Friday, 16 May 2014

Pedal Norfolk 2014 by Paul Sturgess

Time for another guest blog. This time Paul Sturgess tells us about his two day Pedal Norfolk experience. Thanks for this Paul it's another great edition to the blog.

Pedal Norfolk is now in its second year. Conceived by a couple of lads that had managed to complete over 400km in a weekend around North Norfolk who realised that there was potential to create an event for the wider public.

It’s a cycling festival in the grounds of Holkham Hall with activities for all cycling enthusiast over the May Day bank holiday weekend. Basic campsite facilities are provided, including showers. There was lots of cycling based entertainment for all age groups, trade sales and food outlets. The main events are the sportives with options of 100/50/20 miles on the Saturday and Sunday, then hillier 50 or 20 miles on the Monday.

Deciding which events to do was tricky. My wife Tanya and I are both in our mid-50s. We’ve been road cycling proper now for 2 and a half years, regularly do sportives around 50 miles but we have never done much more than 60 miles in an event and we certainly were not up to doing the full 250 miles over the weekend. We did 340 miles in 7 days in Majorca in February so we know we can cope with moderate day-to-day intensity, but at what pace? In the end we decided to enter the 50 miler on each day, knowing that we could just do a 20 if we were not up to it.

We arrived just after 8:00pm on Friday night after enduring the usual bank holiday traffic on the A47 and were instructed to park the Motorhome where we wanted and proceed to registration asap as it was due to close at 9:00pm. We found a quiet spot on the edge of the campsite and walked over to the registration tent where we were given brief instructions and a timing chip to stick to our helmets. This was the one and only visit to registration as the timing chip covered all three days.
Saturday dawned cool, bright and breezy. One of those days when the temperature varies significantly with the dominance of either warm sunshine or a cool breeze. So the usual dilemma of what to wear, 2 or 3 layers, shorts or tights? As usual, we got it wrong. The sun did not last and we were a bit chilled at the end.

Things started off badly. I stepped out of the Motorhome in my cleats, slipped on the top step (plastic shoe on plastic step) fell against the doorway and ended up in a heap on the ground below just to hear the tannoy saying “calling all 50 milers to the start line”! Nothing to do but get up and get on with it.The bruises are now fading.

I set a mental target of 15 miles per hour average. We have done 50 miles in less than 3 hours (16.7mph) but given the conditions and the need to save something for the next two days, then that seemed about right. It soon became obvious that we were going to be playing catch-up for most of the day. There were already some 20 milers at the start consisting of protective parents with toddlers and old dears on shoppers complete with baskets effectively blocking the narrow estate roads for the first mile or so of the course. Live and let live, but we didn’t factor that in.

The course took us east along the coast road to Blakeney then inland before running back up to HolkhamFairly easy course without any major climbs although the total climbing was nearly 600 meters. There was a decent feed station at 27 miles with all the usual refuelling requirements. What was odd was the 30s themed dress of the official in charge and the weird music from the same era. This is Norfolk though, so you know some things are going to be a bit off at a tangent.

The ride was fairly uneventful. However, one thing erked me a little. We were slowly overtaken by a group of chatting friends that initially blocked me as I was trying to overtake a slow rider, and then 

when they got past they slowed down and held me up. Tanya had managed to get past the slow rider ahead and was now 100 metres up the road. I had no option but to go past them and re-join Tanya ahead. They were totally oblivious to the situation, deeply immersed in their inane banter. Something for group riders to consider.

Saturday afternoon consisted of a gentle wander around the trade stalls and displayed followed by the obligatory cream tea in one of the local cafes. I find eating little and often after a long ride is the best way to get my old body nutrition/hydration balanced again – that’s my excuse for the cream-tea anyway.

The next event was a 6 mile time trial around the estate, open to all. We watched. It was won by professional triathlete Rob Skipper at an average speed of about 27 mph!!! He had earlier cycled the 100 mile sportive.

Later in the evening we visited the bar tent where local girlEmma Pooley was holding a Q&A session after the prize giving. She was there for the weekend using the event to train for the upcoming Friends Life Womens Tour. Her insight and observations about cycling and women’s participation was very interesting.

On the Sunday, the course headed south west inland returning via Sandringham. Except that I spied a direction arrow that I was not supposed to and we ended up back at Holkham after only covering about 10 miles. The arrow was meant for the return route that crossed the outgoing course. Only 7 miles extra 

The weather was a little warmer and less breezy, but taking no chances I wore an extra layer. Guess what? Wrong again, too warm!
The rest of the day followed the usual pattern: food, walk, food, walk, food, drink, sleep. The 8 mile walk to Wells-next-the-Sea and back along the beach was, in hindsight, a step too far for my tiring body.
Monday was supposed to be the hard day. Billed as hilly, so I should have been prepared. The two steep hills were early on. The first one, Bard Hill was away from the coast at Saltburn, topping out at 14% and then a second one, Summer Hill a little further on and not quite so steep. Only short hills, but needed the lowest gears on the bike, 34 front to 28 rear. (Note for Mt Ventoux – Need a 30 rear).

The weather was warmer still, so I went back to 2 layers but with shorts, Guess what? Got it right this time. Third time lucky.

We got up the two hills OK, even had enough energy to outsprint Tanya to the top. I’m not sure what the other riders though of the verbal abuse rained in my direction from mywife’s lips. By the time we got to the feed station, I was absolutely pooped. Not sure why as I had fueled up well with a big breakfast, had an energy bar before the climbs. I took a gel and some flapjack at the feed station but it took a good few miles of drafting Tanya before I could take my turn on the front again. After that we got on well again, taking it steady, chatting with other riders and eating at every opportunity.
One of the best bits of the course was the run in back to the finish line at Holkham Hall on the estate roads. It’s a long straight road, over a mile long, mostly down-hill but with a short steep climb to the obelisk before the final bend down to the Hall. It was the same return route each day and we had developed a bit of competition. We would enter the estate together but after that it was each man to himself. The climb to the obelisk was a great place to launch an attack which you could hold off until the finish line. Not sure what the visiting public thought of two oldies sprinting arse in air through the
 estate though and that was it. We ate, packed the bikes away in the Motorhome garage and drove home.

Both bikes behaved impeccably. No issues whatsoever. In the end we managed over 15 mph average on all three days.

All in all, it was an excellent weekend away. It was hard work, but very enjoyable if you like cycling. Would we do it again next year? Most certainly 

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