Considering I was only doing one of my normal three sports today the car was still packed to the rafters with of course a bike, in fact my lovely new FORME 1FE that I had delivered and I built on my birthday last Wednesday. Then there was a bag full of cycling gear for the ride, after the ride and just in case I wanted other items for the ride !. Then a bag of fuel known as food and drinks again for and after the ride. A collection of towels for the bike and myself, and finally extra dry clothes and wooly hats.
This was my first official long sportive and I did wonder whether I’d bitten off more than I or one of the Longleat lions could chew. I was lucky enough to get to the front of the 1500 riders in an areas reserved for Wiltshire Police as Clive was going to cut the tape. A serving officer and keen long distance cyclist he was knocked off his bike on the way to work just 80 days from retirement. He is recovering slowly and was genuinly pleased to set us off. This will probably be the only time I get in the top ten and lead of a race, but what a great opportunity. Many of the other police riders had like Clive done this race on its previous three occasions, last year under a blanket of snow. When I piped up it was my first they said I couldn’t have picked a tougher introduction to sportives ! Oh well I was here now and really to roll.
Due to distances involved the sportive started at 8am so meant an early alarm, which luckily also meant quiet roads on drive to Warminster. Signage and parking marshals were abundant and I didn’t end up in the drive through monkey safari. As only 10% of the riders were females there were no queues for the ladies port-a-loos, bonus, sorry boys ! Plenty of racks to hang your bike as you had coffee, loos stop or hung around in the marquee.
As instructed I headed to the front of the line of riders where there was a small area tapped off with police tape :-) Fourteen police officer or staff lined up and we in the weak spring sunshine, cleats clicking on the tarmac as we tried to keep warm jumping up and down. At 8:00am Clive cut the tape and we rolled way from the house along the driveway and up and out of Longleat grounds onto the Wiltshire lanes.
The pre race information in the race pace was excellent and backed up with online information. Also the route was available to down load from Garmin. Originally 110km the route was adjusted due to recent floods to 100km.
To say this route was hilly is like saying the Himalayas are undulating. 5,500ft elevation climbed in 60 miles was a tough one, even more so when we had hailstones, mud, flood debris and mud on the roads. There were many tales of punctures but luckily only a few spills and slips. I had to bail out and walk three of the hills including King Alfreds which was the gnarliest of all. There were times when I was going so slowly that the Garmin went to sleep ! Just look at the elevation profile as choppy as the North sea in perfect winter storms. I had hoped that the down hill segments would afford us with some free speed, but alas that appeared to be under hailstones, mud or accompanied by gusting side winds so not much help to the overall speed.
So my Garmin time, bike computer riding time and overall race time were all different. 4:38 riding time 5:38 race time which gave me a Bronze classification, chuffed with that on my first sportive.
Whilst there was plenty of riders for company from the police, Pirates or my cycling club Chippenham Wheelers I chose to ride solo triathlon style. Which while was different to most other riders who rode in pairs or groups for company, shelter and drafting I won’t have the benefit of those in ironman which are all none drafting races so I kept rolling along alone. I wasn’t lonely or bored in anyway and met up with police and club mates at the food stations and finish plus along the way there were occasions when I was along side another rider either riding or walking and we’d have a quick chat.
All was going well regarding the weather for the first 10km then we had our first of four hail stone storms pelt us. Buff pulled up to the bottom of my glasses, extra windproof jacket added to the 4 layers already worn and the hail managed to get inside my overshoes – uugghh wet feet ;-( Hailstone sting like mad on the face. All speed was scrubbed as we rode over the mini ball bearing like balls of ice. At one point I thought my new bottom bracket had spilt its guts due to the noise of these solid steel like ice balls from the hail storm.
After I think it was the second hail storm I came into the first food station which was needed badly as my thumbs had frozen and I was having trouble changing gear and feeling my brake levers. A nice cup of tea, cheese sandwiches, flapjack, sausage rolls went down a treat. The village hall was stuffed with tables ladened with food and as the 1500 descended like a plague of locus destroying a crop the volunteers replenished the platters and poured more tea, they were the stars of the day- thank you. I love sportives ! the food stations were as good as a Sunday lunch, a rolling buffet with stunning scenary. An additional bonus was wine tasting in Mere food station as it was held at Yapps wine merchants. Due to the weather and vast quantity of food on offer I probably hung around too long but the race organisers did keep stressing this wasn’t a race more a challenge ride – that it was, very challenging on those hills in freezing wet weather.
Three hills beat me on the day, King Alfreds being the biggest beast, on which the organisers included a timed hill climb section. No points for me there. Looking back on hill I bailed out too early as only 30 meters or so from the peak – next year 2 of those 3 hills will be mine, I will train for you and beat you :-) Although my get off and walk progress was actually quicker than some riders as I passed then whilst they gridded their way up the hill and then when they collapsed to recover at the top for 5 or more minutes I was back on the bike and off back along the road to the next one.
On the ride I was surrounded by pure cyclist and lots of very good ones, triathletes in the majority and I only saw one tri bike on the course. This sportive has ignited my love of cycling and I’m pleased this is the first of half a dozen more I have lined up ahead of ironman Bolton. The plan is to get more miles in with company on different routes and to get bike strong over the summer. Theres no way I could have done this ride last year so winter training starting to pay off. I got a new road bike as advised as the tri bike with aero bars wouldn’t be suitable and maybe frowned upon and whilst its not generally recommended that your first ride on a new bike is a challenging 100km sportive I’m pleased to report that both bike and I can through together, no separation falls, intact – no punctures or bonks and no saddle sore or mechanical mishaps. What a beauty :-)
The new bike is a FORME Longcliffe 1FE I got last week and rode it for about an hour to check my bike building skills and set up then cycled to the shop to get some black handle bar tape as white was just so impractical.
Coming down the mile long driveway back to Longleat House bathed in sunshine just like the start I managed to get over 20mph for the first time in the day. Only difference I was wearing an extra jacket and the bike and I were a few kilos heavier with the muck and water we had collected on the ride. I ducked my head as a medal was pulled over my helmet and I was informed I had a bronze classification.
Bike hung on a rack and I headed in the finish marquee which was steaming from the tea urns, hot food and sweaty cyclists. Goody bag collected, t-shirt in my size available and then onto the hot buffet for hotpot with a mountain of grated cheese and hunk of buttered bread accompanied by a couple of cups of tea – heavenly. I caught up with a few club mates and chatted to a few other finishers then headed back to load the car and head home.
Bubble bath for me, mountain of wet clothing went straight into the washing machine and a deep clean and lube for the bike including getting the snot off the Garmin screen – lovely !
Whilst it was a challenge I really enjoyed this ride, just not the weather so much. I will come back next year for a rematch with those hills and hopefully see a few lions roaming around. The organisation, information, safety and especially the food stations were excellent – 5 star dining and riding. Thank you Endura LionHeart ;-)
Update: I have reclassified this as an event not a race report as I have been reminded that Sportives are NOT races, races require insurance, closed roads, police presence etc. Sportives are distance cycling events to challenge yourself and explore new areas on a signed route with many others.