Beast from the East 600k

So, a week after a sprint triathlon, my packed May/June schedule continues with my last Paris-Brest-Paris qualifier, the +600km Beast from the East. This event is only run once every four years, to coincide with PBP qualifying, and as I hadn’t ridden it before and it seemed like a nice route I thought I’d give it a go. It was also one of the first 600s in the 2015 calendar so riding it would mean finishing my qualifying nice and early and getting my entry completed for PBP itself in good time.

It’s a nice route, east out of Hertfordshire and across Oxfordshire, through the Salisbury Plain and down to the far turn at Taunton services on the M5. It then runs back across Wiltshire, along the A30 to Salisbury before turning back north to Maidenhead and beyond. We had a lovely hot day for the Saturday, and riding out of Waltham Abbey I was soon in familiar company. Through the first control our group split and re-formed, and knowing that I had the VTTA 10 championships the week after I wasn’t keen to push on, taking an easier route if it was there, although this got me slightly unstuck past Hungerford as my Garmin didn’t alert me to a left-hand turn and 30 minutes later I realised I was well off-course, in Pusey. I stopped at the local Post Office to see if I could get directions back on track and a woman there dug a road atlas out of the boot of her car to help me. So much for modern technology.

In the run across Salisbury Plain I got back together with the others – Anton “Spurious Vitriol” Blackie (an old friend from Oxford, since moved away), Nick “Flatlander” Jackson, Rimas “ZigZag” Grigenas and Mike Henley and we controlled together at a petrol station on the way into Warminster, glad to get out of the unaccustomed sunshine in the shade of the forecourt. I left first here, but the others didn’t take long to catch me and we rode to Taunton Services together, via the route of the Tour of Wessex sportif, packed with riders, and then later a swarm of bees (I got stung on the leg, ouch). There were also runners/walkers coming towards us along here, on a multi-day armed forces charity ultramarathon (http://www.forcesmarch.org.uk/).

Up to this point we’d had a gentle tailwind but we all noticed as we cruised to a halt in the M5 services that the wind was turning to give us a slight tailwind home. Result! After a snack and a chat, I headed out with ZigZag, up a particularly long and hard climb – tough on the legs after +300km. My Garmin was still playing up a bit with the navigation, but we soon found our way down to the main road descent, swooping along at 60km/h. It didn’t take us long to get to Yeovil and it was still relatively early in the evening. Quite a few of the later riders would be sleeping here but we were just stopping for some hot food and a few cups of tea. Anton, Mike and Nick caught up with us here but Anton and I left before them to tackle the rollercoaster A30 back to Middle Wallop via Salisbury, a long stage. Anton was going well, and I left him to get on up the road, his blinking red light disappearing in the gloom.

Around Salisbury the temperature dropped and a light drizzle started to fall, although it never amounted to much. I got to the Middle Wallop control (a tented affair, just off the car park) around midnight, stopping for hot soup and a top up of my bottles, still feeling pretty good. Phil Magnus was helping here – I’d read his account of the 2011 edition of this ride only the night before. Anton arrived a few minutes after me having stopped at a garage in Shaftesbury for a top up of his bottles.  He was going to stop for a kip here but I headed back out into the gloom. I could feel my left achilles tendon was a little sore – something that was only going to get worse in the cold night air. I should’ve worn longer socks to insulate it, not something you think about when a sunny day is forecast. That was a bit of an error which would bounce back to bite me in the weeks afterwards.

I enjoyed the night riding. It was cool, but I had a gilet to keep me warm. There were some nice quiet villages to ride through, but not much wildlife. I could see the streetlights of Reading, Newbury and Maidenhead glowing in the distance and after a quick stop at the Winnersh Sainsburys to grab an ATM receipt as proof-of-passage, I was on to the stretch to Beaconsfield services, a little light coming into the sky.

My gears were acting up a bit – slipping when I stood up on the pedals – but at Beaconsfield I gave them a good look under the lights of the garage forecourt and couldn’t see anything amiss. I clearly didn’t look hard enough because at the top of a long climb somewhere near Chalfont St Giles about 10km further on my chain snapped! I’d nearly gone over the handlebars and it took me a second to collect myself – was my qualifier about to end 60km from the finish? What was I doing next weekend, could I ride another one? Don’t panic.

Fortunately my multitool has a primitive chain tool on it, which I’d never used (I also had a spare “quick link”, although I wouldn’t like to try and fit it). After a bit of brute force I managed to shorten the chain by one link and re-join it, although it wasn’t a very good repair and after another 10km I stopped again at a convenient bus stop to take out another link and get a better looking join. Despite cleaning my hands with grass they were really oily now so I rode without gloves.

I didn’t really trust this repair, so for the rest of the ride I left the front derailleur alone, chain in the small chainring, and just changed gear with the rear gears. It was a bit slower, but I got back to Waltham Abbey OK where I collected another ATM receipt just before 8am and back to my car for a couple of hours kip before checking in at the organiser’s house. I had a quick wash of my oily hands and then a drive home, my 600km qualifier in the bag.

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