Bristol Belter REVIEW
Date: Sunday 23rd September 2012
Distances: Mini 75km/1,050m, Standard 115km/1,300m, Classic 155km/1,900m
Entry fee: £20, £25, £25
Start: Redwood Country Club, Beggar Bush Lane, Failand, Bristol, BS8 3TG
Catering: help yourself tea/coffee and cake/biscuits etc at start and finishFeed stops: 1, 2 and 3, depending on the route
Timing: electronic chip attached to bike number
Signs: black/white arrows on red background, black Caution on yellow backgroud
Roads: quiet back country lanes, variable road surfaces
Goody bag: fliers, Torq gel and finisher’s commemorative pint glass.
For the first time ever, I have two bikes. So when the forecast for a sportive is horrendous, not only can I faff about what kit I’m going to wear, but I can now worry about which bike to ride! Last time I got a new bike, the old bike was so old and (being a hybrid) so different, that it became a non-bike for all intents and purposes. This time around the plan was for the old bike to become the winter bike, and the new bike to be the summer bike, the “best” bike, but since it arrived a few weeks ago, my poor old bike has been languishing unloved and unused on the wall, and it was all just theory.
Until, as I said, the forecast looks like this, and refuses to improve no matter how many times you force the screen to refresh. The new bike is mostly white. There is this much clearance between the rear forks and the rear wheel. It doesn’t like stopping when it’s wet. I like stopping when it’s wet. I like stopping when it’s dry too. I’m picky about such things. So when it was sensibly suggested to me that I use the old bike if the forecast held true, it didn’t take a lot for me to realise that this was actually quite a good idea. I’m all set up so that all my kit, saddle bags, Garmin and the like, are easily transferrable from one to the other, so it’s not like swopping between the two is difficult. We made sure the tyres were sorted on both, I rode the old one around briefly to make sure it was still working, and I was left ready to make the final choice the following morning.
Weather Forecast Bristol Belter
When the weather looked like the forecast. OK, so the rain had yet to arrive, but it was cold and windy. Dark as well because the sun didn’t get up until after I did. Definitely the winter bike for me then. As I strapped up the knee, and started to get sorted, my phone buzzed as my ride partner for the day bailed on me due to illness. Not the weather. Honest. Being far wiser than I with my dodgy knee and stinking cold, he stayed home, and I got on with loading up my car instead of his. I packed several layer options and dressed in more, before heading off on schedule.
The Bristol Belter starts from Redwood Country Club, out the outskirts of Bristol.
It’s about 35 minutes drive from here and I know the way, which made the change to self-drive as opposed to chauffeur-driven easier to cope with. As I and a steady stream of cars arrived it wasn’t entirely clear where we were supposed to go. I played sheep and went and parked where other people seemed to be parking, and then followed (in reverse) those people returning to their cars with red plastic Specialized bags. As it turns out registration was in the cavernous Sports Hall, and toilets were in the health club behind, quite some trek away. There were actually people signing up on the day which, all things considered, was pretty amazing, as I bet the forecast caused a fairly high DNA rate. I was down to do the 155km route but I already knew I had no intention of doing that, and I planned on doing the 115km route instead. Not a problem, just tell them when you’ve finished, said the nice smiley registration lady. I trekked off to the slightly hard to find facilities before helping myself to half a cup of black coffee. The coffee may only have been instant but it was very necessary, and actually it was a neat way of doing it. It didn’t cost any extra either – something some other events could maybe learn from.
I took my coffee back to the car and started to get sorted. I was chatting to the gentleman getting ready next to me when I was joined by a fellow ACG club rider, which was a pleasant surprise. Deciding on layers was not easy. It was cold, but not that cold. Dry, because the weather had yet to arrive. All in all, very hard to picture what you were going to need. I opted for a short sleeve bamboo base layer, s/s jersey, arm warmers, Cycling Mayor jacket with zip off sleeves, winter collar scarf, shorts, leg warmers, new socks, toe covers. I think that covers it, and it seemed to be covering me ok. I put some over-gloves in the saddlebag just in case, deliberated about putting more wintery layers on, but stuck with what I had. Something I was to regret later. Nick was very patient! He even stood in the queue and held my bike while I made another trek to the toilets and back.
There was a lot of layering up going on as you can see, and a high percentage of riders were in waterproofs, presumably because I’m not the only one who can read a weather forecast. We were given a short safety briefing, advised of some route changes, and shown the signs. Having already followed the signs on my way to HQ I was already fairly sure that it was going to be pretty well signed, which was good as I hadn’t bothered to download the route. Signage was black or white arrows on a red background. The white stood out, the black not so much so, and I’m not sure why there needed to be both sorts. There were also, as it turns out, big yellow Caution signs on the route both for us as necessary, and also around and about to warn motorists that the event was on.
Briefing And Signage
For me this was another local sportive – there are a lot around here thanks to our proximity to the ever popular Cheddar Gorge – so I knew the route well. Familiarity breeds contempt, but today that was a good thing. I was, as previously mentioned, not very well and not having to engage brain too much when you’re feeling like that is a good thing, as is knowing that the hills ahead of you are doable, which descents are sketchy, all very handy.
We crossed the line a little after 8:00am, made our way somewhat cautiously through the car park and the cars still arriving and headed out. A clearer way in and out would have made life easier, as it was a bit weird have the start line stuck over there, and it made both the start and finish seem oddly low key. The route headed out towards Portishead, where my folks live. Nick stuck with me for a bit, but I was just taking it easy and it was his first time on the bike for three weeks so that didn’t last long. My layer choice seemed to be working initially as I slowly warmed up, and I started considering what would come off and when. As we neared Portishead, and half an hour earlier than forecast, the first drops of rain started to fall. Marvellous.
Ok To Start With
As we headed up Valley Road, the first little climb of the day, I was starting to get into my stride, but halfway up I suddenly found myself sitting further down and backwards than I wanted to be. Clearly some sort of saddle problem. I stopped, dugout the multitool, and had a look. Luckily it had just come loose, which was weird but something I could tighten and sort out myself. Which I did, as well as stuffing armwarmers and collar away, before setting off again. However, though it was now tight, it was still definitely in the wrong place, and riding like that for 70 miles with a dodgy knee seemed like a bad idea. Then a little light bulb went off above my head. I was literally this far from Mum and Dad’s house so I pushed on, got up the hill, and turned right at the Ship Inn. Off to Dad’s house, where he duly played pit crew. It was much easier to get the saddle position right with a wall and/or a person to lean on while you checked it out, rather than in a muddy layby in the rain. I was shortly on my way again, leaving my winter collar behind, another thing to regret at leisure later.
The coast road along here has been known to afford great views of Wales and out to sea, and you can still just see Wales. Just. The weather was definitely arriving now. Grey, wet, windy, delightful no?
Wales About To Vanish
I pushed on, as I needed to warm up again, and I wanted to get as many miles under my belt as fast as I could while I could. The route went through the outskirts of Clevedon, around the increasingly wet lanes of Kingston Seymour, before looping around to take us to the first big climb of the day, at Goblin Combe. Long, steep in patches, in the rain with, as it turns out, no bottom gear. My my, things were going well. Ah well, Goblin Combe is a devil I know, and that gear would either be sufficient to get me up there, or not. No choice but to plod on. Which, luckily, did the trick. At least my legs were working!
The first food stop was under the trees at the top, where it was dank, dark, damp, I stopped just long enough to take a photo and then headed off, so I have no idea what the catering was like I’m afraid. It was a little short on toilets too unless I missed something.
First Food Stop
The descent into Wrington was as dangerous as warned, but then I knew that, as it’s not much fun even in the dry, being steep and ending at a T-junction. Today, as I believe I may have mentioned once or twice, it was raining. It kept raining for the whole ride. Unremitting, continuous, consistent, relentless. Which accounts for the scarcity of photos - apologies. Thanks to the heavy rain and the lack of it recently, the water quickly washed all sorts of crap all over the country roads. We got this close to the bottom of Burrington Combe before the route turned away for a frankly gratuitous loop that took us around both sides of the Chew Valley and showed us the lakes. These little lumpy back roads are not my favourite, but to be fair there were some nice views to be had. The mini route split off left in the middle of the loop, though the marshall there wasn’t entirely clear as to which loop was which, so it’s just as well that I knew which way my route was going. Maybe turning left would have been the sensible thing to do?
By now I was soaked through, and getting cold. I was also on my own for the entire ride, though there was usually a cyclist to be seen far in the distance either ahead or behind. I stopped at the bottom of Burrington Combe since I knew there were public toilets there, and there was no way I was stopping by the side of the road in those conditions. Look how wet it is.
From here on in the camera stayed firmly in the back pocket. It was the weirdest ride, and my head went some very strange places. My body however went up Burrington Combe. again. Across the top and down towards Shipham, before which I realised I was getting properly and stupidly cold, so I stopped, took the by now amazingly heavy jacket off, put the damp but better than nothing arm warmers back on, put the jacket back on, and also put the overgloves on. Down Shipham Hill, actually shivering, where not turning right at the bottom and going home took the most amazing amount of willpower. Let’s be honest, I probably should have done.
Up Cheddar Gorge which was more like canoeing, and which was actually a welcome slog because it raised my temperature a bit. It didn’t even really feel like hard work, as I’d forced the bike into bottom gear in time, because today wasn’t about fighting the hills, or the miles, it was about fighting the elements!
I know, because I have the route recorded, where I went and what I did, but mostly I was just zoned out completely. Head down, legs going round, I couldn’t have told you where I was half the time, I was just getting to where I had to go the best I could. Up on the Mendips the wind noise was amazing, and even when it was flat it didn’t feel like it was! On past the marshall who pointed out the right turn to the long route to me. As if! Down a Harptree, across the valley again, up Pagan’s Hill, where I pondered the nature of the name, and to which gods I should be sacrificing something other than myself to get me home in one piece. The second food stop was on the right here, but there was no way I was stopping and getting even colder, though there were quite a few huddled together under the canopy thing.
Off towards Bristol airport and Winford and the hills and lumps and mud thereabouts. There was a lovely flood before climbing up to Winford Manor which turned cycling into swimming and me into some sort of duathlete, but what was a little more water at that point? I was so hunkered down that my shoulders hurt and my jaw ached from clenching my teeth together. I was so cold, so wet. I couldn’t feel my feet, and quite probably quite a lot of the rest of me. I think two of my toes got cramp near the end but I couldn’t quite feel it, which was the weirdest sensation. But I was getting there, getting closer, and the miles were ticking by. Carefully down past the reservoirs to the dodgy junction with the A38. Round the little back lanes towards Long Ashton. Along the horrifically surfaced main road to the bottom of Belmont Hill. Bike into bottom gear, me into plod mode. Who knew hills could be such a good thing? Really – it was – because it meant I was a bit warmer again, and I was nearly at the end now, tantalisingly close in fact, held up only by the main road traffic lights.
One final very wet almost sprint down the main road and I was back at HQ, negotiating the exiting traffic, once again through the car park and over the finish line. I duly told the timing man I’d dropped down a distance, and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the first to do so. There was a little posse of folk waiting for us, all making the most of a bad day, and still smiling. Had I enjoyed it?, asked one of them, after shaking my hand and welcoming me in. Ah, well.
I believe I settled for a wry grin in response. The event itself was fine. A little more dangerous than necessary because of the weather conditions. Well sign posted. Marshalled at split points. Fairly scenic. Quite challenging if you did the long route, or possibly even my route and weren’t as familiar with those climbs as me. You can’t blame the organisers for the weather, now can you? However it was five of the most miserable hours I have ever spent on the bike. If I hadn’t had a cold, if I’d had more layers on. Annoying in some respects because actually, underneath it all, the body was feeling pretty good. The knee wasn’t unbearable, and I got the feeling that if I hadn’t been fighting on so many fronts, I could have been having a blinding ride. But with weather like that it just became something else.
I took my goodie bag and me back to the car, took as much wet kit off as possible, and put what little dry stuff on that I had. Soaked to the skin, standing in the rain, and with no spare shorts or trousers, I was only ever going to get partially warm and dry. At least I had dry shoes. Having said that, since I couldn’t feel my feet, getting them into those shoes was incredibly difficult! Having done the best I could I went back inside, and grabbed a cup of that by now fabulous coffee. I sat there in the hall with it and just couldn’t stop shivering. Having finished that, it was time to head for home. Well, that was the plan anyway. As it turns out I was shivering so violently that it seemed driving might be a bad idea so I sat in the car with the heating up to max for quite a long time until the shakes subsided and I felt safe to go home. Maybe a silver space blanket would have been a good idea? The heating stayed on the entire way home, and it wasn’t until I’d been sat in a nice hot bath for a while that I got properly warm again!
It’s quite possible I’m certifiably insane. Or more possibly just stupid. At the very least I was under-dressed. I just hadn’t realised how bad it was going to be and, as the brain blocks out unpleasant memories, I’d forgotten what a difference being soaked through makes to how cold you can get. Live and learn, as they say.
Anyone who completed that ride, any version of it, deserves a medal. But on balance a pint glass is way more useful!
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