Last Sunday I got signed up in a group to take part in a cycle ride, not race, ride called the Guilford Challenge arranged by Charlotteville cc. It was a 60ish mile ride featuring some climbs and descents and the route wove in and around the North Downs, just to the South of London. Sounds easy & nice day out. It was an eye opener for sure.
I got on my bike about 6 45 am and cycled a couple of miles to get a lift. On arrival, typical at this sort of event, there were people with some seriously nice equipment, notably some pretty dangerous looking time trial efforts. I got my bike out and set it down and realised that the front skewer was still broken from the last time i rode it. Nothing i could do so I went to the mobile food truck and had a bacon sandwich. The 7 of us got ready and rode out on to the course at 8 45. I should add two things at this point: 1. I had ridden a 3 day, 200 mile tour of the Somme and Flanders in June with the same group, 4 days after running 100 miles in Virginia and frankly I found it really enjoyable and pretty easy. 2. The week leading up to this Id run London to Brighton, a 56 mile cross country race involving map reading and a lot of ascent/ descent and been training all week finishing with a 2 hour run on the night before so all in all prepared for a nice easy ride chatting and laughing in the sunshine.
We were let out of the starting gate and for some reason the pace from the other riders just went through the roof. I didn't really know what to do ie. were we gonna ride as a small group or should i go at my own speed? In the end 2 of the guys from our group chased the pack and so I went with them. We were averaging about 23 - 24 mph and to say the course was undulating would be an understatement. Every time a hill appeared the guys at the front just grinded right over the top and blew people off of the back. For 25 miles i sat there, lactic acid building in my legs and with ZERO energy from a weeks hard training with my wheel making a squeeking sound with each revolution. I bonked after an hour. I was unprepared and over trained but as usual i thought id just go with it so i stuck it as long as i could. I eventually lost the back of the pack as we hit the bigger hills of the north downs.
In the lead up to the race, one of the guys had been talking about a couple of renowned steep ascents to be wary of and he wasn't lying. We got to barhatch lane at 30 ish miles or so and the road just went vertical. I was cooked, no energy from all my training the week before, eating everything i had with me just trying to put fuel into the system and just as i chowed down on my last bit of mars bar the sign appeared on the right 21% gradient ahead. I just sat in the saddle and looked at the floor peddling in squares. The road just went up and up and up before plateauing out for about 50 yards prior to the 21% section. I was going so slowly i thought my bike was officially broken, if in doubt blame the equipment. I don't know anything about bikes but im pretty sure this problem with the front wheel wasn't helping. I was wobbling around like a drunk taking a massive breath with every turn of the pedals, i thought i was gonna just fall of sideways still clipped in to the bike. To be fair, pretty much everyone else was walking up the hill and some on some pretty nice bikes so i figured as long as i stayed on it i was a hero.
I got to the top and just spun down the other side trying to cure the cramping and lactic acid problems racking my muscles. In the end a car came past and sat between me and the riders in front whom i had no hope of catching on my own so i did what any cyclist truly out of his depth would do and sat drafting the car all the way back up the group. What a cheap way of covering some miles. Shocking. When the car turned off it felt like i was dragging something heavy behind me on a long rope. I managed to get over the hills and down to the finish with two of the other lads. 94km in the end it measured. It took me, wait for it, 3 hours and 49 minutes. I rode a similar distance in a half IM in about an hour less than this.