Saturday, March 27, 2010

Mission Accomplished

The alarm goes at 6.30am but it feels more like 5.30am, this is probably because it is. Well it is, if you take back off the hour we’re just put on the clocks. L’s already awake. I’m impressed. Well until she tells me she’s had a largely sleepless night. I resist the temptation to tell her it’s only a cycle ride and how hard can it be... then there’s the risk of punctures and of getting lost... I keep quiet.

We get to Gresty Road and Crewe Alexandra’s Stadium as early as possible, sign in and then L lines up to start. I think she wants to get it over with as soon as possible. The fact that there are very few sets straight handlebars and even less sets of ‘real’ pedals probably doesn’t help her nerves.

The weather isn’t exactly warm and the sky is grey, threatening us with a soaking. All of which makes kit selection difficult. I can the shorts idea, go for full leg cover and even a jacket, which I don’t actually use as in the end the rain holds off all day. L has no such kit problems; she simply piles everything on and still complains of being cold afterwards.

There’s still ten minutes to go until the first riders start, so I fetch a calming cup of tea for her by then the queue has moved forward and I can’t find her. So two teas for me then. I can’t find her at all, so perhaps, with riders now starting in batches, she’s already started. I finish my teas, grab my bike and start to line up myself. My plan was to give her half an hour head start and then hopefully catch her at the first feed station, 27 miles in.

I start off a fairly leisurely pace, there are a few killer hills in the offing and all early on, so I want to make sure I’m in decent shape for them. Unlike my previous sportive there doesn’t seem to be any large groups forming, that I can join, and nobody’s talking much either. Maybe later the effect of the distance and the hills will batter it in to them. Perhaps they’ll all stressing about Mow Cop.

Ah yes, Mow Cop, which comes at just fifteen or so miles in. Apparently all the riders who manage the ascent of Mow Cop without stopping receive a medal but I’m not actually sure how or where they measure this.

When we start to climb, I wonder if this is the beast we’re on now or not. I’d heard it was a really steep tarmac wall of a climb and this isn’t but it’s still pretty steep. As I go up it I pass L but I can’t find the breath to acknowledge her greeting. I didn’t expect to catch her so soon. I find out later that she only started around ten minutes ahead of me; it’s just that I couldn’t see her in the crowd.

Then the road flattens out a bit and I notice the incredibly steep section in the distance. I pull over for a few moments, which seems a very popular tactic, but perhaps a bit naughty if you’re supposed to do the whole thing for your medal. They have all stopped where they have because this is well out of sight of the invigilators ticking people off as they succeed or fail on the steepest part. I have a quick drink and apparently totally ignore L who had by then caught me up. I would say this was because I was so totally focussed on the task in hand. Then I head off up the road to tackle the rest of it.

The top is very very steep but certainly doable. I don’t believe in this zigzagging tactic which seems very popular, I prefer to go the shortest route up these things but I’m forced to zigzag around people who prefer the longer route! As well as around the people who are walking up it.

Someone gives up, stops dead and dismounts right in front of me. Cheers mate. This causes me a bit of a wobble right in front of the officials, I veer to the right, past the guy and then start going back upwards, managing not to put a foot down. Then another zigzagger nearly rides me off the road as he leaves his turn very late, until he almost drives me into the curb. I reckon all this extra effort makes up for my brief stop.

Then I’m up and over the steep bit, mission accomplished, although the hill keeps going up. Everyone seems to be stopping here and ignoring the last bit, which also makes me feel better about my stop. I keep going in case there’s another batch of invigilators but there isn’t. I descend down the other, equally steep, side before pulling over to wait for L.

After a brief chat with L who doesn’t seem that thrilled to see me, I push on. Passing loads of people at the roadside fixing punctures. I hope L hasn’t seen them; she'll be worried if she has. Mind you, should the unthinkable happen, she’ll have plenty of volunteers to help her, as she’s wearing those sexy lycra trousers of hers. Well they work for me anyway.

Then there are two more testing hills in quick succession, Blacky Bank and Bridestone, before we reach the first feed station at Swythamley. Just before I get there a silver car passes me and clogs up the road for the cyclists. Yep, it’s my father. I can’t complain, he’s come to support me, but others might.

At Swythamley I have a big feast, I call it breakfast and refill with energy drink. This is thankfully High 5, my preferred tipple. The queue for this though is horrendous, as they keep running out and the other drawback with the feed station is there are no hot drinks. I need my caffeine at this point!

Then after a brief hello to L who turns up there after me, I’m back on the road and the final serious climb of the day, Wincle. This leaves around 70 miles of fairly flat terrain to go. Not far, if you say it quick.

I almost, deliberately, mow down a spectator who is standing in the middle of the road. I’m allowed to, it was my Father. It was also the only way I could think of, of getting his attention as he was stood there with his camera but clearly hadn’t seen me. The photos should be interesting, of a cycling helmet coming towards him at speed.

Then it’s the second feed station at Holmes Chapel, just shy of half way, I again bump into L. Showing that she is not that far behind me and doing a better ride than she expected. I can see L isn’t enjoying it but we knew that was going to be the case before she did it, in fact even before she entered it. She’s never been that enthused about cycling but aspires to the level of fitness that cycling can give you. She also not getting on with the other cyclists, she’s always maintained that there’s a reason why the words ‘psycho’ and ‘cyclist’ are so similar.

Then as we lose the folks doing the shorter routes, the camaraderie starts to build a bit among those left on the 100 mile route. I get talking to a few people and join a few groups. I probably stand out a bit when I tag on to the end of a group of cyclists all from the same club in their matching blue tops. I don’t care and they don’t seem to mind, so I let them carry me along. Another chap joins us and asks if I’m a member. No I confess, although I wouldn’t be surprised if they handed me a form and made me join or at least made me do a stint at the front. My interloper status makes him feel a lot better and we both stay with them until the final feed station at Malpas. 75 miles now on the clock.

So, the final push and I make a tactical error. In my eagerness to get on with it or rather my haste to get it over with, I head out onto the road on my own and straight into a headwind. It’s a lonely few miles until I sense someone behind me; it’s my fellow interloper from earlier. I ease up to let him join me. We work together, catch up another smaller group of club cyclists and infiltrate them.

They must have been going fairly steadily for us to catch them but as the finish draws nearer and nearer the pace gets quicker and quicker. I even pay my dues and take a stint at the front.

As we go along, we keep picking up other riders, who join our ever growing peloton but all this seems to do is add to the pace. It’s eyeballs out time now and I’m struggling to stay with them. I get dropped a few times but somehow battle back each time.

A girl gets swept up by the group, tells us she’s local and that we have three miles to go. Another three! My speedo is already saying the 100 is up, has someone mis-measured this. Then she goes to the front to lift the pace, again, which is impressive but honestly, there really is no need.

Then finally I can see the stadium and we all finish as a big group. My time was 6 hours 35 minutes cycling time according to the official timings but over 7 and a half when you take into account what were obviously more lengthy stops than I thought.

We head home, to the poor neglected dogs and the perhaps slightly neglected kids but only because they’ve had to feed themselves. They get a takeaway out of us as we order Indian via, which is a first for me. The service is impressive, less so the food but that’s not the websites fault. They did though get our naan bread order wrong, not sure who we’re supposed to blame for that?

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