The Road to PBP – Qualifying Begins

Friday 18th January – its a cold and windy evening, a threat of rain in the air and I’ve loaded up Dora (my trusty Transit), with my bike and gear for a potentially cold and damp 200k on Saturday.

The destination for tonight is a Travel lodge on the M4 near Heathrow, for an attempt at a good nights sleep, for tomorrow morning I’m off bright and early to The Community Centre at Chalfont St Peter.

This early season event is the Willy Warmer 200k, run by Paul Stewart from Audax UK. The aptly named event is (allegedly) not any reference to male anatomy, but instead a play on words from the Willesden Green Cycling club, who promote the event, and the fact that cold weather is assured.

I have history with this event, having ridden it twice over the last 4 years

The first time it was supposed to be my first PBP qualifying ride for my 2015 PBP attempt. Due to the number of riders, the organiser thought it would be helpful to run it in both directions. This would ease the pressure on the controls, and also provide a bit of variety and extra challenge for the tougher riders. You spend more time climbing doing the route in reverse. As such, on that occasion I chose to do the easier way round. The event didn’t start well, and it really didn’t get much better for me. Due to heavy ice, and potential snow fall that day, I opted to ride a bike with knobbly tyres, instead of my normal road tyres. I felt vindicated for the first hour, until the sun came out & melted the ice. I struggled for the rest of the ride due to bad tyre choice, and the fact that due to a navigation error, I followed a rider that was doing the route in the reverse. By the time I realised it was to late to fix it. There were other issues too, and I finished out of time.

On my next outing I did the route the right way round (much easier), but struggled with the cold. It was below zero for the whole ride, dropping to -7C at one point. Despite double layered wool socks and thick overshoes, i spent most of the ride with frozen feet. Later though, when my legs were freezing too, I discovered that if your feet go numb, you can put on waterproof over trousers to warm up your legs and then your feet will defrost as well. I also discovered that there is a low temperature point at which a Garmin will refuse to charge unless you sit on it at a warm Sainsbury’s cafe. I finally I found that it is possible (although not advised) to ride in the snow, when I got caught up in a snow event about 15 miles from the end. I ended up riding back from the last control with an ever increasing group of riders who were all experiencing issues, so we rode together sweeping up other solitary riders as we found them.

So, on this years event, in a PBP year, the field was again heavily subscribed so the organiser opted this time to have 3 start times rather than a forward and reverse route. My plan was to go for the middle start time. Psychologically, I like to start somewhere in the middle so that I can spend much of the event knowing that it’s unlikely that I am last. After a quick, but satisfying breakfast, I set off to the start.

So just after 7:30am I was on my way. It felt quite warm to me – a balmy 3 degrees. It was going to be a cloudy day, so not much variation in temperature was expected.

With no ice or snow forecast, it was good to be able to finally experience the good weather route. This meant that we could avoid some of the more boring A roads, and take in some of the quieter more scenic lanes of the area. Without the freezing temperatures of previous editions I was glad to find that my legs felt strong and I quickly ate up the miles to the first control in Pangbourne. I arrived at Costa just as slower early wave, and faster mid wave riders were leaving, but was served quickly and soon on my way again. Despite riding alone, it was good to see so many other riders, many just in front or just behind me.

As we headed into more undulating territory, the drizzle that had been in the air became a more permanent feature. I arrived at Hungerford, just over the halfway point a bit damp, but still in good spirits. When you have the right clothing on, drizzle is nothing to be concerned about – especially as it didn’t feel cold, and there was no wind.

The cafe (The Tutti Pole) in Hungerford is always an Audax favourite and they gear themselves up to serve us quickly and provide copious volumes of tea. I was delighted to get a chance to catch up with Ade and Laura (remember my training partner from previous posts?) who had started in the earlier wave, but had got a puncture which had delayed them. Also in good spirits, they went on their way. Hopefully, I would get to see them again at the end.

On leaving the cafe, the rain became a bit more persistent, and the temperature dropped. Other riders commented how cold it was – but to me, it felt tropical compared to other years.

I love the scenery coming out of Hungerford. The climb up onto the common is just beautiful and affords great views across the landscape and hills beyond. The route itself starts to get a little easier after a few more miles, and the final 80km is mostly downhill.

Control 3 is the Java Cafe at Winnersh, and this was the first time I had ever made it to that control whilst it was still open. I had a quick coffee and cake stop and then eager now to get the end, headed off. The rain had finally stopped, I was still feeling strong.

With all my technology (Garmin, lights, phone) working as it should, my bike purring like a pussy cat, and my clothing choices holding up well to the weather, it was just a matter of keeping on peddling at a good pace to the end.

For the first time ever, I arrived at the Arrivee with an hour in hand, not scraping in on the time limit as usual. Laura and Ade were still there, having arrived a bit before me, and tucking into the very delicious, although rather fiery chilli that Paul the organiser had made.

I was over the moon, since I had ticked off not one, but two targets today.

I had completed my first PBP qualifier, nice and early in the season, and (more importantly) had completed my RRTY (Randonee Round the Year). This was the final month’s 200k of 12 that I had been completing every single month since Feb last year.

Currently there are around only 8-900 people who have done this, and only a very small percentage will be women.

I had ridden the whole ride on my own, but had settled into a pattern with a few other small groups nearby that I would see and chat to from time to time. I do love having a riding partner, it gives additional joy & camaraderie to a ride. But when I’m on a mission to qualify, train and improve my form for such a long distance event, riding alone has it’s benefits. I can chose my pace, and make the most of times when I’m feeling strong, but take it easier when I need to recharge a little. I can stop when I like, and sleep when I need. Organised events like this however, mean that even though you might not have a partner riding with you, you are never truly alone as there are always others on the ride that you will come across and may ride with for a while.

So what is my next event? I have yet to enter a qualifying 300k, but I expect it to be in April, followed quite closely by the Brevet Cymru 400k in May, then the Windsor-Chester-Windsor 600k. I have another 600k also up my sleeve in June that will be a final practice ride of set up and form before the big event.


Distance ridden 207km (128 miles)

Moving time 10hrs 19 mins (actual time was around 12.5 hrs)

Elevation 1699m

Average Speed 20km/hr (12.4 mph)

Kit & equipment

Bike Ribble CGR

Lighting Shimano Son Dynamo hub with B&M Lumotec IQ2 Luxor’s U light, with USB charger. Also, dynamo rear light

Navigation Garmin 1000 Explore – I love this gadget more than anything.

Baggage Altura Night Vision rear post bag

Clothing Castelli winter bib longs, Castelli Gabba Jacket, Endura Neoprene overshoes, RockBros Winter cycling gloves.

5 thoughts on “The Road to PBP – Qualifying Begins

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  1. Well done on your RRTY! Loved reading your blog and I am refreshed to read that you too cycle Audax events solo. I have seldom managed to cycle with someone and always cos I’m too slow. I’ve gotten used to it after some years. Your well and truly in your way to Paris. I’ll look out for you on the Windsor Chester Windsor 600, I’m a volunteer on that this year. Mj 😺

  2. Sweet. I too have rode the Willy Warmer on a few occasions now (once on a single-speed) and yup it was real chilly. Well wishes on your PBP quest. The brevet Cymru is an awesome 400 (my fave, ridden a few times but DNF’d last year – well, I did finish but out of time – mate was sick, blah). The WCW ride was great too. Oh the joy of riding qualifying events.

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