Today was the third weekly instalment of my sportive Cycle Slam training – and we had the 3 Hs – all the best hills in the Chilterns; some very minor country lanes with plenty of pot holes; and then 10 minutes from home, an almighty hail storm!
The day had dawned bright and clear, with a generic forecast of April showers at some point during the day. The ride of 10 miles to the sportive start point at Shiplake College, well organised as ever by F3 events, showed me that the temperature was okay to ride in two cycling layers (rather than usual winter three). I was keen to show off my new Dallaglio Flintoff cycling gear, just like Lawrence, which turns me into a moving advertising hoarding for all the relevant sponsors and the charities who will benefit.
The sportive route today was 62 miles which took us from the Thames riverside north into the Chilterns. It wasn’t called the Dipper for nothing – including 9 significant climbs, a couple of which required out of saddle pedalling exertion.
What was also a potential hazard was that there were actually two other organised bike rides taking place in the same area today – but luckily our pink F3 event signs were different from the other orange and yellow ones! So no-one got lost.
I had four TVT triathletes for company throughout the ride – all using the event as part of Half Ironman training in a couple of months time – Tony, Wayne, Karen and Caroline. After the first feedstation, and with the climbs warming our core body temperature nicely, Caroline removed her outer layer to reveal a yellow coloured top. And a maillot jaune it certainly was, as she was first to the top of all of our significant climbs. En route we came across several others TVTers training for different events – Steve and Hannah (for a Lands End – John O’Groats ride); Penny (for the Switzerland 70.3) and Julian (for a long weekend of Alps riding). So lots of different reasons to be getting miles in the legs.
Having mastered the major climbs, on the return leg our route took us on to what were basically farm tracks. Now the combination of recent heavy rain and the adjacent farmland turned these roads into an obstacle course – avoiding gravel, mud and some of Berkshires finest pot holes! Luckily no one punctured, which was a real blessing.
So after 4 and a quarter hours of riding time, we returned to Shiplake College, with the grounds looking lovely in the spring sunshine. I must admit that I was beginning to run on empty at this stage, having not topped up enough fluids at the second feedstation. A useful lesson to learn though, with longer rides (in hopefully hotter conditions) to come next month. So a cheese sandwich, slice of cake and a cup of tea was the order of the day to begin the refuelling process.
That just left the 10 mile route back home – retracing my steps across the river. My fatal error, it transpired, was sending a text message home at the end of the sportive commenting how lovely and sunny it was. Next I find myself cycling through Woodley, (78 miles down, 4 miles to go) when I first noticed the roads were damp. Passing Dinton Pastures (80 miles down, 2 miles to go), the sky had darkened, the wind was swirling and “CRACK” – thunder, lightning and the most enormous hail-stones started falling from the sky. Onto the Reading Road (81 miles down, 1 mile to go), and the road surface was struggling to cope with the deluge of rain. But 5 minutes later, and I was home, forcing myself to disrobe on the front door mat so that I didn’t walk my soggy footprints into the house.
Following a nice hot shower, dry clothes and some warm food, I checked my twitter account to see the photos of the Cycle Slammers who flew out to Greece yesterday in readiness for stage 1 that starts tomorrow. The weather looks much drier and warmer there!