Saturday, 12 April 2014

Gran Fondo 4th Time Lucky

The plan for today was to join the C&DCYCLES shop ride and if I felt up to it, to make up the difference and complete the April 130km/80miles Gran Fondo. That plan succeeded but only with the help of some special people.

Firstly as a husband and father of 3 I realise that my time does not belong to me, it belongs to my family. Without my wife's support I wouldn't be able to ride as often as I do and I certainly wouldn't have a spare 6 hours to take on a Strava challenge.

Secondly I didn't even know if my bike would be fit to ride. The crunchy noise made me think the bearings in the head set were at best dry and more likely to be damaged. Andy at C&DCYCLES assured me if I got there early he'd have me all sorted by the 8:45 ride start time. He was true to his word. My worst fears were confirmed as Andy removed my forks with the frantic energy of a granny one number short of a full house. The bearings were indeed shot. Five minutes later new bearings were fitted and greased and Clive's steering was returned to it's former glory. I have no idea what they'll charge me for that job because it wasn't Andy's priority. He puts his customers and the club first and for that we should all be very grateful. I know I am! Whatever the cost it'll be worth every penny.

The bit to the right of Kettering was the shop ride and what a ride. I have no idea what we were all on this morning because that's the fastest Saturday ride I've been on. Vroom Wednesday on a Saturday some people have said. We were led again by Big Steve Major with Andy the magnificent mechanic taking the rear or 'tail gunner' as we say.

Outside the shop at the start

If the pace was high the banter was of equal quality. I have been asked by my son, what we talk about on rides. Well often it's bikes and cycling, sometimes it's sport and sometimes there's a smattering of smut. One such conversation involving the use of power tools in an adult movie took an interesting turn as we hypothesised whether Makita or de Walt would be the porn stars cordless tool of choice. Big Steve put us straight, it has to be de Walt apparently!

Quick stop at the Church in Clopton

For no reason other than we're both silly billies, Nathan I started racing on the hill heading back to Thrapston. He even went round the roundabout at the top to make sure he could overtake me again. That's not really acceptable behaviour for a shop ride but as it was a tallest dwarf contest and everyone was riding so well I'm not sure anyone else noticed. Finally as we realised we were just knackering ourselves we agreed on an honourable draw. Unfortunately for Nathan I have no honour and claimed the day by jumping him whilst he was having a chat on my favourite Warkton to Stamford Rd climb. All that stupidity did me good because I have PRs on segments where I normally struggle.

It says 'Historic Church' that way so that must be the modern church in the background

No slip ups at Barratt's corner

Back at the shop there was tea, coffee and cake washed down with lashings more banter. I went easy on Andy though because he's my hero today. (There Andy is that enough mentions!)

So off I toddled on my erm...tod! I really didn't have a plan but left Kettering on the A43 heading to Geddington, from there I went through Newton up to Great Oakley. As this Gran Fondo was about testing yourself I decided to go right at Great Oakley rather than go to Pipewell via the Southern Gateway.

These are the challenge instructions:

"For this Challenge, deviate from your normal routes and go after something more adventurous. Optimize for suffering and exploration, not comfort and convenience. Share stories from your fondo using the hashtag #fondoday. "

I didn't mean to end up on an industrial estate in Corby

I hadn't been that way before and now I know why. It just took me on a loop to rejoin the A43 and head into Corby at the euro hub. Not a route I'd recommend because it's a fast busy road with lots of lorries. That's the opposite of what I'm looking for. It didn't really float my boat riding round the industrial estate near Rockingham Motor Speedway either. 

I love this feature in Lyddington

Finally I left Corby and headed to Gretton, then Lyddington and round Eyebrook Reservoir via the Stoke Dry hill. I'd only been up that climb before and for me it's quite a test so I felt it needed my downhill skills unleashing on it. The only problem with that was the hill out of Lyddington is just as beastly and I shamefully dropped to granny ring. The picture of Eyebrook does not capture how spectacular the view was at Stoke Dry. 

The view across Eyebrook Reservoir

At this point I was still making it up as I went along with Ashley being my next vague target and then check the distance to plan the rest of my ride. Due to the disaster of Gran Fondo 2 where my technology gave up at 79 miles I took no chances. In the bike mount was my old Sony Xperia (awful phone don't get one,) and in my back pocket was the best smartphone I've owned, the Samsung Galaxy S4mini (iPhone users please don't bang on about how good your phone is, I'm a Samsung man now and it's unlikely to change.) the Sony gave up as I entered Ashley on just under 70 miles. So it was with dread I reached into my jersey pocket to check the Samsung. I shouldn't have worried, despite Strava running for 5 hours with all other apps on the go it was only down to 50% and it's still got some charge now! 

10 miles to go then. What shall I do? At that point the remnants of my scarcely seen common sense abandoned me...I know, Middleton then Rocky Hill. Fondo says I must suffer so suffer I did! A few moments later I was in the middle of the Rockingham Wheelers time trial. I got some bemused looks but lads just because you're on a £3k TT bike don't look down your nose at me. Your poo smells too! 

Yes mind out we can be foolish

Middleton Hill was hard but I was pleased because after all those miles there was no signs of cramp. Then I chucked my chain and the act of bending over to get it back on caused my right quads to lock up. A few big stretches and I was back on and before I knew in the foot slopes of the castle topped beast we know as Rocky Hill. Straight to granny but in the middle of my cogs, I clicked gradually up to the 24 as the climb progressed and then just hung on. I loved it. The pain was exhilarating. Look it's not the alps, it's not even the Pennines but for round here it's as hard as it gets. If you want an idea how steep it is there's a field on the left as you climb littered with cheap plastic sledges. You can just imagine on snow days the kids of Corby legging it down poundland to buy a sledge (not sure how much they cost,) and then having two or three goes before their McDonald's fuelled Xbox trained legs gave up and abandoning their purchase in the knowledge they'll get another one next year.

I've said before the disappointing thing about Rocky Hill is that it ends up on a fast road in an urban area but busy traffic negotiated I headed towards Pipewell. I checked Strava and at 124km I was sure I had enough in case there was a distance reduction when I finished. 

There was one last piece of excitement before I got home. A buzzard in the road noticed me at the last  minute and nonchalantly flapped off, it then got a bit panicky as I drew level with him. Those moments are made for a go pro camera, I really need to get one.

I got home, checked the Strava as 134km, clicked save and held my breath. It stayed at 134. Yes I'd done it. That's not my longest ride but I honestly can't think of one I've enjoyed more. What a great day on the bike.

Happy Pedalling!

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