Friday 18 June 2010

The 'Magnificat' Sunday 13th June

This 127 mile cyclosportive tours the rolling hills of West Berkshire and Hampshire with 2,630m of climbing.  Formerly run out of Highclere Castle it now starts and finishes at Newbury Racecourse and I tackled it for the 5th year in succession.  It started life as a predominantly armed forces and firefighters' event and still raises good money for the Firefighters and other charities.  It is clearly now of more widespread appeal and there were 659 riders for the main event with many more for shorter versions.
I was amongst the first group off at 8am.  We struggled to find our way out of the racecourse but, after a wrong turn, found the open road and settled into a group powered largely by a GS Henley team.  It was a bit like a slow (well comparatively) motion roadrace with an NEG motorcycle escort ahead to alert oncoming traffic.  A few Berkshire hills early in the ride caused one or two to drop off the back but we were essentially together to the first feed stop at Sparsholt which came after 38miles and just over 2 hours (19mph). 
Some riders pressed on; others stopped only briefly with the upshot that I left the feed on my own and had to do a solo effort for some miles circumventing Winchester, though a small group of around 5 coalesced as we headed West to Petersfield.  We were all of varying strength though and by now I was one of the weakest - so, though I did turns at the sharp end, the pace was clearly not fast enough for some who clipped off the front.  Eventually a larger and stronger group came by, so I shamelessly wheel sucked at the back, almost losing contact at one long hill but somehow propelling myself back on before we reached the summit (I can't catch up on the descents, just don't have the nerve).  We reached the next feed at Four Marks some 42 miles and 2h25m (17.4mph) on from Sparsholt.
This time I had refilled a bottle, grabbed a sandwich and was starting in on some biscuits when I realised they were off.  This time I chased after them but it was a bit uphill and through a junction and by the time I had reached them I was too tired to hold on so did my second, and this time longer, solo effort until at Lasham Airfield a large group came by.  I once again tagged onto the back completely incapable of contributing anything at the front.  As we clocked up 100, we skirted Farleigh, territory not explored by me since I was at prep school 35 years ago - since then the urban sprawl of Basingstoke has spread into what I remembered as green fields.
At 110 miles and 6 hours in, at Hannington Hill, I couldn't take any more and dropped unceremoniously off the back.  I thought I had only 16 miles to go (though my bike computer is a tinsy bit out and it was actually more like 19) so I resolved to do that at my own pace and come in under 7 hours.  I expected Newbury Racecourse to appear earlier than it did.  The last few miles were purgatory over Greenham Common into a headwind with a bug swimming in my right eye that I just couldn't shift.  Well if it isn't sometimes painful it would not be so good when it stops...and stop it did some 46 miles and 2h41m (17mph) on from Four Marks.  My overall time for the ride was 7h07m for the 127 miles (17.8 mph).
I am not sure to what extent previous years are comparable as the route has slightly changed.  I was in better shape last year but my puncture problems then meant I had no trouble this year beating last year's time.  Two years ago I missed Gold by about a minute.  So I was pleased this year to have achieved a Gold Standard (my first in any ride this year).
One of the sponsors, Torq, clearly sent in a powerful team with a mission.  Three of them got the honours with pretty impressive times of 6h08m.  Those supermen apart, the group I was originally with appear to have come in at about 06h40m, very strong rides.
As in all previous years a great and superbly organised ride; challenging with the hills and the duration but it's the hills that make the scenery.  A welcome change from my commute.

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