Black Rat Sportive 100km Bike Ride 2010

My first "Sportive", so I opted for the shorter distance of 100k while more experienced team mate Ed went for the full 100 miler - respect! It was a cool, drizzly morning so I was layered up in windstopper and long tights despite this being mid May! The start was at Backwell School, and riders just headed off as and when they were ready - having picked up timing chip and handlebar number in registration one just rolled over the timing mat to get a start time logged and then it was out on to the open road.

Well, not so open, those roads, as we had picked a popular start time of around 8.40 and it was my first experience of riding in a bunch - the road was packed with riders and I was having to stay constantly alert and concentrate on holding a decent line - all my riding so far has been non-drafting events where you basically ride alone, so being surrounded was a tad strange. I had a target of 4 hours, which may sound slow (slower than my ironman pace) but as it turned out it was a stiff challenge! From Backwell we took a series of twisty lanes through the Somerset countryside, managing to miss just one of the turning signs early on (we got called back my more alert riders behind) but otherwise finding the route well marked. For the first couple of hours it all seemed easy - I lost touch with Ed on a downhill, my more cautious approach losing me at least a minute, but I managed to catch him shortly after the spectacular crossing of the dam at Chew Valley Lake. There were climbs a plenty, none too stiff at first, but once I lost touch for the second time with Ed (he got a flat up on the mendips) I found myself rolling down Shipham Gorge, past Longbottom Farm (an area I know of old, this, from my fruit picking incarnation circa 1990) and I knew it would soon be time to ascend the legendary Cheddar Gorge. - pic shows me well wrapped up on a drizzly summer's day, all ready for the meaty climb of Cheddar Gorge.

I ignored the aid station, which seemed to be a very big party and very un-race-like, and soon found myself climbing the famous cheesey gorge. It was a great section of the ride, challenging but not as tough as I expected. As I got near the top I saw the start of a trail race coming towards me - loads of runners with cambelbaks - on another day I'd have liked to be in on that. Still, today was all about cycling and once up the gorge and back on the flat I felt great and wondered if I should have gone for the 100 miler. That bubble of overconfidence would soon burst, big time!

Another crossing of Chew Valley Lake and more climbs followed, surprisingly harder than Cheddar Gorge, which I had assumed would be the "crux" of the ride. As the clock ticked past three hours I realised that my legs were really starting to tire - I was averaging around 16mph, and last year I had ridden 112 miles at roughly 17mph, so surely this ride wouldn't be so tough? I hadn't realised just what the climbs would do to my legs - as time wore on I realised I would have to pull out all the stops to break four hours for the 100k. I saw a sign for dundry, and realised that would mean a big climb (the village is on a hilltop and can kill a cyclist in a number of ways). The ascent was innocuous looking but wreaked muscular devastation on my knackered quads. Once up the top I thought I had only downhills or flats to come, but a succession of rolling hills followed, leaving me wasted and having to really dig deep for some resolve. If I hadn't set myself this 4 hour target it would have been no big deal, but having to push for a time was a real killer. Of course, that's what targets are all about!

I didn't make the four hours - in fact when I finally pulled in to the school and rolled over the timing mat it was nearer 4.10. A glance at my garmin told me the course was a few kms too long though, so in one way I had succeeded: 100km in less than four hours. I'll calll that a draw :)

So, a truly beautiful course and a great day, despite the less than summery weather. Cheddar Gorge was the highlight and what came after was the real test. I was pleased at how hard I had worked my body despite the fact that it wasn't a "race". The results showed I had finished in the top 30 so that tells a story - many better cyclists on the 100k had been taking it like a training ride rather than a competition. Now I want to do some more of this Sportive lark!


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