Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Too much. Too soon. A warped wheel and a puncture too - First 2014 sportive

20 miles into a sportive is a terrible time to make a decision. Unless the weather's miserable you've got no idea how you're riding that early on.

But that was the point Paul and I decided to ride the 70-mile (112km) route on Sunday rather than the 52-mile version (84km). It was a stupid, stupid decision.

Too much riding, also lumpy
To back-track a little, Sunday was the first sportive of 2014 for us. The Gatwick RideIt. The one Paul described last year as "the worst day of my life" as biting wind combined with single-digit temperatures and constant, unrelenting rain. He couldn't work his brakes by the end and took 20 minutes to warm up enough in the car to drive home (during which he got a speeding ticket). I'd phoned in sick so missed it.

This year, after a final 7am weather check, we called it. We were riding.

The first section went well. We found a group early, although it was a bit slow, so we pushed on past them. Found a second group (including one man in an Etape 2013 shirt), but they were a bit fast and lost them on a hill. We made it up a couple of solid-to-difficult climbs and hit the first food stop early and not really needing it (30km in).

It was a rubbish break stop, no loos (I needed one) - basically just a van parked on the side of a road with some food on a table outside it. We left quickly and immediately after hit the split between medium and long rides. We called long and rode on.

It was an awful decision.

I'm in no condition to ride that far. In the last six weeks the furthest I've ridden in one go is 50km (30 miles-ish), and aside from some 7.5km commutes through traffic and some time on the turbo (not longer than 1:30 in one go) - that's it.  I don't have the legs to ride 70 miles.

This was achingly apparent about 40-45 miles in, my legs were empty and Paul's weren't fizzing either. We stopped for some food.

We got back on the bikes and rode on, slower and slower as our legs flatlined. The break stop was nowhere in sight. Still, 80kms in it wasn't there (more than 50km from the last stop). I badly needed a decent break stop.

"We're going really slowly," Paul noted while I was taking lead. "Sorry!" I replied and forced my pace up. "No! It's good!" Paul shouted back. I slowed back down.

That wasn't the end of the trouble though. It wasn't raining (much) at this point, but there was standing water on the road. Paul hit a massive pothole completely hidden by a puddle (puddle doesn't do it justice, it was 20cms deep covering entire road for about 15 metres), came off in the middle of traffic and into the puddle/lake - puncturing his front tyre in the process. I was luckier, just getting drenched by passing cars and being shaken by the pothole (presumably I only hit the edge).

Fortunately, puncture notwithstanding, he and the bike were unharmed, but he was seething (and drenched). There was no way to see it. He repaired the puncture at the side of the road, got back on, and promptly slipped his chain.

Oh, and just to add to the fun, the wind was gusting well over 20mph. It was all day. Any exposed flat or descent saw us riding at about 25kmh putting in the effort to do 40. Or knocked sideways. Or both.

We somehow kept going and eventually hit the second break stop 90km into the ride - a full 60 from the last stop. My legs at this point were mostly gone - hating every incline, with even bottom gear too big to spin in in that condition.

This break stop was no better than the first, another van in a lay-by, with the dregs of the food left and a marshal who told us several other people came off in the same pot-hole as Paul. He said he thought about a caution sign, but decided against it. He seemed amused.

But, after all that - wet, tired, angry and a little scared - we decided to finish the ride. It was only 15 miles (24km) to the end.

We rolled out and the sun went away and the wind picked up again. Then the hail started. My hands and toes started to freeze. The hail stung my face. After a course marker pointed straight up when the choices were "left" and "right", we hid in a bus shelter (for the second time in two years for Paul) to find the printed map and try to work out where we should go.

We rode on.

It was at this point I heard brake rub on Paul's rear wheel. A stop to check and we confirmed it had been knocked out of true by some pot hole or other along the way. He opened his rear brakes and we kept going.

The final few kms were, to be fair, fun. Mostly flat/downhill allowing me to try a solo breakaway and time-trial to the line. I dropped the man we'd been cycling with (he looked overweight and awful at riding - knees all over the place, bad position on the bike and a pedal-stroke about as smooth as the pot-holled road -  I assumed we'd breeze by him on the flat or at the next climb. I was wrong, our exhausted condition meant he stuck with us for about 10km) and was gloriously making a dash for the stage win when Paul bridged to me.

"You've ruined my solo breakaway!" I shouted over my shoulder, he shrugged, saying he didn't realise that's what it was. Fortunately I won the sprint (uncontested).

There was, naturally, no hot food left by the time we arrived at the event centre - with only four people left on the course behind us. I forgot to get water for my recovery shake. There were functioning toilets at least.

The rain returned as we rode to the car to get home. It was the worst sportive I've ever been on - cold, windy, hail, rain, confusing course markings, badly spaced and rubbish feed stops, a course split too early, no loos, dangerous roads. Paul rated it second worst, the same event last year alone in surpassing it.

More crushing was the knowledge that if we'd swapped to the 50-miler then we'd have hit the second feed stop feeling fine (although wouldn't have avoided the hidden pot-hole), been on the road for almost two hours less and finished ahead of the hail with time for me to get home in the daylight (riding back from the station in the dark, exhausted, through London, is deeply unpleasant). The misery was largely self-inflicted.


  1. An entertaining read as always James! Although I can’t help but notice we came away with slightly different takes on the ride… (http://beaconroadcycling.com/2014/02/russells-recap-evans-cycles-rideit-gatwick/).

    Pleased to see you guys are giving it another go. We joined you for a couple of pints in the Captains pub after last year’s Etape, wasn’t sure at the time if any of us would be repeating!

    Get in touch if you’re doing the South Downs Sportive or King of the Downs, always keen to see how another Etape’rs training is progressing.

    All the best,

    1. Nice write up! And good to hear from you post-Captains (I got quite drunk that night).

      Like I said above - a lot of the misery was self-inflicted. We started late, rode too slow and too far for our legs. I reckon the medium course would have been a good ride.

      It hasn't helped that I got sick almost immediately afterwards. On the plus side, I'm meant to be riding Hell of the Ashdown on Sunday (another 70-miler) so this could be great prep for that.

      I'm still thinking about KotD - basically LBL is occupying most of my thoughts so I haven't really planned ahead of that (assuming London Revolution, the Etape and RideLondon100 won't need a lot of training after LBL or can be thought about later).

      KotD is a nice marker though - to compare progress with last year - so hopefully see you there.

      Have fun,