15 August 2012

Ride Report: Rutland Ramble 200 km audax

In September 2011 we did a ride around Cambridgeshire where we met a guy who lived in Rutland. Back then we had never heard of what it turns out to be the smallest unitary authority in England, after the City of London. According to him, it was a fabulous cycling place, and so we included it on our to-do list straight away. I have also heard that is the only county in the UK without a McDonalds, which is yet another good reason to go visit it.

Conveniently, a new Audax ride had been set up by the Bedford CTC and we were quick to enter. We like to support new events and new organisers, and Bedford has good transport links with London. Came August 11th and our alarm set off at 5 am for a 7:30 am start. The route we had ahead of us was a lumpy 210 km, following a square shape heading west of Bedford, then North, then East and finally South back to the start. Navigation was meant to be rather easy (thanks to Paul for plotting the route). I would be taking my tourer, as I am still trying to break in its leather saddle. 

We had planned to take it rather easy, as we've been sort of idle for a few weeks due to my PhD exam preparations combined with the Olympics. Also the weather promised to be nice at last, so full value for money it was. We were both highly needing some sun exposure, as it has been rather dull ever since we returned from Spain after el Camino.

Bedford to Blisworth (42 km)

The start was uneventful, except for our fellow riders Dan and Paul, who were both late and would need to play catch up to the first control.  36 of us were ready for the off. Lucy and I set off on our own and behind the main peloton. We took the first 40 km rather easy until the first control. Bedford was surprisingly big, and took us longer than I had anticipated to get out of it. It seems that the nasty A428 was the only way west out of town, and despite being so early on a Saturday, traffic was not pleasant at all and we started wondering if the route was going to be the same for the remainder of the day. We are known to hate A roads and always stick to country or minor B roads when cycling on our own, but when doing somebody else's routes you risk these things.

Some sort of fog had settled in some areas in the early morning
At 24 km/h moving average, we got the first control in good spirits and ready for some food. Jackie, the organiser, had brought some Belgiam buns, water and some bananas. Paul and Dan arrived a few minutes later after I suppose it was a quick first km to catch up. From there on, the four of us would cycle together until the finish.

Blisworth to Wistow (54 km)

The second stage of the ride was just over 50 km, using quieter lanes on the way to Wistow. The were also getting a bit more lumpier, but nothing too significant, really. After our tour in Spain, we do not get too scared when people over here talk about hills. At least not when involving rides in the Southeast of England.

The four of us made progress and chatter along the way, making for a very relaxed ride catching up on rides, tours and other stuff.

Paul (left), Dan (centre), machaca Lucy (right)
The roads were also more scenic than in earlier sections, with some nice canal bridges and plenty of green farmlands. At one of those bridges we stopped to do something rather unusual for us this summer in the UK: apply sunscreen. I took the opportunity to eat one of my wraps and a banana, as I was feeling quite tired possibly due to lack of sleep the night before and also the fact that we had barely eaten any breakfast.

Having a quick rest

Love the canals
Shortly after this break, we made it to the control, where a kind helper was stamping our brevet cards. He also suggested we carried on a bit rather than eating at the café. It seemed rather busy and apparently prices were inflated. The helper was quite keen on learning about where I came from, which was mostly triggered by the fact that I was breaking the rules by wearing a jersey from a Spanish cycling club based in the Pyrinean town (i.e. Benasque) where I go skiing in the winter. I am obviously not a member of this club, but their jersey is cool and practical. 

We chatted to other riders, filled our bottles and intended to pedal another 10 miles to a different café in a town called Hallaton that would cater for cyclists at reasonable prices. Our controller was ranting a bit about audax being taken a bit too easy these days...but then I made my point: it's sunny! you've got to enjoy the sun. Remember that most UK audaxes will have to be cycled in overcast and/or rainy conditions. He agreed. 

Wistow to Alwalton (60 km)

With a rather empty stomach, we pressed on to the café the controller had suggested. What I thought it was going to be a quick 10 km, turned out to be more like 16 km (10 miles) of weird sensations on the bike. A headwind coming from the east was not helping. I was too hungry, tired and did not fancy any of the bonk rations we usually carry with us. I tried my best to wash down a few dry mango slices and somehow made it to the café in Hallaton. Once again, eating on an audax was proven a bit difficult this time, and have to remind myself to eat plenty before during and after a ride. 

Not really knowing how my stomach would react to food on this audax, I went for the soup, which is usually a safe bet. Also a milkshake that turned out to be chocolate milk, and a piece of cake. None of these was particularly great food, but did the trick and I got to replenish my energy stores. 

We left the café with a bit over plenty of buffer time on the next control. Even though we were taking it really easy and stopping plenty of times, we were still well within the limits. On a day like today, anyone can complete a 200 km audax, if well fed and hydrated. Even on a heavy bike like mine. 

Rutland was coming up next. The terrain turned a bit more lumpy and the views rather scenic, with the viaduct in the background.

First glimpse of the viaduct. Note Dan's perfect match of socks and frame. He is a professional of the rules.

The machacas and the viaduct

A nice sight
We made good progress to the third control, while climbing up some of the "toughest" hills of the ride. None of them really significant, but definitely slowed me down and had me on the granny ring a few times. The tourer rocks on the downhills, it is ok on the flat, but you can feel its weight on the inclines!!

One of the inclines in Rutland
Because of our slow progress, we would not make it on time for the café in Alwalton and so Paul diverted us to a Little Chef nearby. This was a truly new experience for both Lucy and me. Four years in the UK and still had not had the pleasure to eat in one of these chains! Lucy did the right thing by not ordering anything other than a drink, but I played adventurous and ordered eggs on toast. Two plasticky things came on top of two plain toasts. Never seen such a bad looking egg ever before, but hey, I was hungry and managed to eat them. Little Chef box ticked and never again.

Alwalton to Bedford (56 km)

I was glad to be heading back to Bedford. We were all a bit tired after the lumpy sections and headwind, although still quite enjoying the nice weather. Navigation was easy, sticking to the B660 for quite a while passing through some pretty towns including Old Weston, Catworth and Kimbolton (with its rather posh looking School). We were ok with time, but definitely not our fastest 200 km.

Quiet B660 and a few more km to go
Sunset around this time of the year is at around 9 pm, and according to our calculations, we will be back at the HQ by 8 pm. The terrain eased out a bit, and shortly before 8 pm we made our arrival to Jackie's house, the final control.

The organiser's house and final control
Jackie had some food for us. This was much appreciated as I was still hungry. Have learnt my lesson once again of eating loads on long rides. Looking back, I had not eaten more than on a regular day, and I had spent more than 10 hours pedalling. I am glad I did not bonk or anything, but have to sort this out for the future rides, even it means carrying my own pasta supplies and waking up even earlier for a big breakfast.

All in all, it was an excellent ride except the first stage with those nasty roads. The company was superb, and I am glad I could manage ok with the heavy tourer. The weather had been very kind to us, with the thermometers not going above 23 degrees or so. Perfect cycling temperatures.

We are now getting ready for a hilly 100 and 200 km ride in Shropshire.

The stats for the day were as below:

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