There are times when I wonder what I am doing this for—this being cycling. On Sunday, I rode out on the well-named Mad March Hare sportive from Wythall, near Birmingham. The weather hovered about freezing; there was a steady stream of hail, rain and slush in the air, and a goodly bunch of us came out for 70+ miles of mostly pain.
As I pushed off, the fellow behind me spilled, not ten yards from the start. Not a good omen. The crew staffing the start picked him up, and he said he was alright. For the first ten miles or so, there was an irregular line of riders heading back. It was hard to avoid the feeling that they had the right idea. According to the organisers, about 20% of the people who started the ride reconsidered and turned back. After ten miles though, we were committed (should have been committed?), about as wet and cold as we could get, and had gone too far to follow the route back.
The rain eased up after about an hour and a half—it had done its business, soaking us to the bone no matter what we had put on—and the wind picked up. For much of the next fifty miles, my thoughts drifted around the question of whether the wind was worse when it threatened to topple me sideways or when it made every mile seem like an uphill slog. I also wondered how, on a circular ride, the wind could always be in your face.
I slowed and had to walk up a good bit of Saintbury hill. It’s roughly a mile of climbing, with patches of 6 – 10% grade. With the headwind—how do you have a headwind on a wooded hill?—I just couldn’t make it. I may have struggled more than most, but, not simply up Saintbury hill but throughout the distance, all the riders were unusually bunched, as though we were all going up a pretty steep grade. My ride wasn’t helped by missing the arrows for a turn, which added couple or three miles to my route, but I was very grateful for the fellows ahead who recognised that we’d gone wrong and got us back on the track.
The finish was drier, if not warm, but they had bacon sarnies and tea to help the recovery. I was glad to be done.
Normally, this isn’t the hardest of rides. British Cycling rates it 2 out of 5, with 115 km of distance and a bit more than a kilometre of climbing. Last year, I rode it faster and without stopping. This year, I wondered what had gotten into my head that I didn’t pack it in early—or stayed in bed. Cycling loves miserable, I knew that even before this ride. The earliest tours were adventures in masochism, and we can all be grateful for the pain Tullio Campagnolo felt that freezing day in the Dolomites when he was unable to loosen the wing nut that held his wheel. He at least invented the quick release skewer out of his pain. I don’t know why I kept going.