I’m a bit slow to get going this morning. A bit tired, you see. Yesterday husband and I rode the Anthony Maynard sportive bike event – just the “short” route of 110kms. (Got to love a sport in which 110kms is considered short. A bit like a “sprint triathlon”, which still takes me well over an hour.)
I’m ramping up my training now for the Little Woody triathlon, a half-Ironman/middle distance event with a bike leg of 95kms followed by a run leg of 21kms (ish). It’s
around the Forest of Dean hilly. So I need to get some long, tough bike rides in, ideally followed by steady runs of up to two hours. Yeah. I know.
So we made a last-minute decision to ride this local sportive, which is held annually to remember Anthony, a talented young club cyclist killed whilst out training on his bike in July 2008. I knew from the profile that the route would be “lumpy”
but had never ridden any of the route, so had no idea what was in store. I didn’t really mind in any case; it’s all training which needs to be done.
So, yes, 6:30am on a Sunday morning and I was eating breakfast and wishing I’d eaten less BBQ (and drunk less rosé) at yesterday’s 40th birthday party. Oh well! We drove to Theale and – hallelujah – were able to register on the day. Met up with a workmate of husband’s (a real die-hard roadie rider) and lined up for the start.
What a popular event. It took ages to get through the start and frankly it was very touching to see so many local riders coming out so early on a Sunday morning to celebrate and remember Anthony Maynard and raise some funds for his favourite charities.
I’d somewhat randomly pinned my hopes on a silver-standard finishing time of under 4:22 for the 110kms. That would mean holding an average of 25.5kph (I think?) – not tricky. Or so I thought!
Once on our way, the route almost immediately threw us up some draggy hills. It was a really cold morning – I was wearing a stupid choice of jersey which is a bit too short, and my lower back was feeling the wind. I’d put arm-warmers in the car as a last-minute decision, and I was very glad to have them.
Husband’s work-mate, bless him, took it upon himself to be “Team Nic” (as he put it) and try to drag me up the hills by positioning himself in front of me and inviting me to stick onto his backwheel. But I just couldn’t do it – I’m not used to riding in a bunch (age-group triathletes aren’t allowed to draft, so I never get to do it), my legs were sore from yesterday’s run, and I simply don’t have the skills to stay on the wheel of another rider. If you can do it, drafting off someone else (particularly up a hill) really does work. But I just couldn’t. He was only trying to help but I found it increasingly stressful to try and stick with him as well as wake up/breathe/look at the road ahead/eat my Primula sandwiches, so I told husband and work-colleague to do their own thing and leave me to it. What can I say, I like my own company.
The first 40kms of the ride were not nice. I actually started to think that I regretted doing the event at all, and that’s saying something. There seemed to be no breaks between the hills, and the headwind was vicious. There were plenty of downhills, but the headwind made them slow and the sidewind made them risky. I was not enjoying myself.
Just after Wantage, at the 40km rest stop (amazingly well stocked, by the way, with a fantastic range of goodies!), I was ready to drop. I felt like crying. I wasn’t actually that far behind husband and work colleague (or so they said!) but I’d been grinding along at around 12kph at times and just felt demoralised. On the climb up to the rest stop, the views across the ridgeway had been spectacular but I hadn’t been able to get a good look as I was too busy hanging my head and grinding my knees (and teeth).
However, it’s amazing what a flapjack or two can do. After the rest stop, I took off like it was a new day. In fact, I managed to stay with husband and work-colleague for a decent amount of time.
The next stretch of the route went through an area near Lambourn called “Valley of the Racehorse” (because of the sheer amount of training stables in the area) and I was in my element looking at all the beautiful horses out in the fields. The wind seemed to have dropped a (tiny) bit – enough to make a difference – and the hills seemed to flatten out a little bit. It was still a tough ride, but the food station and chance to stretch my legs had given me a second wind.
Before too long, I’d reached the halfway point and, from here, the kms ticked by at a steady rate. Skirting Hungerford, we went through a lot of pretty villages and a rainshower freshened us up. The road surfaces were varied (I think recent rain had washed quite a bit of gravel into the roads) but traffic was quiet and – best of all – courteous. I didn’t encounter or see so much as a near-miss.
The second and final feed stop on this short route was west of Newbury, at a woodland burial ground near Enborne where Anthony Maynard is laid to rest. The feed stop was manned by his family and there was a great atmosphere. Not sad nor sombre, but peaceful and respectful.
From there it was under 40kms to the finish, but the course designers hadn’t finished with us yet. If the first 40kms of the course had almost constantly rolling, draggy hills, this final 40kms had a series of short, sharp climbs which really sapped any energy our legs had left. They were lowest gear, out-of-the-saddle type climbs, the type where you actually wonder if you’ll get up it or if you’ll end up coming to a halt and just toppling over, still clipped in. I tried to remember the profile map (which had hill names on it) and asked one Reading CC rider if this was the final hill. He actually laughed as he said “no” (and cycled past me up the hill). Oh well.
With about 20kms to go I fell in alongside a rider who, being a tall chap, looked to be a good windbreak. We ended up chatting about work (how?!) and he told me he does Slash’s PR. How cool! How on earth I ended up riding the final 20kms of a sportive with Slash’s PR I don’t know, but there you go. Being
nosy a journalist, I’ve since googled him and he was actually hiding his light under a bushel – he’s also in a band himself. I didn’t have my autograph-book on me I’m afraid.
Slash’s PR and I bowled along the final 20kms together (it was downhill) chatting and agreeing that the course had been pretty tough. “5km to go!” I shouted when I saw the 5km-to-go sign. “…all uphill!” I added, as a joke. Surely, with just 3 miles to go, they wouldn’t throw any more hills in now? Wouldn’t they’d just let us spin our legs out?
Er, no. Rounding a corner, we faced yet another hill. Only short, but very steep. I honestly wasn’t sure if I’d get up it. There were people at the top clapping and one of them said “final hill!” At last! Slash’s PR let out a loud “ouch!” as he pedalled up and I knew exactly how he felt.
From there it really was a short spin to the finish and I rolled over the line in an over all time (including feed stops) of 4:49:94 – bronze finishing standard! My bike computer says 4:29:18.
Anthony Maynard sportive
Elevation gain: 1,350m