Thursday, 23 April 2009

North Cornwall Tor(ture)

Kilotogo proclaim their North Cornwall Tor Sportive to be "the toughest many riders, even well seasoned one's, will ever enter. They ain't kidding!

With jobs to do round home, neither Brett or I could justify 2 nights away, so we travelled down on Saturday afternoon and pitched tent on the side of the footie pitch at the Dragon Centre where the ride was due to start.

Sunday dawned clear. It had no choice, there were no clouds, which rendered Saturday night very, very cold. Waking at 6 and getting up was an excellent opportunity to try to get warm.

Faffing (obligatory) was done, so we slightly missed the 8 a.m. start, setting off at about 8:10. Within 200 metres my legs were asking what the hell was going on, and Brett disappeared into the distance.

In Cornwall, it seems that the adage "what goes up must come down" is reversed, because what goes down always goes back up. So it was right at the start with a 'leg warmer' out of Bodmin up onto the moor that has no equal either where I live or work. Suitably warmed up, the next 20km over the moor was stunning. The clarity of the air was amazing.Eventually the first control arrived, followed by the net downhill of the second section to Bude. On this section I met Mike from Leeds, a rider I had ridden part of the Cheshire Cat with, prior to his elimination with a technical failure. He was back, and going well, now equipped with a compact chainset. Going well, until about 3 miles short of Bude, when a downhill section got the better of him, and dumped him into a hedge on a corner. Thankfully, he proclaimed the greatest damage was to his ego, and he was able to carry on.

This ride really starts at Bude, and after the climb out of the town, you get the first real sight of the cliffs to come. Also at this point, I was starting to experience a small voice in the back of my mind going "you forgot the sunscreen". Oh bugger!

At the end of Widemouth Bay comes the first 'real' stinker at Wanson, up to Penhalt Cliff. I still remember the smell of burning clutch from when we took a fully loaded car up there. I got to stop at the bottom, under the reason of helping out another rider with a broken chain (I have now given away both of my quick links in the last two sportives) but got to the top still on the bike. And is the view worth it, or what?

There follows the hardest part of any ride I have ever done. Even after surviving the 1:3 descent of Millhook, you have to get up the 1:3 the other side, followed by climbs of varying severity into/out of Crackington Haven, Boscastle, Tintagel, Trebarwith, Port Gaverne and Port Isaac.

As a cyclist, you learn to pay attention to place names. Anywhere called "Nether", "Lower", etc is to be feared. This is because you will inevitably follow a signpost to similarly named places either "Upper", "Higher", "Superior" etc. Imagine my delight (not) to spot a place name on a signpost called "High Cliff". At least the view was good back over the route we had come.
After the departure from the coast, one might expect the lunacy to end, but "No", then you get to Bishops Wood, a wall proclaimed by the sign at the bottom to be 28%. By the time I got there, I was so tired, it took me nearly 10 minutes to walk up it, and its only 300 metres long!

How I managed to not take the short route back to Bodmin along the main road, I know not. It will be interesting to see from the split times how many people baled out on the last section, but I did it all and limped over the line in 10 hours 11 minutes at about 6:20 in the evening.

As we left Bodmin an hour later, stragglers were still finishing. The last I saw of Mike was halfway up Millhook, sat at the side of the road looking for Oxygen. He finished after 8p.m. in a time of 12:22. Chapeau both to him for having the willpower to finish, and to the organisers for refusing to shut up shop until he made it.

Will I do it again? Probably, but probably not next year. Biggest mistake, not applying suncream (I still glow in the dark). Second biggest mistake, not taking the Kinesis. I know its heavier, but I really needed lower gears. I'm still not going as well as last year.

"Find me some Hills"

said Mrs H over the Easter weekend.

Originally, we had planned a trudge up Snowdon, but although great weather was promised, the kids looked at us like we had 2 heads (each) when we suggested they come along.

Not wanting to release our house into their clutches for any longer than necessary, we decamped to Stratford on Avon with the bikes instead.

With the intention of a gently paced ride with a few climbs we set off out over the "Col de Loxley", a regular for lunchtime training and on to Alderminster. A quick blast along the A3400 led us to the Ilmington turn, and an appointment with Campden Pitch, the hill which killed my rear wheel 2 years ago.

On that occasion, I halted half way up, chest heaving, and broke a spoke on restarting. Mrs H is made of sterner stuff (and has the advantage of being made from far less of it) and was not for stopping. At the steep point I was momentarily in danger of being dropped, but the 26-30 ratio of the Kinesis got me out of it. Mrs H made it to the top having "nearly got off" once again.

The inevitable quick descent led to Dover's Hill and another 16% challenge, again ably met and dispatched, followed by the long drag up to Broadway Tower and a saddlebag full of butties. Through the Lavender Farm and down Snowshill into the Cotswold tweeness of Broadway was not Mrs H's cup of tea. She does not yet enjoy the combination of speed + traffic + potholes + potential messy injury.

Despite the busy traffic, I could not resist directing her back up Fish Hill on the main road. Thankfully, there is a crawler lane so we were little threatened by passing traffic. Again the occasion was risen to, and the hill conquered stopless. The route back to Stratford was largely then downhill, and we rolled back in a shade over 4 hours for our 47 miles.

Next on the joint agenda is the Dean Bluebell Doddle with 1200m of climbing in 53km. I think we will both make it round.

Dr Foster....

..went to Gloucester, according to the nursery rhyme. And so, on the 4th April, did I. Except we went the long way round.

I was dead keen to start the day, since my new bike arrived the day before and I was itching to try it out. Not content with a gentle 20km shakedown, I took it out on Dr Fosters Spring Clean, an Audax starting near Tewkesbury, and measuring 200+ kilometers.

That bike is amazingly comfortable, and felt such right from the start. Initially, there were the inevitable teething problems, and a slightly more squirrely feeling downhill on greasy roads, but I soon got used to the feel of it.

By the time we arrived at the first control, the granny ring had packed up and refused to engage on the front mech, but I was lucky enough to arrive at the same time as a guy who had worked in a bike shop for over 15 years, and 30 seconds of adjustment soon rectified that problem.

After the first control came the first and only big climb of the day, which I initially missed, carrying straight on instead of turning left. This was to set a trend, as I didn't realise the limitations of my GPS unit until after the ride. Apparently, if you upload a file that has too many route points, it cuts the number down automatically by knocking the corners off the route. Not recommended for route finding. Admittedly, this did cause some merriment among other riders when I arrived at control 2 from the opposite direction to everyone else.

The course led off through Monmouth and Pontypool down to Newport, with long sections on NCN routes off-road and on towpaths etc. The new bike coped magnificently with the rough stuff, and was infinitely more comfortable than Mr Trek would have been.

A rush across the Caldicott Levels (interrupted by a pub lunch) led to the old Severn Bridge, and a plummet from the top back into England onto the Severn Plain. A quick stop at the Shed near Slimbridge (toasted teacake, mmmmmm!) and the towpath took us into Gloucester, from where it was a quick jaunt (with a little knee-killer thrown in) back to the start.

All in all it took nearly 12 hours for the 212km, but given that much of this was off-road, it wasn't a bad time.

By the time Thursday came round, and the Kinesis went into the Bike Shop for a check over, it had done another ride out with Mrs H, and an 80 mile commute to work. I wonder how many new bikes do 340km in their first 5 days of ownership?

1/2 RTTY.....