Thursday, 23 June 2011

Cotswold Audax Ride - 19/06/2011

I was looking for something to do to maintain my aerobic fitness and on a whim I entered this cycling event earlier in the week. For those who don't know an "Audax" ride is a tour on a pre-planned route, with minimum and maximum time limits that equate to 15 kph and 30 kph. The catch is that the times include all your stops (food, comfort, navigational cock-ups, etc.)

The route I entered was the shortest distance, 108 km (about 68 miles). The furthest I've been on my bike before this was about 25 miles!

I rode on my 1982 Holdsworth Mistral tourer, which is pretty much in original condition. I bought a handlebar bag as it seemed the easiest way to stash a bit of food, camera and spare clothes where I could get at them on the roll. The bag (Rixen Kaul, not cheap but good quality and with the right mount for my old fashioned bars) has a map case on the top which I used for the route cue sheet.

So we set off from Wythall, south of Birmingham, at 9am, on a cloudy and fairly cool Sunday morning. I deliberately took the first few miles slowly to warm up. There was a photographer about 10 miles in, so hopefully I'll be able to get hold of a couple of pics of me actually riding!

The route took us south and east through Tanworth-in-Arden (pretty), Lowsonford and Norton Lindsey to the first check point at Charlecote. I rode this section mostly with Francis, a charming chap from Stroud who was riding on a fixed gear build of a Surly Cross Check frame. I got my brevet card (it's kind of a certificate that proves you've visited all the checkpoints) stamped and had a quick loo shop, but there was a bit of a queue for food, so I pressed on.

The next section took us south of Stratford via Loxley and Alderminster. I had my first slightly rough patch pedalling on my own along a long straight uphill lane into the wind just after Newbold on Stour. The next stop was an info control at Ilmington. We had to answer a question on the brevet card - in this case the distance to a destination from a signpost. On along the northern edge of the Cotswolds, this time riding up to and then in a group as we made a steady climb to Meon Hill and then swept down into Mickleton. A lovely straightish section led down to another info control at Honeybourne, then I sat in the group and swept through Pebworth and Dorsington to the second full control at Welford-on-Avon. This was in the village hall. There must have been 50 bikes outside, all much newer than mine!

I had a nice ham roll, an apple pastry and a very welcome cup of tea, all for a bargain £3. The catering here was by a local voluntary group, I think, and was excellent. I met Francis again, and a guy called Kevin from Priorslee in Telford. We had a nice chat over food, and left the control together.

We crossed the Avon very soon after the control and climbed to Billesley and Aston Cantlow. Once I realised the guys were waiting for me at the top of each climb I asked them to go on, as I was just keen to take my time and make sure I finished. Pretty soon I was in another group of three with a gentleman and his wife on very nice Thorn Audax bikes. We both spotted slight navigational error before they became serious on the next bit, and rode together to Ullenhall, where the route card suggested there should be a final info control. There was no question on the brevet card though, so I took a photo of the signpost and my two companions, before deciding to set off for the finish ahead of them as I was starting to feel a little stiff.

The last 12km were a bit of a drag; I passed an older couple on a steepish climb between Ullenhall and the A435 and then rode solo through Portway and across the M42. The last section of 5km back to Wythall was all gently uphill, and I must have slowed a bit as the older couple caught me up and passed me about 2km before the end - I couldn't keep up with them!

Anyway I finished in good shape after about 6 elapsed hours (probably five and a half in the saddle), and got my card stamped. I ate some of the excellent free pasta, collected my water bottle memento, and had another chat with Francis and Kevin before heading home.

This was an excellent day, and I had a lot of fun with some really friendly people. I'll definitely be doing more Audax rides when I need a long day but don't want to be running...

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