Friday, August 26, 2011

Blenheim Palace Sportive

So Sunday dawned and I was pretty much already up-n-atum... The reason... Well us band of three TVTers (my local tri club) were off to Blenheim Palace to ride the 60mile Sportive, entry fees largely going to Breast Cancer Care.... So at the unearthly (for a Sunday) hour of 7am Alistair turned up, we loaded my bike and headed off to pick up Paul... The three Amigos were formed and we headed off to deepest darkest Oxfordshire.... With the promise of sunshine it proceeded to plop with rain a couple of times as we went through Oxford although thankfully this soon dissipated.

We arrived to a hive of activity, there was quite a good expo, and several bike things going on... From the Sportive, TimeTrial and Pink Ribbon Ride to the much acclaimed "Brompton World Championships" .... As we parked up we soon realised (given the number of cars already parked) thatbwe were perhaps a tad late. A quick unload of bikes and into kit, Alistair kindly offered me a handful of cream from his chamois pot (I thankfully had already done my own at home!!!)... And we hussled over to pick up our timing chips we scappered through the expo (quick portaloo stop!) and got to the starting pens to see they were all indeed empty! The pink ribbon ride looked like it was getting (or had got underway) .... So we went tot the start line a little apologetically... The marshals were very welcoming and said no bother and the three of us got on our way with the sun shining behind us.

The initial mile was through the grounds of the palace and was rather epic, lush lawns, fields and a view ahead of the wonderful lush countyside.

Having negotiated the cattle grids (I hate those) and a splash of cobble stones on the exit gate we headed out to the open road.... Any cyclist ahead being incentive for us to push on, we would rather find other riders (not that the three of us mind each others company), but a good carrot. After about 10mins I realised I hadn't switched on the timer of my gamin, *shock* promptly corrected thus ensuring I could pour over the stats later.... Just 2 mins after that we were hussling down a hill, Paul leading out pointed out a pot hole to avoid so I did the obvious and went straight for it, tried to jump it but succeeded in merely splatting my rear into it which immediately hissed at me... Hurrumph a flat. We pulled up (Alistair and Paul were consummate gentleman not only waiting but also helping with the repair) .... 10mins and dirty hands later we were just putting on the rear wheel when a support car turned up.....apparently there had been up to 10people in one go having puncture repairs at the same spot (damn that pot hole)... Anyway... They offered a track pump, which I quickly said yes too to get the pressure back up. Not that I think Paul's efforts were wimpy but you simply can't get the same pressure in a tyre with a hand pump compared to a track. So rear on, pressure up and we were quickly on our way again.

We were soon passing through some old old Oxfordshire villages and passing into Gloucestershire.... Mostly the roads were off the beaten track so with little traffic. We started to catch and pass some riders meaning it felt like we were in an event and even managed to "pick up" one girl from Bray (i think that is what here bike club top said), Alistair and I took the front with Paul chatting her up behind ;) ....

We soon reached the feed station at about the 24mile mark, greeted by the smell of frying bacon and stopped for a short break (largely for me to refill my water bottle which had emptied itself when I had punctured!).... We declined the bacon butties (I just can't imagine scoffing one of those and cycling another 36miles)... But did partake in some rather nice flapjack.

Off we went again, back down to the three amigos as the lady who had been cycling with us had caught up with her crew at the feed station. The rolling hills came and went, we passed through some villages i vaguely remember my Mum and Dad taking us to when my brother and I were very young... Then on one memorable climb we lost Paul slightly. But Alistair said never fear he'll be back with us in a short while.... And sure enough on a long straight I looked back to see he had burst from the group behind and was tucked in on his tri bars bearing down on us.... Alas a road junction ahead saw Alistair and I cross and Paul not as he got held up by traffic. We were then in to a long and fast descent (with another hill on the horizon)... Alistair and I cruised on and we were suddenly at the second feed station, no bacon butties here but some more lushous flapjack, which I gladly took an extra large slab of to stow in my bento box. Paul wasn't much behind and we set off again, immediately on to a hill.... And then another long fast descent where tragedy happened as my bento lid came unstuck and the morsel of flapjack I had stashed flew out... Sob...

The last 5-7 miles became a bit of a smack down, with Alistair (mainly) and me (not as often) hitting the front and dragging each other forward, we picked up some guy on the way who was grateful for the tow and apologised for not being able to lead!! We passed back through the cobblestone gate and onto the long drag back to the palace. It was awesome and Alistair did the gentlemanly thing and let me lead us home.... We literally hammered it down the path, me slightly crapping my pants at hitting the cattle grids at such a pace! The hills weren't quite done with us though and at about the point where lactate threshold was being passed we had a cheeky steep short climb, at which point we got caught up behind a pram!!! Bahhhhhhhhhhhh.... All momentum was lost and a quick shift to the granniest of granny rings and a great deal of huffing, puffing and "aaahhhhhing" saw us up and the finish line in sight. Alistair grabbed my hand and we crossed the line with great big grins! Paul came through soon behind us and so it was to the table for a cup of tea, a juicy peach, banana and of course flapjack!!

Last 5 mile average speed was around 19mph (I didn't know I could go that fast!)
Clock time was 4:02:30 for 60miles which included feed stops and rear flat repair

My scores out of 10...
Feed stations ... 10/10
Organisation .... 10/10
Mechanic support 10/10 (it felt like we saw a support vehicle every 15-20mins)
Race hq Venue .... 10/10
Marshalls.... 10/10 .... All very friendly and helpful
Road condition .... 6.5/10 .... There were some really rather badly cut up roads... Not the organisations fault and pretty much the norm for this area at the moment it seems. If the local councils had been looking to repair the roads at least the pot holes would have been marked.

I'd definitely do this event again.

Next stop... little woody tomorrow... It has been raining for days and the forecast for tomorrow is pretty awful.... I may well be wearing a rain jacket for the race!!!

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