‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness‘ Charles Dickens 1859 – A tale of two cities
Other wise known as ‘Heaven and Hell’ (Black Sabbath 1980) or Audax v Sportives
It’s getting pretty close to Chase the Sun and training has generally been going well. However, after an aggressive start to the year, the last few weeks have been a challenge, with injury and work interfering with saddle time.
We have a pretty extensive training plan to build up our endurance and fitness with several rides a week and some long rides at weekends (well We thought they were long – but more about that later.) We have planned most of the rides ourselves but have also looked further afield for a bit of variety but a sportive will set you back around 40 quid, so we were keen to look for more economic options
Johno, a childhood friend of mine has spent the last year ‘encouraging’ me to check out Audax. To be honest, I hadn’t really bothered but after further recommendations from some Sapper mates, I decided to give it a go
Audax United Kingdom (AUK) is the internationally recognised long-distance cycling association in the UK. Since 1976 AUK has overseen long distance cycling events in the UK and using a system of timed checkpoints, validates and records every successful ride. They have a huge calendar of events across the UK covering vast distances and the recommended ride (it’s not a race), the 120 km Wormingford Wyrm on 29th March looked to be an ideal introduction to the world of Audax, not to mention my longest ride to-date
As the date drew closer, there were a couple of nerves about the unknown world of Audax . . . was there a secret handshake, would we fit in? However, the night before I got a bit of Facebook encouragement . . . ‘’You’ll love it Ian, They have cake!’
We arrived to find around 80 folk from a variety of clubs in the area unloading a variety of bikes from steel fixies, old school and modern carbon machines. There was even one tandem. We went in to register and collect our brevet (validation card) and route card.
The first impression was one of friendliness and family. There were no cliques and everyone was wandering around chatting about the ride ahead. Viv (the organiser) introduced us to Mike, an Audax veteran, who I was to spend most of the ride with. And as promised, there was tea, coffee, juice, biscuits and cake on tap.
At 0900 hrs we set off in glorious sunshine on the ride. Immediately, the difference to sportives was apparent. There was no massive sprint from the off, folk were chatting and everyone was just out to enjoy themselves. People settled into their own pace, we overtook a few of the more casual riders, always with a hearty hale of Good Morning . . .
We all stuck together for the first several miles but then Mark and James got attached to a road train moving at pace and off they shot. My knees had been playing up for a week or so and I was having a fascinating chat with Mike and Tom (on his fixie), so I decided not to chase. By coincidence, Mike’s Son, Is a childhood friend of James and also a mad keen cyclist. Mike has been riding Audax for many years and he explained what they are about. If he hadn’t been for his lovely supportive nature, I’d have felt pretty inadequate! These guys are hardcore! Their calendar list non stop rides from 200 – 600 km and they even extend up to 1600 km… Yup you read that right! These are not races, they are non-stop rides! Each ride is timed from departure to finish; there are no allowances for breaks, meals, rest, sleep or mechanical breakdown. So your speed needs to cater for all breaks and rests. Another feature of Audax rides is the certification of distance covered. There are therefore some manned checkpoints but also some information checkpoints where you have to complete questions about the route on your brevet.
The route was fantastic, lovely secluded roads, beautiful countryside and great weather. There were a few hills, however, we all just cracked on at our own pace and waited for stragglers at the top. The atmosphere continued at the the 65 km lunch stop. The Maglia Rossa cycle Café in Hawsted wasn’t even finished, but the owners, Matt and Barry had offered to prepare food offsite and open up their building for us. I have seen less impressive spreads at some parties, with sandwiches, flapjacks and the most fantastic victoria sponge, not to mention oodles of tea. Matt and James were waiting there but wanted to head off with the fast group. I elected to have some cake and follow on at an easier pace!
The second half was a bit more hilly with some serious climbs as we came into Wormingford, made worse by the ford at the bottom, so had stop dead and then climb from scratch. We pulled into the final checkpoint, after 4 hrs on the move and handed in our brevets for checking. True to Audax form, there was an even more impressive spread including hot soup and even more cake.
All in all, our introduction to the world of Audax had been great. You couldn’t have wished for a friendlier atmosphere, which belied the fact that these guys are hardcore cyclists. This 120 k ride was a mere warm up for these guys. James and Matt were in such good form that they decided to make the most of the weather and cycled home covering over 200km apiece.
Unfortunately, the training had finally caught up on me. My knees are shot after a lifetime of running around in boots both on the rugby pitch and in the army. I have little cartilage left, torn ligaments and arthritis, so I guess it was no surprise that I was due for some physio. However, this didn’t qwell my enthusiasm for Audax rides and we were well reassured that despite the 16.5 hr limit, it was well achievable.
After three weeks of Physio to repair my ITB and no cycling, I was going around the bend with frustration. In preparation for our next challenge, I had a run up to Cambridge to see the venue for the start of the third stage of the Tour De France and despite some brutal cramps, knocked out a 140km ride, my longest ride and felt fine and confident for my next Challenge
‘‘We were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. . .’ Charles Dickens 1859 – A tale of two cities
The Rutland CiCLE is a 175km sportive around Rutland with over 2km of climbing. To make matters worse, I seemed to have wasted the brief introduction to spring and the weather forecast wasn’t good
Mark had to pull out at the last minute, so I drove up with James and Matt. The forecast proved to be correct and we arrived at Rutland water just as the rain broke. I should have seem the omen, when we were rewarded for our early arrival by being directed to park in the overflow car park, or muddy field as it is otherwise known (clearly to save the tarmac carpark for the late arrivals!!!)
We registered and picked up our timing chips, without a hot drink or cake in sight, and exchanged a couple of brief words with the few people who were prepared to speak. All in all, a very different atmosphere to the welcome we had from Audax. Matt did bump into Martin Johnson but didn’t mention it until he burnt us up on one of the hills.
We donned our thermals and waterproofs and set off into the rain and headwinds. There was little conversation, even within our team and after a gentle start we started to hit the hills, gentle at first and then a few short but sharp climbs. After a few km, I realised I had made the schoolboy error of getting a new chain the day before the ride and all was not well, my chain was rubbing noisily and this, combined with the headwinds resulting in me having to peddle down hill to keep up. After a couple of hours the rain eased up and we binned out waterproofs but were then faced with overheating on the climbs.
The first food stop at 70 km was well stocked but unfortunately my mechanical skills failed to alleviate the rubbing so we set off again for what we thought was to be the hardest section. The Sun was out by now but we still had to battle headwinds, and I became grumpier as I realised just how much fitness I had lost in my 3 weeks out of the saddle. The hills got steeper and longer with some brutal 25%+ climbs and long dragging 8 % hills. The upside was that there were a couple of long descents but the grumps had gotten to me and I couldn’t help but think that each descent meant an ascent to come. I became quite negative; the atmosphere was completely different to the Audax with limited conversation. Around 25km from the final feed station, there was a somewhat intimidating sign for the Rutland KOM (King of the Mountain), which could only mean one thing.
At the final feed station, I found a mechanic who helped alleviate some of the rubbing and a well needed Porta Loo and so set off in slightly better spirits. I did regain some mojo during the final 70 km, possibly as the Sun had come out or because others were starting to struggle with the hills (apart from Matt who had morphed into a mountain goat!). I was also able to recover on some downhill sections despite the headwinds that seemed to still be in our faces!
The final 70 km also proved to be the hilliest, with over 1200m of climbing and though (with the benefit of hindsight), I started to feel a little better I still proclaimed my loathing of hills, headwinds and rain on video about 25km from the end. I also managed to fall off my bike on one climb, which was so steep that my front wheel was lifting. Fortunately, just after I had passed the photographer (Why oh Why must they station themselves on horrid climbs)
The final ascents into Rutland were quite sapping and tough, with all of us feeling the strain and we finally arrived back at the finish after around 8 hrs in the saddle.
The drive home was quite subdued, completely different to the end of the Audax and all of us were suffering some serious doubts about our ability to complete Chase the Sun in just 7 weeks time!
Amazingly enough I felt fine the next day and started to see some positives, my knees had held out and we had learnt some lessons. The ride was not conducive to teamwork but we do need to sort that out and I clearly need to avoid schoolboy errors around bike maintenance. I still don’t feel especially proud of my performance but it was my longest and hardest ride ever. In fact, we will probably go back and do it again over Summer.
It just goes to show how much mental attitude and teamwork helps performance! We have entered a couple more rides with a 200+km Audax booked for the end of May.
‘Do you think that it will seem long to me . . .?’ Charles Dickens 1859 – A tale of two citiesYes I bloody do! – Ian Slack 2014