Last weekend I rode in my first sportive. It was a strange experience after several years of driving Erik to them, standing around while he got ready and completed the registration, waving him off and then hanging around waiting for him to come back. I have to say I was very apprehensive about the idea of riding 53 kilometers. Prior to Sunday the furthest I’d ridden was 18 miles (about 29 km).
So, on Sunday morning we drove to a (very posh) Polo Club in Warwickshire. It was one of those wonderful winter days, crisp and cold (about 3oC), sunny and dry. The first striking thing when we entered the large gates and snaked our way up the driveway after the other bicycle-laden cars was the large bronze bull at the side of the road. Several other bronzes followed: another bull and more bizarrely a rhinoceros. We decided that we’d take some photos when we got back from the ride.
I spent the first few miles of the ride trying not to panic about how many miles lay ahead of me. I was struck by the challenges of cycling near other people, not something I’ve done much of before. Erik mostly leaves a safe distance when we cycle together—I think it’s because in our early days I tended to pull up too quickly and without warning to look at artwork, or a view that took my fancy. A few close calls later and he’d learnt that lesson. I thought about this as I tried to avoid clipping the rear wheels of several other riders, particularly when they braked or shifted position for what seemed like no reason. Still after a few miles of riding we were mostly quite strung out. By this point my toes were already quite numb from the cold and now that I wasn’t watching for other cyclist randomly slowing down ahead of me my mind shifted to worrying that I’d get frostbite in my toes and they might fall off. I then thought about how Erik said he mostly didn’t think about things when he cycled and wished my brain was as numb as my toes!
The nicest thing about the sportive was cycling through the beautiful Warwickshire countryside. The fields and trees were all very wintery looking, bare and cold but the signs of spring life were there. We saw young lambs in the fields and an occasional burst of flowers brought some colour to the shades of brown that dominated the palate. I tried to focus on the view rather than my worries about cycling so far or my fears about my toes.
As the miles slipped by I started to feel more confident about finishing. I got to a quarter then a third of the way through and was doing ok. One really useful bit of advice I’d read in the lead up to the event was when you hit a hill you should count your pedal strokes, up to 20 and then start again. I hate cycling uphill so tried this and it worked really well to distract my attention from how much more hill there was ahead of me. I even started to feel confident enough to take some photos—many of the roads we rode on were very quiet which was lovely.
The last few miles of the ride were pretty hard. I wasn’t worried about being able to finish but I just wanted to stop cycling. I started to feel a bit sorry for myself; I was pretty hungry and thirsty; my toes were numb and my backside was letting me know that I’d spent too long sitting on a pointy saddle.
If the nicest element of the sportive was the view of the countryside then the second nicest thing was the table full of cake at the finish! Less inhibited than usual about how many calories things contain I surveyed the huge selection and happily munched my way through several pieces as well as a bag of crisps. All washed down with some coffee.
Before leaving we posed with the bronze animals. There weren’t any signs to explain why they were there and in particular why a rhinoceros…in Warwickshire?