Silver bullets vs blood, sweat and tears


Looking down from White Horse Hill, Uffington. This is the last of the four White Horses on the WHC – a testing 1km at 9% after 136km

While I’ve been off the bike I’ve signed up for the White Horse Challenge on 22nd April. It’s billed as a 90 mile route (145km) with 1400m of climbing (although last year I recorded it as 1862m – 6100ft).

This is my 8th successive entry, with 6 attempts completed out of the 7 so far – with one missed due to a bereavement. The first time I rode it I took just over 6 hours – I’ve got faster in each of the following years (but one) and in 2017 managed a p.b. of 5hr 5min.

That was well inside the ‘gold standard’ time for the 40-49 age group (I was 61 at the time) but the aim is sub 5 hours. It needs less than a 2% improvement …. but I’m struggling to see how I can get there.

I don’t seem to drink much while on the bike (in normal April weather one bottle gets me round comfortably, although that’s a fifth of what conventional wisdom would suggest) and I carry some food with me.  That means I haven’t stopped at either of the food stops for the last 4 times I’ve ridden the event. That suggests there’s no saving to be made here, unless, with a bit of lateral thinking, I would actually be faster if I did stop to drink and eat more, even if I didn’t feel hungry or thirsty – does that make sense?

Clearly, I need to get into one or more good groups to share the effort. That’s worked on and off in the past but the groups tend to blow apart on the bigger hills and often break up at the food stops. I worked really hard to catch a group this year, only for it to pull off into the first food stop half a mile later.

I think 17 members of my club have entered but I guess only two others, at most, might have a go to break the 5 hour barrier – not enough for our own group alone. As far as I can see, the presence or absence of a good group is largely a matter of chance – I can be on the lookout for them and be ready to react (if I can) but beyond that there’s a limited amount I can do in this respect.

My bike weighs about 7.3kg and I’m too mean (or sensible) to want to invest enough to bring that down much further. As I remember, I was probably about 67kg for this year’s WHC so I should be able to improve that a bit, but it won’t be enough.

Aero wheels might help but also might lose something on the hills in comparison with my current lightweight wheels. The tri-bars will help if I find myself riding alone, but not much if I get into any groups for any length of time and they won’t help with the climbing.

What does that leave? Sadly, it just leaves training more and training better.

This year I did quite a few hill reps early on, in preparation for the ‘everesting’ in July. I’m sure that helped but I’m equally sure I missed out on the essential longer rides. By the time the WHC came around I’d done only 4 rides over 50km, and only one of those was over 100km (63 miles) – that can’t be anywhere near enough for a 90 mile (145km) sportive.

Reluctantly, I have to conclude that I’ve already taken the quick wins and there is no silver bullet. If I’m going to get under 5 hours I simply need to man up and become a better cyclist – and that’s going to take hard work and time on the bike.


Happy Christmas, wherever you may be.

4 thoughts on “Silver bullets vs blood, sweat and tears

  1. bgddyjim

    Okay, I can offer some tips that you didn’t touch on.

    1. You and your two buddies who will go for a sub-five, leave right on time or a little early. Latch on to any decent pace lines that pass you at a reasonable pace. This is the best strategy.

    2. Brother, rest stop time doesn’t count. It only counts when you have team cars to feed and water you. Stop with the group, catch your breath, stretch your legs, etc.

    3. Ride hard, man. That’s a lot of elevation to pull five hours in 90 miles. I’ve done it, but I’m a young man in Lycra!


    1. The Omil Post author

      Thank you very much, I appreciate your time and advice.
      1 It’s a ‘start any time between 8 and 9’ so getting off early is a great idea to catch the faster groups, whenever they leave.
      2 Sadly, the official time-clock carries on running until you finish, so it’s an elapsed 5 hours I’m aiming for, not 5 hours riding time.
      3 There’s no escaping this one! This year I think I faded a bit in the last 20 miles (not bonking, just tiring) so I think the distance training might be the answer to being able to ride hard for longer.
      It’s tough – but good to have something specific to aim for.
      Happy Christmas to you and yours, and all the best for 2018.



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