Sunday, 7 June 2015

A good training ride in every way. (Don't count your chickens, especially not in Norfolk.)

What starts out as a straight forward, straight line, tail wind driven 160 miles doesn't at first seem too
demanding. By now, I'm confident that I can do the miles, and reasonably quickly, but the whole point of the TCR, is that longevity when it comes to riding a bike makes for plenty of time for things to go wrong.

I had travelled to Amersham in Buckinghamshire, to see my Aunt. (An unbelievably courageous woman in the face of serious illness and an inspiration to anyone facing adversity.)

For some reason I chose to switch on my GPS when I first arrived. I knew that there appeared to be a problem with the mapping of my route and hoped that it was just geographical, i.e it would resolve on arrival at the start of the route. How naive! The minute I pressed GO on the navigation screen for the first leg, it was evident that it wasn't going to work and it became apparent that for one reason or another I had not managed to download the road map overlays from Basecamp. The route was there, but nothing for it to sit on!

As I will do when I'm away in July, I did have a paper map as back up, but this would have been tortuous, if not unworkable over this kind of distance. OK for touring, far from ideal when racing hard.

I set too after lunch, downloading basecamp on my aunt's laptop and ordering the necessary maps through and waited for them to arrive. Thankful for a short wait, I succeeded in acquiring what I needed and still managed to hit the road by 14:05. Phew.

The lanes through Buckinghamshire towards Hemel Hemstead are seriously lumpy and as it happens bumpy. The downhills were hair-raising and juddering, the uphills...well, up. In the cool sunshine though it was all pleasure. I was having fun as I crossed the Thames near Bourne End.

I chose not to look at my distance until I was very close to home, deciding that 160 miles would only feel all the longer for being reminded that you I still had over 100 miles to go. So instead I revelled in everyone else's summer pass-times, stopping briefly to enjoy the sights and sounds of carnivals and village cricket.

I was surprised by how soon I found myself in Cambridgshire and thereafter in amongst it's colleges and famous buildings. The town is of course a delight to cycle through, with cycle lanes circumnavigating traffic lights and queues of cars. Kings College was suitably lit in the bright afternoon sunshine.

My next stop would by Ely, another Cathedral city that I had passed through but never visited, so I was glad to stop for 10 minutes and a sandwich in front of this incredible building. I will certainly come back out to take a look around the inside.

The road from Ely follows Ten Mile Road for about...ten miles funnily enough. Travelling below the level of the dyke and probably at times the water level, I cruised along this empty road with miles and miles of Cambridgshire fen to laid out like a carpet to the West. The soil, a rich dark-chocolate brown, a patchwork of neatly laid out rows of onions, sugar beet and carrots. Oh to be a rabbit!

I did eventually pop up above the level of the wall and could make out Wissington sugar factory in the far distance. From a cycling perspective, this was as close to Holland as it seemed to be possible to get. Still with a stern wind, it could not be better.

As I passed through West Dereham, the sun was just beginning to set. The lack of cloud robbed me of much of a sunset, but it was still light heading toward 10 pm. It had been a peach of a day.

From Swaffham I was in familiar territory, crossing the ford at West Acre and then negotiating the off-road section prior to Litcham. It was considerably harder to miss the largest of the stones in the dark and I made a mental note not to crossing the Strada del Assietta in the dark. (This 40km off road section awaits us after crossing the French Italian border.) If the next 2 hours or so teaches me anything, it must be this.

I hit a rut coming into Litcham and it was too hard for it not to have done any damage. I was not surprised therefore when I felt the front rim bounce on the road and I ground to a halt.

The clear skies made for a cold evening, but with a spare inner-tube to hand, I was back on the road in 10 minutes confident of reaching home between midnight and 1 in the morning. I was surprised then, about thirty minutes later when this new tyre went down without the slightest provocation and I found myself again, sat in the road, this time mending a puncture with glue and patches.

The tyres I knew were getting thin. I have bought new ones for the race, but had hoped to stretch these to race day. It is not to be. My task for the morning will be to fit the new ones.

So 11 hours 40 minutes after setting off and 157 miles later, I collapsed into bed. A wiser and slightly weary cyclist.

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