This weekend saw me finally cross the 400km mark. I’ve come tantalisingly close previously, but could never bring myself to bother piling on the distance unnecessarily. Quite a relief to have it out of the way, considering this will be my target distance most days of the TCR.
As usual, the plan was to keep it relatively steady, make it around without digging too deep and leave enough in my legs for the following day. The plan was slightly ruined, however, by my knackered powermeter (/random number generator)… I’ve no idea how accurate the numbers are, but my HR data suggests I went very slightly harder than intended. On the plus side, mid-ride, I found out why the PM is misbehaving… when my chainrings nearly fell off coming round a corner! Seems I was in too much of a hurry changing my rings after the last TT and must have left the bolts loose enough that they’ve slowly shaken loose.
Alice had a race in Bedford, so we booked a Travelodge in Hemel Hempstead and I had the luxury of a lie in and getting to the start with less miles than usual in my legs. I arrived with time to say hi to some Wheelers, bump into Paul and re-read the route sheet to check the controls (and warm back up after my utterly freezing ride over). Always nice to see Javier at the start and I need to make a point of slowing down some time to have a proper ride and chat with him!
I set off with a bit of a gap on the main group, hoping to sit off the front and get valuable experience riding 400km solo. However, I soon spotted a few riders quickly approaching over my shoulder, so slowed a touch while they caught up. Jasmijn pulled alongside for a chat and a couple of others tucked behind… by the time I had a chance to chat to the guys behind, there was just the one – who it turns out had missed out on the TCR and was now riding the Wild Atlantic Way. Seems just about everyone at these things either has, is or wanted to ride the TCR!
We made good time to the first control, briefly said hi to Paul as he was arriving and we were leaving and the lumpy terrain quickly whittled the group down to two – me and Jasmijn. As the hills grew gradually longer and steeper, gaps started opening and Jasmijn waved me on to head off alone… only for me to get caught at lights almost immediately, bringing everything back together.
I’d gained a couple of minutes by Tewkesbury, but Jasmijn caught up while I was looking for a lunch stop and we decided to raid a One Stop to keep the stopping time lean. I’d missed a call from my sister a while back, so let Jasmijn head in first while I returned the call… and found out my sister had just gotten engaged! She was over the moon and amusingly was on her way to Gloucestershire for a spa weekend with her fiancé, so a bit bemused to find out I was already nearby.
After the second stop, the terrain levelled off somewhat and we made good time to Symonds Yat. The steep climb once again saw a small gap open up, but with the extra weight on my bike and the extreme gradient, I was pretty happy to back off a notch and give Jasmijn time to catch up – she seemed content letting me sit on the front and a bit of company helps ease the miles (also helpful to have someone else keeping an eye on directions!).
On the way into Chepstow, we caught a brief rain, hail and sleet storm and foolishly thought that was probably our bad weather for the day. The sun quickly resumed shining and we had a luxurious extended break behind a Tesco petrol station before heading off for the Severn Bridge (where I quickly abandoned the road in favour of the bike paths… it really is taking a long time for my nerve to come back around heavy traffic).
Once back in England, the warning signs of wet roads and cars with their lights on started appearing. I told Jasmijn now much I hate riding in rain and she told me she’d take rain rather than hills any day… so of course it started pissing down and the road got lumpy. It wasn’t completely horrific, but certainly enough to really dampen my mood (and utterly soak my shoes… I HATE soaking wet shoes, particularly when I’m planning to ride the following day). By this point I pretty much just wanted the ride to be over and my motivation crumbled away.
When the rain had finally stopped and we’d reached the final checkpoint, we considered bombing back via the A road route, but decided the traffic would probably still be a bit heavy and committed to following the back roads. At the time this felt like a fairly tough decision, but in retrospect the lumpy route was great fun and the A roads would have been an awful way to finish such a scenic ride. It got pretty dark and cold toward the end and my knees started complaining, but we made it back for about 10.10 (10.20 by the time we got receipts), so really can’t be too unhappy with that!
To further enhance the TCR training value, I then decided to bivvy outside the community centre until the organiser arrived at midnight… it seemed easier than trying to keep my bike in sight while sitting in a pub and I haven’t yet tried the bag and silk liner. I don’t expect temperatures to be quite that cold on the TCR, but I’m seriously considering taking a foil blanket based on how cold I got. Even sleeping in the hall later that night wasn’t particularly pleasant!
This is also the first time I’ve stuck around after the event and I really enjoyed seeing everyone come back in. Paul made great time, as usual, and Javier and the Wheelers weren’t too far behind. I was a little surprised, however, to see riders still arriving at 8.30am as I was leaving the hall! Must have been a cold, lonely ride through the night!
I had planned to cycle 180km up to Alice’s race on the Sunday, but my battery let me down. I think the cold weather caused it to discharge faster than usual and I was only able to put enough juice into my phone to find my way to a nearby train station to get home (and the Garmin had maybe 10% left). Off the back of this, I’ve ordered the dynamo wheel I’ve been eyeing up. I probably could have found my way to Bedford (and despite being more sore than anticipated from riding a bit too hard, I was still riding fine), but I can’t risk a similar issue on the TCR… if the battery drains rapidly in the alps, I don’t want to be fiddling around with paper maps or waiting for hours in cafes and petrol stations for it to recharge.
I’ve been working on getting my stopping time down on rides like this and am pretty happy with the quick stops Jasmijn and I managed to take. I reckon we could have been even leaner on stopping time, but keeping my TCR hat on, there’s no point pushing to extremes that you can’t replicate several days in a row. 15 hours moving and 17 elapsed should leave plenty of time for sleep and slower days in the mountains. I’m tempted to compare my draft route with service station locations in advance to help ensure there’s a suitable 10-15 minute stop every 100km or so (and perhaps remove some of the towns too…)