Today was the Staffordshire Cycling Festival, the day I did my first rather modest sportive. I was there bright and early at 9, and was let off in about the fourth or fifth wave to leave. I think there were about 200 people doing the 22 mile ride, and considerably more than that starting the 68 mile ride an hour earlier. Attached to my bike I had my race number, #93, which also contained a microchip for timing purposes, just in case I wanted to know to the second just how slowly I got round.
Well I must confess to feeling something of a berk on the start line, everyone in their modern man-made fibres and riding their rather business-like bikes and me in corduroy trousers on an old three speed, but that was precisely the point. 22 miles isn’t much of a challenge, even for me, but on a heavy old bike in the wrong clothes it’s a bit more of a workout. I quite like being the wierdo, as you can probably tell…
We started off, and to begin with I just wanted to settle in and see how I fit in with everything. Riding with company was rather a new experience, so I made sure I kept a little distance to those in front until I figured out how it all worked. Quite soon the quicker ones had overtaken me and I’d overtaken the slowcoaches, and I settled in to a rhythm. As we turned to the Haywoods just out of the start we went over a cobbled bridge, which shook everything up and caused my front light to rattle the rest of the way. There was a bit of a wait to cross one major road, but then it was off into the countryside.
I made surprisingly good time, and when the hills I’d feared materialised I didn’t really have too much trouble with them, even the ones that were steeper than I was expecting. They’re always a bit tough on a heavy bike with not many gears, but having other people to compare myself against helped a lot and I quite often found myself passing people uphill. Not sure some of them were too impressed at being overtaken by me though…
At length I got to the feed station at half distance, which was three quarters of the way up rather a sharp hill. There were so many bikes! It was a little cafe called Cobwebs in the middle of nowhere and there were stables nearby with horses being shepherded about. I got a flapjack and a couple of cans of Coke (one to drink, one for the saddlebag in case I flagged later) and found a bit of shade to sit in while I recharged. There was a bit of a queue for the one available toilet, and I was off the bike for about 30 minutes in total.
I set off feeling pretty good, knowing I’d got to the cafe ahead of what I’d expected and keen to get on with things. The country roads were so nice, and it’s a lovely part of the world – obviously I’m biased since I grew up here! There was one rather long downhill section where I brushed 30mph, but at this point I remembered – I forgot to put Strava on! Oh well. The middle half were roads I’ve never been down before, so I was looking forward to getting back to familiar roads to guide me home.
Much sooner than I was expecting, I found myself in Hixon. I knew from Hixon we picked up the A51 and turned right to the Haywoods, but it was only when I saw people signalling right that I realised I was already on the A51! On the lanes from Ingestre to Tixall we got a bit stuck between cars, but apart from that I really enjoyed riding along the roads I used to go to school on. I even passed the hedge I crashed my first car into!
As I came out of Tixall I had it made, the only obstacle left being the uphill sections on the drive into Shugborough. I took a little breather, making sure to breath deeply and make sure I was fresh and ready for it. It was a great feeling turning in to the gates of Shugborough, and up the hill my only issue was having to let a van past without losing too much momentum. I got to the top and cruised in, giving a wave to the photographer and finding my way round to the finish line. 2 hours 14 minutes and 10 seconds.
I picked up my goodie bag, slapped on my medal and sat down. I was a bit sweaty and tired but I wasn’t exhausted, even if it was the longest I’ve ridden in one go. I felt immensely proud of my beat-up old bike, which had carried a 20-a-day smoker across the line quicker than many, many others. Certainly after the first mile or so I was overtaking more than I was overtaken. I know it’s not a race but it was good to measure myself against others and come out reasonably favourably.
It was a lovely way to punctuate the half-way point in the year. I’ve had a horrible June, just full of work and stress and a lingering sore throat. June was my worst month for milleage since February, which tells a story. It was so nice to just relax after the ride with my complimentary beer and chat with my fiancée, who came along to welcome me home. I’m going to see if I can convince her to ride it with me next year…