Cycle 309km. Cotswold Spring Classic sportif

Cycle 309km. inc. Cotswold Spring Classic sportif/11h32 (inc 59min stopped) HR134(165) asc. 2080m

66km to start
Sportif = 177km (29.4km/h), 6h12 __ HR139(165), asc. 1819m
66km home

I was quite curious to see what all the fuss about Sportives was about, and this one fitted quite nicely into what I’m doing at the moment so I entered it. Left the house at 5:30am, the sun was just starting to light the sky and I didn’t need to bother with lights on my bike. It was cold though, in just a jersey and armwarmers, and there were pockets of really cold air in the flatlands through Sutton and Bampton. A beautiful quiet morning to be out, lovely colours in the sky as the sun rose – blues and pinks. Quiet enough on these roads that when a car passed me after I’d been on the road for an hour it startled me a little.

By the time I’d ridden to the start, it was warming up a bit. I checked in and Andy Cook was there helping; we used to have a bit of rivalry over 12 hour TTs. He asked me if I was fit and I said yes, I’d ridden over. “Riding the 24 then are we?” he asked! After fitting my bike number/transponder I got some tea and toast from the canteen and then made my way over to the start line queue.

I was off in the third group on the road, at just after 8:10 am. A fairly brisk pace was set by the leaders of the group and was happy to sit in the wheels. Some of the riding was a little wild and there was a lot of shouting of “CAR”, “POTHOLE”, etc., but it wasn’t too bad. We had a bit of a diversion when one of the signs we were following had been switched! My GPS said “left” and the sign said “right”. We went right, before catching earlier groups coming back the other way. Andy Cook later told me the bloke in the house near the junction must’ve switched the sign in the 20 minutes between the last motorbike marshall coming through and the first riders! Petty!

After that we had quite a big group for a while until it split up again on the climbs around Purton and Blunsdon. I sat in the group as the route turned north – there was a bit of a headwind and I didn’t want to see too much of it. A few of us bounced the first feed station, and then I was away in a group of three, trying quite hard all of a sudden. We were joined by one very strong guy from the previous big group, and settled into a bit of a 3 or 4-up on the A435. I was feeling the pace though, and dropped off their wheels as soon as the road turned left and up a massive hill about 40 minutes after the feed – my legs were feeling a bit cooked.

I sat up and resolved to take the rest of the ride at my steadier “audax pace”, and enjoy the scenery. It was lovely day to be out and about, and the second half of the ride had some vicious climbs in it! I was getting tired and tempted to turn back at the route split, but I’d come out intending to get a long ride in so settled into the climbing. There were a couple of nasty steep ones before the second feed stop and I could feel cramp coming on in my quads and forearms – a sure sign I was running out of energy – so I stopped here for a bit, to eat lovely homemade flapjacks and a banana, and to top up both my bottles with High5. A bigger group came in while I was there and they were quickly off again.

I was caught by another little group of three soon after, although the faster two dropped us on the steep climbs around Slad (I walked up the top bit of that climb again, the second time I’ve had to on a long ride, bah). I rode steadily back to the finish with the other guy – he’d driven over from Sussex to ride this event, a long way! There was a really nice bit of heathland to ride over near Stroud (Rodborough Common), and then a gently rolling bit to the finish – I paced him home the last 10km and crossed the line in just over 6h10, a “gold” standard finish (the limit was set at 6h30).

I stopped for a re-fill of my bottles, bought an energy bar from the stall, and ate the free pasta and a cup of tea before heading back out for the ride home. Just as I was leaving, the Oxford Tri crew were queing up for their pasta, so I gave them my chocolate egg from the goodie back to take back to Oxford for me. A wind had got up, but it was mostly a crosswind so not too troubling for my tired legs. Rolled home just before 5pm, feet beginning to ache with “hot foot” and very tired.

The verdict
For £25 I got:
• A nice school as an HQ, plenty of toilets and refreshments
• Bike mechanic at the HQ
• Tea and toast for £1 (same as an audax!) + two free gels
• A small map, a number and a transponder for timing (but there was no compulsion to follow the correct route and the organisers certainly didn’t record whether you’d done the long or short rides. There were a couple of occasions where I could see a handy short cut on the screen of my GPS, missing out a hill or two. Unlike audaxes, where the route is only advisory but usually the shortest and you have to reach the far-distant controls anyway, this one twisted and turned quite a lot – there wasn’t even a timing mat at the feed stops, where I thought there would be)
• Completely signed route (although this has its downfalls, see detours above!), with Caution signs for hazards etc.
• Faster, younger, riding company (although not quite as skilled as a typical RR bunch) (some of the big groups did rather dominate the road though – much to the annoyance of other road users)
• Free drink/flapjacks/rolls/bananas/biscuits etc. at the feed stops
• Some motorcycle marshals + medical aid at the feeds
• Free tea + pasta at the finish + a goody bag
• Event photos:

  

On the whole not a bad experience, but when compared to a £5 audax not such good value, although if you’re audaxing all the responsibilty for not getting lost, repairing your broken bike, etc. etc. is entirely down to you. What not many people on these rides realise, I guess, is that with a little forethought you can plan for most eventualities and credit cards exist for those you can’t! You can ride right across the country if you wish rather than round in circles. I might be tempted again though, it did take a lot of the “what if” calculations out of the ride, I had some decent fast riding company for quite a bit of it, and I probably left the house with a smaller set of spares and less food in my back pocket than I’d normally do for a ride of this length. People seem to want everything “on a plate” for them these days (where the singular audax approach might seem daunting) and they are an excellent way of encouraging more people like this out training on their bikes – there’s a route and a “standard” time to beat and plenty of backup for the unprepared.

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