Thursday, 6 October 2016

So I Rode My First Sportive

It seems a rites of passage, after buying a road bike that you need to do a sportive. Not to prove your worth, more to allow your bike to do what it was designed to do. So with much trepidation from me, Rich and I represented Team Pannier in the 65 Roses Holme Moss Classic.

Handing over the £25 online was easy but what do you need to do next? What do we take with us, food, water, clothing? Normally we'd have our sturdy hybrids weighed down by panniers and so taking the items you need for one day required a different mindset. Information on their (and British Cycling's) web site were patchy to say the least. There would be refreshments and food but where and how much was not very clear. I remember reading Mark Cavendish saying he always took food along with him during races as then you wouldn't be relying on anyone else.

The weatherman wasn't much better, changing his/her mind daily as to whether we'd be having wind, cloud or rain. Normally on a long ride like this it would take us all day with our panniers and we'd be stripping off and redressing more often than a Spearmint Rhino employee. We wouldn't have that luxury this time, perhaps I could scrunch up a light jacket in to my saddle bag?

So come the day, with a bit more information, we were pretty sure there would be sunshine and there would be two food stops. Now all we had to do was ride 65 miles pretty much non stop. Something I'd not done before on my road bike and actually hadn't done on my hybrid without having at least a one long lunch stop.

Arriving at the start felt quite normal, not dissimilar to a half marathon start, registering and putting on a number, just it was the bike not me that wore the number.

Looking around at the other cyclists I could see some cycling club jerseys, some mates riding together and lots of bikes. Luckily my knowledge of bikes is limited and so I couldn't be put off by thinking everyone had a better bike, or vice versa, I wasn't worried people were viewing me as "all the gear no idea" mainly because I had no idea.

Last minute toilet stops done and I probably ate something before we headed over to the start. Original plans to have a mass start had been cancelled as they couldn't close the road to other traffic so we were let off in batches of what appeared to be anything from 20 to 50 riders at a time. Being at the back meant we had no idea what they were saying over the megaphone apart from "wave if you can hear this" which I duly regretted doing.

As we were let loose on the roads of South Yorkshire we found ourselves in a ground of maybe 40 riders, making our way out of Rotherham.  Riding in a group was great fun, we could pretend we were in a real peleton and to all intents and purposes we were and no one was going to tell me otherwise. It actually was quite easy and not much different from normal riding in our Team Pannier groups of 4-6. People seem to wave at the floor a fair bit (this was to point out pot holes / bad surface) and there was the odd loud shout "GLASS" - thanks for that in my ear Rich. My favourite though was a gesture to say this whole area of road is bad which generally looked like they were trying to waft away a bad smell they'd just dropped.

These kind of actions are normal to people who ride with cycling clubs. There was also shouts such as "car right" when going on to a roundabout or the "car up" / "car down" calls that confused me so much on previous Team Pannier rides. Still it was good to be riding as a group even if I did feel a fraud.

Driven on by the group we were doing a quick (for me) average speed and it felt good. We were ticking off the miles but surely this speed couldn't last. Suddenly we were an hour in and it didn't feel like we'd settled in to a rhythm. Still grouped together with a lot of other riders we hit a hill that turned out not to be just another blip but a steady continuous rise. This strung the field of riders out and settled everything down.

At this point we were holding our own and passing as many riders as those who were passing us. We'd settled in to a rhythm and now were starting to recognise who was riding at the same pace as us. A couple of guys with Digitec on their backs turned out to be boss and employee of Digitec and we yo-yo'd back and forwards passing each other periodically.

Just over 20 miles in we reached the first food stop in a pub car park and they'd kindly allowed riders to use the facilities there. I however was more interested in what refreshments were available. Luckily for me (and them if they didn't want a stroppy man in Lycra to deal with) the selection was fantastic. Cake, cake, CAKE! Victoria sponge, chocolate cake, Mr Kipling slices, oh it was good. Not quite the rocky road we'd been spoiled with on the C2C pointed out Rich but it didn't stop me filling my face. They was also some odd but much more sensible and healthy options. Plain rice cakes (pass), cooked potatoes in their skins (pass) and bananas (go on then). With topped up bottles and emptied bladders we cracked on probably no more than ten minutes after pulling in to the car park.

Off and across Ingbirchworth reservoir full of sugar it felt great. The weather was amazing. No need for the jacket that I left back at the car. We'd been blessed. Heading off at different times from others that had stopped we were suddenly riding with different people and chatting to one guy we nearly missed one of the not so obvious arrows marking the way. Turning just in time we headed on and across busy roads marshalled by volunteers.

Heading down towards Holmfirth we were now heading towards the big event, Holme Moss. Having ridden up it previously from the "easy side" with Team Pannier we were to attack it from the other side - the same way the Tour de France had! Weaving through Last of the Summer Wine country we seemed to be one of the few riders who stopped at traffic lights and believed in staying on the road.

I remember thinking when we previously came down from Holme Moss heading towards Huddersfield that the downhill went on and on. I wasn't wrong as we headed back the other way. Rich, having ridden it before had warned me that it started with a kick and it did as we began to climb out of Holme Bridge to Holme and saw The Moss.

Having been sad and looked up the Strava segment for the climb beforehand I knew from Streetview where the official start was. At that point I started to push on but could feel the 20+ miles we'd already covered in my legs. With an unusual sunny day it was warm from the get-go.

Rich stomped out a good tempo and as we hit the start of the segment we could see a spread out field ahead of us, most riders in single file, scattered ahead and behind. Slowly I started to pull a few people back, it was great to have people ahead to aim for. As I struggled to get in some of my lower gears (not my bottom one thankfully) a couple of riders passed me, reminding me there were certainly people out there moving quicker than me. (My local bike service in Bristol guy has sorted my gears out for me now).

The climb is certainly not hidden and you can see what is ahead of you most of the time. Whether that's good or bad I'm not sure. It does however let you pace yourself and with quarter mile markers all the way up you could really judge your effort. With a quarter of a mile to go I upped my pace all I could and crossed the line giving all my energy.

Pulling over by the ambulance I was greeted by a friendly paramedic who offered me some very nice flapjack. Muching on that and grabbing a photo at the summit with Rich I turned to see if there was any more on offer. There wasn't and I wasn't keen on the banana alternative offered. Seeing my disappointment another lady from within the ambulance shouted out she had a Toffee Crisp - JACKPOT!

With that in my mouth we headed down the other side and how anyone can describe that as easy must be mad. I suddenly had flashbacks to blowing up attempting to climb it last time. Wow it was steep in sections.

On to the flat we had a quick stop to literally stretch our legs and then we were back on the main road and it felt like we were flying along. Dropping down hill, using each other's slipstream we were soon at the Flouch Inn. The next pit stop and a chance to thank the ambulance team for my Toffee Crisp! Wow they got there quick. They must have had one too.

On from there we were surely on the home straight. Soon we were off the main road, taking a right up a short climb instead of following it around to the left. Riding on from there we followed the road round to the right and down a great section of downhill. Down to a junction. With no arrows pointing the way. Ah!

This was not good, Rich consulted the route on his phone. A car stopped to give us directions "where are you heading to?" well we could tell him where we were heading but could he tell us the 65 Mile Roses route? We had no choice but to turn around and head back up the steep hill we'd just come down. These were extra miles and vertical feet we could do with out. As we pounded away at the pedals another cyclist whizzed pass us, no race number on the front but as I turned to watch him pass his number was on the rear of his seat. I called out to say it was the wrong way but I don't think he registered in time.

Arriving at the turning we didn't quite realise we'd missed it right at the start of the decent. Every inch of downhill had been retraced. We were now tired. Our pace had dropped as we felt the effects of the forty miles we'd already covered. We tried to take in the scenery and enjoy the setting. But when you're tired none of those things register, not even the nice weather. We just wanted to finish it now.

I took another energy gel, one last shot at getting some sort of pace going again. Whether it was that or the feeling of closing in on our goal but I started to get some energy back as we hit the outskirts of civilisation. We were no longer out in the sticks, we were riding in residential and industrial areas and it felt like we were either in Rotherham or close.

Stopping at two sets of traffic lights we were now a four, catching one rider in front, one catching us from behind. As a four we made our way through junctions, spotting arrows leading us back to base. We started to get a bit of a lick on, the old guy (not Rich!) complaining we were making him work to stay on. All in jest but it was a sign of how much the two of us had upped the tempo knowing we were not far away now.

Coming in to the home stretch we got a mini round of applause from the volunteers checking people back in which was much appreciated. "Are there many people still out there?" I asked breathlessly. "Not many" she said. "Oh" I said, a bit disappointed that our efforts hadn't left more behind.

Looking back it was a great experience, very tiring and, while a different kind of exertion, it was comparable to a half marathon. A great achievement and something I'd like to do again. As Rich commented, it put in to perspective our normal Team Pannier rides. Usually we do that kind of distance carrying our own clothes and supplies. Admittedly over a longer period of time but wow we've done some good rides.