Cycle 207km (Kennet Valley Audax)

Cycle 207km/7h54 (27.4km/h) brisk, HR136(160) ascent 1510m

Bikely route:

Grazeley – Hungerford __ 46.3km/1:38 (28.1km/h) HR135(159) asc.365m
Hungerford – Bratton ___ 54.6km/2:01 (27.2km/h) HR141(160) asc.370m
Bratton – Hungerford ___ 55.0km/2:01 (27.2km/h) HR136(157) asc.365m
Hungerford – Grazeley __ 51.0km/1:53 (27.4km/h) HR133(157) asc.416m

Time stopped: ~19 minutes. Total time 7h54

Not a promising weather forecast for today’s audax, although it was so unpromising that one of the organisers had printed off a forecast at the HQ showing sunny intervals, as if to goad us into action. It was chucking it down as I drove to the start early in the morning, but miraculously, as I was getting my bike out the rain stopped and there was a brief interlude of sunshine. There seemed to be a reduced field from previous years, and certainly no takers for entry on the line. I was carrying my usual camelback, plus two 750ml bottles, all full of 3/4 strength carbo mix (slightly stronger than usual as it’s more difficult to eat in the rain, with a rain cape on, and I was expecting to do quite a bit of that).

The forecast had deterred the usual racer/no-mudguard crowd, so the pace to the first control in Hungerford was rather steadier than in previous years. We had soaked roads and plenty of potholes to contend with. Somewhere along this section I hit one rather hard, hanging about at the back of the bunch and not paying attention, and I’m pretty sure my handlebars twisted round sightly – something to check tomorrow. I wasn’t feeling as spritely as in recent years on this event, and was already thinking of a steady finish rather than pushing it on. Rain started to fall in the last 15 minutes approaching Hungerford, so once we were inside the Tutti Pole cafe having our cards stamped I donned my race cape.

I stepped back out into a torrential shower – the weather had upped its game. It continued to chuck it down for most of this stage, if not as hard as it did in those first 10 minutes. Every so often I’d think that it was easing up and I could take my cape off before it’d start up again. I was caught by another rider from that opening fast bunch about halfway along this stage, but I was feeling tired and in no mood to chase him. He only had raceblade-type mudguards, so he’d have been rubbish to follow in that rain. Towards the end of the stage, at about 95km, my freewheel started to stop freewheeling – it would just keep on going when I stopped pedalling, dragging the chain with it and slapping it against the chainstays before freewheeling again. I stopped briefly to see if I could sort it out, but couldn’t find anything visually wrong with it. 95km into a 207km audax is not a good time to have a bad mechanical problem. I assumed that water or grit had got into the mechanism and hoped that it would eventually free itself.

At the Bratton cafe the fast rider was stopping for something to eat but I couldn’t see much point, I was soaked, and sitting around would only make me cold. I headed straight back out the door. My freewheel was still playing up, but after about 5km more it seemed to free itself. For the rest of the ride it made an horrendous grinding sound every time I stopped pedalling. These are my Mavic Aksium wheels, I’ve had them about 5 years and they’ve given me good service. There’s still plenty of life left in the rims so hopefully I can sort the problem out. Approaching Hungerford again, it started to really throw it down again, and I had a front wheel puncture on a thorn in North Standen, about 5km from the town. It took me a while to fix it – couldn’t find the thorn but found the hole – and eventually I was on my way, back to the Tutti Pole Cafe. I also adjusted my brakes while I was stopped – riding in the wet and grit had worn them down, they’ll need replacing soon.

The last stage was the hilliest, across the “Berkshire Alps”, but, finally, the rain stopped and the sun came out. I caught a few of the 100km ride stragglers and at 180km I stopped to take my cape off and stuff it in a back pocket. I felt much more comfortable for the remainder of the ride, although my jacket was soaked underneath and it never really dried out. I was very relieved to get the last few climbs over and head back to the HQ. There was a bit of a headwind but I was past caring and I rolled into Grazeley Village Hall after about 7h55 to a welcome mug or two of tea and some cake. No doubt I’ll feel very tired and have sore muscles tomorrow – I find riding in the rain very wearing! I have sore finger tips, probably due to my poor circulation, and I’ll have some bike maintenance to do on that freewheel too.