I've never ridden this distance before and not even close for the last few years. The furthest I have ridden is 60 miles, which I'd done previously in around 4hrs 30mins, nothing spectacular but I never used to ride regularly back then.
I was riding with my buddy from work 'Coops' who'd recently got back from a training holiday in Majorca. I had a plan in my head of how the ride would pan out and I planned to stick to it as well as I could. My plan was to stick with Coops all the way to 60 miles before his superior stamina and ability showed and off he'd go to claim a good time as I'd struggle to complete the last 20.
As plans rarely go to erm plan, this was no exception to that rule....
On the morning of the 01/04 it was freezing, well -01 in places on the drive down. It was fairly apparent at registration, the hardest part of the morning would be deciding on how many layers to wear. Over the complimentary coffee and porridge and having watched those around me I'd decided to wear everything I'd bought with me, down to the skull cap and the winter boots, it really was that cold. This could have posed a problem later on but it didn't look to be getting warmer any time soon.
There wasn't a huge amount of entrants on the Riser, at a guess I'd assume 300 at best. Looking around at the bikes/riders at registration, the theme of the day was carbon and lycra, this was bound to be a fast ride. I wondered how I'd fare in such company......
Start time was a fairly laid back affair, we were due to be set off in groups of 30 but we seemed to be let go in dribs and drabs, simply roll to the start line and off you go, happy days.
Much to my annoyance it became apparent within the first 5 miles that I wasn't the fittest I could have been and more importantly Coops was riding well and well beyond my capability, I couldn't hold his pace on the flat let alone the ascents. There were a few small climbs in the first 10 miles and I was really suffering, my plan of hanging on for 60 miles was looking particularly bleak. To Coops credit he did offer to lower the pace for my struggling ass. I asked him to keep the pace as was as I realised he wanted a good time and my pride wasn't willing to drop off the pace quite so soon, selfish I know.
The first food stop came as scheduled at the 21 mile point, I murdered a banana, filled my bottle with Torq powered and water and had an energy shot, 'sorted'. Off we went having been stationary for about 5 mins. I was suffering with the pace and a few fast groups had passed us, I could sense Coops wanting to jump on the back to tow a ride but I literally couldn't hold the pace let alone push it. Before the 44 mile point a the route split in two, the shorter 44 mile option and the longer 83, I signed up for the 83 and I would finish it, anything else would be failure....
Thankfully a fast group came past us and we jumped on the back (that energy gel had kicked in at this point), this was all good and well on the flat until the lay of the land pointed skyward.....the bunch split and Coops was gone with the fast guys. Right this was damage limitation mode now, I couldn't hold Coops pace and it was unfair asking him to hold mine, time to ride alone and get in some good miles at my own pace. Thankfully this was a welcome relief as I was really struggling.
Riders came and went, I was faster than some and slower than others, I rode a large part of the course alone at a good steady pace. I was feeling uneasy knowing I'd never ridden the distance and not knowing what pace I could push and for how long. I felt if I could get to 60 miles then I could manage the distance, I split the ride into smaller mileage segments as looking at the Garmin reading 44, 45, 46 miles was killing me.
The course was brilliant and beautiful and riding at my own pace allowed me to enjoy the surroundings and take in the views....by this point finishing was my only goal. I didn't think I be seeing Coops again until the finish. I managed to hook onto the back of 2 riders pushing a decent pace but more importantly a pace I could hold, I followed these guys from around the 50 mile point to the last feed station at 63 miles. To my astonishment Coops was at the feed station, he'd been there 10 mins having hit a wall at the last hill. This made my day, not the fact that he was struggling but more because my solo pace clearly wasn't too bad, seems the commuting fitness had paid off after all. Coops disappeared to chase a time and I sat stuffing flapjacks and gummy bears into my face, heaven.
'Right, I can do this', as I sat there I saw so many fit riders with bikes 3 times the cost of mine, knowing that they'd be struggling and that I was in front on the road made me feel good and gave me a real boost for the ride to the finish. The event organisers mentioned a 'sting in the tail' at 79 miles and this was constantly in the back of my mind, unknown territory for me this mileage, I started counting down from 20 the miles from 63 to 83. As I said before the course was brilliant and beautiful and the marking clear and concise. I rode the last 20 at my own pace and hoped I may just be able to hang on to a 'silver medal time'.
The sting in the tail came, I had to stop at the foot of the hill as both my legs had seized due to cramp, bike in the bushes and 2 minutes of stretching followed and off I went. Parts of the gradient reached 18% which oddly was barely noticable, once at the top the ride to the finish was stunning and fast with views of the ocean from the top of the valley.
My finishing time was 5hr's 33min and Silver (just), I finished 7 minutes behind Coops. Proper chuffed with that. What an event and what a route. I'd recommend this ride to anyone considering doing a larger mileage sportive without the fear of the century ride or in preperation for it.
All that was left now was to grab a coffee from Claud the Butler and sit in the sunshine and reflect on the day.
Event website http://www.meonvalleyriser.co.uk
Photography website http://www.georgeburgessphotography.com