A lot of effort for small reward


Looking more like an off road ride than an all on-road sportive

Sunday was my last Sportive of the year – the Cotswold Autumn Classic with a distance of 164 km and 2005 metres of climbing (102 miles and 6580 feet) … but it didn’t quite work out like that.

I’d not ridden for a week before the Sportive – I decided to pretend this laziness was ‘tapering’ but I was in slightly apprehensive mode meeting up with the other 4 from the club who were riding. Three of us were planning to do the longer route and the other two, the 102 km (64 mile) medium-distance.

We started about 8.15am and I was enjoying it immediately, even though it was a bit cool and there was rain in the air (which appeared a couple of times through the morning). For the first hour David, Alun and I were riding together, which made sense as we were all heading for the long route, but then David, who had been chatting with one of our other riders, fell behind on a long climb. Eventually we realized we’d lost him, but assumed that he’d hung back to accompany the others.

Alun and I carried on and decided to miss the first feed stop as we were both feeling good. We did a very comfortable 28kph average for the first 2 hours on some fairly lumpy terrain and when we got to the point where the medium and long route split we decided to carry on, as planned, to do the 102 miler (a bad idea).

Unfortunately, by the time we got 3 hours in Alun was starting to suffer a bit. He’s a very decent chap and a better rider than me, but he’d done the 40 mile club ride the previous day (chapeau, Alun) and either that was starting to count against him or he was getting his nutrition a little wrong (or both).

At the 90 km point I’d pulled ahead a bit but my Garmin hadn’t been giving me turn-by-turn directions and my cycling glasses were both covered in rain and steamed up so I was riding almost blind. Despite that, I had a definite feeling that I’d missed a turn somewhere. I rode back and met up with Alun who thought we were still on the right road, so we carried on.

The lack of route markers and the fact that we were on a fairly main road soon told us that we had indeed gone wrong. In fact, we had both missed a right hand turn to Longborough (home of an excellent 2 month opera season in the summer) – strange that either of us missed it, let alone both, separately, missing it.

We decided to continue and, soon, the proper route crossed ours near Broadway – I spotted the route markers to our left so we rejoined. What eventually became clear, however, was that the few miles that we’d missed contained a timed climb so, having flunked that, we would not be able to record a time for the long route. We’d also missed the second feed stop – I didn’t need it but it would have helped Alun, I’m sure.

With Alun not feeling great, we decided to see if we could head back to the start by a slightly shorter route so we struck out on our own and eventually rejoined the proper course (thanks to Alun’s eagle eyes) having shaved off another few miles. I was feeling really strong but we stuck together and I hope I had some small hand in helping him get to the finish in good shape.

At the end of the ride we had earned ourselves Bronze awards for the medium route. Of course, the organisers could do nothing else, but our relatively slow time for the 102 km (64 miles) route is not much of a surprise given that we had actually completed 145 km (90 miles) with an additional 750 m (nearly 2500 feet) of climbing compared to the medium route! At least I had a fairly decent time (8m 23s – top 40 out of about 350?) for the really tough Chedworth timed climb.

It is a genuinely hard, well organized sportive – hilly and on some small country roads that were wet, covered in leaves and muddy (some of my kit is in the machine for a second wash as I write). At the end we looked like we’d been doing an off-road ride and at various points I’d been unable to stand on the hills because that merely meant I was spinning the rear wheel.

So, it was a strange day of mixed emotions. I’m disappointed not to have completed the proper course but very satisfied that I was riding so strongly and happy that Alun and I completed the day together. David completed the (whole, proper) route with a silver award, so ‘chapeau’ David!

Nutrition on the bike is a strange thing. I had some cereal bars and a chocolate bar before we started but for the 90 miles of riding I then had less than one bidon of water, two salty peanut bars, one gel and a banana. I felt good and strong through to the end – I don’t understand how that can be as it’s way short of what I should need, based on all I’ve read about fuelling strategies.

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