Damon and I signed up for the Highclere Castle Cyclosportive – South Downs Challenge that was held on 20 August. The route profile can be seen above (taken from the official site) and you can view a map of the route too. The loop started and finished at Highclere Castle in Berkshire. The castle is the pile of the 3rd Earl of Carnarvon who keeps the pantry supplied with beluga caviar and the woods stocked with pheasants by hiring out the castle for the weddings of Premiership footballers, pop starlets and glamour models.
A party the weekend before (see previous post) probably wasn’t the best preparation for a 185km bike ride but we’d been on a 100 miler to Cheltenham and back to Oxford the weekend before, so that would have to do.
It gave me a chance to go and visit Seb Burge and the rest of the Burge-McCracken clan; Lizzy, Dylan and Toby as they live only a 15 ride from Highclere Castle. It was enjoyable to catch up with Seb who I know from Melbourne and who works at the same company as I do in Oxford. In fact, Seb introduced me to Kate, as he knew her via mutual friend Ben (another Melburnian). Ben had shared a house with Seb and he’d also worked with Kate at one point.
Damon, Dylan, Seb and I played a bit of frisbee and Aussie Rules footy on the village cricket ground and later grabbed an Indian takeaway (I had a Lamb Biryani) before getting an early night so as to get an early start for the ride.
Damon and I had perfect timing by inadvertantly jumping the queue because we cycled to the start line through the side entrance, reaching the start line about 30 secs before the first group was allowed to start. We joined that group, allowing some cheetahs to launch immediately off the front. We were generally content to tag along in the group, trying to avoid the slippery parts of road surface caused by heavy rain the day before. At one point, a cyclist at the head of our bunch hit just such a damp patch of road around a corner and hit the deck quite hard. He seemed more worried about the bike though, so was probably OK in general. We held onto the quite fast moving group quite well until Damon got a puncture not too long before the first food station at Petersfield, having made quite good time in the first 62km, despite stopping 15 minutes for the puncture.
I felt quite good on the next 53km leg to Mottisfont Abbey, saving time by bypassing the water stop near Winchester. We averaged just under 26kph for this bit but not being in a group had sapped my strength a bit.
The next 30km really kicked my butt though because even though it was reasonably flat, I had a recurrence of my belching/stomach problem that I had on the Gran Fondo Cymru. This caused my pace to slow considerably and the bit circling the SE of Andover was a bit crap. Thankfully having learnt that Barney Gumble style belches would improve my condition, I was able to recover for the final sting in the tail; the ascents of Inkpen Beacon and Walbury Hill in the last 25km. This improvement in form meant that rather than the demoralising feeling of being overtaken, I was able to catch up to a few cyclists who had passed me during my bad patch. There was even one point where a dude tried to overtake me on Inkpen Beacon but I was able to hold onto his wheel, pass him and then burn him off…this felt good.
Damon was going even better than I was, so after the last water station, he took off and finished at the Castle about 5 minutes ahead of me. I figured that I averaged 25kph in the last third of the ride, despite the bad patch and the hills. A slight annoyance was that for some reason my timing chip didn’t register, so I don’t show up on the official results list. However, I was able to work out my times based upon Damon’s. The fastest rider finished about 2hrs faster than we did!
After devouring a burger and some pasta at the finish line, we headed the 6km back to Seb’s to get our bags and then the extra 6-7 km to Newbury’s train station. The next day (Monday), it felt like a dwarf had been punching my thighs the whole weekend and the commute to work was done at a crawl but by Tuesday, my legs felt like TREETRUNKS!
The end to another Damon and Ed cycling adventure.