Cycle 207km (Kennet Valley audax)

Cycle 207km/7h14 (28.2km/h) brisk, HR143(164) ascent 1555m

Bikely route:

Grazeley – Hungerford 46.2km/1:32 (30.2km/h) asc. 361m HR139(163)
Hungerford – Bratton 54.5km/1:53 (29.0km/h) asc. 354m HR146(164)
Bratton – Hungerford 54.9km/1:51 (29.1km/h) asc. 362m HR143(164)
Hungerford – Grazeley 50.8km/1:50 (28.2km/h) asc. 441m HR142(162)

Time stopped: 8 mins

 A good, windless day for this audax, although it would’ve been nice to see some sunshine, particularly as I set out wearing sunglasses. I had a 2-litre camelbak and two 750ml bottles, all filled with half-strength carbo + a malt loaf and a cereal bar in  my back pocket. I wouldn’t need to stop for refills. There was the usual ecelctic mix of machinery milling around at the start: a tandem, two recumbents and everything from full on carbon fibre racing bikes to 30-year-old touring bikes. There were definitely more fixed-gear bicycles than I’ve seen at a audax before, although it’s been a couple of years since I last did a calendar ride – their popularity is evidently rising outside of the trendy urban cyclist group. John Ellis from the Oxonian CC  said hello as we queued for our Brevet cards.

A group of 10 or 15 riders quickly sped off from the village hall start and I reeled them in with a rider in High Wycombe CC kit. They kept up a very rapid pace and I was quite glad just to be sitting-in on the tail of the group. I could feel we were working too hard up the hills, and a couple of people dropped off the pace. We also had a recumbent for company. He was bombing ahead on the clear descents, only for us to catch up again on the next climb. A puncture reduced our group to nine just before the first control and tea stop at the Tutti Pole Café.

I quickly got my card stamped and headed back out. There was a bit of dithering fom the others and I was soon on my own. A Roe deer bounced across the road in front of me soon after Hungerford. There was still not much wind to speak of, although it was picking up a little as I tackled the last few rolling hills through Lavington to the second control at Bratton. I felt like I was maybe working too hard, but I was keen to make good time after our fast start. I did another quick turn-around here, and just as I was rolling back out, three riders from the first group – the High Wycombe guy, one in a Basingstoke CC top and another in a plain blue shirt, were just turning into the café. They asked if I was Howard, and when I replied in the affirmative, the High Wycombe rider told me that my reputation preceeded me! I must’ve had about 5 minutes to spare over them – usually I’ve pulled out more of a lead by this time, but they were looking tired and I was guessing that they’d probabaly stop here for refreshment.

The next stage is just the reverse of the previous one, save for a small detour around the one-way system in Pewsey, so I got to nod hello to every rider on the audax, coming the other way. There was a bit of a tailwind in some places, and I kept up a good pace all the way back to Hungerford.

The last stage is the hilliest, and although there’s not much more climbing than the previous ones, some of it is very testing, up and over the “Berkshire Alps”. I was catching riders from the 100km version of the event here – they start an hour and a half after the 200, and do the same last stage. I was still able to push quite hard over the hills, but the rough road surfaces were starting to get very wearing. It was good to roll through Theale, knowing that the climbs were at last over and I only had abot 10 miles to go. I time-trialled the last bit back to the village hall, and got there at about a quarter-to-three, having knocked 11 minutes off my previous best for this audax.

I had a couple of welcome cups of tea and some cake and then packed off back to Oxford in the car. We were going out for a friend’s birthday meal in Abingdon so I couldn’t hang about too much.