Last Sunday saw 60 or so participants congregate fairly early in the morning in Princes Risborough, on the edge of the Chilterns, for a training ride organised by Threshold Sports who have the unenviable task of marshalling all the riders from Land’s End to John O’Groats in September. For all of us who attended it was an opportunity to ask questions, meet fellow riders, hear some top tips from previous participants in the Ride Across Britain (or RAB for short) and have a small taste of what is to come.
If you haven’t seen it, here is a video on YouTube showing what the RAB could be like RAB video The video was recorded during the 2016 RAB because the Threshold Chaperones (riders from Threshold Sports who acted as guides out on the ride) told us that it rained for 8 out of 9 days in 2017 ! I really do hope summer lasts until 17 September in the UK this year….
Back to the morning, as expected a lot of the riders had travelled from in and around London – apparently the conductor on the Chiltern Railways train from Marylebone was not particularly happy with 12 bikes and riders on an early morning train from London. At least it was early and not a Saturday when the train can be packed with shoppers heading to Bicester Village! Everyone was friendly although a little apprehensive about what was in store for us during the day.
I thought I had done well travelling from Cardiff (I bumped into Carl who had also come up from Cardiff) but I think the winner for distance travelled must have been Martin who travelled from Wigan. I cheated a bit as I stayed with my Mother in Haddenham – I still cycled the six miles to and from the venue.
The best top tips top tips were:
- Pack everything into a big bag with lots of spare space as kits seems to expand
- Don’t believe the marketing blurb that your bag is waterproof; use lots of smaller plastic bags
- Get organised and have a routine; pack your kit the night before and get the riding gear ready. You don’t want to be the phaffer who keeps their friends waiting or even worse gets turfed out of their tent by the ground-staff packing up the camp site!
- Bring ear plugs (plus some gloves and a hat for the Scottish nights)
- Ride within your capacity in the first two days to avoid the Medical Tent (the two days up through Cornwall, Devon and Somerset to Bath are “the worst”). By day five the tortoise will catch the hare who could be “in bits and held together by sports tape”
- Don’t linger in the feed station pit stops. However, one of our chaperones confessed to a three hour pit stop last year waiting for the rain to stop – it didn’t!
- Respect other road users; no more than 10 in a group, be prepared to let car tailbacks pass, obey the Highway Code
- Bring a spare rear derailleur hanger for your bike just in case
- Keep the training going
We were split into groups of 10 for the rides based on average speed estimates. Carl and I were chatting about going in the “fast medium” group of say 15 mph average rather than the fast 16-18 mph group – there were some fit looking cyclists at the event. A shout went up for two more to join the fast group – Carl and I looked at each other and thought “Sod it” and volunteered. It was the right choice as the route was fairly flat compared to what we are used to in the Vale of Glamorgan and South Wales and keeping up was not a problem (thank goodness).
A few hills sorted us out on the first 40 mile loop, particularly Ladder Hill in Wheatley. We dropped one team member who had over-estimated his average speed at the feed station and then the speed notched up to closer 20 mph on the flat stages in the second 20 mile loop. I was quite happy to sit in the group and draft (saving energy). Clodagh, our sole female rider, put all the men to shame by setting the pace at the front with Simon, one of the chaperones, on the first lap and nailing the Queen of the Mountain time on the end of route sprint. It turns out that Clodagh does triathlons where you are not allowed to draft and she wanted the full benefits of the ride as a training session.
After 60 miles we finished the formal part of the ride. A couple of us decided to do an extra “finisher” and do a short lap up Whiteleaf Hill. This is one of the UK’s named 100 Climbs on Strava so on the bucket list of lots of riders. It is only 1.3 km (just under a mile) in length but averages a 9.4% gradient and according to my Garmin GPS unit nearly touched 20% (or 1 in 5 at one point when I was “moving” at 2 kph) – in reality I think it is 16% in places but still seriously steep. I was amazed at the Strava time when I got home (after an extra 6 mile ride trying the beat the rain) to see that I had still set my fastest time on the climb even after 60 miles of riding.
The event finished with some very tasty tomato and vegetable sauce with pasta. If the food at the end and at the feed station is anything to go by we will not be going hungry during the ride in September.
There was lots of checking the ride on Strava (I must update the data plan on my mobile) and swapping telephone numbers and email addresses. I will definitely be catching up with Carl for some training rides from Cardiff. A few others are taking part in the Dragon ride in early June – 223 km round the climbs of South Wales and the Brecon Beacons (three more UK 100 Climbs to tick off) and there was talk of some London based riders coming down to south Wales to take advantage of our “proper” long climbs! All in all, a great event and I was pleasantly surprised how I managed to cope. I just have to keep up the training and be prepared to cycle in wet weather – fingers crossed for an “Indian Summer”. Thanks to Threshold Sports and particularly for our chaperones, Simon and John, for telling us what it is really like on the RAB – bring on September!
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