Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Wiltshire Wildcat sportive sponsored by Cycling Weekly & the very nice Chris Boardman

Last Sunday I rode the Cycling Weekly-sponsored Wiltshire Wildcat sportive, Epic course no less. Nearly 80 miles of wonderful views and rolling countryside with a few short sharp hills thrown in to keep it interesting.

At some point last Sunday I reflected upon what I was doing and decided that it was pretty good to be just riding a sportive given the trouble I had just breathing only three weeks before. To add further contrast, the week before that I had been riding the volcano in Tenerife, wearing shorts, short-sleeved jersey and basking in the warm sunshine. There was none of that on offer at the start line, or indeed through the day, the temperature barely rose above freezing, and the rather penetrating north-east wind made for a tough run back to the finish at Salisbury racecourse.

Still, there were other compensations. It is near my Dad's house, so I didn't need to get up too early to make the start line for 8AM. The territory is one I know reasonably well, I have ridden many of the lanes around there, and so knew that as long as it didn't rain, it was going to be a good day. It didn't, it was.

And apart from a short period around the 60 mile mark (where I realised I was running out of energy and hastily ate a couple of bars), I felt pretty good the whole way round. Not fast, not furious, but steady and sure, no trouble on any of the short hills, which given the ashtma problems of the last month is nothing short of remarkable. And I did the whole thing solo, with no drafting or group riding. That suited my mood, it being Mother's Day, the first one, I just wanted to be alone in my head.

And there was the added bonus of celebrity presence. With the event sponsored by Boardman bikes the great man himself turned up to open and to ride the event.

I guess Chris Boardman must be fairly competitive. Anyone who has won Olympic Gold medals, Tour stages and held the yellow jersey, as well as the world Hour record, not to mention designing successful track bikes and then running a company developing a reputation for quality bikes, must have some desire to achieve, running through his veins.

I didn't spend too long chatting with him, a few sentences, one of which was probably weather-related, another to do with the ride, and the third his choice of bike for the day. A very normal, unassuming chap, and the appearance of being quite laid back before the start.

Once out on the course that instinct must have kicked in. He did the short route, 34 miles, and though his time of 2 hours 4 minutes will have left him plenty of time to chat, it was still the fastest of the day. But I was impressed by him, what you see is what you get, and yet he gave his attention as well as his time.

I think sportives must be attracting a lot of newbies, at least that was my impression because greetings and warnings were in very short supply. Maybe it was the cold, but I sense a concerted effort form yours truly to improve cheerfulness on these events.

The course itself was pretty well-designed for the time of year. After a rolling start across the lower edge of Cranbourne Chase there was a climb up onto the heights looking over Shaftsbury, before a descent to a plain where the Epic route meandered and circled, presumably to make the miles up on the 60 mile standard route.

And we had a ford and a bridge combo, which is always a winner:

Then it was back up to the Chase before a series of traverses of some of the valleys  that run through these chalk hills. I was on the lookout for wonderful village names again. Tarant Hinton is a favourite, as is Tarant Gunville and Tarant Monkton. But the best are the Gussages - St Michael and All Saints. What is a gussage? Sounds very constricting and Victorian, but is probably far older and a derivation of some feature of the landscape in Old English.

From there I circled round to Sixpenny Handley before the final long draggy climb into the wind and the finish. My time was respectable given the conditions and my health, total time of 5 hours 36 for a silver category, ride time a bit less, average riding speed 14.8 mph for a shade under 79 miles.

The goody bag was actually what it said on the bag, with some good gels, drinks and a cycling magazine I don't usually read, as well as a medal (you know how I feel about those), but this was slightly novel and had a red ribbon. A first. Easily pleased, vraiment.

The event did have one added bonus to finish. Bike-cleaning facilities, which because I was going back to my Dad's house, and therefore not back home before late o'clock, I decided to use. An innovation I think we should see become a core part of a sportive!

The route is here. But I'm sorry to say that I have now made my Garmin profile restricted to my Garmin "friends" to prevent people seeing where I live. Apparently there are increasing numbers of thieves using open Garmin routes to see where cheap, rubbishy bikes like mine can be stolen from. Mine are locked to a steel bolt in a steel shed, inside a machine-gun infested compound, patrolled by German shepherd dogs, surrounded by a piranha-stocked moat, with a minefield covered by watchtowers and searchlights that would make Stalag 3 look like Butlins in Minehead. But you can never be too careful.

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