‘The Highclere’ will become a classic Sportive
I’ve never done the Etape – I wish that I had though. Pitting oneself against the terrain and the clock rather than a bunch of other riders has always appealed to the old CTC reliability trialler in me. Man and machine together against the elements. No need to shave your legs, you don’t need a licence and you can do it with a pannier bag attached.
Cyclosportives have always seemed to offer a more gentlemanly way to spend a day than the inevitable grovelling in the gutter that my 4th’s/ 3rds’/ juniors events would entail. The very word “cyclosportive” conjures up something civilised, noble, Corinthian and ever so slightly Continental. Maybe there’d be time for a spot of lunch somewhere nice, and besides, with such a huge distance to be covered I was certain not to be lapped! More importantly I was convinced that I had the right bike for it, a Roberts compact Audax custom built for the long haul. I’d shed slightly less than half a kilo by swapping the chainset, saddle and suspension seatpost and to my mind had transformed the “old girl” into a racing thoroughbred.
Obviously I was wrong though, I did spend the entire day grovelling in the gutter trying to maintain something of a half decent average speed as the wind blew, the rain fell (intermittently) and the mercury dropped. So much for the Continental aspect and whilst I wasn’t exactly lapped, I was passed by most of the rest of the field (many of whom had shaved their legs and forgotten to attach a pannier).
The Highclere / Southdowns Challenge involved 2,915m of climbing in a loop of 115miles through Hampshire. The route was excellent taking in the sort of back roads, sunken lanes and roughly surfaced byways that are usually only accessible to locals with an expert knowledge of the area but the signage along the entire course was superb. The savage course profile however meant there was little time to enjoy the views or take in the scenery. Not being able to get into a rhythm was something I heard time and time again as the roads pitched us up and down all day long. One minute on 50 / 16, the next on 34 / 16. In this sort of landscape the Compact is King.
Plenty of hills to ‘grovel’ up
Likewise, the food stops were sensibly placed but having spoken to friends who have done the Marmotte and the Etape I was a little disappointed not to be offered ham and cheese rolls and a choice of drink. We got fruitcake, flapjack and some pretty weak High5 (or water).
On leaving Highclere at 8:01am I decided to pace myself – it was going to be a long day after all – and everything went according to plan for the first 50 miles or so. Bottles were refilled, flapjack and cake taken on board and the odd energy bar consumed. Unlike almost everyone else I saw I didn’t suffer any punctures whatsoever thanks to my ever so agricultural 28c Conti’ Top Touring 2000’s. I was rolling along just nicely thank you very much; then 75 miles arrived. Bugger.
There were still 40 miles left and I’d just started to bonk. Cake, flapjack and energy bar didn’t seem to be doing the trick any more so I broke out the turbo charger (SIS Go-gels to be more specific). I had four on board and I had it on very good authority that one every ten miles should see you right. So that was OK then. But it wasn’t, I was working hard now to spin along at 15mph on the (few and far between) flat sections. My knee was starting to ache and at 90miles thoughts of abandoning crept treacherously into my head. This was the longest ride I’d done in more than five years and there were still 25 more miles to go. Another ‘gel’ worked its magic though and I pressed on trying hard to mimic the elegant toe down pedalling style of the twiddlers of old – anything to take my mind off the sheer unpleasantness of what I was doing. Coincidence or not however my knee stopped aching and I made 100 miles feeling better than I expected.
Tandems too? isn’t that cheating?
“The Scorpion” struck as predicted just after the beast that is Inkpen Hill. I thought, not unreasonably that it would be all downhill back to the finish – there wasn’t room in the route to squeeze in any more climbing. Idiot! Deluded fool, of course there’s room for more climbing, this is Hampshire and they’ve rented an Alp for the day. Simply go halfway down the hill, slam on your brakes, turn right and ride back up. This hurt and once over the control mat at the top of Walbury Hill I was assured that there was only one more short hill to the finish. This was partially correct in that there was only the one of them but “short” is a relative term and is often followed by the word ‘sharp’. This latter piece of information was missing.
And so some 8.5 hours after leaving, I was back. To the arms of my loved ones who had been holed up in the Castle grounds with nothing much to do other than watch the BCF “go ride” demo” and inspect the family seat of the Carnarvons.
After a well deserved massage I decided that I will try another one, maybe the same one next year so I can see some sort of progression – and I’ll have moved up to the 40year old category by then so I’ll be allowed another 15 minutes! Now then, who’s for a spot of training in the Indian Himalaya?