Longest Cycle Ride

Yesterday saw me complete my longest cycle ride to date, 222.2km (138.1 miles). I’m trying to do Randonneur Round the Year (RRtY) which is an achievement in audaxing for completing a 200km event every month for twelve consecutive months. I did start in November and then couldn’t do one in December, so I’ve started again in January. I find 200km rides tough, mentally and physically. It’s a long time to be on a bike (around 9-10hrs cycling) and most of it on your own so your mind starts thinking thoughts you don’t need, like ‘why am I doing this?’ and ‘am I enjoying this?’.

This was a normal and pretty easy 100km Audax I’ve done several times before but I made it into an Extended Calendar Event (ECE) by cycling to and from the start (57km each way). This is one way of making recognised 200km routes and rides that count towards the RRtY achievement. I was right on my limit, physically and mentally for the last hour back home. Knowing exactly how much further I needed to go on very familiar roads made the distance seem to stretch out forever!

Next up will be a London-Oxford-London (LOL) ride in March. Wonder if I’ll be LOL at the end of it!

Barbury Bash 110km Audax

This was my third Audax for the 2011 season and the first I’ve entered without my brother. The start is only a few kilometres from my front door so it is a very convenient event for me to enter. There are 110km and 200km events but I’m not quite ready for the step up to 200km so entered the 110km event. The route heads westwards from Milton in Oxfordshire across the Vale of White Horse to Barbury Castle in Wiltshire on the North Wessex Downs.

I was lucky to have a fellow CTC Wantage member to tag along with. He’s ridden the event several times so knew the route well. This meant I didn’t have to refer to the route description sheet at all. He’s also a very strong rider so we held a quick pace.

The route westwards to Wantage along the A417 is a familiar one and also beyond on the B4507 past White Horse Hill, Ashbury and Bishopstone. This is an undulating road but you can keep a good steady pace.

The weather was pretty grim along here, strong headwind and rain but nothing really terrible.

After Bishopstone I was in new territory so I’m glad I had company so I didn’t miss any turns. After several picturesque villages we arrived at the foot of the climb to Barbury Castle. A narrow and straight road means you can see it from a long way away. This is the first time I had climbed the hill so I wasn’t sure what to expect, or how long it was. It’s steep (about 15%) but not all that long so it wasn’t too tricky. At the top was the control point, cakes and refreshments (the cafĂ© is currently closed).

After a brief stop we took the descent rather steady due to the wet road and loose gravel and stones. After retracing our steps to Chiseldon, quickly now the wind was behind us, we headed to the next challenge of Snap Hill. I found this one quite a bit harder, it’s longer and steeper (17%) than Barbury Castle but once over the top you are rewarded by a very long and fast descent, we kept a constant 30+ mph for quite a distance to Aldbourne.

The third major hill on the route is Marridge Hill. This one is barely worth a mention, much shallower than the other two, quite long but not a severe test other than the legs are pretty tired by this stage.

Big black clouds threatened to drench us as we headed to Eastbury and Great Shefford where we arrived just before the shop shut to grab a sandwich and provisions. We were pretty lucky and missed the worst of the downpours which effected some of the riders behind us on the event.

The final stretch home via Farnborough and West Ilsley is again familiar territory for me. We passed one of my table tennis venues on the way. The A34 was new to me though, a road I have always avoided cycling along as it is extremely busy and basically a motorway in all but name.

The short link between Chilton and West Ilsley is the only way across the Berkshire Downs at this point though (until a new cycle route is hopefully opened nearby). We cycled fast and hard in the rain to get it done quickly. It’s only about 1km and we encountered no lorries.

I put a spurt on for the last few kilometres but rather annoyingly suffered a puncture on Milton Hill with the finish almost in sight. After cursing my rotten luck I stopped and quickly replaced the innertube hoping no other riders would pass me.

The delay was about 10 minutes and I arrived back at Milton as the 3rd finisher in a total time of around 5h15m (I’ll know what time I’ve been given when I get my card back). It was also my quickest 100km cycled in 4h5m37s.

A really good route and an Audax I’ll be doing again. Hopefully the weather will be a bit nicer next time. Not that rain bothers me too much to be honest, once you are wet you are wet. Battling against a headwind is worse.

I’ll be trying to do another two 100km Audaxes this season for the Brevet 500 award.

Cotswolds Cycling

Snowshill Lavender
Snowshill Lavender

Great ride with CTC Wantage today. The Cotswolds (if you don’t know) are an area of outstanding natural beauty which straddles Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire. The landscape is rolling and peppered with picturesque villages with houses built from the golden oolitic limestone which the hills are made from. Oxfordshire is not well known as being a hilly county but the Cotswolds offer some tough climbs, especially on the escarpment side. Even on the dip slope side you will rarely find a road that isn’t going up or down, sometimes steeply.

We started in Burford, one of the larger towns in the Cotswolds and a popular tourist destination. Its iconic feature is the steep high street leading down to the River Windrush. It also has a large free car park. We followed the river to Bourton-on-the-Water, which is hugely popular with day trippers and tourists. On a sunny summer weekend afternoon it can be heaving with visitors. It is very picturesque but pick a quiet day to visit.

The rolling terrain led us past the Snowshill lavender fields to Broadway Tower which stands over 300m above sea level, the second highest point in the Cotswolds. The tower itself is a folly tower built so that Lady Coventry could answer the question whether she could see it from her house in Worcester! She could.

From the tower we took more rolling and quiet lanes to Bibury, another village popular with tourists, before heading back to Burford.

We were just shy of 100km for the day and over 1100m of ascent. I found it quite tough today as I hadn’t got my climbing legs with me but had a 2nd wind at around 55miles and could have kept going for a bit longer. It’s another ride towards my target of E50!

If you’ve not cycled the Cotswolds before it’s well worth doing. The route we chose offers a good tour of some busy and quiet villages sticking to minor roads. A good sample of what the Cotswolds offer without tackling any of the really tough climbs.