Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Hell of the North Hampshire

Belgian. That's how we like to describe road rides that are cold, wet, rough, dirty and brutal. Last Sunday's Magnificat was double Belgian.

Some statistics to begin with.
  • The long route is 202km (or 127 miles if you're being non-Belgian)
  • 587 people paid good money to do this route
  • 17 people took the short option and did 51 miles
  • 131 people took the medium option and did 81 miles
  • 65 people didn't finish
  • 202 people didn't start
  • 172 people completed the 127 miles
So less than a third of the entrants completed the route.

This sounds a little like I'm about to justify quitting. But no. I was one of the 172. The 172 cold, drenched, battered, numb, punctured and beaten who were truly Belgian too. Also in that 172 were Phill and Dave B from LEJOG (who somehow managed to ride 140 miles!) and three others I know from work - Dave W, Pat K and Chris H (on a hybrid!). Awesome stuff.

So... what happened?

We've had quite a lot of sunshine recently, and very little rain. All week I'd been watching the forecasts and it looked like the precipitation fairy would be making an appearance. The forecasts for Sunday varied a little - on Wednesday showers were predicted, on Thursday it had changed to light rain, Friday heavy rain and Saturday we were back to light rain. I spent most of Saturday on various weather sites, hoping that one of them would show a change in the wind, or a change in the cloud cover. To be fair, they did - but not in a good way. Moderate to heavy rain all day, 15mph winds.

Time to prepare.

Clothing. I umm-ed and ahh-ed, but past experience has told me that too hot is better than too cold, and being warm is more important than being dry. Time for the trusty Gore Phantom softshell (which kept me alive on LEJOG), knee warmers and my winter overshoes - rated down to -5C.

The bike. Wet lube on the chain, Conti GP 4 Seasons tyres - a rain/winter tyre. This is June! What am I doing using winter tyres in June!?

The food. Extra strength Torq juice, mainly gels and a couple of bars. I don't like to be hungry. You might have guessed that from my last post.

Time to sleep and pray the forecast was wrong. It normally is.

Morning came, and it was just as predicted. 9C, windy, moderate rain. I rode to the start expecting queues of people like last year but it was surprisingly quiet. I was in the first group off at 8am and I think I saw my first punctured rider at 8.10am. It was carnage - all the water was hiding pot holes and helping the local flint to shred tyres. There were also very few people out, so no real groups were forming. I punctured at 20 miles in - a giant pothole exploding the rear tube at the valve - and had a 15 minute fight to change the tube with cold sodden hands. In all honesty I was in a better state than a lot of people who hadn't really dressed for the conditions. My feet were wet but toasty, my shell was keeping out the wind and keeping in the warm and my hands were just about functioning.

I put all thoughts of a fast time out of my mind - with no groups around I must have ridden at least 100 of the miles alone. I stopped briefly at every other feed stop and just kept pedaling. Around almost every corner there was someone fixing a puncture, and when I saw the odd other rider there was very little chat. Grim.

At the 80 mile point there was a feed stop with hot tea! That was nice. I even had sugar. 80 miles done... only 47 to go. Fuck.

With 25 miles to go I lost the ability to change my front gears. The bike was working, but my hands were so cold I couldn't push the lever. I used both hands to get it into the little ring and left it there.

With 16 miles to go, I treated myself to a caffeine gel. I was on very familiar training roads now so I knew what was coming. A couple more climbs, one little kicker (at about 25% gradient) and just keep pedaling.

At about this point I started to think about what I was going to do when I finished. I'd been invited to a friends (Caroline) for post-ride tea and cake, but quite frankly I figured if I stopped I'd never get going again. Then again, there was cake. But home and a hot shower beckoned. Home or cake, home or cake...

With 10 miles to go I lost the ability to change my rear gears. Again, cold hands. I put it in a lowish one and singlespeeded to the finish. At this point cake won. That and the fact I was rapidly losing the ability to work my bike controls - brakes would probably be next and Newbury traffic with no brakes is no fun.

The finish. I grabbed the goody bag (completely failing to carry on through to get a medal - ah well) and bimbled the 500 yards to Caroline's house. I realised how cold I was when I found I couldn't grip anything - I couldn't undo my helmet straps, I couldn't undo a zip, I couldn't undo my shoes. Thankfully Caroline had warmed up after doing the 81 miler and helped me with the tricky fasteners. A warm towel, a very hot shower, a cup of tea and a huge piece of cake and I was almost human again. She gave me a lift home - there was no way I was riding again - and I picked up my bike later. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

So, that was the Magnificat

Chapeau to everyone who turned up a rode - whatever distance. You are all now famous Belgians.

(There was a tweet later from one of the photographers, @SportivePhoto - "Have now photographed over 150 sportives, NEVER have I been in the rain all day long. An epic day for those who rode")
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