The start was easy to find using the sat nav but it sent us up a tiny single lane road which was our first adventure of the day and a wake-up call after our long drive to the start. It is a shorter route but next time, I am staying on the roads with two lanes! The carpark was large enough for all riders and the starting point was a few hundred meters down the cycle track.
This was our first Audax 400km and our second ‘live’ audax ride, so we are becoming accustomed to the arrival and signing on procedures: a) find the Brevet card, b) check for route updates, c) grab a cuppa and biscuit and d) listen to the pre-start briefing. We have not quite mastered the listening to the pre-start briefing part yet!
Starting off after the main group works well for me as I don’t feel the need to match the other riders speed or sit in a group. Instead, I ride at my own pace and feel much more relaxed, this is probably why I like to ride alone. Sarah and I set a comfortable pace along the A413 and to be honest, the climbs over the Chiltern Hills were nice, especially compared to our local climbs in the Peak District and the climbs later in the LWL route.
The Woodstock control was a welcome arrival as it gave me the opportunity to put the bolt back into my cleat (a big thank you to Sarah, for spotting it falling out). There was a typical English breakfast up for grabs, well it would be rude to refuse!
The stage over to Tewkesbury was a little harder than I anticipated but this could have been the heat. We had a little stop at a pub on the outskirts of Stow-on-the-Wolds, a Coke with ice was just the job and the leftover ice cubes went into our water bottles which the pub filled for us. Arriving at Tewkesbury we decided to stop on the far side of town at the riverside cafe. This was mainly because we had cycled through Tewkesbury and did not want to turn around. Actually, this worked well as the sitting area was enclosed and raised up, so our bikes were much safer compared to eating in town.
The stage over to Ross-on-Wye was nice but on occasion, there was a lot of traffic but otherwise, this was a great stage. The climb up to Coleford (Symonds Yat) is a little steeper than it looks on the profile and is much longer in real life. This climb was not a welcomed addition to our lovely afternoon ride. By the time I had reached the top, there was no doubt that I had heat stroke/ exhaustion. Until all the shops had closed we were stopping at every shop which sold ice pop and water. It was a matter of over-saturating my system with water so that it would rehydrate and take on food. To help Sarah set a steady pace and I just followed, I did this until the sun came up the next day.
Chepstow Control was easy to locate as it was on the side of the road as you descend into Chepstow. The crew there were great as they brought water, cups of tea and food out to us as we sat on the wall getting our Brevet card signed. We left Chepstow with another rider, as we were the final three on the route. He would stay in front of us and we would catch him up on the hills, the joys of a single speed bike. We did this all the way to the Lamborn Control. However, we did stop at the Costa Coffee on the M4 roundabout at Blagrove. Where we filled our water bottles and had a coffee. Over coffee, Sarah and I agreed that we were not going to make it back to the finish before the cut off time. This was due to my condition and the time we had lost, I felt for Sarah as this was her first 400km and we would not complete it in time.
Arriving at the Lamborn Control, we were late, and the control was closed which in some ways this was an incentive to push on. Although I was starting to feel better I was still suffering. Sarah and I had made the decision to us the A4 from Lamborn to the finish as there were more water stops. The rider which joined us also decided to use the A4 too. Continuing as before, catching the single speed rider up on the hills we pushed on. Stopping at the service station in Newbury for another coffee and some warm food as the temperature was so low that we were shivering with all our kit on. This is likely to be related to being tired, dehydrated and not eating properly. It was commented by Sarah that we had not trained for the sun only the rain, cold and wind; how true this was. We were not 100% sure but we were confident that the single speed rider came pass as we were eating our hot sausage roll and that was the last we saw of him. I decided to let the organiser (Liam) know that we were not going to be back before the 9am deadline. So that they could head off rather than waiting for us.
The A4 was fairly nice considering but as the morning became mid-morning it became like any other A-road, busy and with its fair share of cars who got a little close. However, it was a good call as there were lots of water and food stops available as we progressed toward the finish. However, because we took the A4 we had two major climbs between Maidenhead and the finish. They were both a little too much for us by the time we arrived at them. However, descending down the high street, see the flags flying outside the shops was a welcome sight as we knew the car park was just around the corner. (Another rider suggest riding beyond Maidenhead to Slough and then turning on the B416 for the finish as this would bypass the climbs…. local knowledge!)
Arriving that the car park we quickly stowed our equipment and prepared ourselves for the long drive home. Ho, and a quick text message to the organiser just letting him know that we had arrived back to the car.
-) Cycle the 500meters to the M25 as this is considered to be the outer ring of London, which is what many of our friends comment on.
-) Drink more water, a lot more water or pray for a normal bank holiday weather.
-) Consider the bypass routes for the major climbs
-) The RideWithGPS route did not include the turn-by-turn instruction
-) Just before 133 miles the GPS track indicates a left turn onto a footpath, ignore it and follow the road.