Willy Warmer 200k audax

Having missed the Poor Student 200 a couple of weeks back due to the weather being wet and cold, I was hoping to ride my first 200k BRM qualifier for Paris-Brest-Paris. The day was likely to be icy and cold to start with so I deliberately left home for the drive to the HQ late (in an unpromising snow storm) and by the time I got to Chalfont St Peter the early bunches of riders were already heading out – there were over 170 starters this year.

The village car park was a bit of an ice rink, but once I’d checked in at the hall and collected my brevet I headed out at 8:45am and found the main roads to be passable. There were a few other riders faffing about at the hall while Paul was shutting up, so I was pleased to see I was not alone in opting for a late start.

Almost immediately I went wrong out of Chalfont St Peter. I’d loaded both a “normal”, and (new for this year), a “contrary” version of the route on my Garmin. Leaving the hall, with fat fingers I’d set the Garmin to follow the contrary route, oops. After a few km of dodging icy patches on back lanes I managed to cross back to the old A40 and on to the correct route, a couple of extra kilometres added. The snow shower I’d left in Oxford caught up with me on the descent into Marlow and beyond, leading to some rather picturesque, if wintery, scenes on the ride alongside the Thames. After Henley I missed out the section over the climbs to Pangbourne, fearing the ice we’d met there the last time I rode this event in 2011, and opted for the main road route through Reading. I was riding very steadily – fast enough to keep warm, not so fast as to build up a sweat – and quite enjoying being out on the bike.

As I rolled into the checkpoint at Pangbourne, I could see there were still quite a few riders about, tucking into a second breakfast. I didn’t wait long though – just enough time to get my proof-of-passage sticker and send a twitter update. After this stop I was catching and passing riders all day long, right up to about the last 50km where the field had thinned out. I bounced all the next controls, happy to soak up the views of the countryside, and only finally stopped for a break at Kingsclere (132km) where I grabbed a much needed sandwich and some more drink for my bottles. Andy Watt was here, doing the same, and we had a bit of a chat about the day’s ride so far. The sun was out although it was very cold as soon as you stopped. I passed a couple of gritting lorries in the last 2 hours.

For the final checkpoint at Winnersh I bought a chocolate bar from the local Sainsbury’s for the receipt, and then as I left I was overtaken by a group of three who’d just emerged from a café over the road. They were moving quickly but I never quite lost sight of them on some of the long straights. Darkness fell as we crossed the River Thames at Maidenhead and then after a bit of an uphill effort to get to the crossing of the M40 (I decided to go off-route for the final bit and take a cut through Welder’s Lane – mistake – this narrow lane was heavy with cars), I was dropping into Chalfont St Peter for the finish, 216km in 8h45.

A very steady ride for me, one of the slowest 200s I’ve ridden for a few years. It was nice just to be ticking the km off, not too worried about what time I might be finishing. Unfortunately I managed to strain a tendon in my right knee (the good one!) later in the evening – putting my slippers on, of all the things. A few easy days will have to follow until that’s better.