Monday, June 23, 2008

Cotswold hills

I've actually managed to finish my first UK sportive. 165km of very hilly and windy riding in the Circuit of the Cotswolds.

I found it harder than both Paris-Roubaix and Franja, mainly because of the severity of the climbs, the 35km/h wind and because I rode it solo. Nearly 6 hours at 80% of my max heart rate and 2500m of climbing. In comparison Roubaix was 9 hrs (plus nearly two hours of stops) at 65% of max, while Franja was just over four hours at 75%, sitting on a bunch most of the time. I probably shouldn't have done a hard 100km the day before, because my legs are absolutely knackered now.

Despite having a 39x28, I damn well had to get off and walk near the top of one of the climbs, a beast that goes by the name of Bushcombe Lane that leads up to Cleeve Hill. The whole climb averages about 13% for 1.2km, but the steep middle part is 18% for a good 500m, hitting 25% in bits with two cattle grids for fun. That alone is like the bottom bit of Attunga St in Sydney but five times as long. Add in the previous 95km and lots of climbing and I, or rather my arms, decided that as there were still 70km and five climbs to go, it would be advisable to save a bit of fuel.

It was annoying because when I was in the saddle it was manageable, except I couldn't keep my front wheel on the road. I think I destroyed my cleat in the process as well.

It was a humbling experience. But those who rode up it weren't always better off. I'd started it together with another guy at the bottom, and he ground his way past me as I was stumbling up the final section. But I had recovered a bit when I got to the top and passed him, never seeing him again. If I did it again I'd go for a 34 tooth front chainring, or a bit more practice on the really steep hills around Bath.

Alas, Bushcombe Lane pales in comparison to the toughest climb in the UK: Hardknott Pass in Cumbria. It averages 14% for nearly 3km, and includes some 33% bits. It's part of the Fred Whitton Challenge (a 180km sportive) and reduces most riders to walking. Plenty of cars burn out clutches on it too.

The rest of the Circuit of the Cotswolds was fun, especially the last part where we had a roaring tailwind. It was so nice to barrel home at 40-50km/h on quiet, straight roads. A reward for all the head/crosswinds and steep climbs.

For the first time, I used my Garmin 705 as a navigational tool. I copied the GPX of the route onto it and hit 'navigate' and bingo, I didn't even need route arrows. It has an auto-zoom feature so that you can tell exactly what's coming up. Bloody handy, especially when I followed the arrows for a totally different ride and went off course once. Oops. I realised I was heading in a perpendicular direction to the purple line that marked the real course, and turned back. At least that meant I got to say g'day twice to Lucy, Pete and Ben Power, who were part of the Oxford Uni contingent.

The other funny thing was when I was passed by a couple of guys just before the second feed stop (85km). They were motoring and blew by me on one of the climbs and I had no chance of keeping up. But they stopped for a few minutes at the feed whereas I didn't. It took them another 30km to get past me again, but that was only 10km before the last feed station. Although I did stop there for five minutes, I still left before them. They didn't catch me until I hit a set of lights with 5km to go. And once again, they flew past. But they, in turn, got held up just coming into town and we rolled across the timing mats together.

Their final time was 3 minutes slower than mine, which means they must have started before me and I passed them at the first feed. So the tortoise is faster than the hares :-)

Still, although I ended with the eighth fastest time, I was still 25 mins slower than the quickest riders, who must have done it as a two-up time trial. That ain't hangin' around. My colleague and taxi du jour Mark Appleton did it in 7:23 and said he found it a lot tougher than the Dragon Ride that he did the week previously in Wales.

This Sunday, I'm hoping to do the Dave Lloyd Mega Challenge. 224km and 5000m of climbing in North Wales. I reckon I'll take it easy the day before...

No comments: