Ian Oliver’s British Cyclosportive

Want to save yourself 40 quid and the bother of getting up before dawn on a wet sunday? Then read Ian’s very amusing report on his British Cyclosportive ride.

Wake up at 4am, sheets of rain. Do I need this? After entertaining the idea of turning round and going back to sleep, I get up anyway.

Grey and damp by the time I arrive at Greenwich. Humour not improved by a dismal cup of tea.
Wait in line with the other early starts, looking for others in the hallowed green, but saw noone. and pushed off at about 6.08. Somewhere, Victoria Pendelton was starting us but I never saw her.
And then it got much better. A gentle run to the bottom of the park and the chip timer start by the gate. Lots of traffic lights and roundabouts and the shock of steep, short Bostal Hill.
Not exactly scenic along the lower Thames, but little traffic and lots of cyclists, grouping and breaking up as those not in club chaingangs found their pace-mates.

After about an hour Gravesend, then the first country and sunshine! Off with the boil in the bag then speed past the first feed stop, dropping down to Rochester. Along past new flats built on the bank of the Medway, their inhabitants oblivious to the hundreds of passing cyclists. Then up a short but very steep little hill, under the M2 and through cornfields. Stopped at the Aylesford feedstop for water and Soreen – that stuff tastes weird!. Luckily tucked into a big group between there and Hadlow, as it was raining with a headwind. The group reduced as some people peeled off for the feed station and a smaller group persisted until Tonbridge where traffic lights and my inability to get my lardy frame fast up hills counted against me staying in a group. By now it was around 9am: a lot more traffic on the road, a lot more hills and the first groups of onlookers by the side of the road. Slowed down to feed and then found myself on my own for a bit, reaching the halfway sign in 3hrs 32. I had planned eight hours and realised I was going to come in well under.

Mesmerised by a very odd manoevre ahead by an old boy in his car, I missed the right turn off the A road shortly after Pembury. It only took 100 yards to realise my error, so just a minute lost. Most of the way the sign posting was excellent and with yellow police notice wanring of closure for the tour on almost every pole along the route as a reminder, it was hard to go far wrong.
The next stretch to Goudhurst was the most scenic. It is a hard climb up to Goudhurst with a lot of cars on a narrow road, but at the top of the hill, by the church, there were lots of people clapping and yelling encouragement- just the incentive to keep going I needed.

Dont remember much about the next bit, I was wheel sucking the guy in front and just starting to feel guilty when I looked behind and saw a long stream of riders behind me. Eventually merged into another big group that I dropped off eventually. Sissinghurst provided the first bad driving I’d seen, someone pulled out from the kerb in front of me and some idiot in a big 4*4 got aggressive, proving the stereotype.

Tenterden was the ride low point. It had been a long way without a stop and I wanted to call home to say I was running very early. Rode through the town with the feedstop a school on the far side. with nothing except tiny paper cups of water. Not even Soreen! It turned out the lorry supplying the stops had got caught behind an accident. Oh well, another energy bar. It became clear I was so far ahead of plan that there was little chance of the family getting to Canterbury before me.
Set off again and thought I was alone in the world until I turned round and saw I was leading a long line of about 20 riders. Welcolmed the chance to speed up with a much faster group that overtook and got to the last feed station at Aldington. I found this village is inhabited by special people who in the absence of Soreen and the other gunk, had put out the stuff intended for sale in the village hall for our free consumption. Never has a cheese and tomato sandwich tasted so good. Thank you!

The next stage took us nearly to the coast. The route ran along a scarp with occasional views overlooking Romney Marsh and the sea and at this point the wind had turned so it was riding east into a headwind. After a few miles, turned north and after a mile on the dire surface of the old A20, rejoined the TDF route that goes through Ashford. Up the last climb of the day, Farthing Common, which was much shorter than I expected. Along the edge of the downs in a startling sidewind and then a wind assisted 10 mile downhill along the Roman Road to Canterbury interrupted by a call that established I would not be greeted in Canterbury and then by someone asking after Rocco’s health (no idea who and he was too fast to catch and ask). One alarming moment as someone knocked me side on while I was doing 45kmph, followed by a profuse apology in a French accent.

Into Canterbury and the end. The last 200m is up a slight incline that you dont expect, along a narrow, coned-off stretch of road. It slightly took the wind out of my sails, geared up as I was for a sprint finish, and I think it had the same effect on the others just ahead of me. Finished in 7hr 13:58 and my HRM said I had used 5776 calories. I made up for some of that deficit with a huge sausage sarnie and then pootled across Canterbury to friends where I was met by my family and the usual huge meal our friends lay on. I just managed not to doze off afterwards.

Thoughts: The event cost £40 but felt like something that cost £10. The registration process the day before was a mess and I can see no reason why the numbers and chips were not just posted out. The feed station problem was aggravating, though I was carrying enough gunk to see me through, and the finish was an anti-climax. Definitely room for big improvements.

On the other hand the ride was great – more fun than an Audax, you got spectators, no need to worry about directions and the chance to ride in large groups. Plus I dropped my car key en-route and, yes, it was returned! A lot of riders complained about the traffic, but, hey, it was THE tour route minus the town centres (and who would’n’t want to miss Ashford), so you do get A roads. I suspect as an early start I missed most of the traffic, but once you got off the main roads, it was’n’t an issue.
I certainly hope it runs again, and, if London Dynamo can put in dozens of riders, so can La Squadra Verde.

Ian Oliver

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