At the end of this one I told Ian that I had had a good couple of hours where I had really been suffering and he said that he never would have thought it, I never looked like it. But everyone knew about the couple of hours suffering that Ian had had.
That sums the difference between Ian and myself. He’s voluble, friendly and really nice; I am usually pretty socialised these days, but when I am suffering I get moody and introverted and tend to suffer in silence. This is why I like to ride with Ian – I can learn a lot from him. Not about turning the pedals but a lot about how to actually enjoy myself more on a ride and not turn it into a class-A sample of ‘male must suffer in silence’ dickheadery.
A note on photos. I was trying out the black and white mode on my phone as I am sick unto the death of seeing fluro yellow in photos of Audax. It might be necessary, but it isn’t pretty.
We’d set off from Dunmow Church at 9pm for the 100km flat run up to Whittelsey and within a couple of minutes the ‘head’ group had formed. Ian and Jonathan were in there and the two Nic/ks (Nick Wilkinson and Nic Brunner) were steaming along on the front. Nic B was, after many months on his steel comfy bike, on his carbon bike and out to enjoy the speed advantage to ‘see what he could do’. Now there is a big difference between ‘seeing what you can do’ to actually racing, but the casual observer might not be able to tell the difference 🙂 Nick W was on his fixed with 72.6 gear, anticipating the flat-out-flat-run. There were a couple more fixed riders, Pablo on a 78 (!) and someone else I never saw after the start. So four bloody idiots then.
Riding fixed itself is not much of a problem all in all, the difficulty really comes in riding with your free-wheeling fellows on lumpy terrain. It goes something like this: On a fixed you want to carry as much momentum up the hill as you can, so you push hard into the first half, passing all the free-wheelers as they change down to a comfy gear. Then, towards the top, you are gurning and they casually spin past you, get to the top just in front of you then freewheel away from you. In an effort to keep up you spin like a madman (which is still effort) and then, at the bottom of the hill, being 50 metres back on the group who are now back up to speed, you have to ride harder to keep up. It’s a cruel cycle. It’s a lot easier to do your own thing.
But – unlike the 400 last month – I wasn’t really up for this one. I just wanted to get around it. So having company was a good idea – adds some motivation and keeps things interesting through the night.
So… we all stormed up to Cambridge. The guys who wanted to be moving quickly (2x Nic/k) pulled over and grabbed a receipt from a pair of cash machines seemingly made for the purpose in the pedestrianised bit of downtown Cambridge, while the other part of the group carried on for a stop at the service station. I was in the later group. Setting off from here we picked up Ben and rode for a while behind a couple of Rapha road boys whole were considerably younger than us. One guy was wearing shoes that were worth more than the bike I was riding. I’m sure they were perfectly nice, but I was happy enough to let them go. Not that we were going slowly, average for the 100km up to Whittlesey was over 28kph. I was happy on my 72.6 inch gear at this point.
My plan was to flip the wheel and go back to my audax-tastic 69 inch gear, but everyone was ready to go and I was feeling Ok so I forged on.
After the turn the terrain started to get lumpier. Riding with four others I didn’t get much of a chance to take in the night scenery. What was great was the temperature. I was still in shorts, jumper and gilet. All I did was pull down my arm warmers. Perfect!
Jonathan was the strong man of the day, taking long turns on the front and generally having to be told to slow down. He was riding a single-speed, albeit a slightly lower gear than me, so was good to ride with on the ups and flats, but I was still having the ‘chase to get back on downhill problem’ and, about half way round, this started to get to me.
Ian was suffering too. The mind was willing but the legs were starting to give way and anything that smelt like a hill had him going slowly backwards. Ben was still going strong, though he was shaking his hands a lot to get blood into them. I reckon he needs gel underlays and probably to put his bars up an inch. But that’s just my take.
It was a lovely dawn and we took a traditional stop on the bridge near a historic estate with the Soane’s Arch to admire how the other .005% live.
After that we trundled into ‘The Pag’, a set of fairly horrible services on the M1. The one glory is a 24hrs Starbucks and a WH Smith that is also open 24 hrs. For all those people who need the latest Lee Childs at 3am.
There we had the briefest overlap with Nic W and Bikey Mikey, just getting re-rigged as we turned up.
After two garage stops the chance to sit on a chair inside was too good to resist and we sat with a variety of cheap-carbs and coffees and took a good half hour out. Ian was seen at one point drying off his jumper in the toilets under the hand dryer, while Jonathan stretched his long frame over four chairs. I went to WH Smiths and read the opening pages of the latest Lee Childs. It’s not just extreme cycling that does it for me, extreme reading is another of my pursuits.
Nic W, a younger, leaner and fitter man than I, suggested that 72 would be the perfect gear for this ‘downwind’ leg. So, stupidly thinking he had a point, when we set off again in our group of five I still hadn’t changed gear. Soon enough it became apparent that the tail-wind was a hopeful fancy. At best it was an oscillating side wind. The terrain was lumpy too and I was stuck for a while in my ‘pedal like hell to catch back up loop’ and it was beginning to sap my energy. I was getting back onto the group everytime, but only just.
Ian was feeling better. But he’d passed the ‘feeling shitty’ stick to me. It was all getting a bit too hard and I knew what I really needed was to go at my own rhythm, but riding with the guys was very pleasant and they are nice enough to make allowances rather than just spit me off the back. In a way that can make it harder, I should have let them race off ahead hours ago.
Eventually we came rolling down towards the A505. Over the other side was a steep enough hill that would have me suffering too much in my current gear, so after we all crossed the pinball alley of the A505, I called out that I was stopping to change gear and I would see the others at the next control – the Silverball Cafe. What I really wanted was to change gear and not have to chase back on after a hill – I needed some time at my own pace.
The others with multiple gears pressed on but Jonathan hung back for me, which was very nice of him indeed. So after changing gear (a couple of minutes) we hauled up the hill. I suddenly felt a lot better – surprise surprise.
Generally 69 is exactly what I want if you are going to be averaging around the 25kph mark. 72 feels good and fast and certainly is easier down hills, but for me it puts me too much outside the power band for too much time.
The sun was properly up now and the heat was kicking in, it was pleasant riding and the lower gear was working well for me. We swung into the Silverball maybe 5 minutes after the others. After a improvised coke-float with the last of my borrowed money and we set off again for the last leg back to Dunmow.
All familiar territory now. The coke had perked my up and I even had enough energy for a bit of a stomp between Akesden and Rickling. Somewhere in there we lost Ben. We soft-pedalled for a while but it was clear that he had probably stopped and was ‘gathering his thoughts’ for the final push homewards, so we moved on.
For some reason I really like the little linking backroads Elsedan and Dunmow – very tight lanes with lots of gravel to be aware of – it’s good fun though you need to be on your game.
And then we were back.
For some reason (the nice day? the smaller field?) lots of people hung around at the end of this ride. The two Nic/ks were still there despite having finished a good while before us and we all ended up having a nice time sitting around drinking buckets of tea and chatting about gears and frames and rides past. Very pleasant indeed.
It’s a good ride. A flat and furiously fast outward leg and then some unusual countryside for a nominally ACME event. Plenty of rolling terrain but no serious hills – the climb out of Saffron Walden is probably the worst climb and even that is easily avoided (just ask Nick W).
As I am not bothering to do a RRTY all I need to do now is – gulp – the 600km of the Flatlands. Nic W is not doing it this year, he reckons three years on the trot is too much for that particular ride and he is probably right. I have to do it though, to get my SR and fixed to boot. It will be my third SR if I make it. That ride will mark Roger’s TENTH SR, so he will be buying the drinks at the Anchor right?