Sunday, 19 May 2013
Today was my first Sportive. And what a fantastic ride it was. A sportive is not a race but entrants’ times are recorded and riders are given their finishing position. In some sportives, you do need to finish within a certain time to avoid being disqualified. There weren’t any stipulations like this in the Wiggle Essex Explorer but entrants did need to cross the finish line before it closed at 6pm. With a start time between 9am – 10am, anyone who was going to finish would have by then.
But there were standards that riders could aim for. I had entered for the 74 mile ride and the standards were:
- Gold < 4 hrs, 22 mins
- Silver < 4 hrs, 57 mins
- Bronze < 5 hrs, 41 mins
Now, I haven’t done that many 70 plus mile rides and those that I have done would not have been fast enough to qualify for any of the above standards. So I thought that I would give it a shot and go for the bronze standard. I set up the GPX file on my Garmin Edge for the route with an average speed of 13.9 mph which should have got me round within the time required.
And so the day arrived and I was waiting excitedly at the start line. Someone from High 5 was handing out energy gels and I wondered how I would get on without them. Since being diagnosed with Type II Diabetes in January, I have cut my sugar intake to zero. This includes no energy drinks, bars or gels. Instead I use diluted fruit juice. For today’s ride though I was taking zero sugar body salt replacements in my water bottle and dried fruit plus ham in granary rolls as my snack food of choice!
There was a bit of a wait on what was a chilly Sunday morning. Looking around, there was the usual great mixture of machinery and club cycling kit. What was missing though was the assortment of mountain bikes and fun riders that I would normally see on a charity ride. This did bring home that, although it wasn’t a race, it was something to take a little more seriously.
Following a final safety briefing, we were off. And man, were there some good riders! It wasn’t long before I had been passed by a fair number of them. And that set the pattern for the day I am afraid. Still, I did pass one other person and didn’t finish last, but will come back to that.
The course design was absolutely brilliant and one of the best I have done. During the latter stages, we udisappeared off country lanes that were little more than tarmacked farm tracks. Although there weren’t any cobbles, it didn’t seem to be a far cry from Spring Classics. Well, that’s how it felt anyway. And the food stations were well stocked with the basic energy essentials like bananas and, despite my sugar ban, I did have a couple of slices of malt loaf. Couldn’t have done any harm with the calories I got through – all 4,865 of them.
There is though, no getting away from it, Essex is fairly flat when compared with other parts of the country. But there were still some challenging hills, including one I normally have a lot of fun going down. It was a different story climbing it though. Overall we climbed nearly 1,000 meters, with the longest climb being 106m. No Mont Vonteux but it still took some grunting and groaning to get to the top.
I went through the usual despondency when kept being passed, then through the ‘what am I going to do if I can’t finish’ when I had 25 miles to go but then realized that it was 35 mile. And then the loneliness at about 50 miles, when I didn’t see another soul for ages. If it wasn’t for the excellent sign posting I might have started to wonder if I had gone off course and got lost.
At about 10 miles from the finish, someone did pull up alongside and we had a good chat. This also helped me maintain my average up a climb near the end. His friend did though get left behind.
It was about this time that I began to feel hopeful that I might finish in under my target time of 5 hours 41. Although I felt that I was now on my limit, it spurred me on to dig deeper and find that energy reserve buried deep down. There was quite a steep climb before the finish and as I pushed on up it, the nagging doubts crept in that I wouldn’t make it. Finally at the top, it was then a downhill to the finish. As I pushed on, the virtual partner on my Garmin said that time was up and I wasn’t going to make it. “Well”, I thought, “If I am not going to come in under time then I am going to get as damn close to it as I can” and pushed on even harder. I’ll say I sprinted to the line but that might be overstating it a little!
Feeling at the point of collapse, I check my time and was overwhelmed to see that I had finished in 5 hrs 36 mins elapsed time (not taking into account any time for stops). So that was three new PBs for me:
- The furthest I have ever ridden (77.6m)
- My fastest average time over a distance greater than 70 miles (14.6 mph)
- The highest I have climbed in a single ride (983m)