Flatland 600 (Super Randonneur)

A week before the Transcontinental I was knocked off my bike. Two teenage girls stepped out in front of me without looking – one ran when she heard my shout and the other froze. I’d scrubbed pretty much all of my speed by the time I collided with the girl that froze, but my momentum threw me over the handlebars and I landed hard on my head and shoulder. There was a loud pop and an extraordinary amount of pain.

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Long story short, I was sent home from hospital with a sling and advice from the doctor that ‘exercise won’t make it worse – if you can ride, your race won’t cause any further damage or set back your healing’. So that was my mind made up – I was riding the TCR.

In reality, despite managing to get on the bike, I was still very broken by the time I reached the starting line. Not just my shoulder, but lost form from not riding and heavy bruising across my torso and legs. I’d told myself I’d just take it easy and have fun… the fun stopped the second we hit the Muur and I had to wrestle the bars to avoid coming off. Every bump was a sharp wave of pain and nausea.

Barely past the French border, the pain had taken its toll and I was physically and mentally exhausted. I found a bus stop and took five minutes. A few miles later I found a better bus stop and took 15 minutes. Just down the road I found a sheltered piece of lawn, laid out my sleeping bag and got my head down for a solid three hours. The trend continued – I woke up, rode, stopped in pain and had a rest until around midday when, having thrown up from the pain, I accepted it was time to bail and headed for Paris at a relative crawl.

A week of rest once back in London made no end of difference. Had the TCR started just 5-10 days later, I reckon I’d have made it round. We booked a cottage in Somerset and had a domestic training camp shortly after – my fitness was definitely down and my shoulder still hurt, but at least I was riding again.

Of course, as the world hates me this year, I then took a tumble in the rain and smashed my face in. Fortunately, the rain meant I didn’t pick up too much road rash, but my eyebrow had to be super glued and the doctors are fairly convinced there’s a fracture in my face (I’ve had so many X-Rays already this year, they’re unwilling to subject me to more… particularly as the treatment was likely just to be ‘leave it alone and it’ll heal’).

By this point I was pretty despondent. My season was over with no achievements (other than the fastest Redhill CC 25 TT of the year) and my fitness/form has utterly tanked from so much time off the bike and the various injuries. It took a lot of moping before I remembered that one of my supplemental goals for this year was to pick up my Super Randonneur for the year at the Flatlands 600… OK, so I wouldn’t be able to use aero bars, but it’s an ‘easy’ 600, it’s fairly local and it passes near my Dad’s house and other friends/relatives en-route, so it’s easy to bail…

Having committed to riding, the weather forecast turned foul just to really tighten the screws. Oh well, full frame bag fitted, sleeping gear, waterproof gear and enough bonk rations to feed an army and I was on my way. I didn’t take any pictures as the views were obscured by rain and/or darkness and there are enough ride reports out there, but a few thoughts…

  1. Being first to the only manned control gets you no points, but it gives a nice confidence boost
  2. If your shorts start to hurt at 50km, don’t bother stopping to faff, they’ll still hurt by 550km regardless
  3. Locals will loudly question your sanity if you request three balance print outs from a cash point in the space of a minute (to ensure the stamp matches the control opening time)
  4. The Castelli Idro is handcrafted by witches. An entire day of being pissed on, yet my jersey was bone dry. No boil in the bag despite being a moderately warm day too
  5. Laughing off a local offering you a lift back to Essex at the mid-way point is easy… finding a local willing to give you a lift back nearer the finish is hard
  6. A 600 is a bad choice for getting ‘creative’ with the route sheet for the first time
  7. Gravel tracks near dogging spots at 10/11pm will give you a much needed adrenaline boost
  8. A roads late at night are excellent. Busy A road diversions when the cycle tracks near Cambridge are closed are less excellent. There’s a reason TTs have to be off the A14 by 9.30am!
  9. I get the dozies shortly after midnight, no matter how rested I am. A can of Monster will cure this for approximately an hour. Incidentally, finding Monster after around 1/2am is hard
  10. I am bad at finding places to sleep. The first bus shelter on the outskirts of Sleaford must have been near uni accommodation (I was awoken by a young lady in a onesie) and the second was nowhere near sheltered enough (christ it was cold)
  11. When your arse, knee, shoulder and wrists hurt, just accept that you’ll spend the rest of the ride as follows: 5min cycling on the tops, 5 mins cycling in the drops, 5 mins cycling on the hoods, 30 seconds out of the saddle, no handed as long as the road allows – repeated ad infinitum.
  12. Finishing a 600 is an anticlimax. I filled in my brevet on a bench and posted it through the organiser’s front door. There was no confetti, balloons or cheering. Next time, I’m renting a crowd for the occasion.

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So I’ve now ridden 1,500km of audaxes this year. In fact, it’s a year (almost to the day) since I rode my first audax. Plenty of people get their SR each year, but it’s still an achievement (and a new one for me – newness is always good). Apparently if I keep doing this until I’m 40, I’ll qualify as an Ultra Randonneur, so there’s something to aim for!

Not sure yet what next year entails, but it won’t be the transcontinental. There are too many endurance rides out there, too many events I want to enter – TCR can’t take precedence over them all. Sure, I could fit a couple alongside it each year, but it’s an all consuming beast of a ride and I really don’t want to get caught in a cycle of endlessly chasing a single event when there’s so much more to experience out there. I was treating this as a ‘one and done’ – the fact that fate dealt me a shitty hand doesn’t change that. If I’m not too old by the time I’ve worked through my longer list of events (or the format at TCR changes drastically), I’ll revisit it.

I’ve pre-entered LEL, so I think I might focus on events that cross or circle single countries next year… There’s a Swedish end-to-end, Hard Cro and several others that would fit this theme nicely. For now, I just need to stay injury free and try to regain some of the fitness I’ve lost. I might do something audacious for the Festive 500, but otherwise, it’s time to put my feet up and just have fun on the bike.

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