Date: Sunday 2nd August, 2015
Distance: 175.5km | Elevation: 1,700m
Start kms: 5,369.5km | Finish kms: 5,785.4km | % complete: 57.9%
Destinations: Bournemouth — Amesbury — Kintbury — Oxford
Despite our best efforts too cover something more savoury, there was only one topic of conversation taking place over our eggs at the breakfast table: the degree of discomfort we were likely to experience during the initial moments of our chamois (and their contents) making contact with our saddles.
The general consensus was that it would be high on the pre-existing scale. However, due in no small part to pain giving way to an incurable numbness at around the 200km mark the previous day, the anticipation was exceedingly greater than the reality, as is so often the case.
On the subject of backsides, if I’d needed any further confirmation that I am in no way a breakaway rider or chain leader, today provided it in spades. Fulfilling my position as ‘man at the back of the pack’ in earnest, I added to my extensive and ever-growing collection of #ForeverButtPhotos — an expansive catalogue of my time spent trying to keep pace with a well-oiled, long-distance machine and an iron-willed, resolute (read: stubborn) accomplice.
I, on the other hand, am a plodder.
I’ve made peace with the fact that I won’t win the race — I won’t even come near the podium — but I will finish it. And I’ll most likely capture some photos of it along the way.
Success and achievement operates on a relative scale, it would seem, adhering to the law of diminishing returns. Whilst doing something once is an accomplishment, the second time its repetition. By the third, fourth or fifth time round, it’s almost become habit and that’s just another word for routine.
Case in point: somewhere between deciding to cycle 10,000km in less than a year and signing-up to a one-day 350km sportive, my perception of distance has become somewhat warped. It wasn’t long ago that a three-figure ride was a solid effort, whilst hitting anywhere between 130-150km wasn’t just cause for celebration, but an excuse to buy a commemorative jersey.
Today, we were discussing the 175km ride as a ‘shorter one’ and planning our first rest stop beyond 70km, depending on what we happened upon along the way.
But that’s the wonderful thing about cycling. The ability to go further allows you to cover new, undiscovered routes again and again, helping the old and well-troden feel entirely new.
Speaking from ongoing experience, it sure beats doing laps of the same park week in and week out.
Continuing to be diligent in our calls, few potholes, bumps, shards of glass or collections of gravel were left unidentified. Whilst Gorrod and I were traditional in our identification, choosing the traditional and authoritative point in the direction of the offending object. I noticed that Hendo, on the other hand, had far more of a flourish in his gesticulation, his point being more akin to Sacha Baran Cohen’s Bruno and his nish-nish finger. This is the kind of thing I’m talking about.
As we passed north of Farnborough, we reached the top of our final real climb of the day. Placing myself back in the saddle, I rounded a bend to the loud and unmistakable cry of Hendo as he looked out before us:
He was right, too.
Straight ahead of us was what looked to be a never-ending descent that led into a gradual right-hand bend. We could see exactly where the road led for the next two to three kilometres and the direction was definitely downwards. The decline was long and straight, veering slightly upwards and around to the left before a follow-up descent. The road was smooth, wide and completely clear.
We didn’t hang around.
Straight back out of our saddles, we were hammering into our big rings to build-up speed and momentum, aiming to capitalise on this glorious stretch. In hindsight, I wish I’d stopped for ten seconds to take a few photographs not only to publish here, but to look back on. Alas, I was greedy. I wanted to take it on there and then and the excitement got the better of me.
I’ve since learnt the name of the hill: Chain Hill Road. I may be being slightly hyperbolic - and it may just be because it’s still so fresh in my mind — but I’m intent on finding my way back to that little stretch to take it on again. It’s well worth going out of your way for and was the best five to seven minutes of the weekend.
It’s also a great spot to push the boundaries on your top speed. I was knocking on the door of 80kph, but didn’t quite get there.
Buoyed considerably by the descent and the growing number of signs for Oxford, we fell in-line and settled in for a prolonged period of chain-gang riding. Hendo took the front, whilst Gorrod settled in behind him. I took my usual spot on the wheel of the last man. After 15 minutes, and with the wind behind us, we took a left at the junction and Gorrod let us know we’d managed to maintain a tour pace for the last segment, averaging 44kph for quarter of an hour.
It’s amazing what you can do with a tailwind.
The final few kilometres into Oxford-proper kept us on quiet country lanes. Holding more fields and cars, the sight and sound of three police cars speeding up and past us, with their sirens wailing and their engines revving, was a surprise. Living in central London, and cycling twice a day on Old Kent Road, I’ve not only become used, but numb to the the panic-inducing feeling that a siren can inspire. However, riding through the sunny, idyllic and expansive countryside of Oxfordshire provides a very different setting and, seeing them in that context, is incredibly unsettling.
After a very brief stop at Zappi’s Bike Cafe — our final destination — we boarded the train back to Paddington. Unknowingly choosing the silent carriage, we rustled through our post-ride snacks, complained far too loudly about our Garmins not synching with our phones and drowsily snapped at one another for now other reason than we were tired.
Meanwhile, I silently subdued the creeping forbidding feeling that ebbed and flowed through the front of my mind: the knowledge that I still had to make the 15km ride back home through the late-afternoon London traffic.
It was worth it though.
It’s always worth it.