Tuesday 16 June 2009

Slaying the Dragon

(Title nicked from Phill!)

All done. All 117 miles. There's a bit of debate over the amount of climbing, but it was quite a lot - somewhere between 2600 and 3000m. No damage, to me or the bike.

So, that's the headlines. Now the story.

I was very relaxed about this ride, much more so than I usually am before an event. I think it was down to the amount of preparation, particularly all the hilly stuff we did in the Cotswolds. Doing 100 mile rides every weekend meant that 117 miles was just a normal training distance, with a little bit more added on. I can ride a little bit more, so how hard could it be? It was another long ride, this time in Wales. I've been to Wales before, so I'd got over my fear of that one too.

We travelled down on the Saturday afternoon, after topping up with flapjack and TdF DVDs at Jon's. We'd booked into a Travelodge at Cardiff services, about 10 miles form the start. The Travelodge was... um... like a secure unit? Not quite as bad as a prison, but not exactly pleasant. We entertained ourselves with the service station facilities - shop, terrible food outlet, Costa Coffee (closed). That burnt ten minutes. Then it was back to the room, grasping our exciting new possessions - Soleros and water - for a couple of hours reading porn. Bike porn, obviously. Dinner came and went (the less said the better), then it was only a case of waiting for latercomer Darren, who'd been doing the Microsoft Challenger Adventure Race all week. Then sleepy time, ready for an early start.

0630 is normal for me now. Breakfast of dry bagels and instant coffee is a poor parody of my usual fare. Still, it was that or grease in a bun.

We got prepared, cleared the room, loaded the cars and set off towards the start. Once we'd negotiated the mile long queue to get to the event car park it was a short ride to the start. Thankfully the weather was forecast to be fine, so it was full Euro-roadie gear - super tight logoed up white jersey, bib shorts, white helmet and not much else. Six Torq bars, two Torq gels, two bottles of Torq drink and two spare lots of powder. Stick with what you know.

So, we set off just after nine. I started quickly, wanting to get into my riding pace early on. For some reason we seemed to be overtaking lots of people. Hmm... good sign. There were cyclists everywhere, marshalls, police, motorbikes, ambulances (unfortunately several with wailing sirens and flashing lights) and even spectators shouting encouragement (or it could have been abuse, my Welsh is poor). And... and...

The Mavic support vehicles.

These were my very favourite things of the whole event.

Forget the challenging climbs, the sweeping descents, the strings of riders blasting across the moors, the awesome, breathtaking scenery.

I liked the yellow Mavic van, the yellow Mavic Skoda Octavia with complicated roof rack, and especially the yellow motorbike with SPARE WHEELS ON IT! The SPARE WHEEL MOTORBIKE! I'd seen this many many times watching the Tour, the Giro, the classics. The yellow motorbike. And not a rubbish British one - it had French plates!

Every time I saw these I grinned. It all felt real - here I was, on a posh road bike, in full Euro-cyclist roadie gear, riding with 100s of others, being supported by the Mavic neutral support vehicles. Wow. If I'd thought about this before, it would be a lifetime ambition achieved.


So, the ride. Fabulous course, although the hills didn't seem steep compared to the Cotswolds. 14%? That was never 14%. They were obviously much much longer - proper alpine style climbs and descents, with draggy, hairpiny climbs over the mountains (probably mountains). Fabulous weather - not too hot, never really cold, and pretty much sunny all the way. Great descents, 50mph clocked on occasions.

Other stuff I remember: Jon leading a train of about 30 riders (with Darren and I just behind him) for about 20 minutes. The aftermath of a nasty crash on one of the big descents (hope the guy was OK). Drinking 4 litres of liquid and producing treacle-like piss. The final, long climb that went on and on and on. My squealing brakes. The final 5 km that got faster and faster until it hit the last 1 km, and there were only two riders and me left from our group, contesting a balls-out sprint for the line. Coming second in the sprint. Seeing Jon at the finish after he'd dropped Darren and I on the last climb.

We averaged 17mph, ride time was about 6 hours 50mins, total time 7:08.

Happy with that.

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