As the new year dawned something in my riding roots reared its ugly head. A long-dormant offroad past. Maybe it was collecting the mountain bike of my youth from the garage where it had sat for the past decade. Whatever it was, it made me think that signing up to a cyclocross sportive was a good idea. On my fixie commuter. 80kms of road, firetrack and singletrack. On 25mm slicks. (Let’s see what these Gatorskins are made of!)
As an aside, I’m sure that you, like me, can get a little obsessive with the BBC weather app. (I’m not the first to notice the differences between BBC forecasts and their supposed source, the Met Office.) At this time of year its cheery little weather icons can make or break a day. Hours training in the dark are best kept dry if possible. Hours training indoors best kept to a minimum. But my friend the BBC weather app sometimes has other ideas.
So this week let’s just say I was a little more obsessive. From its first appearance on Monday, this morning’s forecast did not look good. Cold. Heavy rain from 9 am – exactly half an hour after I was due to start. Still, what faith can you have in a forecast? I told myself. Well, come Saturday night, I could have sworn those little icons were a darker shade of grey with larger, more menacing rain drops hanging beneath them. The only time I’ve ever known the five-day forecast to be accurate.
And, come this morning, for the first time ever, the forecast was exactly right. A 6:30 alarm got me to the start line for 8:30 am. Kitted, booted, bike prepped (yes it has a working brake), cup of tea warming my belly from the kind lady behind the teapot. I’m ready. It’s on. And there are quite a few of us on the start line.
But not as many as expected. Those who didn’t turn up missed out on a whole lot of fun. The route wound its way around the Chilterns, mixing up smooth surface with, well, the very bumpy. At least it felt like it to me. When you’re used to riding on the road it takes a little time to get used to the bike sliding around underneath you again. Throw in the torrential rain that begun after 10 minutes of riding and it got pretty tricky in places. After a few minutes I decided the best tactic was to ride through puddles in the hope of finding hard-packed ground in their depths. Better wet legs than a muddy face plant.
And after a while I settled into things. But this was a hard ride. Today my strava suffer score does not tell the whole story. Those chiltern climbs can be pretty steep, making a fixed gear a quad-wrenching choice. This takes early-season work on force (see upcoming posts on my training plans) to a whole new level.
But today every section of the ride was hard. The joy of cresting each climb tempered by knowing that without the option of free-wheeling, each descent was a battle against spinning legs and building up too much speed to control (good for leg speed though!). And the off-road sections demanded total concentration at all times, to thread a line through the mud, puddles and stones.
And so eventually after 40kms the inevitable happened – I punctured. A thorn, it turned out. Through the middle of my Gatorskin. Well, it was a big ask for a road tyre. But fixing it killed me off. I sheltered under a tree in the hope of finding a dry spot. Instead I found myself feeling wetter under the shower of larger drops falling from it. Drenched. And by the time I’d fixed my puncture, very cold. Fingers so numb that I had to pull out the thorn with my teeth. Time to head home, despite my ambition to complete the longer 80km route.
So I finished after 50kms, cold, but feeling OK. Sometimes it’s only later that you realise how cold you were. It took a long time to warm me up. Three cups of tea, an hour driving home with the heater on full blast and half an hour in a hot bath. Only after all of that did I begin to feel warm again. Maybe it was the right decision to call it a day early!
And it’s all left me wanting more! I definitely earned my dinner tonight. And I absolutely loved the riding. Even at my coldest, once I’d turned for home I enjoyed those last 10kms. Earlier on I’d had one of those moments, peering out from underneath my cap, rain blinding me, a gale blowing against me, cadence probably 30. Despite all that, I just thought, I love riding my bike. And sometimes, that’s all there is to it.