Apologies for the lack of pictures — it wasn’t the most picturesque route!
Cardiff — Buckingham
On the 5th April I went down to Cardiff to ride my second Audax – the 400km Buckingham Blinder — rather than travel down on the day I stayed near Cardiff the night before, meaning that I managed to make the start in good time (for a change). The organisers had put on complimentary coffee and pastries and, although the conversation seemed to be stifled by nerves, it was nice to chat to some of the other riders before the off. Most of the riders assembled were gearing up for their first crack at riding 400km in a day and were understandably jittery.
At 6am the group promptly set off – with most worried about energy conservation the pace was fairly low and I soon rode off the front with another rider. I didn’t catch his name, but he seemed keen to put down a good time and tried hard to drop me with some stiff accelerations on the climbs — I wasn’t that fussed about trying to match them: 400km is a long way and I wanted to ride at a sustainable pace.
The net result of this early positioning was that I spent the rest of the day riding alone. This didn’t bother me too much, but I was a bit disappointed not to have any company – riding with a group during the Dean Audax had been one of the highlights.
I made good time through Newport and Cardiff, although numerous traffic lights prevented me from finding a good rhythm – it was certainly a relief when I reached the open road towards Chepstow. For the second time in two weeks I rode across the Second Severn crossing, pleased that the wind wasn’t as bad as it had been the previous weekend.
Shortly after making the crossing into England the weather turned and it began to rain, making the gritty roads even less pleasant to ride! Despite the rain the temperature was relatively mild and I made great time through the hilliest part of the course to the first checkpoint in Malmesbury, got a receipt as proof of passage, and pushed on.
As the route leveled out I picked up a slight tailwind and easily held a near 20mph average to the second checkpoint in Long Hanborough, near Witney. The chap who had flown off at the start was there when I pulled in and again seemed reluctant to have company, jumping on his bike as soon as I arrived. I stopped for a quick sandwich and a bit of cake at the checkpoint, keen to eat more during this ride and not to run out of energy as I had done the previous weekend. The route remained fast and flat, if a bit boring, out to the half waypoint – a garden centre in Buckingham – and then turned back on itself for the return leg.
Buckingham — Cardiff
Having enjoyed a brisk tailwind on the way to Buckingham, it was with some reluctance that I embarked on the return leg – the prospect of 125 miles into the wind wasn’t one I was particularly excited about! In the absence of a group I was infinitely glad that I’d fitted my aero bars for the ride – they’re easily worth a few extra miles an hour when riding into the wind on a flat course. Despite the blustery weather I was still feeling strong on the bike and was looking forward to seeing some of the other riders as I retraced my steps towards Cardiff. The field had spread out quite a bit over the first 125 miles – I passed the first group of riders behind me after about an hour and the last group a further hour and a half behind them: all seemed to be enjoying the tailwind and having a good day out.
Apart from a quick break for a second lunch in Long Hanborough I made good time on the way back to Cardiff – the headwind didn’t really abate, but my I found a good rhythm and plugged away on the aero bars. I found a huge burst of energy after the last checkpoint in Malmesbury and powered over the climbs on the way to the Severn. The traffic on the way through Newport and Cardiff was easily the worst part of the ride and must have accounted for about half of the 40mins stopped time I had throughout the day. I pulled into the finish having covered 251 miles in about 15hrs 40mins (including stopped time) – easily one of the fastest 250 mile rides I’ve done.
To add a last hurdle to the day’s challenges there was some confusion in the hotel when I tried to get my brevet card stamped – the receptionist had no idea that there was an event running and didn’t have a stamp! A quick chat with the manager revealed that I was the first back to the hotel (I thought there was still one rider ahead of me seeing as I didn’t pass him on the road) and he hadn’t expected any riders back until a bit later.
All in all it was a really good excuse to get a lot miles in the saddle and great training for the Trans Am Bike Race.