How not to prepare for a 200km Audax
Not many things can persuade me to miss a Hull Kingston Rovers home match but some months previous I had decided that the chance to participate in a 200km Audax was one such occasion (Rovers beat Castleford 70-12).
Scott is a friend I go out for a ride with most weekends and he was also keen to try something longer than the usual 60 odd mile sportives. We both had imagined that it would be at a hill avoiding and steady CTC pace so on the day before we had ridden 50 miles as a ‘leg loosener’.
As it was 200km I had decided that we would drive to the start point at the Humber Bridge car park rather than tack another 20 miles onto what would no doubt be a long day. Once we got out of the car and met the ride organizer a number of things became clear. I had flicked through the emails from the organizer assuming it was just regarding price and start time. I had ignored the turn by turn detailed instructions as I assumed you would be given a map. You were not given a map and were expected to bring said instructions with you. I managed to snaffle the last copy of the route but without my reading glasses they could have been written in Mandarin. Luckily I had a new Garmin 500 with the course loaded (later news on that to follow).
At 8 o’clock the organizer gave us some last minute changes re the control points, again I paid little attention as I assumed that everybody would be riding as a group and I was confident that more experienced Audaxers would show me the way. When I should have been listening to this I was busy trying to get my Garmin going as it was struggling with an abundance of heart rate monitors it was picking up a signal from.
At two minutes past the organizer dropped his hand and waved the group off – in the wrong direction! A swift 180 executed by the lead rider and we were going. I was happily tootling behind fellow CTC members Dave W and Chris M as we wound our way out of Hessle. But very quickly it became apparent that the twelve or so other riders were not tootling but pedalling quite a bit faster. Dave W and Chris M seemed unperturbed by this, so I made the jump onto the back of the leading group. As I caught the group Scott looked round and gave me a look that spoke volumes. We both had underestimated the pace and regretted going for so long only the day before.
The first control point on the Brevet card was supposed to be Millington but the café didn’t open until 10.30 so Market Weighton was designated somewhere to stop and obtain a receipt as ‘proof of arrival’. I knew I could last the quick pace until Market Weighton and then I would have a chance to speak to Scott and discuss strategy during a ten minute break. Ten minutes was laughable as I was still in the queue with my banana when the first riders re-mounted and were away!! There was a bit of confusion as other riders were not sure to try and catch up or form a peloton of slower participants.
I found myself in the ‘chasing pack’ of around six riders and the pace slackened off a bit, but I was still hanging off the back by some distance. Going up the hill before Nunburnhlome Scott’s chain slipped, he told me to keep going and that he would catch up so I ploughed on. As I did another rider came down the hill as he said it was bad form to leave someone behind. I felt guilty but was confident in Scott’s ability to catch up.
As the miles passed by the only true constant was the weather. It had started grey, it was grey and it would remain grey. Is it just me or does cycling seem so much easier when the sun shines?
Just after Kilnwick Percy we came across Chris B at the side of the road (eating his fig rolls after being dropped by the peloton). His fancy dress attire of a highlighter pen [actually a hi-viz Ron Hill running vest in a fetching pink – Chris] was easy to spot. He joined our group for a mile or so then carried out his threat from earlier in the day and retired home early due to other commitments. This was a shame as I enjoy his company and his ability to know where he is at all times (something I will never be able to master). At Millington Chris headed off towards Huggate and we turned towards North Yorkshire.
The second control point was Castle Howard. This was reached by a very quick crossing of the A64. There is a stunning approach drive to the entrance and I was marvelling at this when the two riders who had shot out of Market Weighton came past obviously having gained their stamp. There was no way was I going for another F1 timed pit stop and I desperately wanted a coffee and fancied something to eat. Luckily our small group was of the same mind. The Castle steward standing by his hut welcomed us and we pedalled up to the Coffee Shop and rested our bikes against a Castle wall. We were sitting enjoying our coffee and snacks when Chris M and Dave W came into view. As they approached the hut a female steward came storming out and bellowed
“You’re riding your bikes on that road are you?”
“Yes, thank you” smiled Dave.
“Yes, thank you” smiled Dave again.
“Don’t lean your bikes on that wall!!”
“Yes…” (you know the rest by now).
As they put their bikes on said wall with ours I thought it funny that we were waved in with a cheery smile.
“The guards have must have been changed in the watch tower – this one’s the Castle Howard Gestapo” I quipped.
“Not quite – but she’s not happy with me”. I turned round to find the steward who waved us in standing right behind me. He explained that strictly speaking bikes should be left at the bike rack in the car park but as we didn’t look like tearaways he let us through. Frau Himmler was not one for such favours. Dave was unmoved by the ranting guard and calmly asked the male steward to sign his Brevet card.
Suitably refreshed and feeling remarkably energized we set off again. The next few miles were a retrace of our steps as far as Kirkham and this is when the Garmin started to play up. Apparently they don’t like a reverse of the same course and the damn thing kept bleeping ‘off course’. By now our group consisted of four riders. Myself, Scott, Rob (a solicitor from Newcastle) and Mike (a car mechanic from Hull – but not the inspiration for Mike Rutherfords 80’s supergroup). Rob had the course directions mounted on his handlebars and Mike had a functioning Garmin – Scott and I figured we had struck lucky.
We were now heading for Speeton and the ‘Honey Pot Inn’. Four miles out and the two fast riders passed us. My coffee rush had worn off and I was pleased to get to the stop for another fix. There were four bikes outside and their riders were just finishing their brews when we entered. This was the first public house to be a control point and I considered downing cleats, getting drunk and calling the wife to come and get me. My resolve wasn’t helped by the ten minutes it took the bar staff to find cups and make a poor coffee (why can you not get decent coffee in pubs?). Scott was looking the worse for wear too but we decided that to quit now would be defeatist and it was only 15 miles to next stop at Bell Mills café in Driffield and we were assured by Mike they made an excellent beans on toast. By Driffield I would be in familiar territory and would feel more confident of finishing.
My Garmin must have sensed my unease and fatigue and decided to stop working at 88.07 miles – so I was now totally reliant on Mike and Rob for direction and distances. My mood wasn’t helped by hitting a deep pothole and getting a rear puncture. Quite light headed by now I rode a few hundred metres thinking the puncture might fix itself if I ignored it!! The oil on my fingers was joined by a burn blister from my C02 canister. We were getting towards places I knew as the afternoon wore on. My parents used to own a pub in Nafferton and all the pubs we were passing were places where I had played darts or pool or both. (The landlord’s son always gets picked for teams – it helps with lock-ins).
As we went through Rudston I told Scott this was where our two families would be camping in July. As this trip will involve us taking our bikes he didn’t seem to be that bothered – I guessed his mood was similar to mine. At the café in Driffield we had missed the end of cooking. But with some persuasion we got our beans on toast.
Mike had a suggestion for a detour which avoided the A164 out of Driffield. Rob said that in between control points was discretionary and as he is solicitor we trusted him so we took a back road into Hutton Cranswick. We were now edging nearer to the finish but a ‘true’ test of nerve was still to come. The route took us to within 10 yards of my front door (remember my wife's call on the 100 mile ride post) with 10 miles to the end. I made a big effort and kept pedaling as we passed my house.
For most of the day I had been at the back or dropped from groups but with the finish in sight I had a burst of adrenalin and sprinted past my three ‘team mates’ in a move that the Manx Missile himself would have been proud of; Mike and Rob looked astonished, Scott looked….daggers! I realized that if roles were reversed I would have been less than happy so I stopped and let the other three into the car park first.
Drinks and cake were awaiting us in event HQ which was now a caravan. We handed in our Brevet cards and learnt that the two racers at the front had been at the same point some two hours before us, but it’s not a race and we had got as much out of the day as they had (I think).
As we got to my car it became obvious why I had suffered a puncture and Scott had not – the big dollop of bird poo on his helmet had clearly brought him good luck.
Exhausted but pleased to have completed over 126 miles we retired to the pub to talk over the day. In all fairness we didn’t discuss much as neither of us had the energy.
“The next Audax you want to do” uttered Scott
“You’re on your bloody own, mate”
Guest post by Francis Brogden