Sunday, 13 December 2009

To Blog or not to Blog

That is the question.

As 2009 winds down, and cycling becomes scarcer, thoughts turn to the years achievements, and what I intend to do next year.

Some are fixed on their plans, aiming for Etapes, or similar. As yet, I have no such plans and haven't really thought about what would fit best. Certainly, there will be a family holiday (with what's left of the family with the older 2 not wishing to come along) and this will definitely involve bikes. Currently it looks as if it may also include Alpe d'Huez as we are looking to go to Bourg d'Oisans in July/August.

Beyond that, I don't know. I think there may well be a lot more 100's next year, as Linda wishes to gear up her cycling. And I have the Tamworth Audaxes to organise. That may well eat some time.

As to whether it is worth blogging such a lack of commitment, that's debatable, though it may serve to keep me honest through the year.

I guess I need to do some thinking (and planning).

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

In search of 'Proof'

Shortly after failing to collect all of my required documentary proof, I noted from Yet Another Cycling Forum that the local Permanent Ride Convener, Danial Webb, was looking to recommend to the Audax powers-that-be that GPS tracks should be acceptable for 'proof' that a permanent ride had been completed.

Other arguments ranged from "definitely not" to "only to prove detours to add the requisite km".

Thus a plea was submitted. "Could I submit my existing receipts, backed up by the GPS track (fully consistent with said receipts) and take the GPS track as proof of visiting Stratford?"

Answer: "I'll ask."

A couple of days elapsed, and the following response was received. "Audax always look to validate rides, not to invalidate them. This should be OK".

The validated card has now been received, and it is official.

I HAVE MY 5,000KM AWARD for 2008/2009. Chuffed!!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Life's Little Ups and Downs (mostly downs)

Saturday 31st dawned, Ray cried off. Another lonely 200 beckoned.

At least on this occasion I had cobbled together a route that contained some new roads, and therefore a bit more interest. Sure, I would be riding some roads well travelled on Audax events during the year, but the roads joining them together were new to me.

A 7:25 start was a little later than anticipated, but I was trying to keep riding in the dusk to a minimum as I am currently without my nice SuperNova Dynamo Light. That semi-died on the Cider with Rosie Audax when its capacitor blew. It's currently (subject to the foibles of the mail system) in Germany being repaired (and upgraded) free of charge. Love it.

The first sections to Market Harborough were lumpy, and it took until 10:30 to do the first 65km, but at least that meant Subway was open when I got there. The road to Southam was a "curates egg", good in parts. The section before Rugby was good, and largely quiet, the section afterwards maddeningly busy with dangerous traffic. I was even forced onto a cycle lane for a short section.

I made Southam by 12:45 and Stratford by 14:15, only 60km to go and the 5,000km award was in the bag! I know the road back from Stratford well, but it rarely takes as long as the three hours it took that afternoon. Such, I suppose, was the payback for being ill earlier in the week.

Nevertheless, I checked in at the local cashpoint for the finish receipt with an elapsed time of 9 hours 50.

I retreated home feeling chuffed. After eating I dragged together the receipts to attach them to the Brevet Card and despatch then to our local organiser, Danial, and get my official ratification.

The way that such rides work is that you obtain receipts/proof of passage at commercial establishments along the route to prove you were there, adding up the pre-ordained distances to get the allowed ride length.

Imagine my horror to discover no receipt or proof of passage from Stratford on Avon, and therefore no verifiable 200km to add to my running total and get the 5000km award. Like a wally, I had not picked up the receipt from the garage in Stratford, had no proof of passage and, worse still no more days on which to do another qualifying ride.

I have never felt so utterly dejected and miserable.

Always have a Plan 'B'

Having the last week of October off work coincides nicely with half term. It also gives you time to think about how to fit in your last 200km ride before the end of the Audax year on 31st October.

Thus, with a bit of planning, a route of Tamworth, Measham, Market Harborough, Southam, Stratford, Tamworth for eaxctly 200km took shape. And doing it on the Saturday would give me optimum recovery time whilst still fitting the ride into the Audax Year.

Game Back On.

The Best Laid Plans

as the saying goes "Gang Aft Agley". Or translated into modern English, often end up down the toilet. Literally.

The plan for Horseshoe Pass Audax Weekend was a bit involved. Matthew (middle son) was attending Teesside Uni for an Open Day prior to making his UCAS choices on the Saturday, the Audax was the Sunday.

GPS was plotted (properly) earlier in the week, and we decamped to the Land of the Prince Bishops (County Durham.....this is educational y'know) on the Friday to stay overnight at the el-cheapo TravelLodge. You gets what you paid for, and we obviously hadn't paid for much sleep. Breakfast at the neighbouring Little Chef (more of THAT later) resumed some semblance of normal service, and off we trotted to look around the Uni.

Curiosity sated, we set off on the return journey mid-afternoon and arrived back home early evening after which bike prepping was hastily done and car packed for the following morning.

I retreated to bed at about 10 p.m., and stayed there about 4 hours. The wee small hours of the Sunday are best glossed over, but I know now why the lavvy and the washbasin are next to one another. I don't think I have ever felt quite so ill, and despite my every effort to the contrary (including getting up at 6 a.m. to get dressed) the Audax simply wasn't happening. I spent the whole of the Sunday being poorly, the eventual culprit suspected to be Little Chef Baked Beans which was the only thing I had eaten that no-one else had.

I felt wiped out until about the Tuesday, but worse still I had missed the last 200km event in the Audax Calendar.

Another One Bites the Dust

Another Saturday, another 200km, this time the reverse of an earlier Mesh doing Tamworth, Stratford, Stow, Alcester, Measham, Tamworth.

The Mesh map would have this as being 213km, but going the opposite way round would have meant climbing some stoopid hills instead of descending them, so I took slight detours both to ease the climbs and divert to the better descents.

Saturday started cloudy but not too cold so I went with the fingerless summer gloves. By the time I had done 25 miles the cloud had cleared enough to give clear sky overhead, but not enough to allow the sun access to the road. The temperature headed down VERY rapidly. 10 miles out from Stratford, I could not even feel my fingers, and I haven't yet got the hang of cycling along with my hands down my bibshorts to warm them up. Besides, that sounds like a really good way of getting stopped by the Old Bill.

Further kilometers added to retreat to Costa in Stratford for food and warming coffee. 25 minutes later and some serious clutching of an oversize coffee mug had returned the feeling to the fingers. Leaving the coffee shop, the temperature was by now that couple of degrees warmer and the fingers were no problem for the rest of the day. I added kilometers to go round Chipping Campden rather than ascend the killer climb past the quarry, riding along 5 Mile Drive on the top of the Cotswolds to arrive in Stow well before midday and going very well.

A swift turnaround towards Alcester led to the choice of avoiding the descent of Saintbury Hill (narrow & slippery) in favour of Fish Hill (wide and long with sweeping 180 degree bends) where we did some training for the descents of last year's Etape. Brilliant. 40mph and catching cars round the corners.

Once out on the flat stuff, the hammer stayed down, and I passed through home on the way to Measham well ahead of schedule. 50 minutes later the ride was over, 9 hours and 50 minutes elapsed for 223km. My fastest 200km ride of the year and well over distance.

One more down, only one event to go.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Neither Cider Nor Rosie

A 300km Ride? In October? Are you mad?

This was the conversation held with my alter-ego shortly after the 100km Over and Over the Trent Audax. Of course, to achieve the target of 5,000km in Audaxes for the 12 months I would either have to do the 300, or two 200's, in addition to the Horseshoe Pass Audax at the end of October. In the end, I opted for the two shorter distances. Strange, isn't it, that 200km can ever be considered a 'shorter distance'.

Finally, I decided on the "Cider with Rosie" Audax from Andoversford near Cheltenham as the first of these 200km rides on 11th October. Collecting 2 colleagues en-route, we three arrived at Andoversford early. Tea, biccies and the first cakes of the day ensued.

All GPS'd up, we set off into the Cotswolds for the first leg to Fairford. This route took us across many of the lanes we had used for Etape training, albeit in different directions and was very pleasant indeed. The tourist trap of Bibury was passed whilst still quiet, and the route passed into Fairford the back way to take best advantage of the scenery.

Leading off from the control, we caught a couple of riders having navigational problems, pouring scorn when we informed them they were trying to navigate from the wrong page of the route sheet. Pride cometh before a fall, just remember that.

The next sections of the ride passed over the Ridgeway (steep and long) into Hungerford (cake stop), then through Marlborough and along the A4 to Lacock for tea. By the time we ascended the Ridgeway, the cloud descended to meet us as we rode up toward it. By the top, the cloud reached the road. A mile later, full blown drizzle started. By the time we reached Hungerford it was a proper rainstorm and we were about as wet as cyclists can get. And tired. So tired, that I cannot properly remember the emergency rations administered at the Tutti Pole Cafe, but I do recall hazily something to do with Crumpets, Toast and Marmalade (x4) and Death By Hot Chocolate. The route to Lacock was much on major roads, not entirely to our liking, but did pass interesting locations such as Silbury Hill, Avebury and a couple of White Horses.

Lacock was very picturesque, but better still had a tea rooms serving a clotted cream tea that was a heart attack waiting for somewhere to happen. Suitably fortified, we departed the place barely able to resist the allure of the real coal open fire at the neighbouring pub. Still, only 70km to go (or so we thought).

Having descended the hill from Avening to Nailsworth (rejoicing in the fact that we set off the 30mph flashy thing on the way down) and picked up Ray who collided with Brett whilst stopping for road works, we picked off the last Info Control and headed for Stroud, the Slad Valley (setting for Laurie Lee's Cider with Rosie) and the finish. At this point we made the cardinal mistake of letting me lead.

It appears that in the middle of Stroud is a double mini-roundabout. I misread the GPS unit, turned right at the first instead of the second, and failed to notice that the track on the GPS unit had gone missing. Brett and Ray came tanking past with the bit in their teeth, sensing the finish, and I set off after them for the 'last' 20km. I remember thinking "I must be tired, I've ridden straight past the Woolpack Pub without noticing" because it never appeared. Neither did the Air Balloon pub at Birdlip.

Just before my suspicions fully surfaced, a sign for Cirencester appeared. Note: a sign FOR Cirencester, not a sign TO Cirencester. Yes, this was actually Cirencester itself. Don't get me wrong. I'm sure Corinium is a mighty fine place, but not when you think you're 2km from the finish of a 208km Audax and you turn up in a place 25km off-course.

Thankfully, having a GPS unit with a map allowed us to plot a route back to the finish, but adding an extra 25km in the last 20km despite having the assistance of a GPS is a record even for me. In the end it took us 12 hours 25 minutes, in which we eventually cycled almost 235km.

Still, they all count and at the end of the ride I was up to 4,700km and only 2 rides short of my annual target (but still more than a little bit embarrassed).

Over and Over Again

3? years ago, Over and Over the Trent was my third serious Audax Ride, and at 113km my longest ride to date.

This year, it was Mrs H's 100km Audax for the year, having warmed up with the 50km of the Welland Wonder a few weeks ago.

The start point for the ride is Darley Abbey in the middle of Derby, a rather quaint old part of the city, which is surprisingly picturesque given its proximity to the centre. Being semi-organised we arrived in time to occupy just about the last parking space in the small car park by the village hall, and rolled out with 4 other members of Tamworth CC (which is about 50% of the total membership) across the river Derwent and into the lumpy bits north of the City.

True to form within 2 miles we were virtually last and tootling along up the hills at our own pace. At least we didn't repeat my navigational error of last time and add on 3 miles and an extra hill on this occasion.

Once we left the built-up area it was immediately noticeable that it was windy. Very windy. Exactly the same, in fact, as it was last time I rode this event. On that occasion we were down to 9kmh on the flat at one point, the wind was so strong. This time was little better with the wind (and soil from the fields) in our faces until well after the lunch stop. Everyone coped well with the hills on offer, without even the threat of having to get off, and it was noticeable that although I am far from being as fit as I would like, I bear no resemblance to the guy who struggled round this course last time.

Once the turn was reached, and the wind at our backs, fun commenced with the hammer being dropped for optimal slipstreaming. After about 3 miles of this we slowed to let other people catch back up, with Mrs H professing to be a little disappointed at having to slow down. Methinks all this training could be creating a monster. The sort that will rip my legs off at some point in the future.

Once through the tiny lanes north of Burton, and sampling the coffee aromas downwind of the Nestle factory, we put our heads down to try to get back before we were rained on. We failed, but we at least under cover for the worst of it.

Once we got back to the start, our elapsed time was 6 hours 10 minutes. Faster than last years 100km ride, on a course with more climbing, on a windier day. A good performance.

Despite 'only' doing 110km on the day, my legs 'persuaded' me not to get up in the rain the following day to pursue Rourkies Cat & Fiddle Challenge. Wuss!