Writing this after a shower while my head’s still swimming with feel-good hormones.
Completed the 40 mile Cotswold Bike Ride today. Rode with two work colleagues, Kath and Sarah and their blokes. All respect to Sarah who was riding a borrowed bike and had done no training whatsoever for the ride but still finished – and her bloke who did the full distance without padded shorts and who suffered consequences which will only become truly evident over the next day or two!
Amazing day. Felt a little awed by the prospect early on and found the same nerves sending me on repeat visits to the loo that I used to suffer when I took son no 2 to his junior cycle races.
But hell, as long as the bike’s ready to go, there’s no more to be done than pack the food, fill the drinks bottles and get to the start line with over 1,000 others.
It was all starting from Bishop’s Cleeve near Cheltenham and as I got closer, there was a steady stream of beautiful people on skinny-tyred dream machines coming towards me. Too early for the start, but then I remembered, elite riders who want to scamper off at a pace are allowed to go at 8.30am.
The rest of us were allowed to go in groups from 9am. Interesting experience, after years of pinning race numbers on son no 2 and watching and waiting for his starts, to be wearing a number myself and queueing up for the startline. Unlike his racing days, I was surrounded by all sorts of bikes, pure-bred racers, hybrids, mountainbikes, tandems, at least one Pashley, a collapsible shopper bike and a traditional sit up and beg with superb leather, fully sprung saddle and leather accoutrements.
Loving cycling as I do – even though it kind of runs in the family with dad, brother and sons – I sometimes feel I’m a little odd. People ask “But how could you want to do that?” and they find it hard to believe it’s incredibly fitness and mood-enhancing and clears the mind. But being among all those cyclists – at least 1,100 of them all raising funds for the British Heart Foundation – was a kind of validation of my interest – and I really felt relaxed and at home surrounded by like-minded people of all ages.
The training ride (see last blog) a week ago paid off because I didn’t really notice the A40 which was billed as the first big hill. I was still waiting for it when we turned off for Whittington. One of the reasons may have been that a cycling pal who advised me to pump my tyres up to 50psi when I usually run them at less than 30. Ooops. He said “You’ll be flying” and for parts of the ride, I actually felt like I was.
One of the really good bits was freewheeling (wait for it…) UPHILL. The true joy of the Cotswolds isn’t about those honeyed chocolate-box-type cottages or the wonderful perfumes emanating from blousy flower-filled gardens – it’s about the undulating lanes. Where there is an uphill there is a down – if you’re lucky followed immediately by an up. And if you have descended with sufficient abandon, you can make it up the other sidewithout pedalling. That really is ultra-cool.
There was one pretty horrible hill which we hadn’t spotted on the map. It had no name so we called it Big Hill. Kath was the first to spot it.
“Look at those colourful people over there” and there, in the distance was a line of multicoloured blobs threading slowly up between fields to where the ridge met the sky.
Well a chat helps to start with but as I changed down through the gears, I had to adopt the old distraction tactic of counting backwards from 200. I didn’t look at those who had fallen by the wayside, or those who were walking or those who were making exhausted groaning noises behind me. I just kept going in the middle of the lane and kept counting through the torture. Eventually the hill flattened out and the reward was panoramic views and a big sky full of dark clouds. That’s when it started to rain.
It rained more or less to the end of the ride – the last fifteen miles or so but we were nicely warmed up by then, particularly by the last hill of the ride at Dixton.
There was a generously-proportioned guy wearing bright red lycra shorts (Welsh possibly) on a racer who we’d overtaken and who passed us again when we weren’t paying attention so got away up the hill.
“I reckon you could take him on that hill,” I mentioned to Kath’s bloke “Go on. We’ll watch.” I should mention here that he was riding his commuter bike, a hybrid Giant, pretty weighty with rack, panniers, mudguards, lights etc and RedMan was on a slim, carbon-forked racing bike.
Being a fellow who likes a challenge, he was off in a subtle yet effective way. No flashy out of the saddle pumping, just a steady gain and and an effortless stylish pass while gradually speeding up towards the top of the climb. Kath and I watched, sighing in admiration. True class.
This ride was in memory of my dad, who died of a heart attack when he was only 57. I thought about him and his boyhood cycling and his long tandem rides with mater before they got their Royal Enfield motorbike and sidecar (for yours truly). At one point, I found myself singing the hymn “Fight the Good Fight” and realised it was one of his favourites, which made me feel unaccountably emotional but in a good way.
Coming back into Bishop’s Cleeve about a mile from the finish, we actually got cheered by a group of people standing at the roadside under an umbrella. That was special. I’ve done plenty of that in my time but have never actually been cheered!!
There were a few junctions to negotiate, then we were on the home strait behind a group of about ten cyclists. Kath nodded to me and we still had enough energy to overtake the lot of them, zip along the clear main road ahead and finish with a flourish. Well it would have been more of a flourish if two cars hadn’t completely blocked the turn to the finish but you can’t have everything.
Couldn’t stop smiling for about 30 minutes afterwards. I have to say the British Heart Foundation volunteers were superb – smiley, friendly and providing free cold drinkies. There was a marshall at every junction – very clear signage – and well-organised “refreshment stops” with loos.
I’d be interested to hear how much is raised for the BHF in total. My target was £50 and I reckon there will be at least £140 plus more from work so hopefully, with over 1,000 sponsored riders raising over £50 each that’ll be close to £55,000! Awesome.
Deerstalker stylee!! Lovely bike + leather accoutrements.
Made a little diversion for a dog-cuddle at a pal’s house. Extra half a mile added.