Tasty Cheddar 100k Audax 2014 - Bristol-Cheddar-Bristol
250 riders signed up for this and with race day dawning cool and wet, after the seemingly endless summer of 2014 had culminated in our warmest September on record,180 actually turned up. When I did running events in Wales I knew a lot of the other participants but I tend to turn up alone at cycling events not knowing anyone else there. So, I kept warm in the Create Centre reading a book about sustainability in Bristol (what else?) until just before the start. The rain was alternating light and heavy but never quite stopping and it was forecast to carry on until 2pm before things brightened up. I waited the last few minutes under the flyover leading up to the Swing Bridge over the Cumberland Basin, with quite a few others who also wanted to leave getting wet to the last possible moment.
At the start a fair sized crew of us rolled over the small bridge at the entrance to the Floating Harbour and off down the rain soaked Portway - while the majority took the old railway bridge over to the Pill Path (an off-roader, not ideal for my Tri bike!).
I had decided to aim for 4 hours riding time, plus breaks, as my target for the ride. An Audax is not supposed to be a race, but for me every event is a challenge and I want a goal to aim at, whether it's completing a distance or getting under a target time. I knew the second half would be tough with at least 2 big climbs, so I didn't want to wait ages getting cold and stiffening up at the first control at Portishead - a fast start was the plan. So I worked hard to stay with the pack of road cyclists who went off at the front and stayed with them on to the Avonmouth bridge, where we overtook a few who had followed us down the Portway but taken a smarter route through Shirehampton to get to the bridge first! Route choice can make a big difference. It was hard work staying with those guys through Pill and Easton and up to the Portishead roundabout, down the Portbury 100 and on to Sheepway. Here I was losing touch and having to make a major effort to stay with the "pack" but I managed to rock up at Portishead Lake Grounds still in sight of the leaders. I didn't hang around - a cafe stop just isn't necessary after 10 miles - and anyway I already had wet feet and wanted to keep the effort levels up to stay warm.
It was fun to ride the route of our Self-Transcendence Triathlon from the Lakegrounds to Walton, but there we took a right and then climbed up Holly Lane through Clevedon, along the seafront with magnificent views. A couple of times I had to slow down at junctions to check my route card - stuffed in a plastic wallet and rubber-banded to the handlebars - but I avoided wrong turns and came through Clevedon on to the moors around Kenn with the GPS showing an average speed of 26+ kph - on target. My last Audax had featured a major energy crash - or "bonk" - at 90k so I had eaten loads leading up to the ride this time and brought some massive flapjacks along too. I stuffed one down at around the 1 hour mark then pushed on through the light rain over the moors to Yatton, Congresbury then on to some lovely lanes I had never ridden before to Winscombe. Here I had lost touch with the handful of riders up ahead and found myself riding totally alone, just me an the road and the flapjacks, watching the GPS and trying to stay over 26 k per hour.
In Winscombe I followed the official route on to the Strawberry Line - a gravel cyclepath not really designed for road bikes but it was OK. As I came off it after only a few km, through the ancient centre of Axbridge (market in full swing despite the rain) and on to the Cheddar road, I did spot at least one rider who had just stayed on the A road to avoid the gravel. Fair enough! The checkpoint at Cheddar (where I took those 2 pics) was a welcome site at 57km, still on schedule speed-wise. Again I didn't get drawn in to the cafe, just ate the flapjack from my back pocket, washed down with electrolyte drink, and back on the bike after a few minutes.
At the controls you can always ask how many riders are up ahead, and I seem to remember the guy telling me it was only a few. I enjoyed the gorge and managed the nasty steep section at the narrows without too much trouble. My tri bike has higher gears than the machine I commute and train on, but it's also lighter, so I felt strong pedalling up, out of the steep-sided gorge and on to the Mendip Plateau. Here the sky was starting to break over to the west, with the promise of some brighter weather coming perhaps ahead of schedule. Of course I fell back below my target pace of 25kph with that long climb, but the way I felt gave me hope that I might stay strong and manage my 4 hours.
Once across the top of the Mendips I caught up with 2 riders ahead of me - their garmin was playing up and making it hard to follow the pre-programmed route, so I was glad I'd opted for the paper option even though trying to read a route card at every junction can slow you down. The descent off the Mendips was savage - a twisty, narrow lane with grass growing down the middle and a rough, broken surface that had me pulling on the brakes and shifting as much weight as I could on to my back wheel to keep it from slipping. Once down and rolling into the Harptrees I heard a noise and realised my seatpost bag had fallen on the descent - lost a few minutes going back for it (broken - had to force it into a pocket for the rest of the ride) and got overtaken by the rider just behind, who seemed like a faster descender than me. Mind you, that's not saying much...
Seatpost bag retrieved it was time to take a new road again, as here I normally ride across the edges of the lakes to Winford. The Audax route was via Hinton Blewett, this the second serious climb of the day, on another narrow and rough lane. Leaves and twigs added to the interest and there was a fair bit of wheel slip on the steep sections. Hinton Blewett was the third check, time to take my energy gel and get ready for the last leg. That last leg saw the sun break through and bathe the Chew Valley in gorgeous sunshine, which also made for a hot climb up to Dundry - here I was following 2 riders, one of whom impressed me by being on a single speed bike. Eventually it slowed him down though as the climb got steeper and I pushed ahead as we reached Dundry. The road down to the A38 was wet but free of twigs/leaves/rubbish so I could descend OK. From there it was all familiar territory - A38, Yanley Lane with it's stunning view of Bristol from the farm gate at the top, down to Long Ashton and a home stretch across Ashton Court. At the Create Centre I had clocked 101 km and 4 hours 05 riding time - I shot straight through to the final control, over the road at the Nova Scotia, where I discovered I was third finisher (which more than made up for missing out on my 4 hour target). My Brevet Card got signed with a total time of 4.25 - around 4.06 of riding and the rest at the controls.
Wonderful route - rough in places - 3 decent climbs and some hidden challenges and inspiring views along the way.
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