I’ve been meaning to try an Audax ride for a while, but the stars have never quite aligned — so when I saw that there was a 300km event leaving from Oxford I jumped at the chance to sign up.
For those who aren’t familiar with Audax riding (or randonneuring), it’s a discipline of cycling in which participants attempt to cover long distances within a pre-defined time limit, collecting evidence of their ride by visiting certain ‘control’ points on route. Audax events are typically over 200km in length, so offer the chance to cover some serious miles — perfect training for the Trans Am Bike Race. Plus, given that Audax rides were developed by bicycle manufacturers in the 19th century to prove the reliability of their products, I thought that a 300km event would be the perfect test run for my new custom Qoroz road bike.
I was up at around 3.45am and in the car on the way to the start by 4am. The drive from my house in Salisbury to Oxford takes around 1.5hrs and I thought I’d arrive in good time for the 6am start. However, I hadn’t banked on navigational mistakes on the way! I’ve driven to Oxford numerous times and know the route quite well, but somehow I managed to miss my turn off the A303 and drove for around 15mins in the wrong direction before I realized my mistake.
An hour of frantic driving later I pulled in the Peartree Park and Ride on the northern outskirts of Oxford, just as the majority of riders were leaving – cue a frantic scramble to get my bike and gear ready to go! I was just about ready to leave when I heard someone calling my name – as I’d never taken part in an Audax event before I hadn’t expected to see anyone I knew, but it turns out that Paul Alderton, a regular Audax rider and endurance cycling veteran, recognized me from my website.
Oxford – Chepstow
We set off from the car park together and held quite a good pace as we tried catch the riders up the road — ‘domestiques waiting to be caught’ as Paul put it. Having ridden alone during most of my long winter training rides it was great to have some company and talk all things distance cycling. Paul’s going to be racing the Transcontinental this year and it was interesting to hear about his training and gear selection.
We made good time to the first control at Stow (about 50km from the start), mopping up the back markers as we went. As this was a ‘shoestring’ event, there were no official controllers to provide evidence of our passage; rather we had to collect till receipts from shops along the way. The volume of people still grouped together meant that it took a few minutes to grab a receipt, but we were back on the road without much delay.
It was interesting to see the bikes used by the experienced Audax riders – clearly they knew what worked for them and had adapted their positions to suit. Although there were a few contenders, the prize for the most unusual bike had to go a man riding a folding Moulton with 20inch wheels. Paul told me he was a regular Audax rider and had ridden much further distances than 300km on that bike — impressive stuff!
The miles flew past throughout the morning and soon enough we were making our way through the Forest of Dean, heading for the third control of the day at Chepstow. I’ve ridden though the Forest of Dean a few times this year, but it was particularly beautiful with the late morning light turning the forest floor a florescent green.
While the scenery was almost enough to distract me from the miles stacking up in my legs, it wasn’t quite enough and I was starting to suffer — by this stage we’d covered about 90 miles and in the excitement of the start I hadn’t eaten enough. I’m never the best about eating in the early stages of a long ride, but I’d only eaten one Snickers bar all morning — largely due to the fact that the energy bars I’d brought with me were rock solid and too difficult to eat on the fly.
Chepstow – Oxford
By the time we reached the Chepstow control — a Tesco Petrol Station — I was experiencing some serious hunger knock. In an attempt to chip away at my calorie deficit I ate a sandwich and two brownies before getting back on the bike – still keen to complete the event in a good time. While we were at the control it was good to briefly see Rimas Grigenas — a fellow racer in last year’s Transcontinental.
Paul and I joined up with a couple of other riders at the control and a group of five of us headed over the Second Severn Crossing. The wind had been blowing all morning, but we turned directly into it as we began the return leg to Oxford. Crossing the exposed bridge was tough and the food I’d just eaten hadn’t taken effect yet — I was still hurting. Shortly after crossing the bridge I dropped off the back of the group, thinking that I’d ride at my own pace until my energy levels returned.
It turns out that this was a good call, I managed to find a good rhythm and soon enough I could feel the power coming back. A quick cake and coffee stop in Malmesbury and I was back on form — I’d covered 200km at this point, but still felt pretty fresh. I enjoyed the climbs past the white horses on the way to Malborough, and by the time I pulled into the final control I had caught up with Paul’s group and Rimas who were just leaving as I pulled in.
The last stage to Oxford was brilliant — I’d turned out of the wind and really enjoyed the relatively flat cruise into the finish. As I was collecting my till receipt at the final control I saw Paul getting out of his car — he’d finished about 10-15mins earlier — and it was good to have a last chat about the event before going our separate ways.
All in all I thoroughly enjoyed my first Audax and was pleased with a sub 13hr time (including stopped time) for a 190-mile ride with almost 14,000ft climbing. It was a great event to test my new Qoroz and first impressions were excellent — the geometry is spot on and it managed to blend stiffness and comfort incredibly well.
I’ll be posting a first impressions report on the blog once I’ve put a few more miles on the bike. My next event is a 400km Audax from Cardiff on the 5th April that should be another good test and help me keep building for the Trans Am Bike Race.