Cycling faster uphill than downhill

Aaaaaggggghhhhhh ! Whoosh, scccrrrccchhh & rustle. Phew I’ve come to a slow if uncontrolled stop in a soft leaf covered muddy bank. Now breath, pull myself out, get wheels pointing in the same direction, dig the mud out of my cleats and climb back on board.

As part of my 2014 ironman training I have booked a sportive each month from December, with the Performance Cycles Winter mini Sportive series being the first. Based in the Cotswolds I thought it’d be flat like the area around the lake I swim in and picturesque.

Well one out of two was right, very scenic, picture postcard stunning and beautiful English countryside, old thatched cottages, moss covered stone walls, ancient woodlands, leafy tree lined lanes twisting alone over fords, past farm entrances, grand manor houses and rolling fields with plenty of wildlife.

Flat it was not ! Over 2,000 feet of climbing. It became a bit of an adventure.

Race briefing was very simple, follow the red & white arrows, take note of the caution signs and take your pick of the long 65 mile or 45 mile route at the split. Three of us headed off thinking nice social ride of 45 miles should be 2.5 to 3 hours tops. Weather forecast was for dry sunshine & cloud.

After a steady shower for the first 6 miles which soaked the roads and gave my fellow riders a Dalmatian appearance from the mud splatters. The wet stuff stopped falling from the sky but left the roads slicked, puddle riddled and a few rivers across our path offering plenty of aquaplaning opportunities for those who lost concentration. The forecast was cloudy with sunny spells and dry.

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My own heart stopping, white knuckle moment occurred on the first main downhill, it was a very very narrow lane marked unsuitable for motor vehicles. There was a grassy strip down the centre mixed with gravel and compressed mud covered the side tracks. There was a CAUTION sign at the top, so brakes were applied and leading out I scrubbed off all speed.

Flick to the left, flick to the right, somehow I caught it and got the wheels pointing and rolling back downhill. Phew that was a close one. More feathering on the brakes, but as this was about 10% hill gravity was still winning.

The next adventure was more of a flapping fish thrashing it’s was down the hill, as I wrestled with the bike and tried to balance I ended up swinging the back wheel round 90 degrees towards the front wheel, leaving me slewing sideways downhill in more of a Speedway style. Front wheel pointing downhill, the back wheel and myself sliding sidewards and down under the draw of gravity assisted by the slick mud which offered no resistance.

With one last heave and lean I wrestled the front wheel into the soft muddy leaf covered bank. Instinct had got my left shoe unclipped which was my uphill leg so I planted my cleats into the verge hoping it would find some grip. It did. Still clipped in with my right foot I was half sitting on the bike but under a blanket of dry leaves which had enveloped me, leaving my bike frame and leg buried in autumn debris.

Shafts of sunlight shone through the semi leafed trees and left a soft yellow light flooding over the leaves and myself. All was calm, warm and I was quite comfortable. My fellow riders who had followed me and witnessed my wrestling fish manoeuvre called to check I was OK. Not sure they would have actually been able to pass me as I was jackknifed across this very narrow lane.

I slowly extracted myself from my leafy blanket to assess the damage – quick check, no damage to me or the bike, just a wet bum and a lot of leaves to brush off and mud to dig out of my cleats.

We rolled on down the remaining 20 meters then hauled our way back up and out of the valley. Looking at my Garmin when I got home it indeed confirmed that I rode uphill faster than going downhill after this little tumble.

As we continued we got more vocal shouting out warnings to each other – Caution!, steep decent, sharp bend, mud, gravel, grass, pothole, pheasant, squirrel, debris, branches, low trees, falling rocks, flood, narrow, car – ahead or back, etc etc. It would have been easier to shout when there was a flat, smooth section of road which was in the minority.

The next chapter in our mini sportive adventure was a puncture. Now as good cyclists we all had a couple of spare tubes, unfortunately Carls first spare was leaking air like blowing whale, so the second spare was brought into play. At least he stopped in scenic sunny valley bottom. Tricking my taste buds I told them it was coffee break and sucked on a Smooth Expresso ZipVit gel washed down with a CapriSun. Deb took the opportunity for a quick loo stop, taking her fluorescents jacket off so as not to attract attention.

Third chapter after another very slow descent we started to pull up a very rough track where a mountain bike would have been better suited to the terrain. Debs then took a slow motion fall. Nothing hurt apart from pride and my warming when she got her clip-less shoes that everyone falls off at some point, had materialised.

Never mind we were all still rolling although had just covered half distance in nearly 2.5 hours ! All predictions of finish time went out the window, this was more challenging, rougher roads, hillier, wetter and technically & mentally demanding than we ever imagined. At this point we decided that we should stick to the shorter route as it could be dark when we finished if we did the longer one. And the bacon buttes and coffee could be cold or worse run out.

Fourth chapter – Lost car keys. Having now covered 30+ miles they could be anywhere! most likely fallen out of the fluorescent jacket at wee stop or when Deb fell on the hill. All pockets & saddlebag compartments search to no avail. SOS call to hubby for spare keys to be brought out, assuming we would be another hour. Turned out to be nearer 1.5 hours cycling still to go.

Fifth chapter – more hills which were challenging alone yet when the local motorised population decided that they had priority then Carl and I both had encounters with the ditches and banks of the lanes as we avoided wing mirrors the size of dustbin lids connecting with our shoulders. The lanes were narrow, the 4×4 wide and we were crawling up the hills not a great combination, so we yielded (pressed ourselves against the verge).

Final chapter – we were welcomed back to the start with free coffee & cakes and bacon & egg butties, a bit of heaven. For £7 we got great value for money. On registration energy bars & sports drinks, over four hours out on the Cotswolds rural roads with a changing but scenic backdrop, great company and then the homecoming feast. What a bargain :-)

Race summary : challenging route, weather had an affect, but will be back for January ride and a new route & challenge

Take away points : don’t assume a ride is flat just because the start area is, don’t trust the weather forecast, as well as getting new brake blocks for winter riding descent tyre would help, thankful I added SKS race blade mudguards to my bike :-) These challenging courses are all good training rides.

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These mudguards kept me clean and dry

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One of the few wider smoother road sections

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