The Castle Ride 2007 - Action Medical Research: My very first cycling event and a journey into the unknown.
|The Map above shows the six castles en route. A simply wonderful 103 miles.|
The Castle Ride was a brilliantly organised event and my thanks must go to Mike Trott and all the team at Action Medical Research for their very thorough and thoughtful planning and
I must admit to approaching the event with great trepidation as I'd been rather ill over the previous weekend and had, as a result, missed almost a weeks training. Having received advice ranging from 'don't ride when ill from Sue and John (runners extraordinaire),' go for it, it's not a race (typical PE teacher talk, Mr. Dainton!),' and 'you must be bloody mad! (my mum)' I decided to indeed go for it and packed my bag with my poshest Lycra (10//2 if any fashionistas are reading, vintage 1995 - rather foolish of me in light of recent events!) and as many energy bars & gels as I could carry.
Team Barnes-Bulllen-Dey (sponsored by Gregg's pies and the legendary Tour of Britain stage winner, London to Holyhead champion and bastion of all knowledge two-wheeled, Alan Perkins, who gave me some Jelly Belly beans - I assume no sarcasm was intended, Alan) left N E London thanks to domestique #1 Keith Bullen (Winner: Le Tour de Tesco, 1959, The Giro d'Pizza Express, 2007) who provided luxurious 'white van' transport (complete with school chair) for which I was very grateful. With domestique #2 David Barnes (Winner Le Grand Stag night and runner up in the classic 'Paris-cafe in Paris'; who provided the stale whiff of fine wine and stale granite-esque brownies, along with a plethora of mumbled promises about a future embracing only temperance, study and more than four hours sleep, safely strapped into the passenger seat, we made our way through the emerging buildings of East London and onwards towards the more refined airs and graces of Tonbridge castle.
It was now 6 a.m on a Sunday morning and I was not impressed and just a little grumpy, although this silly emotion was loosing the battle with that of a growing sense of excitement!
Having arrived in Tonbridge and changing into our sexy Lycra in a car park, to the cheers - or should that be shocked-jeers - of many a morning shopper (in our defence... it was very cold!), Team Bulllen-Dey, with a green-hued David in tow, headed for the start line and event registration. Little did we anticipate what David would do today, despite his condition.
The level of organisation and the splendour of the medieval castle walls and grounds proved only to enhance the positive emotions of the morning. We were itching to get going and we didn't have to hang around for long. What an amazingly friendly bunch cyclists are and what a pleasure it was to finally meet the outstanding AMR staff face to face, busy as they were marshalling the troops.
What a magnificent setting from which to start a sportive.
About twenty five cyclists, from the gathered five hundred or so, set off in a group at around 7.30 a.m. Keith is in yellow, I'm looking down. The plan was to take it easy, to do a pleasant 25 km/h until we had warmed-up and had more of an idea what to expect. So much for the plan. We averaged over 40 km/h for the first eight kilometers!Psychologists, please comment here on the male ego! This was 8 a.m and not only was I bitter and twisted about being dragged from my bed, but now I was also unduly fatigued (a phrase my old PE teacher instilled in us when we actually meant... totally knackered!) We still had a daunting 95 miles to go!
The first hill ...
A sharp right led us onto a seemingly endless incline that caught out a few, myself included. David had long since vanished into the distance (so much for the late night!), and Condor-Keith was battling to stay with the mighty '06 Madone 5.5! Foolishly I decided to 'have a go' at the hill. Predictably I was found, a few kilometers later (having thought the hill was a few hundred meters long) slumped twitching over the Bontrager bars about 20 meters short of the summit! My entire body seemed to be bursting with lactic acid and I'm sure I could taste iron and blood. My lungs had long since vacated their cage and only photosynthesis kept me going!
The next 40 miles were not too pleasant as my body struggled to recover from the minds misplaced, and definitely unrealistic, enthusiasm - four months light training through the gentle, but beautiful & cafe laden lanes of Essex do not a Bradley Wiggins make! David, like the good domestique he is, was found waiting for his elders by a field full of gently swaying corn, basking in the sunshine of a glorious morn, sipping from his designer bidon The swine (one hell of a rider though!) We cycled together for twenty-or-so miles in a peloton of ever changing dimensions and met and chatted to several cyclists about life, the charity, Le Tour and the road ahead. A pleasant morning it made for all concerned. Thanks for the draft to the chap from Sevenoaks (Dulwich CC?) whose wife went to the School I now teach at (Forest, small world) and whose advice probably got us, or at least me, through the event. He left me for dead up the hills though and I didn't see him again. The route seemed to get better and better as the sun rose high. Some of the scenery was stunning and he roads seemed almost devoid of traffic. Bliss - if it wasn't for the burning lungs and legs!
Campag Chaos ...With each pedal stroke inducing spasms of pain and discomfort Keith and I were focused only on luncheon and Michelin-starred recuperation (OK, the food wasn't that good. but it was close and never has plate of tuna pasta been more gratefully received). Unfortunately about 10 miles short of the fine Tavern whence luncheon was based; restorative pasta, banana's and peace, KB's Campag top of the range set up decided to trap his chain between hub and cassette. Interestingly my sexy shimano Dura-Ace 9700 was performing perfectly, as, of course, I expected it would! With the aid of a very kind motorcycle steward and protected by a deliberately parked, and thus cyclist friendly, ambulance we spent a good half an hour with the Italian beastie before we could resume. Thanks to the steward and to the Ambulance crew for their vital help. After about two miles it was decided that I 'race' ahead and meet David at the lunch stop. Keith assured me that he, and his beloved Condor/Campag would be OK. He was.
You don't want to fall off here - not with everyone watching!David, who'd arrived about an hour earlier, and I were dining heartily when we saw a cloud of dust and heard the clatter of bike, body and road, right in front of the gathered throngs of Castle riders. An 'unnamed' cyclist had taken a slapstick tumble whilst coming to a stop... Was that a Condor bike? Isn't that the dreaded Campag? Who was this mysterious rider? Thankfully nothing more than pride was bruised and about twenty minutes later we resumed our adventure.
Unexpected fun ...
The next fifty miles were a distinct pleasure. I'd be very grateful if anyone could explain why I only managed to average a painful 20-23 km/h for the first 50 miles and then an easy, pleasant even, 31 k/h for the next 50, despite the unfriendly undulations? I'm at a loss. I can only put it down to fuel, rest, a gentle stretch and a grupetto going at a pace I could cope with. David, once again, vanished into the distance (to his credit he always asked for permission - not that we would, indeed could, ever say no) and Keith and I decided it would be best to go at our own pace. it made for solitary bit-and-bit along some roads but it also made for a splendid afternoons cycling. Tagging along and playing hopscotch with small groups and individuals we were rarely passed and I owe a debt of gratitude to the gentleman who urged me along for the final undulating 20 miles, without his support, dragging me up the climbs at a pace far greater than I would have managed alone, my average for the final 50 would surely have plummeted. I'm afraid I didn't catch his name so if he's reading this ... I thank you Sir (you should become a teacher - inspiring stuff.) A big thanks to Helen and Oly from AMR, whom I met at an isolated feed station and whose encouragement was far more important than all the sweets on offer, and also to all the folk who gave up their time to run the event. Special thanks go to the Halford's mechanics for a free tune up. How wonderful it was to collect our first ever endurance medals and to avail ourselves of the free sports massage in the grounds of Tonbridge Castle. What a way to end a glorious day.
This image is courtesy of Keith Bullen and his funky Garmin-Memory Map duo. It is the actual route Keith followed - we did a slightly shorter one as we didn't get lost - did you enjoy the extra hill KB!!!
If Garmin or Memory-Map are reading this then sponsorship would make my life a little more fun, I'll even add your logo and link!!! Cheers Keith.
Should anyone ever read this then I most heartily recommend the Castle Ride for a superb days cycling.
Can't wait until next year.
It is the one event I miss most now I spend most of the year in Deutschland.
The Castle Ride 100 today: