Severn Across Audax 402km

Cycle 402km/15:11 (inc. 35 min stopped) Severn Across Audax, steady, HR 127(161)

Chalfont St Peter -> Woodstock _ 72.1km/2:24 (30:1km/h) HR126(153)
Woodstock -> Tewkesbury _____ 69.5km/2:29 (28.8km/h) HR132(159)
Tewkesbury -> Chepstow ______ 72.8km/2:42 (27.0km/h) HR134(161)
Chepstow -> Membury ________ 95.2km/3:37 (26.5km/h) HR130(156)
Membury -> Chalfont St Peter __ 91.9km/3:37 (25.9km/h) HR117(144)

I recognized  a few familiar faces at the HQ – Mel Kirkland (Willesden CC) and John Ellis (Oxonian CC) amongst them. A woman got up and asked me if I was new to this event and audaxing so I had to explain I’d not done this ride for a few years, but I had ridden it in 2003 and also finished LEL in 2005 – which I’m sure caused some amusement amongst the overhearing crowd.

It was a very cold start to the ride. You had a choice between packing a change of clothes, or going for the middle option – freezing in the morning, and comfortably warm the rest of the day. With my usual lightweight approach, I went for the former, although 10 minutes after the off I was regretting it. A group of four of us formed at the head of the bunch. The riding through Great Missenden in the valley it was very, very cold. There was frost on the ground and I was struggling with just shorts, a couple of shirts, armwarmers, and some spring-weight gloves. I was having to ride no-handed with my hands under my armpits to keep them alive. Getting to Thame I started to warm up and the strongest-looking guy in our group started to press on a bit. He got a bit of a gap and I sped up to follow him, about 200m back, although he was able to hunker down on his mudguard-less and tribar-equipped bike a little better than me. He was obviously interested in the damage he’d done behind, because I saw him looking over his shoulder for us at the turning for Stanton-St-John. I caught him after he stopped for a pee and we rode the rest of the way to Woodstock together, arriving bang on the fastest time limit. It turned out he’d done some long rides with John Warnock, winner of last summer’s 24-hour TT, and his wife was an ex-international rower, and he’d done quite a bit of sculling and rowing in his time too. Chris Beynon (today’s organiser) took a snap of me as I left the control.

I left Woodstock before the other guy, but he soon caught up with me after Charlbury where we had to wait for the level crossing gates at Ascott-under-Wychwood. We had to stop for about 4 minutes, and I thought about having a pee but there was nowhere handy by the crossing so I waited until the run-in to Stow to stop. The other guy pressed on ahead, he seemed keen to get on. Through Stow, although I didn’t realise it at the time, I made the mistake of turning down the road for The Dean that I’d followed 4 weeks earlier. As soon as I’d missed the next turning, I figured I could get back on-route by following the next few kilometres. Once I saw signs for Greet, back on the route, I turned for that village and got back on track. I checked in and out at the next control in Tewkesbury pretty quickly – I didn’t need to top up my bottles or camelback yet. It looked as though my mistake had leapfrogged me ahead of the other chap.

On the first run out of Tewkesbury I saw a crowd of marshals standing at the side of the road – they were clearly marshalling a road race. Brian Newton, a fast vet time trialler who rode the OCRC 10 I organised last week, was amongst them. I said hi (I looked up the race, it’s the Echelon Cycles BC road race). The route turned south for Chepstow here, into a rising southerly breeze. I found the climb up Yat Rock as hard as ever, but I’ve realised over the last few years that over a long ride you gain little from pushing hard on a climb, and can gain more by twiddling uphill in your lowest gear, not trashing your muscles so you can push harder for longer on the flat and on drags.

I had a good stop at the Tesco garage in Chepstow, ate a sandwich and some chocolate, and topped up my bottles with Lucozade and water. I had a text from Mark Jones – he’d done 19:59 on the U47 – A new helmet visor helped with the aerodynamics, cool. I texted home, let Jules know I was doing OK. The sun was out and there was a nice crosswind for the next section. After the Yat Rock experience I didn’t find the climb to the Somerset Monument so bad this time around. A steady ride to Malmesbury, I stopped briefly here to double-check that I didn’t need to collect a reciept, and dumped a few spare bar wrappers in the bin. I was running out of water again, but figured I could get to Membury OK.

Nevertheless, after the long climbs to Membury services, I was feeling a bit dehydrated and stumbled getting off – and back on – my bike. I managed to cut a finger on a brake lever with my stumbling but was able to swap the plaster I already had on another thumb and it was OK after that. I took the lanes to Henley, a steep climb after the A338 was hard, and a couple of others also testing. There was a large bar of Aero lying by the side of the road up the stiff climb out of Hampstead Norreys. Only the first line of chocolate squares was gone, the rest was still in the wrapper. After +340km, I was sooooo tempted to pick it up!

I was starting to get the first indication of “hot foot” (a pain under the ball of the foot, common in long distance riders – my new Look Keos seem to be bringing it on), so at a set of red traffic lights in Henley I stopped to stamp my feet on the ground. The air was getting cooler though, and on the ride back to Chalfont St Peter, the pain subsided somewhat. I had to stop again just before Marlow to plug in my front dynamo light and put my armwarmers and gloves back on, and from there it was just a steady plod in the growning dusk/darkness through the lanes from Beaconsfield back to Chalfont St P, where I picked up hole-in-the-wall receipt for my final control.

I packed the bike away, texted home, texted Chris the organiser to let them know I’d finished OK, and then went to a garage on the A40 to pick up a snack and a pint of milk before driving back to Oxford for a welcome chat with Jules, and some tea and Marmite toast.

[EDIT: On the yacf.co.uk thread about this ride, “JJ” has written:

“Oranj amounted to a mythical rider, leaving no trace of his passing beyond a sense of awe and the slight disturbance to the fabric of space/time that results from a body moving at near light speed.”

I kinda like that!]

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