Monday, 23 January 2012

Reliability trial - torture!

Gary texted me early on Sunday morning - his message read "what's the plan".

I got out of bed and drew back the curtains - it looked okay - there was no rain, the sky looked clear - I texted back "I'll be with you by 9.30"....

On the way to Netherseal I didn't notice the wind at all - you tend not to when driving a car - but once I'd arrived and got the bike ready I heard it snarling and felt it biting at me. We rode steadily into Burton on Trent to join The Mercia Cycling Club 50km Reliability trial - the poor sods who were riding 100k had already set off. All the way the wind whipped our faces and held us back - we were pedalling at about 10mph and it required real effort - it was if giant hands were holding us back. As we got close to the clubhouse the wind seemed to get even more aggressive, now it was spitting grit and dust at us and each pedal turn made my thigh muscles burn.

When we reached the club house and went in to sign on for the ride, I said to Gary that i felt as though I'd just finished the ride - the effort to cover just 10 miles or so to get this far had really sapped my energy. We stood around for a while waiting for the 10.30am start - I walked along the street and leaned my bike against some railings - I wanted to film the riders leaving on my phone - as I got into position the wind blew my bike into the road. I picked it up and propped it against the fence again, this time at more of an angle - no good - same again, the bike went clattering down. Finally I filmed the cyclists whilst holding the bike at the same time - the omens weren't good.

Out onto the road and it was an immediate long climb up Henhurst Hill towards the turn for Anslow and Hanbury - straight, head-on into the gale - it made the climb doubly painful and the only thing to do was to get as low as possible and grind slowly, slowly upwards. The right hand turn offered a slight respite but soon we'd swung round again into the full force of it. The route was lumpy; many ups and downs through Hanbury and then out to Marchington. At one point I found myself halted by a particularly savage gust that reduced my speed from about 12mph down to less than walking pace within a couple of metres. I've never ridden in weather like this - we've all been out on windy days but this was more than that - this was torture.

We edged on towards Loxley and Kingstone - more exhausting climbs . We felt the route had to turn soon - with the wind behind us surely things would be a lot easier. We turned towards Newton, Admaston and Blithfield Reservoir and at last the weather felt kinder. Gary checked his GPS - we had averaged no more than 10mph so far. We picked up speed on this second half of the trial - up and over the reservoir into Abbots Bromley we were flying for a while - my speedometer recorded 38mph on one stretch. Now we were heading for Hoar Cross and the dreaded Jackson's Bank - our energy levels were so depleted that everything became a chore - After the sharp descent to The Meynall Ingram Arms at Hoar Cross it was Jackson's Bank next - looming ahead, a seriously steep climb. We dropped into the lowest gears possible and climbed slowly but steadily - it wasn't so bad, but then we were travelling no faster than walking pace. After that it was the rollercoaster of The Scotch Hills - a section of road that could be transplanted straight into Alton Towers - up/down/up/down/up - at breakneck speed, this would be fun on a normal day.

A couple more climbs and we're at Dunstall and the road through to Tatenhill and then onto the Sustrans Route 54 to take us back into Burton and the clubhouse. We finished the course in 3hours 5minutes - last year we did it in 2 hours 40mins. I was hoping we would have been quicker this year; after a year of hard training and LeJog in our legs. But today we were beaten, battered, pummeled by the weather. We had ridden in total almost 60 miles and climbed 1200metres - it felt much further and lots higher. As we enjoyed hot tea and some delicious home-made cakes I heard someone say "I'd like to say I enjoyed that - but I didn't". That about summed up the day. No smiling faces, no laughter or friendly banter, everyone looked tired, beaten and morose. I felt like I needed sleep - but instead we had another 10 mile ride home. Ugh.

Here's the video clip from the start - You might spot gary towards the back of the group... and you should be able to hear the wind!

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