Sunday, 14 September 2008


Sunday 7th September saw the final sportive that I had pencilled in for this year, the SpudRiley Gran Fondo, heading out of Woodford into the Peak District hills.

As has seemed normal since April, the weather was not the best, overcast and misty with variable visibility, if not raining. Since the forecast was not too good I broke out the Carrera, which has not seen serious action since February. It now has a 105 triple on the front (ex-Trek surplus from the 'left-overs' when priming the Trek proper for the Etape) so I was confident I could climb anything. How wrong I was!

Within 3 or 4 miles of the start we came across the first climb of the day "Pott Shrigley" and it became apparent that the mist-laden air was missing a vital component, oxygen. I was immediately right down through the gears and grinding. This set a trend for the rest of the day as the seemingly-never-ending Brickworks climb followed. By this point the new chain was receiving its first stretch, gears were constantly 'searching' and I was not having a good time.

Goyt valley followed, together with the rear derailleur throwing the chain off the big ring on the back at the start of the climb to the back of the Cat & Fiddle. By this time Mark was yo-yoing back and forth as he reached the top of climbs without me in sight and came back to look. Very embarrassing.

The top of the Fiddle climb gave some respite on the plummet towards Allgreave, but this was soon forgotten as the subsequent grind back up to Flash (which they keep reminding us is the highest village in England, as if I couldn't tell) sapped the legs once more.

The best descent of the day followed down towards Longnor, but this only brought my nemesis, Crowdecote ever closer. Once more the chain was thrown at the bottom of Crowdecote, and the hill was tackled from a standing start. Not that I was bothered by this point, and besides I was 0/2 for Crowdecote so far. On the Crich Tramway Audax I had to stop twice to 'take photographs' (yeah, right!) and on the Autumn in the Peak Audax I was so far gone I had to walk from 1/3 of the way up. At least this time I had the advantage of a 30/34 bottom ratio (I do mean 30/34 not 34/30) and ground all the way up to the first feed at the top of the climb.

It was apparent, however, that I would be out until the cows came home (about 5:45 locally) if I did the long course, so for the first time this year I wussed out and went short. Almost immediately the long drag seemed to start back up past Buxton Raceway to Axe Edge Moor, and it never seemed to end. Never steep, it just goes on forever in a solitary, soul destroying kind of way. I had long since dispatched Mark with the instruction to wait for me at the finish.

Descending from the second time off the Cat & Fiddle was a long slither, further slowed by a previous accident involving an earlier cyclist, and the subsequent steep descent back towards Pott Shrigley was gravelly at best. At least it was impossible to get lost here, you just had to cycle downstream following the river in the middle of the road.

I finally arrived back in Woodford in an elapsed time of 4:56, an average speed of only just 11 mph, and a full 25 minutes behind Mark. Memory Map, though, would eventually claim this 54 miles to have almost 2,00 meters of climbing. No wonder I was shattered. Positions were about normal, about 80% of the way down the pack, but I felt terrible.

Whether the coming down off the hype of the Etape has had a very negative effect, I do not know, but I am miles off being the cyclist I was in France. I'm heavier (we're all about 1/2 stone heavier) and the fitness levels are way down. Couple that with pushing an inferior aluminium machine and it was never going to be a good day. Nevertheless, I survived, something I would never have done this time last year.

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