Report courtesy of Andy Flint - Sunday 7th June

So having signed up 9 months ago and set my sights on doing ‘the big one’, billed by many commentators as one of the hardest Sportives of the year, I found myself at the start still wishing I had shed that half stone and wondering what was left in my legs after the Chiltern 100 the weekend before!  That said, I was quietly reassured that my build up had gone to plan and so the legs were ready...

On putting this one in the 2015 calendar I decided that I had to get the miles (and hills) in the legs in the course of the first half of 2015 so I would have half a chance of enjoying it!  I therefore completed all 5 reliability rides in January and February (they were cold and hard graft), took on the Lionheart (what a pig of a climb) and the Burgess Hill Classic (more hills and so much wind) in March, completed over 650 miles in Mallorca on the VCC training camp (gorgeous) in April, took on and almost lost to the Dartmoor Demon (cold, wet, windy and down-right foul), and then completed the London Cycle Sportive (great), the 2 day London Revolution (even better) and our very own Chiltern 100 (back to foul) in May and so finally the Dragon was here.

Joining up with Kate Gannon, Phil Mann, Mike Large and Philip Cork what could go wrong?! Turns out a mixed group (Gran Fondo and Medio) had to start at the later time despite our readiness some hour and a half earlier.  Let’s face it, the Gran Fondo is 146 miles, so every minute (in fact every hour) counts!  Given Philip and I were the two Medio riders it looked like we would have to let our VCC colleagues head away and leave us to fill time on what was turning out to be a quite beautiful day.  This of course didn’t appeal!  However, officialdom was in full force, which is perhaps understandable considering some 5,500 riders were being let loose on the open roads of South Wales.  After some ‘discussion’ we realised that officialdom was not going to yield... Fortunately, we then learnt an up-grade was an option (for an extra Fiver) at the information booth.  Philip and I duly signed up for the Gran Fondo and carrying our now orange ‘number plates’ our group was ready to roll.  After the Human Race promise we rolled out to take on the mighty Dragon.

Given the early start, our group had stayed over-night in Goytre, some 5 miles from the start in what was a somewhat minimalist and very budget version of what I imagine a Haven holiday camp to be like!  An extra 5 miles each way meant we rode to and from the start and as we made our way to our engagement with officialdom we noted a certain Mr Andrew Hunt rolling out in splendid VCC colours the other way – apparently he had a great ride (Medio) and managed to get home in time to see Wiggo set his new world record, some achievement!

The ride itself takes a route out of the grounds of Margom Park and on down to Port Talbot and then through and up into the valleys!  A key feature of the ride is the length of the climbs, which whilst never peaking in elevation at anything too scary do go on and on (and on, and on).  Up of course has its benefits and long climbs are followed by long descents with sweeping turns that make for a heady rush.  Good job we had these descents as this meant I could catch up with my fellow Gran Fondo cyclists who were pushing a strong pace.  They were keen to make good progress as their 146 mile ride was clearly going to take a good few hours more than my Medio 96 mile poor relation, so I was frequently off the back and only sighting VCC colours from afar until nature and my added pounds helped me claw back lost time!

The ride was certainly busy but it never felt crowded and every rider was very friendly.  Many shouts of “Go Verulam” were followed by conversations with people commenting on their previous weeks Chiltern 100 experience (easily summerised as wet!) whilst one guy from High Wycombe was determined to tell me about another hill that was not on the Chiltern 100 route but was in his view, the hardest hill in the Chilterns.  But could I fathom where it was, not a chance!  Fortunately another ascent arrived that meant his frustration was replaced by the need to breath and not talk!

Compared to the weekend before, where we braved wind and rain to master the Chiltern 100, the Dragon gave us many challenges but all delivered on a glorious day that simply got better and better.  Even the Devil’s Elbow couldn’t put a dampener on our spirits, despite its seemingly vertical nature.  In fact, looking ahead as you make your way towards the horseshoe corner, the riders ahead of you do appear to be climbing a near vertical wall and the sense of impending doom plays with the mind and drives a growing urge to un-clip!  I succumbed and released my left foot to avoid the panic that otherwise is over-whelming, but on arriving at the corner whilst the gradient is severe the legs kept pumping and progress was steady.  Breathing hard I found myself making headway despite 3 support vehicles blocking 90% of the road and going slower than me!  This, in hindsight, was perhaps helpful as I felt the need to push on past them.  Despite having to take the inner side of the corner, front wheel lifting precariously as I stood and stamped out some critical pedal turns, the adrenalin of the moment helped and I found myself passing all 3 vehicles and a number of riders too and, thankfully the top arrived before I ran out of breath!
After the Devil’s Elbow the sense of achievement was high, the road felt like it was going down even though it was still going up and the ride on from this point to the next feed station passed quickly and meant I arrived only a minute or so behind my Gran Fondo companions.

The next phase of the ride took us on through more fabulously scenic riding and whilst I was still hanging on to faster pace than I wanted, we did manage to stay together until the split at which point Philip and I waved happily and breathed a sigh of relief knowing we could set our own pace as we headed for the finish.

That said, pumped at the thought of having only c20 miles to go and seeing as the road was now gently downhill, we found ourselves putting on the speed and jumping on the back of a number of trains with folk who were way quicker than us.  Of course, it didn’t last and at the merest incline we found ourselves tumbling off the back!  Fun as it was, we couldn’t keep up the pace.  In addition, changing down from my bigger to my smaller cog, my chain caught and then crashed down bending my front mech out of position, meaning I was stuck with no big cog!  At this point I should have stopped and sorted it out but I was thinking only of the finishing line, and as the route was still largely down and fast I simply spun my legs until they could spin no faster!  Philip was still enjoying the tow and later admitted that he couldn’t quite believe I was speeding up!

Thinking we were on the home run as we passed the 10 miles to go, we were in confident mood as we entered Neath.  Then we took a left turn and realised the road ahead was going up again.  And it then went up and up for what seemed like forever, we couldn’t quite believe how much up there was!  Perhaps that was simply the legs having nothing left that meant what would normally have been a simple, steady climb became torture... Thankfully, as we saw the road ahead climbing seemingly endlessly on, we were overtaken by a rider who provided reassurance that we were almost done with the climbing – phew!

The rest of the route whilst undulating was generally downhill and fast, although the final stretch back from Port Talbot to the finish was into a headwind that ensured we spent every last bit of energy on the Dragon!

Arriving at the finish, we had a small gilt trip when we were congratulated over the loud speaker for a great time for completing the Gran Fondo, so we scuttled back to the information booth to reverse our status back to the Medio.  We didn’t get the fiver back!

With the sun shining down on us, we took a moment to enjoy the HQ with its stalls and brass band.  Philip bought a Dragon Jersey whilst I bought a cheese burger!

The Dragon is certainly a very tough ride, even if, like me and Philip, you opt to do the Medio.  But if you get the right day, like we did, there isn’t a better way to spend a day cycling.  Hats off to Kate, Phil and Mike who completed the Gran Fondo.  Perhaps next year?!

Courtesy of Andy Flint

Having enjoyed a pleasant Saturday catching up with the gardening, sun shining on my neatly trimmed lawn, I looked at the weather forecast for the big day and decided the early start from Redbourn (06.45) didn’t look like an attractive option!  Tom Tichler and I therefore reviewed our plan and Mrs T came to the rescue – a lift was arranged for 07.30 to drop us at the start.

I awoke to the predicted wet n windy day, downed my porridge and set forth with Tom and Mrs T to Bovingdon.  As we approached the traffic stalled, why does every Sportive have a long queue for the car park?!  Seeing the Mount prison to our right we took the plunge, pulled over and jumped on the saddle, allowing Mrs T to turn abruptly and run – gladly the authorities didn’t ask us to step inside!

We arrived at the start ahead of the Medio Fondo depart, met with Nigel Swift and Paul Hodgeson (who just made it given the queue for the car park) and took to the course with the sound of the hooter... Let’s do this, bring on the hills!

Underway, immediately the main story of the ride was unfolding. Puncture carnage was the order of the day, with cyclists at every turn, wheels off or pumping madly!  Fortunately, we didn’t incur the puncture demon but many, many and I mean many did, including Christine Pout who we were somewhat surprised to overtake at one point later on in the ride.  Turns out she suffered 4 punctures doing the Grand Fondo!

Just out of Bovingdon we hit Ley Hill, a teasing, cheeky warmer ahead of the serious ones to follow. The route then wound its way to Berkhamsted and on past Ashridge Management centre, up Pedley Hill and down Dagnall to take us to the bottom of Bison for our first real test of the day.  Driving our legs hard we summitted at the zoo and with a wave to the penguins pressed on to what felt like a gentle climb up and over Dunstable Downs!  Next came Ivinghoe Beacon and then on down Tom’s Hill, sharp left at Aldbury and across and up (and up!) to Wiggington.

There we got a warm welcome from Bob Bone and the VCC crew who were braving the weather to provide the comforts of home - well, some toilets, food, water and what appeared to be the busiest bike mechanic in the world!

From Wiggington (by the way it’s still raining and blowing a hooly) we set our sites for the, to us, lesser known parts of the route, always with the knowledge of the Whiteleaf and Wardrobes double wammy to come. The route wends its way to Wendover, for once we benefit from the downhill on Aston, through the town and on to the said climbs.  Passing a sign to Whiteleaf on our left and pressing on, thoughts that the climb had been removed from the route abound.  The sense of relief is only momentary however, as at the next left we are signed to Whiteleaf and the road ahead is only one way... up! Whiteleaf cannot be described in any other way than hard!  It goes on and then on, and then on again and always up!  Taking a short stop at the top we turned right and headed straight down in full knowledge that on the Chiltern 100 down means up... Wardrobes duly arrived.  Not as steep, nor as long but with the steepest section at the 90 degree left turn which happens to be a T junction, it’s a case of swing out wide and hope a milk float (or similar electric vehicle) isn’t heading our way as looking up isn’t feasible, so it’s the ears that make the decision to press on!

Safely manoeuvred, we press on and in a short while the green signs of the Medio Fondo course divert us away from more hills (and pain) with a cut through to North Dean and the welcome of our VCC friends lead diligently by Andy Rice.  More water and food on board (and some sausage rolls too, the left-over’s of Mr Rice’s 60th birthday celebrations from the night before!) we set our sights for the finish. 

‘Just’ doing the Medio meant we missed the extra 30 miles and the further serious ups and downs of this challenging ride and meant we also missed meeting with more of our VCC chums, lead by the ever resourceful Andrew Boetius at Chinnor.  I hear this was an equally well run stop, even if it did require one plumber, one builder, one engineer and one (not so handy) accountant to get the pump working for the water!

Our route then headed up through Speen, down and across to Great Missenden – a fast stretch that leads on to another climb, up and then down to Chesham with a final climb out of Chesham that isn’t for the faint hearted!

Finding myself overtaken by a huge guy in bright orange (I thought I had finally seen the sun!) pounding along into Chesham, I had a sneaky feeling I would see him again soon!  Sure enough, as we worked our legs on the climb out of Chesham sunny big fella came back to me!  I can only admire his effort, and some effort it was that he was putting in, given I was feeling it and regretting not losing that half stone I have been seeking to shift since the start of the year!

Topping out, it was heads down for Bovingdon and a ride across the line to collect my medal which is my sole reason for cycling Sportives – can’t beat getting a medal!!

Shaking hands with the members of team Tichler, Nigel and Paul made their way to their cars whilst Tom and I decided the aerodrome was not a place to relax and reminisce, after all, the wind and rain was still hammering down.  So, we made a quick getaway cycling to Hemel where Costa ‘hit the spot’!  From there, we enjoyed the late summer sunshine that finally arrived as we made our way across country home.

The Chiltern 100 remains a true sporting challenge and lives up to its billing as "the toughest sportive close to the capital". Bring on 2016!

 

Andy Flint reports...

Andrew Hunt, Nigel Swift and I took on the London Cycle Sportive, 100 miles of capital city cycling fun!  The London Cycle Sportive takes in some important landmarks from London’s Olympic history including a unique finish on the 1948 Olympic Velodrome at Herne Hill.

The ride starts from the picturesque Dulwich Park, just a stone’s throw away from the iconic finish at the Velodrome, and the route goes out to the stunning Surrey Hills taking in Box Hill, which is decidedly the easiest of the climbs!

Having decided to stay overnight in Crystal Palace ahead of the ride, Andrew Hunt and I survived a rather dodgy New York Diner and an even dodgier hotel (better equipped for asylum seekers than cyclists, we both had rooms with bunk beds!) and met Nigel at the start to wend our way out of South London into the Countryside.  Blest with perfect weather we enjoyed a pleasurable if challenging ride - having done this one last year, I'd forgotten it includs a number of quite demanding hills!  Box hill came at the 80 mile mark and being timed, we went for it, Andy Hunt sneaking me by 1 second to the top!  A nine minute spin (9mins 17 seconds to be precise) was actually a 'pleasant' part of the ride.  The whole thing was topped off with a dash around the Herne Hill Velodrome, which it is pleasing to report is staring to look like it has a future rather than just a past these days.

If you are looking for a Sportive in London this one comes highly recommended.

Report by Andy Flint

The Mitie London Revolution is the largest multi-day sportive in the UK. Riders of all abilities take on the iconic 185 mile loop around the capital with many staying at the overnight camp at the halfway point, Ascot race course.

This year the route took a clockwise direction, last year it went anti-clockwise, heading South from Lee Valley Athletics Centre through Central London early Saturday morning rather than Sunday afternoon.  Whilst this made for a clearer and safer experience the first 10 miles still took over an hour – London roads are never quiet and the numerous traffic light controls resulted in a somewhat frustrating stop, start experience for everyone. However, London sights as the morning sun shone through made a pleasant distraction.  After clearing the City and crossing the river by way of the iconic Tower Bridge, we headed out into the stunning climbs and descents of the North Downs before heading west towards Windsor Great Park and the overnight camp, just off Wentworth Golf Course!

Having collected our bags, shipped from the start to Ascot (and shipped back for us on Day 2), the overnight stop delivers individual tents (which offer plenty of room), a recovery chocolate shake, a sleeping mat, posh showers, and of course some porta-loos - for that handy, night-time, must go experience!  The venue also offered multiple bars (indoors and outside), a chill out area (chairs and bean bags), charging facilities (for mobile phones and Garmins), proper toilets, great food, and even a place to meet the Dulux dog (Dulux trade were one of the sponsors (see pic)!

It was whilst chilling out that we noticed another VCC jersey seemingly resting up and when we looked closer discovered it was Mike Large talking to the medic!  It turned out that Mike had gone to do some yoga lessons (another option at the overnight stop) had laid down to participate only to discover some painful abrasions on his arm and thigh.  He had no idea how these had got there but Mr Medic could see some bruising to Mike’s head and concluded he had taken a fall and been knocked out!  Mike had clearly managed to cycle the entire day 1 route and had no memory of any fall, but did recall being confused at one point and having to call the help line to get directions!!  Mike was taken off to A&E having made arrangements to be collected and we were left wondering what had happened?!

After a welcome rest (aided by wearing my fleece in my sleeping bag, as the temperature dropped in the early hours – and not so aided by the Ascot scene driving their supercars past the racecourse at 2.00 in the morning) we got back in the saddle for the shorter (but more sharply hilly) day back to the start via the Chiltern Hills - that is one hell of a hill out of Princes Risborough!!

Taking our second pit stop at the Butterfly centre, Chiswell Green, two gents (riding for Team Dulux trade) recognizing Tom’s VCC Jersey started recounting how they had been riding on the previous day and had seen this fella wearing a VCC jersey almost miss a turn, take a last minute decision to turn and, breaking, gone down hard on the gravel.  Apparently, Mike hit the road head first - which explains a lot, including the smashed helmet (and black out)! They had picked Mike up who had confirmed he was OK (presumably his helmet was still in some shape on his head?!) and cycled with him for the next 3 miles  to reassure themselves that he was fit to ride…
One of the Gents gave me his details and Mike has since spoken with him since, so Mike now knows what happened!  Another great example of why we all must wear helmets!

Day two, whilst shorter, was no less easier and having been joined by Dayle (who we failed to find at the start on day one) we made good progress (thanks to some sterling Dayle riding on the front!) back to our destination at Lee Valley Athletics Centre.

This fully signposted route is a great challenge, suitable for those who are up for a tough yet do-able Sportive, as well as for those training for longer distance, multi-day endurance events.  Kirk, Tom, Dayle, Andrew Hunt and I (and Mike for a day!) had a thoroughly good weekend and yes, I’d do it again!

The route :

Report from Andy Flint on the Dartmoor Demon with Andrew Hunt

The Dartmoor Demon lived up to its name - weather was awful - almost biblical and yes, similar to Ride London, but with visibility of 30 feet and hills galore - and I mean hills!  20 and 25% and long... at 20%... continuously!!  Walk of shame on more than one occasion for me - I need a 32 on the rear like Mr Hunt, well that is my excuse! I also had the pleasure of a puncture going downhill (serious down!) and then found myself changing my tyre with the company of a cow... or was it a bull? It was huge and roaming around on the road as I later found out from a passing motorist it had wandered off the moor ("ere... nothing to worry about)!!  We 'only' did the standard route (55 miles) as recommended by the organisers, but 5 hours of that was more than enough!

 

For good measure Mr Hunt took me on a 'recovery ride' the following day (I think he wanted to get in the extra miles we'd missed the day before) to view Dartmoor Prison!  We got a glimpse (depressing!) and also got very wet.. again!  We did 2500+ feet of climbing in just 30 miles - they like their hills in Devon!
So even though we didn't do the epic route the whole weekend was basically epic!
Uncle Kirk (Alderson) was well.  He arrived back from Mallorca on the Sunday afternoon, so we met up for a well earned (by us) pizza before we departed Plymouth and returned to Herts. Good fun!!