Sunday, 26th April
Princes’ Risborough Sunday Sportive. 76 miles.
After several years of being bugged by my brother to enter (and presumably to ride) the Dragon Ride, a 100 miles+ journey round southern Wales, I finally relented and signed up. With this looming on the horizon, I stumbled upon the Princes’ Risborough sportive ride whilst idly flicking through the pages of Cycling Weekly, and thought that it might be an idea to ride a sportive and find out what the chuff they were all about. With Princes’ Risborough being a twenty minute drive up the road, and the sportive being a mere seventy-six miles, I thought that it would be a good introduction to riding organised events.
Now, for those readers amongst you that are not particularly au fait with the topography of the Chilterns, seventy-six miles might not sound like much. In fact, my brother, on learning of my impending endeavour, went as far as to say, “Seventy-six miles? Huh…is that all? You big puff.” However, it represented a distance as yet uncovered in one go since my returning to cycling, on a route that had approximately three feet of flat road in the entire route.
Getting up before the dawn, perhaps of time itself, to stuff your face with carbohydrates is not something that I do regularly, and so when Chris knocked on my front door to announce his arrival, I was far from ready to ride a bike. I think I disguised my lack of preparation well, and pottered around with as much purpose as I could muster. In retrospect, he probably cottoned on to my attempted subterfuge rather quickly, as I clickety-clacked my way across the laminate flooring in cycling shoes. If he didn’t, and hangovers are not unusual for him, the game was certainly up when I changed my shoes for the drive to Princes’ Risborough.
We took the start a shade after nine o’clock. This was just about the only shade we were to see all day, as the weather was unseasonably glorious. We set off at a cracking pace and, almost immediately, was away from the main road and into the countryside bordering Buckinghamshire with it’s Oxfordshire neighbour. After we’d been lulled into a false sense of security with the opening few miles being the flattest section of the race, we’d calculated that barring illness, injury, or mechanical incidents, we wouldn’t be last to finish, and settled down to enjoy the riding and the scenery.
The Princes’ Risborough sportive doesn’t boast any particular route-defining monster climbs, but with the advertised maximum gradient being a rather wicked 15%, I was pleased to see that the little tin triangle on a pole by the side of the road advertising the first real climb of the day as being just that. What I didn’t know, and was only to later discover through agonising experience was that 15% also represented something close to the average for the climbs on the course. Chris, who resembles a garden rake and weighs about as much as one of my shoes, skipped off up the road and left me to get on with my own ride to the top. Halfway up the climb I was passed by an express train of Cycle Club Luton riders, all of which I’ve decided must’ve had their own respective bodyweight in recombinant erythropoietin coursing through their veins and their stretchy pants filled with cortisone-rich chamois cream. Perhaps if I wasn’t such a lard-arse, I might have been able to jump on the back of the train for a millisecond, but I am, so I couldn’t, and I struggled my way to the top, and was reunited with the waiting Chris.
Then, along came our saviour. There was no brilliant sunlight, no parting of clouds, nor a booming voice from the heavens – probably because the sun was already out, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and because I’m as certain as I can be that there’s no God anyway – but a vision, the cycling donkey’s carrot-on-a-stick. A carrot that looked like a blonde, riding a stick that looked remarkably like a silver Bianchi. “Follow that bottom”, said Chris. I looked over at Chris. “Follow that bottom”, I agreed. And so, like two wise donkeys following a lycra-clad star, we followed that bottom over vale and hill until we reached a stable. More accurately, the stable was a bus shelter with a big fold-out table in front of it, bearing fruit and drinks. We replenished our empty bidons, grabbed a banana and a piece of flapjack each, and remounted our carbon and steel machines. But the Bottom had gone, and with it our chances of a good time.
Fatman: Pinarello Paris with full 9-speed Ultegra and Mavic Open Pros
Chris: Wilier Mortirolo Carbon with full 10-speed Veloce and Fulcrum R7s