Cycle 304km (Kennet Valley Audax)

Cycle 304km in 11h49 (with ~55 mins stopped), steady, HR134(162) inc. Kennet Valley Audax

Ride to HQ = 51km __ HR126(151)
Audax = 203km/7:09 (7h29 on the road inc. 20min stopped) (28.4km/h) __ HR 137(162).
Ride home = 51km __ HR129(144)

It looked like the wettest weather would pass in the night, so I set my alarm for 5am, hopefull of being able to ride to Grazeley Village Hall in the dry. I put some extra lube on the chain, just in case. After a quick coffee and toast I was out the door at 5:30am; it was a warmish night and I had a lovely cross/tailwind for the ride south. There were many flooded roads on the way to Wallingford – it looked like it’d been chucking it down. My Fenix TK11 picked them out OK though. Just before Pangbourne I could feel the back tyre going squishy and managed to nurse it to the only petrol station forecourt along this stretch where there was just enough light for me to be able to see to find the offending flint and change the tube. I was soon on my way again.

Delayed by the puncture, I got to the HQ with 2 minutes to spare, just as everyone was lining up ready to go. No worries, I went inside for a pee, picked up my brevet card and munched on a cereal bar while setting up my Extrex for the audax route. Wandering outside the tail end of the bunch was disappearing down the road and I was soon off again, chasing after them. I played leapfrog with the various groups, and Mel Kirkland tried to take my wheel at one point, but a hill had him tailing off. It started to rain along here and was wet for the test of the stage, not cold enough to warrant putting on a rain jacket though.

I caught the front group just as they were faffing at the first control, the Tutti Pole Cafe. They were looking pretty filthy from following each other’s wheels. A quick stamp of my card and a munch of malt loaf and I was off again. Colin Bezant and a couple of others were already ahead, turning for Church Street, but I kept straight on, on the A338. One puncture down already, I didn’t want to risk another on those mucky roads. It didn’t make much difference – this time my front tyre started to feel a little soft shortly afterwards but it took a long time to get flat enough that I had to stop – I’d managed +20km, well past Pewsey, before I had to fix it. Another tiny flint.

I was feeling a bit low, I hadn’t been eating and drinking enough in the rain, and I was worried as I only had one more spare inner tube for the remaining 170km of riding. In my fit of despair I was passed by a group of three doing a steady through-and-off and I was happy to drop in behind them and take a  bit of shelter from the headwind. I had a bit of a chat to one of them – he knew me and had read my account of the 2005 L-E-L, it’d inspired him to ride it himself! The roads were drying out and I was eating and drinking more regularly. The fastest guy on the road crossed paths with us here, already on his way back. He must’ve had an eight or ten minute lead on us at this point. I said goodbye to my companions at Bratton, pausing to have a water bottle refilled, and headed back to Hungerford in a more positive frame of mind.

The ride back was more straightforward – the wind was on my back and I saw the sun briefly. I stopped at the garage at Burbage roundabout for coke, water and apricot flapjacks and was soon back to Hungerford, through yet another shower, for the final assault on the Boxford Alps. There were some good sections of tailwind in between the fearsome climbs and getting caught in a shower around Welford/Bradfield didn’t seem too bad. I took the climbs as easily as I could, aware that I still had a long way to ride. On the longer straights I could see the distinctive SWRC jersey of the fast leader in the distance and as easily as I was taking the climbs, he was struggling worse. He looked a bit overgeared. I caught him at a set of red lights just south of Theale. We had a little chat but I think he was a bit surprised to see me and took off like a rocket as soon as the lights went green. I let him go, happy to plod along at my own pace.

Back at the HQ I met Fraser and Matt from Didcot Phoenix CC, they’d just ridden the 100km version and narrowly avoided the shower I got caught in on the way back. I got a refill of squash for my bottle, range Jules to say I’d be on my way home soon and over a bread-and-butter sandwich had a chat to the fast SWRC rider [pic from the SWRC blog here, he’s the guy in the middle, blue jacket. With my usual terrible memory for names, I’ve forgotten his!] about PBP, John Warnock and time trialling amongst other stuff and then it was time to get going. I saw quite a few little groups making their way back to the finish as I was riding out towards the Pangbourne road for home. It looked like plenty of people were going to be finishing in a good time.

The ride home was a bit of a trudge into a cold headwind, with another rain shower. The last section from Stadhampton, straight into the face of the wind, had me pedalling squares. I was glad to get home in daylight and have a long soak in the bath to ease my aches. That’s the earliest in the year that I’ve ridden that far, good training for later. The bike can be washed tomorrow.