Wednesday. “A front will move in from the West bringing widespread rain on Sunday, particularly in the South East”.
Oh great, that’s just what we needed! Ah don’t worry, they often get the forecast wrong. 06:00 Sunday morning, bbc.co.uk/weather, heavy rain symbols all day. Ah, they do sometimes get the forecast right. Hang on, it wasn’t raining as I set off for the start just 12 miles away, but what to wear?
Arriving at the 5030 Events Cobham HQ run by Dudley Samuels, mostly everyone was in rain capes and overshoes. I changed twice before deciding on my Goretex, seriously waterproof top. I now wanted it to rain, I really did. I was fully kitted in a cape that cost a fortune and I had hardly ever needed. Sadly (am I mad?) it didn’t properly rain until we were 40 miles or so into the ride, and even then I got wetter from what was coming off the wheel in front rather than what was coming out of the sky. And I got as hot as a boil-in-the-bag-chicken.
Schoolboy error. I set off quicker than I normally do. Well it was Gavin’s fault. I had met Gavin at the GranFondo Santini Stelvio a couple of years before, also organised by Dudley Samuels, but through his European Cycle Events company. Gavin gave me a wonderful ‘hail fellow, well met‘ greeting, and even called me Hard Man Mike, the tag he gave me after I had climbed both the Mortirolo Pass and the Stelvio on the same day back in 2014. I felt obliged to try to keep up with him. I had my faltering reputation to think of. His group pulled away from the off and I tried to jump across from my slower group on the tail of a Kingston Wheeler within the first few miles. That tactic failed miserably as we climbed up to the traffic lights at Effingham. Gavin was gone and finished 33 minutes ahead of me. So much for ‘Hard Man Mike!’
The climbs came early on, and we peaked firstly at 700 feet at the 8 mile stage, and then over Leith Hill (800 feet) at the 12 mile point. Then we were into a flattish stage as we left the Surrey Hills behind us and headed into a wet West Sussex. Luckily I fell in with an extremely friendly group of 5 riders, all tri-athletes, with two of them wearing London Dynamo kit. I had been hanging desperately onto someone’s wheel when they pulled up alongside. I muttered ‘he’s too quick for me’ and to my relief they agreed and dropped the pace a tad. We steamed on South as a group with me doing my best to keep up. They told me that they were riding at a 120 beats-per-minute fat-burning rate and that rate could be determined if you could breathe through your nose. I tried that. The ensuing stream of snot determined that in my case I wasn’t just fat burning, I was possibly fast approaching a cardiac arrest.
The feed station hove in sight at Wisborough Green. I considered pushing on with the intention of stopping at the next feed station. Just as well I didn’t because there wasn’t another feed station. Perhaps I should have read the pre-race briefing notes!
My ability to act strangely when riding continues to embarrass me. For some reason I have adopted the Italian requirement to only ever carry one water bottle. It isn’t a ‘cycling rule’ but it is Italian cool. Two bottles just look so unsightly, apparently. At the feed station I asked where the water was. Answer: “It’s right behind you where you just propped up your bike” (see pic). I then knocked over a bowl containing all the coffee granules, so getting out while I could; I literally got on my bike. As I pedalled away leaving my new found tri-athlete friends munching on oatcakes, I knew it was only a matter of time before they caught me.
The Bedham hills threw up some nasty 13% grinds, up through dense woodland, and I plodded my lonely course Northwards, now feeling the pain from my too fast out-of-the-trap start. Being on my own mid-ride gave me plenty of time to concentrate on my discomfort, general woes and a chance to wonder at my lack-of ability. Sure enough the tri-team caught me, left me, and flew on, upwards and onwards.
Lo and behold, in the closing stages, what was that I glimpsed ahead? A couple of London Dynamo jerseys! Hey, it’s the tri-team, come on Mike, you can catch them. I can’t have been going faster, even though my spirits and performance had revived somewhat, so they must have been going slower. Bit by bit I closed the gap trying hard not to push too hard and was delighted to catch their wheels, and was cheerfully ‘welcomed aboard’. As we approached Albury another wheel surged past and we were all on to it, working as a group crossing the A24 and heading towards Coombe Down.
I knew that would be the end for me and they pulled away up the hill, leaving one team mate and me behind. Good news though. The two of us worked together to push hard to complete the last 10 miles to Cobham. We crossed the line, shook hands and thanked each other for that last final effort.
And that is often all I want from a sportive. Those team-type moments that lift your spirits and speed, get the adrenaline going and leave you with the excitement and the motivation to do another one.
Distance: 64.4 miles. Time: 4:07:31. Average mph: 16.01. Total ascent: 3,825 feet
70th out of 223 riders
Footnote: I may have maligned Italians earlier in this article. Dudley Samuels is Italian which means that at the end of his sportives you get a tremendous feed, including hot pasta and pizza! Grazie mille.
This article was written by Mike Ramseyer, a regular contributor to VeloSocial and an all round cycling nut.