Thursday, 29 March 2012

The Grinning of the Cheshire Cat

I had quite a fun day out on the road bike this Sunday. Iceni Velo, Norwich's finest cycling club had a mass exodus up to Cheshire to ride one of the most popular sportives in the UK. This was only going to be a training ride for me, and it was also my girlfriend's first ever 100 mile ride.

Considering we did our first road ride together in mid January which was only 30 miles to Aylsham and back (with a beans on toast stop off at her parents), and Rachel was destroyed by the two little hills coming into Spixworth. So to complete the Cheshire Cat a few months later is pretty hardcore in my book. Rachel's training was a mixture of increasingly long rides at the weekends (initially just 30 miles, 50, 60, then finally an 80 miler just 2 weeks before the event). During the week, she was doing either spin class, and 4 weeks leading into the event, we did a 2 week intervals torture session. Starting off with 20 minute efforts, then incrementally increased them over 2 weeks until it was 15-30 seconds of flat out sprinting with 2 minutes rest.

I had looked at the route map leading into the event, and could see that the first 40 miles or so was "pesky", then it flattened out after that. I didn't quite get a picture of just how much climbing there would be! My objective was to get up Mow Cop. For months people had been telling me to get either a compact chainset or a dinner plate cassette to get up it. I opted for a rare approach and just did specific training ;) Interestingly, a lot of riders I know seem to be immune to scientifically proven forms of training and use the "just riding" method. It's a brilliant way to remain at exactly the same level year in year out.

So Mow Cop hit us after just 15 miles. You go over a railway crossing, and the gradient starts to ramp up. The road twists round to the left, passing some trees, as the steepness really starts to bite. There were already "riders" getting off and pushing their bikes at this point. But I just kept turning the pedals, feeling the affects of my training (steady, measured 50-60rpm efforts). At one point, I got out of the saddle to make it a little easier, and the back wheel started to lose traction! We've all had this happen on loose terrain whilst mountain biking, but on a dry road - it was a little unnerving. I decided to keep my backside on the saddle. Once round the corner, the road started to ease off a bit. Rachel was doing well, and even seemed to be leaving me behind! She had been suffering from a chronic knee problem in the week leading up to the event, and wasn't sure if it would handle Mow Cop. So far so good! I eased off the pace on the slightly easier section and took it as a "recovery". Ahead, we could see all the crowds of spectators waiting to see the faces of pain as riders try to get up the 25% section past the pub. From the distance, it really didn't look too bad. But as you get closer, you see "the wall". But, I kept relaxed, and plugged away. I even switched to a higher gear, so I had somewhere to go. This was it - do or die! With the taste for the medal at the top, I was keen. So was Rachel. She said she wasn't too worried if she didn't get the medal, but her only concern was if she stopped, she might mess up someone else's chances of getting one. But so far, we were both going strong.

Then the 25% kicks in. I have never ridden so slow on a road bike! Got a few metres up. I kept myself clear of people in front, in case someone stopped. Then a clatter!! *Someone* fell off in front of me. Opps! Having pushed my legs this hard, I wasn't planning on stopping. On the 25% section, I was getting wheel spins whilst IN THE SADDLE! One section of the road was smoother than the others - didn't hang around on that too long! The road didn't just flatten out, it eased off to something closer to 10% and you had to still ride through it in order to qualify for the medal, but the work was done. The only problem was avoiding the spectators. Kinda felt like Alpe D'Huez in July :)

After Mow Cop, we had some very steep descents, then back on to a set of hills, a feed station just in time to get the energy to tackle Gun Hill. Made famous by recent editions of the Tour of Britain.

The views were stunning and I even have tan lines to remind me of how good the weather was. Highlight of the day for me was seeing Jodrell Bank Observatory, had wanted to see that for a while and didn't know it was on the route.

It was fun, but for some reason, I still prefer playing in the mud.

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