The Road to PBP – The 400k qualifier 1st attempt

I alluded on my previous post that my final 300k qualifier wasn’t the best of experiences, so I’ll just explain a little, as it sets the scene for my 400k attempt(s).

In order to complete the 300k qualifier, I decided to choose a route that I knew well, and that I had a reasonable chance to complete given both the familiarity and my current fitness level. It’s not the easiest of rides, being pretty lumpy in the first 100k, and then exceptionally flat for a while with a couple of monster hills thrown in for good measure. The ride then follows the Kent coast for a bit more, before heading over the North Downs before making it’s way back to the start.

This ride was the Oasts & Coasts, on which I have had mixed success in the past. Without boring you with too many details, the ride took place on the day of a named storm, which in Kent brought heavy winds, but luckily no rain. We had the benefit of a nice tail wind along the flat south coast sections, but that turned into a very strong headwind on the East Kent Coast.

I was also riding a bike on which I hadn’t realised at the time, didn’t really have the best of gear ratios for the types of hills being encountered. After reviewing what went wrong on the ride later on, I realised that the only time I had ever actually completed the ride on time, was on my summer bike, which also has a much more hill friendly gear ratio.

I completed the ride on a wing and a prayer and was completely exhausted after the ride. I hadn’t felt so drained in a long, long time. It took me a few days to recover, which was not great news, since the following weekend I had my planned 400k qualifier, and it wasn’t going to be an easy one.

Brevet Cymru – 400k

I had taken the decision to rest my legs in the week between my two events, just riding a few local miles to stretch the legs, but nothing more. This is normally a good strategy for me, along with a sports massage just to clear lactic acid and sort any problem areas. As the Oasts & Coasts was an unplanned ride, I didn’t get the opportunity for a massage, but I wasn’t too concerned since my legs actually felt ok after the rest.

I turned up in Chepstow, and looked around the rather smaller than normal group of entrants. Everyone looked very fit and capable, and then I also noticed the lack of women on the ride.

In normal years the ride attracts a mixed bag of riders. There’s no doubt this is a challenging event…after all, it covers the width of Wales, and ventures into the Brecon Beacons in both directions. But, it is such a beautiful and iconic ride that many Audaxers like to give it a try.

So where were all the women? I was later to find out.

I started the ride well, and kept up with the pack on the roads around Chepstow until Chepstow racecourse. One small hill and the pack moved off in front, with me tailing at the rear. A little further down the road I got caught at a red light, and that was the last I saw of anyone. I was less than 6 miles from the start.

I didn’t worry too much as I was still moving at a comfortable speed and I settled down for a lonely but satisfying ride – or so I thought.

Enjoying the ride, but realising that I was probably already in last place I got my head into a good place and rode on towards Monmouth. Looking over the fields at the early morning activities of a weekend Scout camp I suddenly realised that something wasn’t quite right. A few seconds later I discovered that I had a flat rear tyre, and stopped to set about repairs.

As I repaired by the roadside, other riders passed by for a while, and then no more. I hadn’t been last after all, but now I was.

After replacing the tube, I rode on further, but something still didn’t seem right. The tyre now felt uneven, and it felt a bit like a bulge on every revolution. I stopped again, just to check to make sure that the tyre was bedded into my wheel ok, and it was. But I just couldn’t work out what the issue was. Something was uneven, but since the tyre was safe I decided to wait until the control to take another look. Between Monmouth and the first control at Hay on Wye, we were given two alternative routes. One was slightly longer and more main roady, the other was more direct, but beautiful country lanes. It was still a bit breezy in the morning, but I decided to take the prettier advised route. This was unfortunately less sheltered from the wind, and relentlessly lumpy. At this point I realised that my legs had not really recovered at all from last weeks 300k, and each rise and fall of the became harder and harder. I hadn’t seen another cyclist from the Audax since the puncture, although did bump into a lovely chap who was married to one of the few women riders. He was newer to long distance cycling so was picking up just some of the route and meeting her at the end. We rode together for a while, but eventually he rode off at his own pace, and I continued to struggle to the control.

It was apparent to me that I was not going to finish this ride in time, and so I made the decision to abandoned the ride at Hay on Wye.

Now anyone that knows me, knows I do not abandon a ride easily. However, on this case, I knew that if I continued on a ride that I couldn’t complete on time, I would most likely find it harder to recover in time for a subsequent 400k qualifier that I was now compelled to enter in the next week or two.

Once the decision was made, I had a leisurely brunch at the control and took a look at what other rides were coming up that I could enter as a qualifier. I chose a brand new event starting in Bristol, which sang to me, given the name of my travelling mascot. The ride was the Paddington Express and was in 2 weeks.

After registering my entry, I checked Google to note that it wasn’t going to be too difficult to ride across to the return section of the ride, and make my way back to the start. I had a glorious afternoon, acting like a tourist and rode 100 miles. I even had a relaxing pub stop, in the sunshine, which is something I ever get chance to do on the longer Audaxes.

I made it back to the start control at around tea time, in perfect time to see why there were so few women on my ride. The less lumpy London-Wales-London 400k ride was also taking place on the same day, and Chepstow was being used as the half way control. The controllers took pity on me, and let me gate crash their control. For the record their choice of food and cake was divine.

Even before I got back to Chepstow, I knew that if I was to qualify to PBP I needed help. I was getting faster at riding, but yet there was still so much wrong. There was still such a long way for me to go before I could take on a long ride like this and feel confident that I could not only complete it, but complete it comfortably. I hadn’t even managed to get through the 3rd qualifier – something needed to dramatically change

I called Trevor Payne!

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