Sunday, 8 April 2012

The Three Counties Ride

An early morning start called for this ride, as we had to travel out to Princes Risborough before setting off. Meeting Rich at 6.15(ish), we cycled through the deadly quiet City before meeting Paul who was sat serenely in the middle of Marylebone station (on a bench - I don't think he makes a habit of sitting on floors). I had booked us on to the 7a.m. train, and as we had arrived at 6.50, Paul and Rich decided to grab some breakfast. Nothing much was open, but they made do with tea and paninis - leaving Paul wheeling two bikes and Rich with his arms full of supplies. Needless to say, getting through the ticket gate was a palaver and, as we found out, Platform 6 is quite a way from the gates. With thirty seconds before the train was about to set off, and the conductor shouting at us to hurry up, I think we made quite a sight as we were made to hurriedly clip-clopped to the far end of the train -especially for the drunkards heading back from an all-nighter in town. Fortunately the rest of the journey was less eventful, allowing Paul to regale us with tales of his local supermarket and Rich to get rid of his hangover. We met Clive in the station carpark, and promptly set to work putting his bike together (well, Rich and Paul did - I took pictures and offered verbal encouragement)
The route took us straight up the climb of Whiteleaf - a 6 out of 10 on the Warren Scale - and we could see the climb right from the start, rising out of the landscape like a very pretty pimple. It was a cold day (typical - the whole week, while stuck in the office, was brilliant sunshine) but this climb got us warmed up quickly as it kicked up from the main road out of town. Not especially hard, it was very picturesque as it wound up through woodland before emerging out in to the tops of the Chilterns.
The Whiteleaf 'pimple'
The ride from here headed South, through constantly rolling countryside, making for fairly slow progress. This probably wasn't helped - once again - by Google Map's assertion that minor B roads are the same as bridleways, gravel tracks and other not-suitable-for-skinny-tyre surfaces. That said, the inclusion of some pavé (and gravé) was apt given that the pros were riding the infamous cobbles of the Tour of Flanders the next day.
Oxfordshire's finest
Weaving through delightfully pretty villages (which, almost to a tee, all had fantastic looking pubs, a myriad of thatched roofs, and a cricket square), we made our way down Southwards to Streatley and ran into a bunch of beardy-audaxers, including a chap who looked like he had packed a rather large picnic in his panniers - the sort that contains a set of deckchairs, a large blanket, wicker hamper etc etc. Streatley Hill was a lovely little climb with just enough steep and flatter bits to keep up plenty of momentum

With rumbling stomachs, we pressed on to the village of Kintbury, where we fell upon a local artisan baker, who was probably as surprised to see us as we were to see him. Nevertheless we secured what seemed to be his entire stock of quiche (plus chocolate coated flapjacks for those who hadn't given up cake for Lent) and tottled over to the local church where there was an empty bench in the graveyard. Eating between gravestones was a unique venue for a picnic, but it was still delicious and the local congregation were no doubt entertained as we gorged and giggled our way through large quantities of food.
Manna from heaven (eaten in God's house)

Three men on a bench

Proof that I did exist on this ride
It wasn't far after our picnic stop that we hit Coombe Gibbet. A climb that you can see coming from some distance away, it rises up a ridge and looks formidable to the approaching cyclist. From the perspective shown in the photo, Rich does somewhat dwarf the climb, but I can assure the reader that it was harder than it looked. However, again a smooth surface and great views back over the valley made it another fantastic climb, well worth its place in the book.

With just over 70 miles gone (and all the major climbs done), spirits were high and we rode on at a decent pace, back through Newbury and alongside the M4. Soon, however, the headwind and remaining distance took their toll and the pace dropped, making the rolling coutryside seem like hard work. I had forewarned everyone about the length of the ride (estimated at 110 miles), but as the miles racked up, it seemed like some people (Clive) were counting down the distance to the end of the ride. Now this is a fantastic strategy in a race, where you need to time your effort to perfection to make sure you arrive at the finish line having spent all of your energy on the course. However on a ride where the exact distance is yet to be determined, it can have negative consequences. At around mile 108, we went past a road sign declaring Princes Risborough to be 11 miles away, which did not go down so well with Clive at all. Almost immediately after passing the sign he turned to me and asked "Is that true?" before insisting on an immediate 'stretch' stop on the side of the road. After some under-the-breath grumbling, he shot off in the same manner he had done after riding over Exmoor a few weeks back (think Cancellara on several cans of Red Bull), leaving the rest of us trailing in his wake with tired legs and resigned to seeing him again in the carpark.

Fortunately, it wasn't too tough an 11 miles and we made it back to the station just in time to catch the next train to London (with even enough time to raid Clive's recovery snacks box and take a picture in the carriage). The overall ride (including too and from Marylebone) worked out to be 124 miles, so we were understandably tired, and probably smelly enough to put off the rugby fans who piled on to the train at Wembley as the Scaracens match finished...

All in all a fantastic ride with good mates, making for a perfect way to rack up a decent century (and a quarter).

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