No Excuses South West Sportive Review

No Excuses South West Sportive Review

The 2019 Sportive season has officially begun – for me at least.

I don’t think sportives were really a thing when I was last doing lots of cycling in the mid nighties as a teenager. All the events I did were time trials and the occasional race around Castle Combe (I’m not sure we were allowed to race on open roads as a juvenile?). Getting back into cycling and finding these relaxed events called sportives where it is more about just completing the event than the time has been great. I’ve been looking at the cycling magazines throughout the winter at all the advertised events looking forward to getting involved. 90% of the training I have been doing for the Ride Across Britain event has been on my own so I was looking forward to riding with others and getting use to riding in a group again.

The start/finish for the event was Exeter Racecourse which meant there was plenty of parking. Unfortunately there weren’t many cubicles available in the men’s toilet which meant a 45 minute wait for my team mate who I was doing the event with!

There were 2 routes on the day. A standard and epic.

The standard was approximately 46 miles long with 3923 feet of climbing, with the epic 70 miles long with 6968 feet of climbing.

With the Ride Across Britain averaging at 115 miles a day when I entered this event I immediately thought I had better enter the epic distance. Up until this point however my longest ride had been 48 miles with approximately 4000 feet of climbing. So I decided a few days before the epic was a bit beyond me at the moment and on the actual day the event organisers were generally encouraging people to do the standard ride as it was really windy. I’m glad with the decision I made – there is plenty of time for the longer and tougher training rides.

With it being a racecourse there were sections of bark we needed to get across which I guess were there to make it nicer than tarmac for the horses to walk on. I saw a number of people riding their bikes across this and wonder whether this contributed to what seemed like a large number of punctures on the route. We walked across it, and some even carried their bikes on their shoulders. I did think 5 minutes walking here could save plenty of time later on fixing a puncture.

Excited to start my first sportive
Excited to start my first sportive

I had loaded the GPX file onto my Lezyne cycle computer, but as we set off as a group I didn’t switch to the mapping view as the course was really well sign posted and there were lots of other riders around. This all went well until we had just finished the big climb to the top of Teignmouth Golf Course and were just getting our breath back at the top. A marshal was waving a flag to signify a main road was coming up but unfortunately she was waving the flag pointing in a left direction. Two of us riders were so busy paying attention to the main road junction, and assuming we were going left as that was the direction of the flag waving – missed the right turn signs. We only went about a mile down the road before the guy in front of me stopped and said he thought we’d gone wrong, and as we were discussing and I was switching to the navigation function of the Lezyne someone else cycled up from the wrong direction we were heading saying they had been going for 5 miles down that way and hadn’t seen a sign! The cycle computer indeed confirmed we had gone off course – I kept this view on for the rest of the ride!

After turning around and getting back to the junction we all noted the signs displayed to turn right. The lesson here – ignore the direction a marshal is waving their flag and follow the signs!

The views as we cycled down the hill and towards Teignmouth were pretty breath taking and made the long climb up worth while.

The final hill – Haldon Forest

The ride was going well. I had been warned that the last climb up through Haldon Forest was a real test and as I was at the edge of my distance range I was feeling apprehensive. At around 38 miles I took on board an energy gel as I thought the climb wasn’t far away – but as this turned out that was probably too soon as the last miles up to the bottom took longer as we were cycling into a headwind. By the time I got to the bottom of the climb I think the benefits of the gel had run out!

Climbing hills on a bike use to be one of my strong points, and I still consider it one of my strengths. But this hill at this distance was tough. I was going well and actually overtaking people until we got to the last section. What looked like the top of the hill was actually a turn where the hill got even steeper. As I looked up this steep section I could see people walking ahead of me. So I decided at this point to get off and walk the last 30 meters. I’m disappointed I didn’t get up it on my bike, but this experience of getting ready for LeJog is marathon so I didn’t fancy doing an injury by toppling sideways off my bike.

Plus the hill at Haldon Forest isn’t going anywhere – and I have plenty of training left to do. I’m pretty sure I will be doing this route again as a training ride which is one of the benefits of Strava, GPX files and navigation.

What have I learned from this Sportive?

I need to drink more. I seemed to get a headache half way through the event, and after finishing and inspecting my water bottles I didn’t seem to drink half as much as I usually do. I’m not sure if this is because I got carried away with the event or group riding, but I certainly need to up my drinking next time.

I also didn’t eat as much as I usually do. I ate one bar, but had the flapjack I usually eat over this kind of ride left in my pocket. I think this was from not knowing the route as I didn’t want to eat something before a climb sprung out of nowhere. In future I need to do a little more planning and reviewing of the route to figure out the good places to eat and take on energy gels.

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