bikebritain Says February 27, 2015

it's the first sportive of 2015.....

It's Saturday morning, it's before 9 AM, Emma and I are at Huntingdon racecourse, wearing Lycra, in the cold. It can only mean one thing; it's almost time for wiggle's 'No Excuses' sportive, our first organised ride of 2015. Along with 2500 other riders we are about to cycle around parts of Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire. It promises to be a good test for legs for this time of year. Emma is doing the standard 45 mile route, I'm attempting the 80 miler. I was sure it was only 57 miles when I entered……
 
Before I discuss the ride readers, a brief resume of where we are in terms of cycling and what-not. This winter the weather has been reasonably benign, allowing for some consistent mileage. Combined with my Monday night rides with Frank, I've amassed around 1000 km since December, so I shuffled my way to the start line at Huntingdon Racecourse in semi-decent shape. (Let’s at least agree considerably better shape than the same time last year). Furthermore, the vast majority of those miles have been ridden on the Trek single speed, the intention here being to make those miles that were being ridden, count most. There is no more effective way of doing that than rcycling single speed. Emma has been out a few times recently too, and that, plus a change of toe clips should make the overall experience more fun for her. 
 
We were staying at the racecourse for the whole weekend which was extremely convenient. A leisurely rise and full English breakfast made for a great preparation! The (substantial) food intake would support my one stop strategy to the route too. I wanted to keep going until the 56 mile mark, by which time the legs would be fatiguing and I would definitely be in need of some sustenance. Half an hour later we were listening to the safety briefing, ready to go. It’s the same chap every time. I think his name is Paul………
 
The countryside around Huntingdon is flat (thus making it perfect for an early season sportive), but as a consequence there was very little to stop the wind. This would render progress on the single speed that bit more challenging, but I figured it was offset by the lack of elevation. (@cyclemeter still measured 899 meters of climbing though on a ‘flat’ circuit). Emma and I bid our farewells and being the gentleman that I am, I immediately hacked off into the sunset. I had not brought my Garmin, so this would just be me, cycling at my own rate, as I see fit. In preparation I had even adjusted the rear wheel tension since the belt was slipping every time I went up a hill. It seemed to be better, although the bike really needed a service. 
 
Note to file; must take bike into shop for service. 
 
We rode through Brampton and this pretty little village indicated what was ahead; lots of historic dwellings with thatched rooves situated around a church or a pond. It transpires Huntingdon is really a collection of small villages and towns, in the same way Stoke On Trent is. I settled into my standard single speed high cadence rhythm and continued on. The route eventually split a good 15 miles or so up the road. Grafton Water stood out as a landmark, as well as somewhere that looked like a fun place to engage in other outdoor pursuits. I estimate barely one mile from where the course split, I found myself walking up a hill on the Kimbolton Road. From a distance, the incline looked steep and sure enough as I got closer I realised climbing this hill would be tricky on this bike. Also, I didn’t want to hammer the crank and the belt as it was still making some odd noises…… 3/4 of the way up, I had lost sufficient ground speed for me to unclip and push up the rest. No point tempting technical failure. Perhaps with a bit more grunt at the bottom I could have carried over enough speed to make a successful ascent - but never-mind. 
 
As is usually the case, I get a sense of déjà vu on these rides, insofar that you see signs for the same place on multiple occasions. This time, it was the turn of Kimbolton to haunt me. Everywhere we rode it seemed the signposts wanted to take me there! Post course split we were riding anti-clockwise, skirting past Alconbury and heading north towards Great Gidding. We were going to be lucky with the weather; although overcast there was no sign of rain. The headwind, when present, however, was immediately noticeable. There were stretches of road that appeared very much longer than they really were, courtesy of the breeze. I was making reasonable progress, a fact confirmed as I saw the markers for the first food stop which I rode straight past. It felt odd - I cannot recall doing that before. 
 
I was now entering the middle section of the ride, a 30 mile sector between the two food stops. This would take about 2 hours, give or take. Legs were in decent shape, I was ticking along nicely. The route was taking in some very picturesque villages and I was mentally noting a few pubs along the way that I would inevitably forget the instant I got off the bike. I reckoned this part of England was basically made up of three elements; churches, fields and dirty great big muddy puddles. The bike would definitely need a clean afterwards. 
 
Note to file; must clean bike after ride.  
 
I chatted to a couple of fellow riders as I rode through the borders of Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire. Everyone was quite perky. A few ‘proper’ riders overtook me (as in, cyclists who looked like they meant business), but other than that I made steady progress riding through the rest of general public. Nevertheless, the legs were beginning to feel a bit jaded. I had no idea how long to go until my first stop. Fortunately, the answer was not long at all. Turning right and right again, some familiar signs came into view. It was time to eat! After doing some ‘flip-top head’ eating (where I literally just shovel in whatever food I can find as quickly as possible), I got straight back on the bike. No time for messing around, I would wee in a convenient hedgerow later. 
 
24 miles to go. That would take about an hour and a half, give or take. I felt invigorated by the food and stretch of the legs. My back was aching but other than that I was in decent fettle. The winter training was helping out. I road through a couple of delightful little villages called Little and Great Stoughton, only to return to the road to Perry where I had ridden through about 4 hours earlier. Now I was running low on energy. A hill I would have previously breezed up presented a major challenge and half way up I was out of the saddle, swinging from side to side to help sustain momentum. Other riders had similar issues. I think this event had more women participating than previous rides and there was a greater mix of abilities; two positive things. I chatted between gasps to a woman who I played bike tag with for a couple of miles. She was motoring on at a fair lick. The signpost for Brampton appeared – and not before time. Nearly there. A left-hander and a progressive climb over the A14 meant one thing – the racecourse was within reach. I glided down the road towards the finish line, legs toasted. Still, I had done it. Em met me at the finish line, photographing my triumphant ‘I’ve finished’ wave. Now it was time to collect a medal and a T shirt and check what @cyclemeter reckoned my time was…….
 
Back in the hotel I sat down with a well-deserved cup of tea. Whilst resting my legs I spotted someone who I thought looked like a member from the Guvnors Assembly. The Guvnors Assembly are a collection of like-minded gentlemen interested in gentlemanly pursuits. I decided to chance my arm and say hello. In doing so I met Stuart and 'Little' Dave, who, for the sake of argument, is as big as a house. Clearly irony is deemed a reasonable pursuit. 
 
It had been a very positive ride. The times were posted later that evening and it was confirmed; first sportive of the year, on the single speed and I had managed to post a Gold standard time – 5 hours 8 minutes. Not bad at all. Em had ridden the standard route in 3 hours 30 minutes and she was equally pleased with her time. Smiles all round. As per usual, the organisation had been very good, the signage excellent and staying on site had made a difference. I am not sure when the next ride will be, but ‘No Excuses’ will rank as a good start to the sportive year. It’s definitely one to do again.
 
'No Excuses' Sportive Scores, February 2015
 
Category bikebritain's Scores Emma's Scores

Website Information

9 9

Quality of event venue

10 10

Sign-in process

10 10

Quality of event road signage

10 10

Route options

8 9

Food quality at rest stops

8 8

Rider support services

9 9

Event product testing

9 8

Freebies

8 7

Timing Accuracy

10 10

Participant friendliness

9 8

Ride-it-again-ability

10 10

Overall value for money

10 10

Total

92.3% 90.7%
 
 
Find the fine fellows of the @GuvnorsAssembly on Twitter and world-wide at theguvnorsassembly.com
 
There will be a short film of the ride posted on www.bikebritain.org in the next week or so.
 
Other useful links:
 
www.wiggle.co.uk & www.ukcyclingevents.co.uk
 
Words by bikebritain ltd
Thumbnail and Photo Slider Image - Emma Rudge
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