Eroica Britannia – preamble

Last weekend was my big target for the year – a 55 mile ride at Eroica Britannia. The past month has been so busy with real world stuff that I hardly had any time for proper training, so I went in feeling very underprepared. I did manage to get about 60 miles in during the week before, spread across three rides, so I knew I wasn’t a million miles off. The Friday we went I was incredibly busy having to move house, so after dismantling my bed, loading it into the car along with loads of other stuff, driving 40 miles, unloading, reassembling, then doing the same trip again, I had to pack the car ready for the weekend and drive just over an hour to Fiden Grange in Derbyshire.

When we got there we discovered the campsite was quite a considerable walk from the car, about half a mile over lumpy fields and paths rather crudely made of large lumps of limestone. We decided to pitch the tent first, as the light was fading, then had a look around the festival site. We got a green plastic wristband for the campsite, and I got a beautiful Union Jack coloured ribbon which said RIDER. It made me feel pretty special. After such a long day I fancied a nice cool gin & tonic, and my fiancée had never tried it before, so we had one each at the Hendrick’s Gin bar as the sun began to set. It was so very nice.

We went back to the car to retrieve everything else, and were struggling a bit on our way to the campsite when a very nice man indeed offered us a hand and then absolutely insisted he help! This made things a little easier, and after unpacking we settled down and I made some tea on the camping stove. We were hoping to turn in, but hadn’t reckoned on the music coming from the festival, which was a stone’s throw from the tent. We discovered with some horror that this wasn’t due to stop until 2am… see that marquee behind the tent? That’s where it was coming from.

The following day we had a bit of a lie-in to compensate for the booming music keeping us up, then I collected my bike from the car and wheeled it over to the tent. Conveniently there was a pole right behind our tent to lean the bike against. Here’s my mighty steed all ready to go, only the computer and the saddlebag spoiling the vintage aesthetic.

We went into the festival site and found some breakfast – I had a crepe with lemon and sugar, and a butterscotch milkshake. Everything at the festival was crazy expensive, but to be fair the quality was excellent. My fiancée’s main preoccupation was getting to the show ring in time for best-dressed dog, whereas I was obviously more interested in the bicycles. This little chap was her favourite:

We had a good look at everything, then decided to split up for half an hour so we could avoid boring each other. She sought out the cake marquee, I checked out the bike jumble. There was all sorts there, in all states of repair. If you needed anything for virtually any old bike, no matter how obscure, you could probably find it here. I took particular interest in one old seat post and a SunTour BL rear derailleur, but resisted temptation. The rear derailleurs on the bikes on top of the old Mavic neutral support car caught my eye. The car was a perfectly preserved Peugeot 504, and it looked amazing.

Next we headed over to the ‘headquarters’ tent and got a drink. I lined up to sign on, 9 desks arranged each servicing 500 out of the 4,500 riders who would be taking part. After registering, which included signing a disclaimer which said I was allowed to ride without a helmet at my own risk, I was handed an envelope and a musette full of goodies. The musette contained:

  • A small bottle of Jagermeister
  • A can of Jameson Irish whiskey mixed with ginger and lime
  • A small bottle of Hendrick’s Gin
  • A bottle of Double Dutch tonic water
  • A Danish pastry
  • A 500ml bottle of Buxton’s water
  • A pin badge advertising Jimmy’s Iced coffee
  • A pot of Rump bottom rub
  • A sachet of Swish To Go powdered tooth cleaner
  • A chunky guidebook to hostels in the UK

The envelope contained:

  • A page of instructions, information, hints and tips
  • A road book to be stamped during the ride, folding out into a map of the three routes
  • A race number to be put on the bike, with two pieces of string
  • A race number to be put on the rider, with five safety pins
  • Stickers to attach to the race number indicating 25, 55 or 100 mile route

My number was easy for me to remember as 12/8 is the day I’m getting married, so all I had to remember was the 6! I did um and ah a bit before finally deciding to put the 55 mile sticker on, I was pretty nervous about what lay ahead both for me and the bike, and I knew I was going to be a little short of sleep on acount of the nearby music. This is probably the main reason why my tent was so far away from everyone else’s!

I did go for a little ride to see how I was feeling, down the former railways that were part of the routes. Last week I’d done a 38 mile ride, about 25 miles of which was down one particular railway line. Given how flat it was I thought it was pretty poor training, but it turned out that experience on unsaved trails was perfect! What was interesting was that that on my 18 mile shakedown ride I encountered three or four subtly different types of gravel that each felt different. Some smooth, some tending to potholes, some bumpy and very tricky, and some just very slippery, like riding on ball bearings. The views though, the views were AMAZING. It really helped me stop feeling nervous and actually look forward to the ride.

So I got back, got showered and changed (the showers and toilets were very good by the way) and we went back to the festival to eat dinner – a large pot of chicken chow mein which I forced myself to eat every last bit of – and then we sat around the stage to see 1980s band ABC. They weren’t bad. We headed back to Hendrick’s for a nightcap, a lovely pink thing with ginger ale in it, and we got invited into a room where some peculiar gentlemen got us to make music using cucumbers, before handing us another Gin and tonic free. I didn’t drink it all, as I knew I needed to go to sleep sober.

Before we headed back to the tent we watched the sunset behind the start-finish area. It was a lovely sight, and it filled me with all sorts of emotions as to what lay in store.

To be continued…


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