Riding 200km in February is always going to be a challenge. One way that some organisers soften the blow on these rides is plan the routes as a series of multiple loops out and back from a central point, usually with good catering. This can work really well – you can leave changes of clothes and extra food in the car. The downside is that the temptation is always going to be there to climb into the car halfway round and stay there – and I have done that a couple of times in previous years.
This ride started from a pub, The White Hart, in Aylesbury. It was a 9am start which meant I could get up at a sane hour for the hour drive over the top of London. About 80 made the start of the 200, a great turnout for a new ride I thought.
I only knew a couple of faces and chatted to Alan from ACH for a bit before the start – he had been on ‘Dick Turpin’s Day Out’ perm a month ago and was intending to follow up todays 200 with a 100 on the Sunday. He is getting ready for the brutal Mille Pennines (as it sounds, a 1000km of big hills) so really needs the miles.
We all set off into a stiff headwind and there was the inevitable shakedown into groups – finding the back of a group going about the right speed seeming like a good idea, so that’s what I did for the 25km first hour to the foot of the Chilterns for the first climb of the day.
I had taken the effort to look at the profile for the day, but not having ridden in the Chilterns before I was apprehensive about the hills – due to the nature of the course we would be crossing the Chiltern ridge six times.
Negotiating traffic for a Sue Ryder Care sale day – so home counties…
So come to the first hill I quickly slipped onto the bottom ring on my triple and rode up the first rise in mountain bike mode (sit and spin). I got to the top a lot quicker than I thought I would and expected more rises but that was pretty much it before descending to Caversham. So that was good, the hills were nowhere near as long as I was expecting.
In Caversham I elbowed my way around the Waitrose (good stocks of Gluten Free goods) and then tried to look inconspicious in the foyer while eating my GF bun. Not easy in day-glo yellow.
From there the return to Aylsebury was better in that we were in a building tail wind, but not so good in that I was riding by myself on busy B road. And then the rain started. The last hour back along the flat to Aylesbury was fast but wet and with lots of traffic. It was ‘drear’ and cars had their lights on at 1pm!. I rode for a bit with a guy who said he ‘just wasn’t fit enough’ which was odd as I believe most of the answer to that is that he has probably riding too fast then. I don’t know if he continued, but if he was feeling that way coming up to 100km then the last 100km wasn’t going to be fun for him.
So, lunch at the pub. Found a table with some riders and talked about cycling related matters while I had a warm salmon salad and fruit and ice cream while trying to dry out (pointless really).
After leaving the pub by myself I did a silly thing and followed the wrong line on my Garmin and ended up on loop 3 instead of loop 2 for a good fifteen minutes. By the time I worked it out (by looking at an actual map and the route directions) I had added 10 km and half a soggy hour to my ride. Oh well. At this point I had mentally committed to finishing the ride. There’s a moment on any ride that is an actual challenge where you decide that you can do it, or that you will do it regardless. I had decided that getting that wet was pointless unless I finished, so… game on.
Sometimes when it’s wet and a bit rubbish on the road I will just reframe the ride to make it seem less hard. If I think of a 200 as a training ride for a 300 somehow it seems easier. I think this is because I slow down a little to 300 pace and take pressure off myself. I had managed the first half of the ride at just over 25.4 kph average which is good on my Tripster but I knew the second would be a big drop off that.
So I set back out (on the right loop) towards the north east and onto the climb of Aston Hill. Now riding on back roads the traffic died down a lot and I felt a lot more relaxed. The climb was steady (in the rain) and then there was a nice ride slowly dropping down to Missenden in what I would think of as proper Chilterns countryside, that well groomed (and very rich) arrangement of ‘farms’ and woods spread out over gentle hills. And just tootling along on my own, even still a bit soggy, was a nice reward for the b-road bashing that had got me this far around.
There was lots of standing water on the roads, good for hiding potholes. In this sort of territory my Tripster ATR is an excellent bike – stable, comfortable and with disk brakes and big tires it is perfect and lets you relax and enjoy the ride.
Audax – sometimes also known as a tour of service stations…. Great Missenden had the much appreciated Costa coffee machine in it.
From Great Missenden the course looped back up over the ridge in a long slog into a head wind. Not so much fun, but by now the light was fading and there was a muted grey-brown light coming down over anything and it was quite beautiful in a wintery way. Living in London you don’t often get to just sit inside this part of the day, watching colour wash out and everything muting.
Once over the top of the ridge it was an easy drop down onto the plain and just a couple of miles into Aylesbury. The Saturday traffic had really dropped off and, despite having all lights on and it being dark, it was much more pleasant to be on the road.
Back at the pub the vibe had changed significantly. It was around 5pm now and the family crowd had been replaced with the early evening out crowd. I was beginning to feel under-dressed. The few riders on break were clustered close in a damp scrum, downing warm liquids and trying to get warm.
Only one loop to go now. I had a quick cup of tea and set out only for my Garmin to tell me I was ‘low power’ one km down the road. Normally I can easily get 200km out of it, so the cold and running the HRM must have been draining it. Of course I had left a back up battery in the car, so had to back-track to the parking building. Taking the opportunity to do a complete change into dry clothes (hoping no one was looking on CCTV!) it all took a good 20 minutes before I was out on the road again.
Having started loop three a few hours previously I knew what was coming. There was a headwind before, but now the wind was riding and it was what you call a ‘block headwind’. Just as I re-entered the route proper a group of four riders went past and I thought that grabbing a wheel might ease the burden of riding into the headwind, but they didn’t follow the route sheet and, instead of slipping off onto a quieter B road, stayed on the A road.
Not for me, so I slogged out the next hour on tired legs, my average for this section was a 16kph – 10 miles an hour. And even that hurt. I was reminded of my epic 7.5 hours to do 100km last year on Start of Summertime, and even before that this reminded me of chilling winter rides in Wellington into stiff northerlies. Hard work. Character building.
Once the turn was made though there was a brief reward as the wind pushed me towards the black line of the Chilterns once again. Of course the organiser had left the best climb until last! The climb up Bledlow Ridge was steep but rewarding – a steady gradient meant finding a rhythm was easy and for some strange reason I enjoyed it very much. Riding, as I do, in the flat part of England climbs over 5 minutes are rare and the sensation of spinning up a climb takes my body back to happy days mountain biking in NZ where this ten minute climb would have been the start of something a little more epic. I do love climbing hills, even though I am not particularly good at it!
It had been properly dark for hours now, so any cars that I encountered were respectful – partly a result of the power of my Exposure Strada with it’s ‘dip/full’ capability, and partly because seeing a cyclist out on the road in winter at 8pm on a Saturday night is rare. You can just about hear them saying ‘nutter’ as they drive carefully by.
Another long drop, this time down in High Wycombe. Riding mostly between tall runs of trees the wind, deflected by the ridge, was blowing right over the top of me – very atmospheric. Literally.
There was a ‘bonus’ climb up to a shop to collect proof of passage. This climb was steep enough you had to get the balance right – too far back and the front wheel lifted, too far forward and the back wheel skidded.
Receipt collected it was time for the last leg. Up ‘The Valley Road’ and then onto ‘Hampden Rd’ for that long steady climb back up to the ridge.
This road was magic. The entire length of it is lined with very high hedges or solid banks of trees. The effect, given that it was winter and there was not a leaf to be seen, and, with my light bleaching the tree trunks white, it was like riding through midnight coral. It was also still – the wind was way overhead – so it was quiet. It was an enchanting section of the ride and both a reward for having stuck this one out, and one of those moments where you find something beautiful in the oddest of places, when you least expect it.
What I was expecting was to be a shattered mess by this stage, but I was fine. Slow (my average had now dropped to 22.5kph) but good. I was releived to reach the top of Bledlow ridge again as it meant I could basically freewheel back to the control, with just a few flat miles into Aylsebury.
Ride over. Well almost. Just as I got to the outskirts of Aylesbury I saw a guy (obviously an Audax rider) scooting his bike with one foot. It turned out he had put his derailleur into his back wheel a couple of miles ago and had also lost his chain. So I spent the last few miles giving him a push where I could and riding alongside him when I needed a rest – he was a big bloke!
An interesting end to the ride. When we got back to the control it was past nine now and the pub had transformed into a night club. The controllers were enduring load music and I had one of those conversations with a drunk smoker.
“Whahhda youse do that for?”
“What’s that mate?”
“How far did y’fucking ride?”
“Ahhh, about 135 miles in the end.”
Remains of the day – a sweaty, soggy pile of stretchy fabric. Mmmmm…..