A ride up the coast
The sportive season is upon us. Lured out by the milder weather, riders the length and breadth of the country are congregating on Sunday mornings to compete. And so it was that my self and my fellow rider Mark found ourselves in Woodbridge at a chilly, rainy seven o’clock yesterday morning, starting the Suffolk Sunrise 100mile (160km) for the second year in succession.
The ride, which like most of the 100 sportives comes in kilometre or miles flavours, runs in a loop from Woodbridge then north, eventually reaching the coast at Dunwich before looping inland and west to Debenham, tired riders then heading south back to the start.
It’s fair to describe yesterday’s ride as a game of two halves. The first was characterised by steady light rain and a chilly north easterly breeze from the North sea as we headed down to Bawdsey and then along quiet roads parallel to the coast. The field was busy – about 700 riders apparently started – and the pace generally quite brisk. Heading through quiet roads, we found a welcome stopping point at 15 miles for tea and energy bars before setting off, the next stop being a good 30 miles north.
The rides I have been doing in the past few weeks became a good basis for the first couple of hours riding. We were careful not to go too fast too early, unlike some groups of road bike riders who passed us with great ceremony, only to be found a couple of miles later by the side of the road fixing punctures as we sailed past them on our robust steel framed machines.
We appeared to be the only two riders on Thorn bikes, which made us feel a little smug; Mark’s seemed also to be the only Rohloff-geared machine in evidence. It’s probably the nature of such events, but there does seem to be something of a uniform, both bike and attire-related, amongst the riders who enter such events. Enough carbon fibre and gaudy lycra to sink a battleship (and that’s quite a bit, if you think about it!) was in evidence, however each to their own.
The first of four crossings of the busy A12 saw us going into a loop before we headed east again, this time within a few miles of the second tea stop, which most people I spoke to agreed was exceedingly welcome after 44 cold, wet miles.
And then, after a short rest, we were ongoing again. Things were starting to get a bit tougher now; my previous record had been 70 miles a couple of weeks ago; by 50 miles on this ride, with the cold and the higher average speed (we were averaging over 15mph by now), I was beginning to feel it; I was also beginning to get sick of the taste of sweet energy drinks.
As we approached Westleton, on the way to Dunwich and at the very top of the route, clouds began to gather above me. I was sinking into a foul depression, hating every second and every pedal stroke. I was feeling sick and negative; the end suddenly couldn’t come soon enough. It was only the sight of Heveningham, some miles after the final crossing of the A12 (which by this time was unpleasantly busy), that began to make my spirits lift – 4 miles to lunch! Luck seemed to be on our side by this time, as the road fell towards Peasenhall and the raced easily and fast into the village and a fantastic lunch. [a short postscript; you may be secretly pleased to learn that my loud tartan hat was consigned to the saddlebag at this point, it having been reduced to a wet rag by the copious sweat and rain]
We tried to sit around and relax our legs a little, but you just can’t sit still for too long on a ride like this. As we left Peasenhall along even quieter roads, bound for Framlingham, we were feeling the warming sun on our backs and this, combined with the food and drink, conspired to lift my spirits and also seemed to put some energy back into my legs.
The riding was reasonably easy for this stage, Suffolk being best described as ‘rolling’, which means that there are ups and downs, but mercifully they are generally quite mild. The character of the ‘ups’ tended to be about 1/4 of a mile of incline followed by lovely sweeping and bendy descents, which is perfect for the kind of riding you’re doing in this event. Having my trusty Carradice bar bag, as you can see above, meant I was able to carry a map of the route and find out where we were; this generally worked but on the approach to the lunch stop, a couple of misreadings put us cruelly further back than we thought we were.
Perhaps the longest ascent of the day was the one before the final, 75 mile tea stop at Debenham. By this time, however, we were both in increasingly good fettle and the tiredness so evident at around 50 or so miles had pretty much evaporated. We descended to the village and the sun was now shining warmly enough to sit outside.
After a brief relaxation, we set off again, now a tantalising 15 or so miles from the finish line and the magic 100 mile barrier. The final leg was uneventful, really; a couple of near misses in terms of the direction arrows nearly saw us lost; some riders in front of us had already made that mistake as they sailed off to who knows where. We slogged on, the miles remaining now in single figures. We were now picking up a few stragglers from the 100km ride, so the village lanes were becoming busy again, as they had been at the start. In between, there had been long stretches where we didn’t see any other riders.
And then we were back – a tired pedal through the back streets of Woodbridge and the final finish line, with a wonderful welcome back to boot. And having de-registered, hobbled off our sturdy steel machines, the strange thing was that we both agreed to feeling absolutely fine.
There was no collapsing in a heap; we had a beer, relaxed and, save for a tired and spacy feeling on the way home, recovered really quite well.
So that’s another small milestone in life; 100 miles or 160 kilometres. It’s a start, hopefully, of some more long distance riding and as the weather improves, that should become easier and more enjoyable.
We reflected over a few pints last night on the state of the ride and cycling in general, and apart from deciding to join Audax UK, there seem to be no lasting side-effects.