Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Cotswold Autumn Classic Sportive

As usual the Pixies alter ego Captain Tardy will be writing this post, yep, it's been nearly a month since the Santini Cotswold Autumn Classic took place on 7th October so this post could be viewed as being a little on the late side!

The Cotswolds Classic was an event I had been looking forward to (not least because it started and finished about 20 miles from my home, rather than nearly a hundred miles away!) as it promised some riding in an area I was familiar with and looking at the elevation profile of the route it didn't look like it contained a significant amount of climbing. 

I was also looking forward to the event as it would provide another opportunity to ride in a group rather than riding on my own. My experience on the Southdowns Challenge had taught me just how much less energy is used when riding in a group compared to riding solo and I had also realised that by riding in a group longer distances were easier to complete. Apparently riding in a group uses something like 20-30% less energy than riding on your own.  

Prior to the start of the event I had arranged to meet up and ride with a couple of people I had "met" via Twitter (the wonder of social media and the internet again) Of course trying to meet up with someone you have never met before in a crowd of hundreds of people all wearing lycra and all pushing bikes around was never going to be easy, however we did manage it and Alex and Tony didn't seem to have any trouble finding the Pixie who was dressed all in black apart from his fluoro green helmet.

Introductions out of the way and it was time to take our place on the start line. It was at this point that I realised that I had inadvertently arranged to ride with a couple of Sportive veterans that had earlier in the year competed in a French sportive and had climbed Alp d'Huez - No pressure there then!

Once underway we made our way out of Cirencester and headed out into the Cotswold country side. We were all suffering a bit with the cold early morning temperature so a decision was made to increase the pace and try to join one of the faster groups that were making there way around the course.

Within a couple of miles we had joined a large group that seemed fairly well organised and we soon found ourselves rolling along at a comfortable 20-22mph. The feeling of riding along in that group as we made our way down the country lanes cutting through the early morning mist was actually quite special, if you are a cyclist and you haven't tried riding with a group I would recommend that you try it, you probably won't be disappointed. 

Riding in a group isn't without its perils, you do have to stay alert and you do have to keep an eye on what everybody around you is doing. We witnessed a classic example of what happens when people stop concentrating just as we were approaching a junction in the road. One minute everybody is whooshing along enjoying the thrill of riding in the pack, the next there is the unmistakable metallic sound of bikes scraping along the ground and the thud of soft human bodies hitting the deck. This is followed by lots of evasive action from those following the unfortunate victims and several other "near misses" as the rest of the group takes evasive action to miss those people trying to miss the original incident - All very exciting and heart pumping stuff!

The "victims" of this incident appeared to be fine, a bit bruised, a bit of minor gravel rash and lightly dented egos, but no real harm done by what was probably a momentary lapse of concentration.

Alex (second from left) Pixie and Tony (third from left)
cutting a dash through the early morning Cotswold mist  

The first half of the route didn't contain any particularly significant climbs or hills and this resulted in us being able to average a respectable average speed of around 22mph for the next hour or so. 

Once we had left the feed station the type of terrain the route was going through started to change and as each mile passed by we seemed to be making our way up and down more hills and valleys. The severity of the hills also seemed to be gradually increasing as well (nothing to severe just gradually getting longer and a bit steeper) My Strava data for the ride indicates that there was a pronounced change in the frequency and steepness of hills at around the 36 mile mark with a cheeky little short climb of around 5-6% followed by about four miles of steady but gradual climbing.

At around the 45 mile point, the terrain changed quite dramatically and it was clear that the organisers were not going to give competitors an easy ride in to the finish. The next nine miles saw competitors going up and down a number of long and relatively steep hills which varied in severity from 5-9% 

The fact that these hills were all contained within the last quarter of the ride seemed to have an impact on many competitors ability to get up them without resorting to wearing out their cleats (that's walking for all of you non cyclists) and it was actually quite surprising how many people we passed on those last hills (walking and cycling) Its at times like this that I remember why I go through the pain of my training programme - I tried walking up a hill in my cycling shoes once and didn't like it. In my opinion it is easier to train like a demon and do everything I can to minimise the potential of having to grind my cleats on a hill, however it is only my opinion and I can also kind of see the attraction of not training and walking up hills.       

It was whilst climbing the last significant climb of the day going through a  damp woodland area that we witnessed one of our fellow competitors fall off their bike into the side of a tractor that was trying to squeeze past him (rather than wait a few seconds for him to pass) This really was one of those "slow motion" moments when you are watching events unfold in front of you and you are hoping that what could happen, won't happen. Thankfully the competitor didn't fall under the tractor wheels and the tractor came to a halt in the nick of time - however it could so easily have finished another way. The remarkable thing about this incident was the fact that the tractor driver only got out of his tractor to check on the cyclist when his tractor was surrounded by cyclists, showing concern for a fellow competitor and preventing the tractor from moving. Had the "victim" been on his own I'm sure the tractor driver wouldn't have bothered to stop. The competitor appeared to be okay and was able to push his bike to the top of the hill - hopefully the bruises didn't take to long to heal and his bike is fixed. 

Once up and over this last real climb the route started its descent back down towards Cirencester with the last 8 miles being predominantly down hill on gradients of around -1%. We were able to use this last section of the route to push ourselves for one last effort in an attempt to achieve a respectable overall time. My Strava data indicates that we averaged something like 22-23mph for this section which wasn't to shabby at all, given that it was at the end of a 100k ride. 

The end of the ride was marked by riding through a huge inflatable arch and being given a "goody bag" which contained some promotional freebies and a magazine (I already had a copy of the first edition of "The Cyclist" so if anyone wants my spare copy feel free to contact me) 

Post ride feeding consisted of a small bowl of pasta and veggie sauce with a cup of coffee or tea. I believe there might have been some cake on offer but I didn't find it and to be honest my legs wouldn't have let me go and look for it anyway.

There were a number of trade stands near the finish area selling all manner of "must have" end of season cycling bargains but none of them caught my eye and I managed to refrain from buying even more cycling gear. The complete bikes were however very spangly and would have looked very nice parked up in my garage alongside the Specialized (maybe that'll be a treat for another day?)

The Cotswold Autumn Classic was a very enjoyable event, the weather was very kind to us and the course was a very well thought out course which would suit both the experienced and novice sportive rider alike.

How did we do? Our total time for the 100k was 4 hours 2 minutes, with a "moving time" of 3 hours 53 minutes (clearly we need to spend less time hanging around at feed stations and attending to "calls of nature")

Will I be back for another go next year? Absolutely and I suspect I will be doing the 100 mile route rather than the 100 kilometre route.

100K Route

Thanks have to go to Alex and Tony for letting me ride with them on the day as the ride wouldn't have been nearly as enjoyable if I had done it on my own as i had originally intended when I entered the event.

Now that I have finished writing this post, I had better start writing the next one which will be about competing in the "Exmoor Beast" sportive (the event was three days ago and I'm going to see if I can get the post up on the web site before the end of the week - Will Pixie be writing it this week or will Captain Tardy be writing it in about three weeks time?)

As always thanks for taking the time to visit my blog and for reading the rambling thoughts of the Pixie as he continues on his journey to l'Etape 2013. 

I hope you are able to pop back for another look at the blog sometime in the future.

Dha weles diwettha




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