The Dean 2012 – 300km 4AAA Audax

So it was time for the year’s rides to start getting a bit longer, and I had a strange hankering to actually get some points for climbing hills (a couple of rides have had enough “up”, but the orgs didn’t want to scare people off with AAA‘s). The Dean has always had good write ups, so I decided a trip down to Oxford was in order.

Shared the obligatory cheap Travelodge family room the night before. Even braved the Holiday Inn bar for a couple of pints, though at £8.50 for 2 Guinness’s it was a little steep for my liking.

Even restricting the beer didn’t stop the next morning being a very foggy start. Loaded the bikes up and cycled the 150m to the start, where the Brevet cards were being handed out in a very efficient manner. The usual high octane start of an audax occured when the org announced “It’s 6, you might as well go” and we gradually decided to head off.

The first stage was nicely rolling to Stow-on-The-Wolds, though a lot of the nice scenery was obscured by some pretty thick fog. And it was a bit nippy out.  I had to stop to dig the full finger gloves out from the barley and then wrestle them on with frozen fingers. We climbed out of the fog a couple of miles before the control and a glance over the left shoulder showed us climbing out of a valley filled with fog. One of those moments when I really wished I had a small camera to carry on audaxes.

First control was forecourt stop at Stow. Fortified myself with a milky bar and a larg cappucino. Decided to load up the next section of the route, and managed to calm the rising panic as I realised that somehow I’d managed to only load sections 1,3 and 5 on to the Edge. So I was missing half the ride, and didn’t even have the fallback gpx track that I’d thought I’d put on for emergencies!! It was also at this point that I rememebered that the 3 copies of the routesheet I’d printed out were still sat on my desk at work, double d’oh.

Thankfully audaxers are nice people and I found people to follow on almost all of the remaining sections where I needed. The next section had the occaisonal patches of fog, but it was disappearing. Things started to get more rolling on this section. Though nothing too horrendous. Some of the descents on offer were a bit nervewracking for a nervous descender like me.

The next control was Newent. A plate of beans on toast to refuel the engines. By now it was a proper sunny day so moving took a bit longer that expected as I warmed up. The next section had a few more hills, but wound through the Forest of Dean, so there was plenty of shade and fairly quiet roads. My only problems here were that using OSM maps my edge kept trying to route me down the trails. The final drop down into Chepstow was a good fun, and then it was joining in an audax picnic at the side of  Tesco’s petrol station to enjoy a feast of their finest sandwhiches.

Bit of a steep climb out of Chepstow, but then onto the cycle path over the Severn bridge and back into England. Rolling for a bit, but then the section reared up to the Somerset Monument. This was a bit of a challenge after a 100 miles of so. Managed to grind my way up to the top and then it was a reasonable roll into Malmesbury where the square was full of cyclists. The traditional visit to a CoOp gave another sandwhich and recipt, and we retreated to the Market Cross to eat.

The next section had a couple of steepish struggles up past the Marlborough Horse and the Hackpen White Horse, an info control that we’d all been waiting for (and I was told not to use that joke again on the day). Started to get cold again, there’d be a very cold patch in an unexpected dip in the road, and was a bit of a shock to come across those descending from Hackpen hill. Started to get dark along this stretch, but managed to make it to the next control at Membury services without having to get the full night kit out.

Seemed strange to be controlling on a cycling event at a Motorway services, but they had coffee and inside chairs so I wasn’t complaining. Rumours abound that Hugh Grant was spotted filling his car up, but I didn’t see anything.Wrapped up warmer here and put the new batteries in the lights for the last section. Got on some fast wheels here who knew exactly where they were going, and a good pace was kept up. Glancing down at the GPS I noticed we were whizzing along sections at 28-30kph on the flat, probably why my legs were hurting a bit. A nice flight through Oxford and we were back at the Peartree services, completing the ride by  buying red bull and crisps to eat on the forecourt.

Overall time was just a smidge under 16 hours (12:05 hours moving). So a little slower than I’d wanted, but I felt great at the end. Remembering how I felt after the ride to skeggy last year (and how badly I’d felt a month earlier trying a 200) I was impressed how I felt at the end. Looks like getting the miles in is starting to help. Didn’t feel too bad the next day either which is good. Hoping this is a sign of a bit of form, hoping it holds on for the next ride which is Yr Elenydd in April, 300km and 5AAA!!!

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