Blimey, it’s been a while since my last bit of writing. And I have no excuse in terms of nothing happening of interest, as I’ve done lots of stuff, including the Manx E2E mountain bike race – which was a bit of a baptism by fire, but ultimately nobody died, so it was a worthwhile experience. However, what I’m here to witter on about now is the final sportive of my ‘season’ which I completed on Sunday. Despite not writing anything, it’s been quite a tough year physically. As well as the Manx E2E there was also the Fred Whitton of course, then there was the Shropshire Hills 100 miler which I enjoyed hugely. And the Ronde Anglia, another 120km. And the Essex Spring Lambs, at 150km. And quite a few others along the way. I’m really feeling quite tired now to be honest, and am going to take a couple of weeks off to recover a little bit. In fact, before I carry on writing, I’m just going to get a cuppa. Back in a mo…
Right. That’s better. I have tea now. So, where was I? Ah, yes, the weekend. I only found out about the St. Neots Autumn Breeze sportive a couple of weeks ago from my mate Andy (not that Andy. Another Andy. I know about 12). Several weeks back Sol & I had agreed to ride a challenging 100 miler around The Cotswolds with Andy (as his first sportive, it was an ambitious choice), but circumstances conspired against us and we were unable to get there. In the end, this probably wasn’t a bad thing, as the weather was atrocious for that one. Anyhow, Andy is a member of the St. Neots club, so recommended to me the Autumn Breeze – and as I had a spare morning, I thought I’d give it a crack. The route was a 130km figure-eight around Cambs, Beds and Northants, starting and finishing at St. Neots. And although there were no particularly hilly sections, it was predominantly undulating, with somewhere over 700m of climbing. Just the thing for a sunny Sunday morning really. The start was scheduled for 8am, which meant being there for 7:30ish for signing on. This was all fine, but it appeared that most of the riders arrived before the officials, as they were still setting up the desk while people were queuing out the door to get signed on! Not a problem though, as it gave me a chance to inspect the route, which was detailed on a 1:25000 OS map pinned up on a board next to the desk. mmmm… when I registered for this one, I thought “it’s only 130kms, I’ll be finished in time for lunch”. Now, seeing the route laid out in full, I was beginning to wonder if I’d underestimated it, as it certainly looked a long way. Still, not much I could do about that, so I just got signed on, picked up my voucher for a free cuppa, and toddled off to get changed.
It’s worth mentioning at this point that it was pretty chilly at that time. Certainly single figures, probably 6 or 7 degrees I’d guess. This presented a bit of a dilemma, as the forecast was set for something like 16 or 17 degrees and sunshine later, so I didn’t want to be too hot. With this in mind, I dressed pretty lightly, and shivered my spuds off in the car park waiting for the 8am start. I must have shivered for a good 20 mins, before I decided enough was enough, and going for a quick potter around the car park to warm up. At which point I noticed the start line on the other side of the car park with riders being waved off. Pillock. We were started in groups of 10, at three minute intervals, so I got myself into the next group to go (which I think was the third group), and off we toddled. The first couple of kms were all on narrow cycle/footpaths complete with Sunday morning dog-walkers, so it was single file and not much above walking pace. Even at this speed though, the wind chill was noticeable and was numbing my fingers, and the early morning fog was condensing on my glasses and gloves. I decided at this point to pick up the pace as soon as I could to generate some body heat. So, as soon as we got onto the open road, that’s just what I did. I rode away from my start group, and started to thoroughly enjoy myself hugely as we got out into the countryside. This part of the country really is spectacularly beautiful, and watching the wildlife as the sun started to break through the fog was a very nice treat indeed.
The next 50 or so kms were some of the most pleasant I’ve ever spent on a bicycle. The chill air stung my face and filled my lungs, while I bimbled along watching deer running across fields, startled herons flapping away into the distance, and enjoying the colours and smells of autumn. (Sorry. Having a bit of a Mint Sauce moment). Eventually though, nature made her presence known in a more forceful manner, and I needed to stop for a wee. So, I picked the most remote, isolated, and secluded spot I could find in this remote, isolated and secluded corner of the country, pulled over, and flopped my knob out.
“Morning!” shouted the couple on the tandem. waving enthusiastically. I didn’t wave back.
A few kms up the road was the scheduled foodstop, and while the food on offer looked gorgeous (cakes, sausage rolls, sandwiches, hot cups of tea and coffee) I was feeling good, so just stuffed a nana in my pocket, filled up my bidon, and carried on. 10 minutes or so later I had my only company for the ride, when I was joined by another rider who wasn’t actually riding the sportive. I didn’t get his name, but we had a good chat for a few minutes. He was racing at Rockingham that weekend in the Caterham Academy series. Qualifying had taken place yesterday, followed by an immense end-of-season party in the paddock, so he was out on the Sunday morning trying to cycle off the worst of his hangover. Suddenly my motorcycle racing days came flooding back to me, and seemed at the same time a long time ago, yet close enough to remember keenly. All too soon though, he realised that he was hopelessly lost, and in with a fair chance of missing his race, so he stopped to ask for directions back to Rockingham. Hope he made it OK!
The sun was now fully up and the fog had lifted, so I just set about maintaining my energy levels and enjoying the scenery as it glided past under my wheels. I stopped for a couple of minutes to offer assistance to the tandem couple who had punctured, and again to help map-read for another lost cyclist (I seem to attract them…) I found by the roadside, but other than that, I didn’t see another cyclist on the road for the rest of the ride. At about 120kms I started to have my normal bad moment, but this time, I was expecting it, so made sure that I was well fed and watered, and just rode though it. It was probably about this time that I realised that I hadn’t been passed by anyone (other than the tandem couple, who came back past me after fixing the puncture) and that I may be on for a good time. I was secretly hoping for sub 5hrs (average 26k/h) but not entirely confident about this, so I didn’t check on my elapsed time until I crossed the finish line, at 130kms. My clock showed 4:45. This won’t be the ‘official’ time as it doesn’t record time when I’m stopped, yet the official time is simply time elapsed between start and finish. Still, I was (and still am) bloody happy with this, seeing as I rode the entire 130kms with no sheltering behind anyone else at any time.
Once I’d handed my number in I stopped for a cuppa and a chat with Andy, and then drove back home for a shower and to clean the bike up. It’s worth taking a couple of minutes here to mention the bike. It’s been utterly perfect all year. I’ve not had a single mechanical failure all year, and it’s always cossetted me home, comfortably and with the minimum of effort on my part. And still, every time I wander out into the garage to go for a ride, it puts a smile on my face as I think to myself “cor. I’m going to ride that…”. But, finally, after 7000kms, something needs replacing… There are some cracks emanating from the spoke holes on the rear wheel, and I’d rather replace it before it fails catastrophically. I’m not unhappy about this. Like I said, it’s done 7000kms, and it was the cheapest wheel I could find at the time that fitted my requirements. And I’ve been mercilessly hammering it over rutted Fenland roads, across the potholed hell of the Honister, Wrynose and Hardknott passes, and some of the more challenging bits of the Peak District. Plus it now gives me the chance to ask Drew for a nice pair of handmade wheels.
All in all, I’m a very happy bunny right now. Just very tired.