The Longest Day

After all the training for the Dallaglio Flintoff Cycle Slam, it was time to test myself in the Magnificat Cycle Sportive – riding 127 miles in one day – including 9 testing climbs. And the weather forecast for the Diamond Jubilee Sunday was …. absolutely dreadful.

I had taken part in this annual sportive event, starting from Newbury racecourse and covering a circular route across the South Downs, in the two previous years. The first time the 51 mile course, and then last year the 81 mile course – which was all part of my Half Ironman training. But never had I tackled the full 127 mile Magnificat version, which is a true test for any club cyclist.

In past years, the weather had played a major part in my recollections of the event. In 2010, the weather was dry and sunny, but last year a major Atlantic depression rolled in on the day, bringing an inch of rain and some stiff winds. A major challenge, which I have referenced in previous blog entries. However, the event organisers Ken and Barbara Robson, had made a generous donation towards my Cycle Slam fund raising, and so I had willingly agreed to make their 127 mile event, over this Bank Holiday weekend, the final part of my Slam cycling challenge.

I had two weeks to recover from the Slam itself and prepare for the Magnificat, and I was soon able to pick up the intensity of my training. Cycling in the warm weather we had a week ago definitely agreed with me, and I was looking forward to testing myself over the longest one day ride that I had ever undertaken. As the Bank Holiday weekend drew ever closer, then the weather forecast for the Sunday looked increasingly bleak. The river boat pageant in London was definitely going to be a water based event, as rain was forecast for the whole day. So I packed my wet weather riding gear, expecting the worst.

Alarm went off at 5.30am (just like in the Slam) and I picked up a fellow TVT cyclist Simon Fox an hour later for the drive down the M4 to Newbury. The racecourse was a hive of activity – for that early time on a Sunday – with cyclists getting ready for a long day’s ride. We also met up with another friend David Blundell who was training for his fourth attempt at completing the Tour d’Etape, which is the annual opportunity for club cyclists to ride a stage of the Tour de France.

Now the Magnificat route is broken down into three stages – each of circa 40 miles – following an anti-clockwise loop across the Berkshire/ Hampshire and Wiltshire countryside. Each stage had some testing climbs, the first one of which Walbury was shrouded in mist as I led a small group up the climb.

But the rain was getting lighter, and temperatures were rising as a result, which meant that it was soon time to remove the outer layer of clothing. The tempo of the ride with Simon was good, with the first stage completed in 2 ¾ hours. The second stage took us into the most southerly section, with the climbs of Old Winchester Hill and Stoner Hill.

By the afternoon the weather was steadily improving, so I even had the chnace to get my legs were out. Now the reference to legs is one that is particularly relevant to Simon. He was using the Mgnificat as a test event for a charity ride he is doing in August – Three Peaks Two Wheels – where he will be riding 200 km a day between Ben Nevis, Scarfell Pike, Snowdon and then home. His sports therapist has recently recommended a full leg shave, so that some supportive tape could be fixed to him whilst he was riding. Now that is a level of dedication well beyond anything I saw on the Slam. Lawrence and Freddie having their legs shaved so that they can ride a bike – I think not!

So 80 miles in and I was very pleased to get to the end of  Stage 2 feed station where the tea and cake was most welcome. And still a final stage of 46 miles and over 2,000 feet of climbing to go.  But apart from the odd stray shower, the weather was holding up, so with renewed spirits we pressed on.  One of the most interesting sights of the day was the way that some of the villages had been decorated. As part of the Jubilee celebrations, several Hampshire villages had covered the roadside with scarecrows, dressed up as topical characters. Along with bunting, this certainly made us feel like this was a special day for a ride, which again lifted the spirits as fatigue threatened to set-in.

With 18 miles to go, at the final drinks station, I stuffed some Jelly baby sweeties  into my cycling pockets ready for the final ups and down into Kingsclere and Ashford Hill. I was now back on more familiar roads which certainly helped me believe that the full distance was now truly within my grasp. After the final drag past Greenham Common, we began the last descent into Newbury – to cross the finish line some 9 hours and 40 miles after the start. And no punctures!  Excluding the stops, that equates to an average speed over 14 miles an hour. Perfectly respectable for us all – and well within the bronze level cutoff time. Job done.

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