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Sunday, 7 August 2011

Misfiring On All Cylinders

I have a bit of a restless night but as I wake up each hour, more or less on the hour, I feel a little better each time. So if the bike ride had started at midday I’d probably be firing on all cylinders by then. Unfortunately it doesn’t, so a slight misfire is predicted.

The Great Shakespeare Ride, in aid of the Shakespeare Hospice, starts at 9am and I’m up at 6am. L joins me and we drive over to Stratford upon Avon. The dogs are left at home and look incredibly disgruntled about it.

We get the last spot in the car park, while everyone after us is sent a mile down the road and asked to ride into the start. Well, allegedly, we got the last spot in the car park but we can’t find it and have to abandon the car as elegantly as we can.

The start venue, the Stratford Manor Hotel, is very posh or at least it was until 850 cyclists wrecked all the guests' Sunday morning. The poor guy who had planned a quiet morning in the gym and the pool had his tranquillity spoilt by a peloton's worth of cyclists crowding out the changing rooms as we queue for the toilet facilities.

It's a mass start at 9am and a police escort leads us for the first two miles. The idea being to replicate the neutral start employed by most large stage races. A nice idea, that did attract me to this event, but I’m that far back at the start due to the congestion caused by 850+ entrants that I never see it. I had envisaged us all strung across a dual carriageway for the start but instead they took us down a narrow country lane where’s there’s not a hope of even seeing the lead vehicle, let alone riding behind it, with so many bends in the road.

The ride has three distance options of 100 miles, 100 km or 20 miles. I do the 100 km which contains three climbs. The first of which the, nicely signposted, Col de Fiz comes early but it’s a mere undulation on what proves to be a generally flat course.

That is until we get to the Col de Tysoe at 27 km, which they warn us will hurt and does but not significantly. If this is as hard as it gets then it’s going to be a fairly easy ride compared with say the Richmond Sportive that I did earlier this year.

After 41 km the first stop in Hook Norton arrives, at the Primary School. No sign of the brewery or any Old Hooky for your drinks bottle. Only water, orange or hot drinks. A cup of tea goes down well with a sandwich, a sausage roll and a slice of carrot cake. Who says cycling is hard work?

I'm not sure how I missed the brewery. Their website says ‘approach the village of Hook Norton from any direction and the first thing you see is the church tower. The second is the flag waving proudly over the brewery.’ Didn’t spot either, obviously too focussed on my pedalling.

L’s on the tea as well at the tackily named ‘Taming Of The Brew’ tea shop in Stratford. She’s also browsing in the bookshops which is dangerous, she has more self control with chocolate than she does books and if she adds any more to the pile at the side of our bed it could topple over and kill us both.

I pass a tandem (looks like fun) and numerous mountain bikes (doesn't look like fun) on the way to the second stop at 67 km in Ebrington at the Village Hall. More tea and a spot of fruit cake me thinks.

Then suddenly there’s some marshals stood in the road about 20 km from the finish offering a choice of routes. Straight on and flat or turn right and up the Col de Larkstoke. I go right, on the evidence so far, how hard can it be? Quite hard as it happens. Not helped by the fact it was up a single track road which often had grass growing down the centre of it which effectively reduced the width to a third of a single track and it went on and on.

I survive it and then pedal straight into a heavy rainstorm. Survive that too and pull over to text L because now there’s only 10 km to go. A 10 km that takes an age because it’s actually 15 km, the course ending up measuring a total of 105 km.

I cross the line and collect a rather small medal for my endeavours. Actually, I’d rather have had a t-shirt but never mind. It’s the personal challenge that counts. My official time is 4:49 that includes stops. My bike computer says 4:12 moving time. Not impressive but not bad.

Organisation wise it’s been very good and the feed stations were excellent but the barbecue back at Stratford Manor isn’t that memorable. I’m not a huge fan of beef burgers anyway but their offering wasn’t a particularly appetising one. I think they could have come up with something better.

I take advantage of the massage available and a couple of ladies of advanced years tend to me, one on each leg. This is not quite what I'm used to, e.g. younger and more buxom, but they do a sound job. They chunter away about getting their hands on yet another man’s legs but they are genuinely chatty and interested in the ride. Every massage I’ve had has been different, as it this one, but still very welcome. I could have driven home after that but I let do the honours anyway.

At home ‘long lost’ Son reappears from Stoke and from the clutches of mystery girl, when her parents return from holiday. Now we understand, with the house to themselves, no wonder he stayed the week.

(Sunday 7th August)

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