My first sportive
Ridden by Matt Hamm on 16th June 2013
My place in my first sportive was booked months ago. The Circuit Of The Cotswolds was split into two very different rides, 70 or 100 miles. Luckily you could decide which route to take about 45 miles in. I was worried I would never physically be able to ride 100 miles let alone 70. The longest distance I’d ever ridden was 65 miles the previous year.
The week before the Circuit Of The Cotswolds I decided to ride the 70 mile ‘short route’ alone, to give me the confidence to be able to attempt the 100 mile ‘long route’. I’d managed to cram in a lot of training in that year so the short route felt doable at least. It was a pleasant sunny day and the conditions were perfect. I nailed the short route that Saturday in 5 Hours 10 minutes, solo. My confidence was sky high. The big 100 was always a huge goal and now it looked possible at least.
The next week the big day had arrived. My Felt F6 black and yellow carbon frame bike was shiny and prepped, my tyres were pumped. My gels, drinks, electrolyte tabs and flapjacks were secured. A big bowl of porridge was consumed and Jon Hicks and I met outside my house and we positively trundled to the start line.
The excitement started to build. The largest group of lycra clad cyclists I had ever laid my rookie eyes on met us at the registration post. Lots of good friends started to turn up. Richard Wiggins, Simon Clayson, Andy Sellick, Matt Carey and Tim Print to name a few.
We set off in small groups, the weather was pleasant and as there were a lot of miles ahead of us, the initial goal was to pace myself and not burn out too quickly. I was riding with the biggest group of cyclists I had ever ridden with and I was amazed at the joy, and effortless pace that cycling with this peloton felt. We glided like gulls through the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside.
We glided like gulls through the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside
About 10 miles in Simon Clayson, who had set off a lot later with a previous group, whizzed passed us. It was at this moment I realised the shear pace of this seasoned expert over such a large distance.
Jon Hicks and I largely had the same pace, so we stuck together taking it in turns drafting along with others we had met on the way. I’m not sure I’d have made it without him.
27 miles in and we had arrived at one of my favourite segments, the Whichford descent. My weight sets me at a major disadvantage on climbs, but works for me downhills. I clicked into a high gear and chugged it. I managed to clock 48 mph which feels way too fast on a bike. The adrenaline kicks in and overrides the fear and consequences of coming off at that ridiculous speed. But what fun.
I managed to clock 48 mph which feels way too fast on a bike
The big climbs
Larkstoke Climb was the first biggie. Just before I tore open my first sticky gel just before to give me an energy boost. I was climbing steady about half way up and I made my first big mistake. A shouty chap in front of me lost his chain and fell off , with his feet still clipped in, in a very undignified manner. I stopped to ask him if he was okay, he was. I then quickly realised that starting from stationary on a steep hill with clip in pedals is pretty much impossible. I had to walk up the rest of the hill or ride back down just to clip in my cleats. I walked and felt humiliated. Jon was waiting for me at the top to take an earful of my excuses.
I quickly realised that starting from stationary on a steep hill with clip in pedals is pretty much impossible.
I slowly turned my pedals up the next big long climb, Saintbury Hill, trying to find lower gears that I didn’t have. But I kept my own pace and made it eventually without too much drama.
Halfway and fully spent
We had made to it the half way point and I demolished a couple of sandwiches, flapjacks and more. I was feeling shattered. But the short rest was quite welcomed and the thought of cycling the same amount of miles again was quashed by the atmosphere and spirit of the other riders.
The groups had thinned out at this point and drafting behind other riders to conserve energy proved to be more difficult. Jon and I had to increasingly rely just on each other to provide the comfort of sticking on to a back wheel.
The hills seemed to ease off for a while and knowing that there were only 30 or so miles to the finish line, I rather enjoyed the spinning and banter with Jon and other riders we passed on the pleasant, quiet, cotswold side roads. That was until we reached the Bushcombe Lane Climb. I’d cycled up Ham Hill before which was over a different section of the Chiltern Hills and I knew that was hard, but nothing prepared me for this mother.
She looked almost vertical and I could see almost every rider walking up her in front of me. I took her steady, passed couple of walkers and foolishly thought that I could make it without getting off the bike as long as I took it really slowly. With an average speed of 3-4mph, a maxed out heart rate and a cadence of 55rpm she beat me and not more than halfway up. It would have been quicker walking and it was. My legs were like jelly and I was spent. Much respect to any rider, including Richard Wiggins and Simon Clayson, who conquered her without even getting off the bike.
With an average speed of 3-4mph, a maxed out heart rate and a cadence of 55rpm she beat me and not more than halfway up.
It ain’t over until the fat MAMIL sings
I struggled up the next few worthy climbs, any energy I had was hard to keep. I went through more gels and spiked bottles of water than episodes of Battlestar Galactica and Breaking Bad put together.
The long 10 miles
Jon and I felt like the only two riders left on the road by this point and we rode passed a welcomed sign “10 Miles to go” which lifted our spirits and kept those cranks turning at a respectable speed. Little did I know that those 10 miles would feel more like 30. We’d spent more than 8 hours in the saddle and boy could I feel it. The light rain was refreshing and I felt lucky that leg cramp hadn’t reared it’s ugly head.
With only a few miles left, the thought of the finish line lifted the pace a little and I knew that I couldn’t have got this far without my good friend Jon, helping me through the moments where I felt like giving up. I looked down at my Garmin and we had clocked up 100 miles. In my mind I had already completed my goal and I had a feeling of immense contentment and accomplishment.
In my mind I had already completed my goal and I had a feeling of immense contentment and accomplishment.
As we turned the last corner we were greeted by Jon’s family and Andy Sellick cheering us over the finish line. At that moment I felt like I could have kept cycling forever only to realise that actually we had to cycle four more miles to get home, but all downhill and with big smiles on our faces.
Epic *according to Strava.