. I told the guys to carry on and caught up with them again shortly afterwards.

We were now out of the worst of the headwind and plodded on quite happily together, eventually reaching the next proper control in the village of Harbury. Just like last year, they’d put on a good spread and we spent 40 minutes there relaxing out of the worst of the oncoming drizzle. Plenty started ahead of us so we’d given up on thinking we’d be one of the first pack and found ourselves attached to the back of 3-4 riders going at a decent sensible pace for the final part of the ride. As the legs began to tire, Rich was quiet and I presume heavily focused on following the wheel in front of him – he turned down offers to do his turn on the front. George found himself fine on the flat but each time the road gradually rose up, found himself dropping back, keen to keep the group together and it only being small moments of struggle, I helped by giving him a push up the gradients to keep his speed up so he could then stay in the group and hide out of the wind on the flat. Later on one of the older guys in the group queried George as to why I was helping George when he was much older – the best response seemed to be to suggest that the older guy was a better rider.

The traditional centre point of England
The traditional centre point of England

Having kept myself sensible on this final stretch and knowing the last short climb before the finish, I let George know my intentions and zoomed off out of the group to blast up the hill and then down the descent the other side. Surprisingly one of the group tried to come with me but I crested the climb ahead and stayed in front. Rich wasn’t far behind and George had taken it easy arriving about a minute later. The card was checked, had our paid for beans and toast and then we went down the pub.



Warwickshire Wanderer 105km Audax – 21st May 2016 was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

Mad March Hare Sportive 2016


Mad March Hare Sportive Logo 2016

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 2016 Route
Mad March Hare 2016 Route

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.

Mad March Hare Mathew Mitchell
With John somewhere, cannot remember at all where this was!

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.

Mad March Hare 2016 Dover's
Looking gormless with my mouth open on Dover’s Hill

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.

Mad March Hare Mathew Mitchell
Looking a bit better…but not rushing. I was surprisingly well colour co-ordinated on this ride.

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.

Strava: Mad March Hare Sportive 2016


Mad March Hare Sportive 2016 was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

Redditch CC Reliability Ride – 28th February 2016


Redditch Road and Path CC Jersey

Another weekend, another reliability ride somewhere across the West Midlands! This time I’d managed to convince both George and Adam to accompany me to lovely Redditch for a 45 mile ride down to the very edge of the Cotswolds and back up again.

Redditch Reliability Ride

Driving down, we managed to find Adam in the car park surprisingly easily, touched base, took the bikes off the car, paid our £4 entry and upon the promise of a track pump, decided to pump up the tyres properly. Getting to Adam’s car it became clear that it had either wandered off or more likely had been left standing proudly to attention in the kitchen back home.

We set off tagged to the back of a group I knew would be quick (with many black and gold clad Sette Dodici riders from the Saturday morning sufferfest), only to immediately drop back at our own pace as we went straight into a decent leg warmer of a climb in the first half a mile. We found ourselves behind 3 or 4 riders as we left Redditch – the only drama being when one of their bottles decided it didn’t want to go for a rider and jumped out of its holder into the road, narrowly avoiding my wheels.

Redditch Reliability Route
Redditch Reliability Route

We found ourselves on top of The Ridgeway, a 3 mile long ridge (unsurprisingly) that stretches south from Redditch with great views for miles around and being slightly downhill in this direction, we were tanking along. We kept that speed up for awhile, tucked out of the wind because our two leaders whose pace we were happy to follow. We eventually went past them at Bidford upon Avon, where I used my local knowledge to tell the story of the tractor that took out the bridge, with the new stone clearly visible.

We took one of my unexplainable least favourite roads, the long straight road into Honeybourne, which always seems to be a headwind no matter the day or direction. I took the front and tried to keep a sensible pace, only forgetting when I saw a couple of riders up ahead which meant my competitive spirit kicked in…plus I’m a terrible pacemaker. We reached the turning around point at Willersey, had a bit of a conflab and then headed back to where we’d come from.

Bidford Bridge
Bidford Bridge

The route was nearly an out and back straight line, but we chose to do the optional loop for a bit of variation (and because I don’t like that aforementioned road). The road to the top of Marcliff was a long long not remotely steep drag, but the headwind made it feel far steeper than it was. Riding with two skinny guys, headwinds are where I have a bigger advantage being able to generate more power to push through them. The average speed began to drop and disappointingly the headwind made the descent back into Bidford rather tame as it made it feel more like flat than a drop.

The other side of the village, Adam began to drop back which was the start of a grind to the finish, as despite the obvious checks, nothing appeared to impede but Adam’s feedback was that all flats had begun to feel like they were uphill and even downhills weren’t offering a respite. Consensus seemed to be that it was rear wheel bearings, a tough one to fix on the road and we toughed it out to get to the finish together. George and I had a bit of a race up the hill into the village of Dunnington, he started off quickly and as I pegged him back, I reckoned he would pop before the top, at which point I would shoot off. Strava says I won by 11 seconds, but we both finished well above the average that day.

Toll House

Heading back up onto the Ridgeway, Adam’s speed really dropped as the effort required to keep his bike turning over started to hit the legs and the power disappeared. We were averaging around 10-12mph at this point with just under ten miles to go to the finish. We stuck together and tried to diagnose whilst riding but the bike was giving no clues, not even loosening off Adam’s back brakes (without him knowing) at a set of traffic lights seemed to help. We got ourselves back through Redditch and enjoyed the swoop back down the starting hill into the rugby club we started from.

Our £4 paid for a cup of tea and some cake at the end, we’d definitely earned some and the cherry sponge thing I had was frankly amazing! A nice ride, the fun of which taken a little bit by some bearings and once again I fell into my old habits of not taking photos again, bah.


Redditch CC Reliability Ride – 28th February 2016 was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

Stratford CC Reliability Ride Review – 7th February 2016


Stratford CC Cycling Club Logo

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.

Home Guard Club Stratford CC Reliability Ride
Home Guard Club where we started the ride – looks better inside!

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.

Broadway Tower Stratford CC Reliability Ride
Broadway Tower is surprisingly high up

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.

Looking down the climb from Stow Stratford CC Reliability Ride
Looking down the climb up to Stow on the Wold

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.

Strava – Stratford CC Reliability Ride 2016


Stratford CC Reliability Ride Review – 7th February 2016 was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

Audax – Cotswold Challenge 160km – 16th May 2015

Audax UK
Audax UK

The next of my training rides for the Norwich 100 at the end of May saw me complete the Cotswold Challenge Audax this weekend.

I was originally planning to do another 100km one similar to the Bell Tolls one in Evesham the week before, but decided to ramp things up and complete a proper 100 miles before doing the main deal.

Cotswold Challenge Audax Route
Cotswold Challenge Audax Route

The route left Meriden, centre of England, bright and early Saturday morning (I’d cheated and got the train to a village nearby). I managed to join up with a couple of Beacon CC guys that I’ve ridden with before on a Wednesday night and we set off much quicker than the usual CTC/Audax lot – this is becoming a trend…but I like to set off fast and crawl over the finish line than go steady all the way around.

Cotswold Challenge Audax Elevation
Cotswold Challenge Audax Elevation

By the time we’d gone through a few villages a decent group of around a dozen had formed – I took my turn on the front as we’d singled out on a busier road, then it went quiet and when I turned my head at the next roundabout it turned out I’d broken away. Apparently someone’s tyre had pretty much exploded in the group and it lost half a minute trying to sort itself out. I sat up and let the group join back up to me.

We eventually came to some roads that I knew from the Shakespeare 100 sportive (and the worst bout of road rage I’ve been on the receiving end of, though that was partly Adam’s fault) which then led onto a long stretch of the Stratford CC Saturday morning route. Knowing the roads and being on the front I may have accidentially upped the pace, especially with a Cat 3 racer on my shoulder egging me on.

Campden Road

By the time we reached the main road climb to Chipping Campden, the climbers shot off the front and were consistently ahead up to the top with me gamely hanging on 10-20 seconds behind, followed by a big gap. I was surprised to find at the end that on Strava I was now the 60th fastest out of over 1200 riders – in the top 5%.

Cotswold Challenge Audax Great Western Arms Blockley
Our first control in Blockley

Things settled down as we made the first control in Blockley, added a sticker to our brevet cards and moved on. This section was the hardest with solid climbs such as going up Edgehill via Tysoe and heading over to Burton Dassett which I hadn’t visited since completing the Rapha Festive 500 back in December. By this point my earlier exuberance was just starting to pay its price as hills were harder and harder to keep pace on. A brief touch of wheels after the top showed how quickly a crash can potentially happen but because of the low speed I managed to keep the bike upright.

Cotswold Challenge Audax Burton Dassett Climb
The Burton Dassett Climb

Our second audax stop and our second control sticker was at Harbury as we started our ride back northwards to the start at Meriden. Back on unfamiliar roads and beginning to flag, I was happy sitting within the shelter of the group and whenever I felt like I wanted to stop then the thought of then having to attack the headwind on my own made me tell the legs to shut up.

With a couple of miles to go, the racier and fresher members of the still 8 strong group started to go quicker on the rolling bumps just outside Meriden, dropping a few of us wearier riders. Attacking the downhill into the village we all ended up coming in together and were confirmed as the first group of 100-milers to finish the audax.

Cotswold Challenge Audax Meriden Cyclists War Memorial
Meriden is also home of the Cyclists War Memorial.

Whilst an Audax is strictly not a race and ultimately noone is that fussed by what time you completed the route in, so long as you complete it, there’s still a nice satisfaction in ‘winning’ – especially two weeks in a row!



Audax – Cotswold Challenge 160km – 16th May 2015 was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling