Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The Hampshire Hilly Hundred

I was born in Hampshire - the original one, not the new-fangled version that they invented in America. Although  I don't live there now I still have an affinity for the county - rolling hills, military bases and pubs that tolerated under-age drinking. It was also where I started real bike riding - my first "racer" was bought when I lived in Hampshire, and I rode to school and college on the same bike. I'd grown into it by college time.

For college I even went to the trouble of refurbishing it - new brakes, saddle, gears, rack (sorry), mudguards (more sorry) and a home-respray of the pig-iron frame from a rusty red to shining white.

The rusty red was a sign. The bike's forks fell off a couple of years later having corroded through at the steerer. Thankfully my dad was moving it out of the shed at the time - probably to quietly dispose of it whilst I was away at university.

Back to the point... Hampshire. I live pretty close now, and when a friend mentioned he was doing the Hampshire Hilly 100 (HHH, some good alliteration there) it was too local to resist. Easy and quick to get to, far enough away to be riding on new roads.

It went here (click for a bigger version):

The red dot marks the start, and also the finish - that was a relief as it was where I'd left my car. I'd hope most people would recognise Winchester - home of Jane Austen, a cathedral and where the rifle was invented. Alresford is the watercress capital of Britain, Whitchurch has a silk mill and Stockbridge has a bridge. Probably for stock.

Exciting stuff. There were also hills. The organisers claimed 7000ft of climbing (2133 metres) over the 100 miles, and there was plenty of undulating countryside with the odd cheeky rise thrown in.

Thankfully, it was dry. After six weeks of almost constant rain this was a pleasant surprise, so much so that I had to rehearse my outfit the previous day - what clothes for a 5C start, 15C finish and sunshine? I really couldn't remember.

As usual I arrived early, but hung back a little so that I wasn't in the very first group to start. There were about 50 ahead of me when we set off, and I played the usual card of waiting for some fast people to catch up and dropping in behind them - after saying hello of course. They were three strong riders, especially on the flat, but I could just about keep with them. They also slowed down on the climbs, instead of sprinting at everything. My kind of riding.

We were joined by about eight others after catching a bigger group at some traffic lights, and chugged along nicely, until most of us decided that the three strong ones were just that little bit too strong... we made our excuses and let them go.

Fast forward to 105km, Hannington feed stop. Still about eight or nine of us, working well and chatting together. I like to grab food/drink and go, so after a quick draining in the loo, and filling my bottles, I was straight out again, all alone. There was one other guy who'd left about thirty seconds before me so I caught him up and we started working together - he was slightly the better climber, I was slightly stronger on the flat. The last 50km was more or less flat to downhill, thankfully, as the legs were starting to feel the effort. The last 10km turned into side by side conversation - good luck in the Maratona dles Dolomites! - and after a burst of energy up the last ride we were back.

Timed sportives give you a chance to see how well you compare to the random mix of riders that turn up to not race, and in this one I compared pretty well. 15th out of 198 in the 40+ Men, 34th out of 423 overall. 25 minutes inside the "gold" time standard for 40+, six seconds (count 'em!) inside the "gold" time for young people.

Seems like this training lark might actually be working.
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