Monday 14 September 2009

If the Wessex 100 had been a race...

...then I reckon our team would have won.

The Wessex 100 is a 100 mile sportive starting in Bath, looping out to Salisbury then back to Bath via Devizes. A sportive is a non-competitive road event, generally fairly long but often with shorter options.

Three of us rode it (along with a whole bunch of people we didn't know) - Jon, Phill and me. As we'd opted for the full 100 mile version, it meant a 7am start, which meant getting up at 4:50am. Shudder. This was after a day of eating carbs and less pleasantly, feeling headachey and nauseous. Hmm. Not good preparation.

Still, when I woke at 4:47am, beating the alarm, I felt really good - wide awake and raring to go. I got to the start point at about 6:30am to meet Jon and Phill. After the usual pre-ride preparation - load up with food and drink, check the bike, get stabbed by safety pins putting on the race number, stab Jon back in revenge - we were ready to roll.

The hooter hooted, and we were off. A group of people disappeared into the distance as we warmed into the first few miles, but the pace of our group quickened as we started to suck people up. After about 5 miles Jon announced he needed a piss. On about 20 miles, Phill hit the front and despite wearing a parachute style jacket managed to pull our group of twenty or so along at a nice 20mph+ average. He only dropped off to remove his parachute, but was soon on the front again. On 25 miles, Jon announced he really needed a piss. We suggested that he should try and get away at the next climb (he's a good climber, weighing about 25kgs - including his bike), have his piss, then we'd catch him up. Of course, when we hit the climb there was no way we were going to let him get away. By 40 miles he was about to explode, but with the halfway stop coming soon there was no point him having one now...

Ah yes, the halfway stop. This ride included a compulsory 30 minute stop. You had a time card that was marked when you got to the refreshments area, and when you left - and there had to be 30 mins between the two. At the halfway point we were the second group in, with about 15 people ahead of us. By being slightly sneaky we left at about the same time as the lead group, only having waited 25 minutes. What a crime.

So, half done - in about 2 hours 30 minutes. We were again in a group of about 20, Phill mostly on the front, me sitting second or third, Jon within a couple of places of that. There were a couple of little breaks (by Phill) but between Jon and I we pulled him back. Then on about 70 miles, a very strong looking rider in full Astana team kit got on the front... and just pulled away. Wow. Clearly Phill was a little tired from leading the race for about 50 miles, so I went to the front and absolutely buried myself trying to bring him back. Another guy in a "Cycle2Work" kit swapped turns with me a couple of times, and we were just getting close to him when we hit Devizes and the traffic. This both helped and hindered - hindered us first as we had to wait at a roundabout for a moment, then helped as Lance-a-like was held up by a caravan (which very rarely happens on the tour).

There was a descent out of the town and we just managed to catch him, at which point I looked back to discover our group of twenty was now a group of six. Me, Phill, Jon, Astanaman, Cycle2WorkMan and another guy who we lost fairly soon later. Talking to Jon later, when we upped the pace to catch Astanaman the group split, and Jon just managed to hang on to us. He'd been feeling bobbins from the halfway point - the piss must have sapped his strength.

So, down to the last 5. I was starting to feel stronger by this point (clearly I take four hours to get going, and being towed along by Phill makes things much easier) and with the help of a Torq caffeine gel I went to the front and led from about mile 90. The odd traffic light, roundabout and gentle climb led us back into Bath, towards the final mile.

The final mile was a hill with an average gradient of about 13% and sections of 20%. Steep. Brassknocker Hill, for locals. Still, we had a couple of minutes to steel ourselves for it, as once again traffic lights held us up. As we were waiting Phill came up behind us - we'd lost him at some lights a few miles back - and he continued through the red light, shouting that if he stopped he'd never start again.

All of this was set up perfectly for Jon.

- He'd had a good tow round by his team mates
- He weighs 25kgs, including his bike
- He no longer needed a piss

Lights turn green, we hit the hill, and up he floats - slowing distancing us all. I passed Astanaman and Cycle2Workman (and Phill) to get to the top second, and from there it was just a few hundred yards on the flat to the finish.

Perfect teamwork. Phill wears everyone out, I hang in there for the last few miles, we deliver Jon to the bottom of the climb and he breaks away to a glorious victory.

If, it had been a race. It wasn't. But it's probably the closest we're ever going to get.

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