I'm worried. About two things. The first is that I may have bitten off more than I can chew, but more on that later.
Of more importance is that I may be becoming a little more tolerant and circumspect about biking sartorial matters. Yesterday I saw a lot of Martyn's backside, encased in opaque lycra I should add. When he wasn't off chasing anyone that passed us that is, some automatic trip switch compelling him to up his pace, drop me and try and out-run someone 20 years younger than him.
Mind you, Trevor was just as bad. Hauling myself up Elworthy, which is the only way I can do that climb, I was passed first by one woman then another, both on nice carbon machines. I know my limits, a pleasant good morning and a grimace for a smile, and they were gone, quickly followed by an orange flash on a Lynskey as Trevor's alpha male ego forced him to give chase at the risk of a heart attack.
Anyway, back to the clothes. As you can see from this lovely picture of Martyn taking off his leg-warmers at Blue Anchor, the rear zip on his gilet was undone. It was undone at 7AM, it was undone at the Pines café, up Crowcombe and it was undone at the finish. And not a word came out of my lips about it, although I can not tell you the number of times I wanted to draw level and zip it up. Although if I'd have attempted it, he'd of zoomed off into the distance.
Somerset Hills Gran Fondo I was somewhat put to shame by the gleaming new steeds of my companions, particularly Martyn's, and found myself in the unusual position of having the oldest bike. The Red Madone is nearly four, which in bike years is about 73, so maybe I should start the slow build-up and propaganda war that leads to a new purchase.
I have previous with this ride, having entered in both 2012 and 2013, and DNF and failed to start respectively. And when my right ankle swelled to the size of a small balloon after my mid-week commute I was convinced that the curse was about to strike again. But on advice from Nurse Sister, I elevated, rested, compressed and by Saturday the ankle was fine. Just in time to see this.
Sunday dawned bright and clear, fairly cool and some moderate wind from time to time (no sniggering, I'm not the only one), and generally a perfect day for cycling. Six of us set off together, Jon, James, Trevor, Peter, Martyn and me, and we were all full of banter as we toddled up Cheddar gorge. A first for me, I managed the 16% horseshoe without standing up. The route is a strange one. The climbs are testing, but they are all over the place.
Cheddar gorge, Shapwick, High Ham, Enmore Hill, Elworthy Hill, Blue Anchor and West Quantockshead, Crowcombe and Puriton are the main ones. As ever, the scenery, the views and the countryside were all looking marvellous. But the route leaves a bit to be desired in my view. There are too many roads that are used just to link the iconic climbs together, and to do that they used some descents which were too technical for a mass-participation sportive, when other ones are available. For example the descents through Westbury-sub-Mendip and the one off High Ham are the worst ways to come down those two hills.
But I'm trying to stick to less moaning and grumbling, or is it fewer moans and grumbles? It was lovely to have a food stop by the sea, that doesn't happy every day. Although a few pedestrians and locals didn't seem too keen, as they had to compete for pavement space with a bunch of cyclists. By then we had dropped Peter, on his first bike ride for a month, and really feeling it. We stopped a couple of times for him, but after the wonderful descent through Timberscombe he didn't catch us up, and despite waiting we thought he may have bailed and taken a short cut. He did finish, about an hour behind me and Jon, who were about three minutes behind James, Martyn and Trevor, all desperately racing off to get under 9 hours total time.
But the highlight of the day has to have been the ascent of Crowcombe Hill, well-described by this blogger. For all five of us to get up without a foot down was inspirational, and made my day. I've only attempted it once before, and failed, and as Jon so memorably said at that time, "I'm never going up there again, even in a car".
So what else is worrying me? In the last month I have completed three 200km rides, each of which has left me feeling completely kyboshed. Next week I'm committed to a 300km in the form of the Old Roads Audax. The big saddlebag is ready, travel lodge booked for a 6AM start, will I be up to it?