Okay, so after a particularly stiff-legged jaunt home from Paddington at 1 a.m. (when the train conductor wishes you a "pleasant morning" as you arrive, you know it's late. Or you know it's early. Anyway, you know you're glad you paid for the first class train tickets and the free ginger snaps that come with them, even if the Bombay Mix was gone by the late train--kind of like the water at the last feed station)... uh, where was I? Oh yeah, anyway, here's some reflections on the Tour of Wessex:
Back in November or December, I hit the button that registered me for the Tour of Wessex (and secured me the rider number 222, which was a nicely divisible number for my Twin Six outfit of socks with 6 and jersey with 6, so thus, 6-6-6, and all the satanic implications that come with it (no, but I'm a friendly rider!); and by the way, if you think I look good in that jersey and sock combination, imagine if I had these bib shorts, and holy crap do yourself a favor and click the "snap" icons below the drawing; though my tattoo is different colors and on the other arm, you'll get the idea). Anyway, yes, I hit the registration button and immediately felt my stomach drop in terror. That terror subsided until about two days before the tour, when once again I thought, "What the hell have I gotten myself into?". Granted, Dr. Matt and I rode laps of Regent's Park (and got better and better) reasonably regularly through the winter, and especially in the last few weeks, and granted we did a few longish rides to prepare, but really, 3 days, 320 miles? Hmm...
The nerves only really settled after about 10 miles of riding, and probably only vanished for good that first day at the top of Cheddar Gorge, after which I thought, well, I got up that, so I guess I can get up everything else. But then on day two, we had to set off again, and the nerves only really vanished again about 10 miles in. The point is, I'd never ridden 100 miles before Saturday. Despite the derailleur problems of the first day, which left me riding about 70 miles of the route in the small front ring about which Jon finds it so delightful to insinuate--it turns out the cable that operates the front was fraying, and so causing the tension to fluctuate with each snap, which left the thing occasionally and unpredictably operable--it always felt as though the full round was achievable on day one. Alfred's Tower, with 25% grade, forced me to walk my bike about 15 yards or so (while talking to a guy whose chain had snapped, to his complete despair... I felt really bad for him, and felt like a bit of a wuss as I walked, and I now think that had I just dug a little deeper I could've ridden those handful of feet, but anyway, I'll continue this run-on sentence by noting that I did cycle the last really steep part, which must've been 25% or at least close, and I rode all the climbs on day two, and so but anyway there's a photo of me coming over the top at the end of this post; I was trying to smile; I was trying and trying and trying to smile; sorry, ma, that's all I got!).
So finishing 104 miles (according to my computer) on day one felt like a good accomplishment, as you can see from the photo of me preparing a recovery drink, and of Dr. Matt and I pulling ridiculous faces as soon as we'd jumped off the bikes. Here's a map of the route; unfortunately there's no linkable version of the course profile.
The legs felt reasonably good on the morning of day two--stiff, sure, but not too much pain, and we'd been assured that it was a longer ride (117 miles according to the information pack, 120 according to everybody on the course and also according to my computer) but that it was also less difficult in terms of climbing. This last point is a source of some contention if you ask the TroisV. There were difficult and longish climbs to Cerne Abbas and Milton Abbas, and there was the long and difficult--but fun--climb through the military firing range as we approached the sea... and then there was the appropriately-named Gallows Hill. This was the first climb after the second feed station, and arrived roughly 64 miles into the ride. The grade is only about 4% or 5%, which means you barely notice it visually, but the road was straight, and the road was gravel, and the road was heading straight into the teeth of the wind. When you're in a peloton of two, even tucking behind and shamelessly sucking the wheel of your buddy doesn't do a damn bit of good against the wind. We pedaled up this stupid piece of crap of a hill, which is apparently an area of special scientific interest, though for all the TroisV cares, it can be plowed under, at a really gruelling (grueling? really difficult and tiring) 11-12 mph; it was during this stretch that I began to doubt whether we'd make it. I could feel the sweep van breathing down our necks (it turned out to be a group of half a dozen riders that also included two members of our noted so-called rivals), and I began to really hate my existence, or at least my existence atop a bicycle.
We were so slow on the second day that the final feed station had run out of water, and only had a couple of bananas and some gross energy gels to offer. We rode the last 30 miles (which only featured a few short climbs) without water; we used energy gels and powerblocks to get us over the finishing line. I still doubted whether we'd make it as we rode back through RNAS Yeovilton, which we'd passed much much earlier in the day as we headed out, but somehow we survived the final few miles, and even passed one rider, though whatever small pride this may have caused is both selfish and dubious; he didn't know how far he had yet to ride, but we assured him it was only a couple more miles, and he seemed to appreciate our applause as he came over the finish line only a few minutes behind us. We passed an Australian woman who was waiting for the sweep van through this last stretch as well, and flattered ourselves with the thought that if an Aussie is dropping out, then it must be really tough. Here's a map of the second day's ride.
According to the Pendragon Sports website, there were 1036 riders registered for the Tour of Wessex. Some of these no doubt only signed up for day one, and some of those might've ridden the 76 mile route, or the 18 mile route. Anyway, based on the number of cars on the parking field the second day, there were probably around 600 or so who started the second day; not all of them finished, so although we were among the last, we're still pretty pleased with ourselves. Of that 600, 277 completed the three days. I've looked at the full results on the Pendragon website, but they don't include schmucks like us who didn't finish within the Gold, Silver or Bronze time limits.
During day two we approached an intersection with an A-road, after a fairly long roll on a narrow and winding country lane. As we watched cars zoom past in both directions, waiting for a clear road so we could cross, some kind of red/orange minivan came up behind us and immediately honked its horn; I turned and raised an upturned palm to ask, "what do you want me to do?" in a rhetorical kind of way, but was greeted by a wildly gesticulating driver, who then began to roll forward, and may well have honked his horn a second time (I can't vouch for the second horn; I just don't remember). Now, the parents among our faithful readership/fanbase may suggest that I lost the moral highground by raising a middle finger, and they may well be right; I was tired, I didn't appreciate being harassed by a driver who does not, in fact, have the right of way he seems to believe he has, while I'm trying to cross a busy road on which he cannot see the traffic due to his position among the trees and hedges; nonetheless, when, as the traffic breaks and the cyclists cross to the continuation of the lane, the driver aborts his left turn to follow the cyclists across, then cuts them off with the intention of having them hit his car, and jumps out to yell, "What do you think you're doing? I've got my kids in the fucking car!" (this is a direct quote), I think we all have to agree that the moral high ground has returned to the TroisV, or at the very least, it's evened out. Anyway, we escaped with nothing more than a show of bravado from this idiot, and some hectoring yelling from his wife. Seriously, though, people: cyclists aren't on the road to infringe upon your moral right to make a left turn, and they have just as much right to the road as you do. Most are polite, and will let you pass when it's safe; we spent a lot of the day waving for cars to pass, thanking them for waiting, etc., etc. Everybody stay calm and reasonable; you can gently press your foot down on the pedal and make up the time you've supposedly lost. Losing your rag in front of your kids in the f---ing car, who didn't see my (not, let's admit, unprovoked) rude gesture, which I supplied in American Slang Gesture (Jon has already explained that the bird is the word) and not the British Two Fingers for Victory and F--- You, does not really help your cause for parent of the year. It just makes you a douche. Yes, I'm childish.
Finally, thanks are due to various people:
--the mechanic who fixed my bike (while talking on the phone and handing out a spare tire to one guy, and a spare pedal to another, who was riding an orange Condor Fratello, and smiling and talking to me all the while; see the photo below).
--Daniel, Fiona, Abby and Dylan, for transportation, entertainment, house-breaking-inning, and that pepper cheese. May the force be with you.
--The guy in the orange jacket who chatted to me and shouted some encouragement as we reached the top of that first big climb on day two ("Dig deep! . . . Chicago is flat, isn't it?" is one of the better cheers one will ever hear).
--Jon, for his enthusiastic stewardship of the semi-live blog during the event.
Let's have a song. Take it, Barry!