Sometimes, no matter how much planning or preparation you do, things go wrong. It’s just the way it is.
My preparation for the Herio Sportive had gone to plan, the distance, route and the hills were of no real worry, and the bike and equipment were all checked and working well. I’ve got this I thought.
I woke early on the morning of the event, having not slept too well, the ‘what ifs’ were flying through my head until the early hours of the morning, but I’d managed a few hours sleep. By now the nerves had kicked in, and eating Readybrek for breakfast was a bit of a challenge, food after waking at 5:30 am is never good regardless of what it is, even chocolate! I loaded my bike in the car and ran through the kit list one last time just in case anything was amiss before setting off.
I arrived at the Newport Velodrome just after 7 am, much earlier than I needed to be, but with the event being sold out, I convinced myself that parking was going to be tight. While I had no problem parking, riders arriving soon after did and were left to park on side roads quite a distance from the venue. I collected my number from the HQ set up in the Velodrome and signed the registration sheet; it was all getting real very quickly! The long route cyclists were everywhere, unpacking their kit and very impressive bikes, the type of bike that I can only dream of owning.
After meeting up with the rest of the ladies I train with, we agreed to start as soon as possible rather than get tangled up with the bigger groups that were gathering around the parking areas.
The short route took us through the wetlands area of Newport, an area that we all are very familiar with, our group was travelling at a reasonable speed on the flats and everyone was chatting and enjoying the warmth of the sunshine that had made a very welcome appearance. The ride was fun and enjoyable, and we arrived in Undy very quickly, here the long route riders continued on up towards the tougher hill climbs of the Chepstow and Monmouthshire areas, while we turned and headed back towards Magor before encountering the hilly section of the shorter route. This is where it started to go very wrong.
Riding in the middle of a group is the easier place to ride effort wise, but it’s also the hardest when less experienced group riders are around you, as I found out the hard way. A rider in front of me panicked that she’d missed the food stop and with no warning jammed the brakes on and almost stopped dead. I had very little space to manoeuvre and a crash was a very real possibility. Somehow, I swerved to miss her but in doing so hit the biggest pothole on the entire stretch of road. I waited for the bang, or the hiss, the telltale uncomfortable wobble ride that goes with punctures and buckled wheels, but none of it happened and everything seemed kind of ok.
I stopped at the feeding station to check the wheels and tyres on my bike, promising to catch up with the rest of the ladies as soon as I could, nothing seemed untoward so I rode on hoping to meet up with the group quite quickly. Only no matter what I did I couldn’t hold the speed of the groups passing me. I had no idea what was wrong. The bike seemed fine and while having a bit of a headwind it was nothing in comparison to some of the weather I’ve ridden in previously. I put it down to the mental situation that I was separated from the group, attempting to play ‘catch-up’ and being passed by a wave of exceptionally strong riders, many of them wearing Tour De Gwent jerseys from a few weeks before.
The long slow climb up Bowden’s lane was approaching and I was struggling on the flat to keep up with the pace, it felt like something was hanging off the back of my bike. An image of a short fat green boggle-eyed creature hanging off the seat stays of my bike while dragging its feet on the ground passed through my mind on more than one occasion. I had to stop three times during that climb, one that I’m more than capable of doing in one go usually, I took on food (Jelly babies), drink and checked my bike over again. I just put it down to having a crap ride and a tough mental battle, so I dug deep and carried on. Once at the top it was an easy descent down into the village on Llandevaud before climbing the short 13% hill up towards the Catsash area. A climb I actually managed in one go, although it was brutal at the time, the bluebells and scenery were a welcome distraction to the way I was feeling and the mental and physical struggle I was having just keeping the bike moving.
The last climb up to the solar farm near Bishton is horrid at the best of times, and I was by now shattered, very cold and suffering from a real bad sense of humour failure. Yes, there were tears shed too! Numerous cyclists were whizzing past me, and I kept telling myself to ‘worry about your own thing and not what everyone else is doing’ and it worked for a time, but when you begin to loose the plot and question why you’re doing it, the ride becomes even harder both mentally and physically. After what seemed to be endless loops around the wetlands and surrounding areas, I made it back to the finish, it was not a joyous occasion, far from it. I just wanted to pack my bike away and find somewhere to warm up and have post ride food.
When I returned home that afternoon and unpacked my bike and kit from the car, I noticed how hard my bike was to push along on the flat, so once inside the house I checked the bike over thoroughly, only to discover the rear mudguard (I hate riding with a wet arse) had broken away from the metal brackets that held it in place, dropping down on the wheel and jamming the rear brake on too. This must have happened when I hit the pothole. The friction had almost worn the brake pad to nothing and a significant groove had been made on the underside of the mudguard, but this made me feel incredibly happy despite the damage to my bike. I had every reason to have struggled the last tough hilly 15 miles of the sportive, there really was something dragging on the back of the bike, and while it was not fat and green with boggle-eyes, it was enough to have caused the problems I had.
Feature Photo: John Wheat Newport Social Cycling.
Top Photo: Huw Fairclough Photography.