Last weekend, I rode in the New Forest Sportive. This is road bike event. I have done this event several times and I really like it. This time was the first time in about three years though, partly because I got a bit bored of it, partly because I got very bored with training for them, and also because the venues they use have got worse over the years. This year, encouraged by a friend who had just taken up road cycling, I entered the moderate length race – 66 miles. That’s too far for me, really.
My training was not ideal. I don’t like riding in cold, windy and wet weather and default to a run or the gym. It’s been a while since I rode over 60 miles and although this course is fairly mild, it does have some testing bits, one quite hard climb – and it’s a long way, so you have to keep pedalling for several hours. Or at least I do. Because I had no training run that was over 50 miles and I needed to drag out a 66 miler preferably without getting all knackered and messy, I worked on the basis of it taking us about 5 hours. You have to stop, eat, drink, have a wee, get your sorry arse off the knife-like saddle, un-knot your knotted shoulders, triceps and biceps etc. I also do much better in the mornings so I calculated a 9.00 am departure thus getting back to the venue at about 2.00, maybe 2.30 pm.
And it was a new venue so I thought it might be better and more cheerful than the last place which looked like a set for filming a 1970s gritty UK police drama – think abandoned banger-racing murder scene. Or the one before that, which was very pretty but terribly prone to flooding/trapping cars on the mud-plains if it rained. And it rained.
This new venue is really attractive, with a pile of stately home, park-lands and sweeping drives. Not that you get anywhere near the stately home. But, the little tracks and limited pathways cause the venue to clog up completely when you add in (estimated) 2 or 2.5k cyclists and their cars. So, we left home at 6.15 am, arrived at the venue at 8.05 am, as instructed (Do Not Arrive Before 8!). Then we queued to park for about 20 minutes, then we trailed all over the field to the porta-loos (vile, no paper at all, all day), then seeing how far the registration area was, we decided to ready the bikes and take them with us to register which we don’t usually. This all took another 30 minutes or so, which is pretty standard for a big event. I would have been happy to start the ride before 9, which is what I had planned.
However, there was now a massive queue for the starting line. Groups of cyclists are released across the start in order to have an orderly and safe exit from the venue. It is usual to have a little wait. But this was well over an hour of slowly shuffling up the paths, making agonisingly slow progress towards the gate. Luckily it was sunny and warm. So you know, pretty good natured.
Behind us in the queue was a couple who struck up a conversation with a lone-cyclist just beside them. Maybe it was being forced to listen to this for AN HOUR that made me a bit ragey. What I don’t know about Rex and Sonia’s cycling, kids, holidays, breakfast choices, pet-names for each other/the kids, really isn’t worth knowing.
In summary, Rex and Sonia live in another bit of Hampshire with Maximilian (or Max-Bunny as his mummy calls him) and Frederick (yep. Freddie-Bunny). These probably adorable boys are old enough to be left at home and fend for themselves, so I am just guessing that they are early to mid-teens with Max-Bunny being the youngest, as he was up and about, ready to answer his mother’s ‘phone call, which went roughly like this:
Sonia (to Rex and Random Lone Cyclist/the entire queue): I’m going to give Max a call. This is ridiculous, we’ve been in this queue for ages and we will be here for an hour longer so we will be very late. I need to let them know.
Rex: it’s too early.
Sonia: mmm, maybe you’re right.
A pause of possibly 2 minutes.
Sonia (on her mobile ‘phone): Oh! hello Max-Bunny! It’s mummy! … yes I thought you might be up … yes I thought Freddie-Bunny would still be asleep! (adorable laughter, like gently babbling brooks) … anyway, look darling, it’s taking for EVAH to get off on this race so we will be at least an hour later back than I said … I don’t know exactly… What? No! goodness me, it certainly had better NOT take us 4 or 5 hours to get round! I jolly well hope we can do better than that…(darling rippling laughter, like gently blowing breezes).
(Mark and I exchange bitter glances. I know he is willing me, with all his might, not to turn round and kick off. I heed his silent plea and stare fixedly at the almost see-through lycra clad, straining arse of the cyclist in front of me)…
(Sonia resumes)…have you had brekkers? … Oh! Darling! I am sorry I am not there to make your muffins! … yes … blah, blah, some more stuff about muffins and alternative breakfast options, the dog and Granny…(rings off).
Sonia (pointlessly, as we all got the gist): relays all the above to Rex and Random Lone Cyclist.
In the meantime I text Lily and say: such a long sodding queue, will be ages, probs an hour or so later than planned, FML x
Random Lone Cyclist: so…have you done a Sportive before?
Sonia: No! and it looks like we won’t be doing another one if this is anything to go by! (girlish tinkling giggle, like trilling larks).
Random Lone Cyclist (despite me willing him to shut up and stop feeding her): what distance are you doing?
Sonia: the 66 miles. Didn’t want to go for the longer one just yet. Actually, this is really a warm up event for us – part of our training.
RLC (like he had read the script, bless him, personally I’d have walked off, forfeited my place in the now half-mile long queue and joined the back of it): Oh?
(Mark actually smacked his own forehead with his fist at this point).
Sonia: yes! We are cycling in the Italian Dolomites next month, and (heavy sarcasm) I hear it’s a *BIT* *HILLY*! (low, adorable and self-depreciating laugh like someone gently riffling a pack of cards).
Sonia: yes! And I only dragged my old road bike out last month! it’s been ages since we did any serious cycling, isn’t it (Rex)?
(At this point I have to summon all my inconsiderable will power not to turn round and look at her ‘old road bike’ which I am sure is a £4k full carbon limited edition brand spanking new bike, probably red…but I will never know as for once, will power prevailed).
Sonia: But it’s all going very well so we thought we’d try this one as it looks rather easy and not too long…though this delay is a nuisance, we will just have to cycle much faster, won’t we (Rex)?
Sonia: oh my goodness! We won’t get back here until about 1.00 if we don’t get away by 10.30, will we? I certainly hope it won’t take us five hours! Something will have gone very wrong, if we take five hours, won’t it (Rex)?
RLC: I reckon it’ll take me about four and a half.
(I warm to RLC though still wish he’d stop talking to Sonia).
Sonia: yes, well, we’re just going to pedal that much faster, to make up for this terrible delay, aren’t we, (Rex)?
With the sun now beating down and it being very hot, me having donned three layers of wool-based jerseys, I have to ask Mark to balance my bike so I can take the top layer off which is quite big and has a wide hood. I then can’t get this jacket in my little ruck-sack which is of course full of Tupperware containers housing nuts, cheese and mini cocktail sausages. Because I don’t want to expose this food to Sonia’s gaze, I decide not to un-pack/re-pack the bag and instead, tie the top layer round my middle.
Finally, we get to the bit where we are being readied to cycle and I try to clip onto my bike, but I struggle as my shoe cleats, which need to clip into the receiving cleat on the pedals, are full of crap and mud and gravel from the sodding parkland and mud paths. So there is an ungainly struggle between me and my bike as I wrestle my feet into place, and then realise that I can’t unclip them easily as they are kind of stuck, on account of the mud and grit. Finally, I get clipped on and we mount and cycle – only I can’t get my bum on the knife-like saddle because the effing hood of my blasted jersey is round my saddle. I have two further attempts to haul myself onto the bike and get seated before veering off to the grass verge in order to tear off my waist-adorning jersey and generally have a much-needed low-key swearing session.
And Sonia pelts past me, head down, bent on the Yellow Jersey of The New Forest, while her frankly adorable warbling laughter bathes my burning ears…
It took us over five hours. I imagine Sonia was at home stirring the risotto long before I hauled my sorry behind over the finish line. It was lovely, mainly.
I’ve decided not to do any more sodding Sportives.