Last Sunday I took part in my first sportive, The Haywards Heath Howler, which is part of the Wiggle Super Series and organised by UK Cycling Events. I did the Standard 100km ride with a colleague from work and I was aiming for a Silver or better finish.
Thankfully, on the day the weather was perfect – not too hot and not much of a head wind. I was riding the RCUK test Blue RC8 but upgraded with some new Continental Grand Prix 4000S tyres to help battle against potential problems on the Sussex hills.
We started off at a good pace, helped by the bulk of another colleague, Juan Christen, who was doing the Epic route and who let us sit in his slipstream for the first few miles. Twenty minutes into the ride my wingman started to feel the pain of a back spasm. What was I to do? Our bulky friend was now a spec in the distance whilst my wingman’s face was different shades of purple. We plodded along for a few more miles, my father’s words running through my head; “Never leave a solider behind”. However, at this point I could see that this solider was more than happy to be left, so off I went.
I was now all alone and passing fellow competitors so frequently that I was worried I was going too fast, too early and I really didn’t want to blow up. However my 31 mile a day commute to work seemed to have given me an unfair advantage as I wasn’t feeling tired and I managed to comfortably race up most of the inclines. I was very careful to ensure I was taking on enough water and energy gels. Luckily, as I started to run low I reached the last food station, which was very well stocked.
Sometimes it felt like an eternity between seeing other cyclists. My only companion was my Garmin, which bleeped to report that it had lost the course only to say it had found it again! When I did see another competitor in the distance I would try to home in on them and then take them, only to be on my own again. By halfway my legs were feeling fine it was just my shoulders that were aching because as I seemed to be tensing up. With 15 miles left I was still comfortable. Where was all this pain that I’ve been told about, I was flying along? However those last 15 miles seemed to take a lifetime! I kept saying to myself it was the same as my commute to work, minus the rude cabbies. For the last two miles, which were mainly flat or downhill, I felt like one of those slobbery dogs with no control of its jowly face. Every little bump would shake my whole face. Finally, with the finish line in sight, I gave it one last burst to push me over the line and make sure I looked normal with no signs of the slobbery dog. I ended up coming home two minutes inside the Gold time. Next time it’s full-distance for me. [That’ll be the Southern Sportive, then, Mark? – ed.]
The sportive was organised brilliantly, the course was clearly marked, the food stations were very well supplied and at the finish line there was a good set-up. The day left me feeling really proud of myself and the fellow competitors. We had ridden to the best of our abilities while many of our friends and families had not even got out of bed. It got me thinking about when the next sportive would be, where it would take place and who would I cycle with. Plus what is the trick to not getting the sticky gel all over your hands while you’re cycling?