It’s been a long winter waiting for audax season to kick back in. I spent October-December working a couple of days a week in Amsterdam and watching my fitness slowly unravel from the endless lack of sleep, lack of training time and days off the bike, so January couldn’t come soon enough. The glamour of international travel quickly wears off after a few 4am starts to hop on the turbo before sitting in a combination of taxis, planes and trains for the next 4 hours.
Christmas was spent churning out hundred milers and some shorter, sharper efforts to wake my legs back up… and perhaps chasing mileage to knock a club mate off the top spot of the leader boards… So I begin my audax season this year at approximately the same level of fitness as last year, albeit now with an Edington number of 97.
So my first audax of 2017 was to be the Willy Warmer – 200km from Chalfont St Peter out to Hungerford and back. Of course, shortly after subscribing the country froze over and a balmy -6 degrees was forecast for much of the day/route. Still, winter miles = summer smiles and doubly so when it’s wet and/or freezing.
I woke up at 5am and threw on every item of clothing I own. I’ve never rocked the knee warmers over tights look before, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Having wrapped myself up as some sort of absurdist cycling burrito, I headed off into the dark quietly mumbling to myself about how ‘it will definitely get warmer when the sun comes up’. It didn’t.
I also forgot I’d routed to the start before I knew about the freezing weather, so had a few unsalted lanes to contend with and ended up arriving at HQ just as everyone was leaving. Oh well, quick wave to Paul over the road, grab my brevet card and get chasing. Miss a turn at the first roundabout, jump the central reservation and resume chasing. Settle into a rhythm and gradually reel in more and more riders… while wondering why gears are starting to skip and my chain is rubbing the mech…
By Marlow it was obvious that my cranks had worked loose and I’d have to find a bike shop pronto. Fortunately, Google informed me there was a bike shop round the corner. With a name like Saddle Safari I didn’t hold much hope, but they were brilliant – even got the torque wrench out without being asked. Honestly, I’m not ever sure they were even officially open yet, so massive respect. Proper quality local bike shop.
Strava tells me I was only out of action for 5 minutes and I was able to catch up with Paul by the first control point, so it can’t have been as catastrophic as it felt at the time. Still, no rest for the wicked, Paul chivied me through the control as quickly as possible and we set straight back out and started picking up other riders. With the extreme cold and occasional patches of ice, I decided to stick at Paul’s pace and take things a bit more cautiously… turns out riding faster’s a false economy when you encounter a rider like Paul though. I thought I was quick at controls, but he takes the biscuit. The man never stops.
At Hungerford, my post office raid was far too leisurely for Paul who simply grabbed some Yazoo and jumped straight back on his bike, promising to see me further up the road. This theme continued… my bars worked loose to the point where I had to stop to sort them… ‘I’ll keep rolling and see you down the road’! Despite working at speeds an F1 pit crew would be proud of, I was out of action long enough that Paul was several KM down the road before I’d set back off (and of course he later admitted to putting in a dig!).
By the time I finally caught him I was gagging for a pee… only I really didn’t want to stop and have to chase him back down. Again. After internally debating the pros and cons of attempting to pee on the move in sub zero temperatures, I finally pulled over and accepted my fate. Fortunately, the earlier dig seemed to have blunted Paul’s legs a little (or maybe he was taking it easy) and I quickly caught him back up and we rode to the finish together.
Despite the slightly more leisurely pace, I’m not convinced I’d have gotten round any faster at my usual pace. Some serious lessons learnt in the art of not faffing and just keeping on moving. The lesson was further rammed home by the fact that Frank (who’d ridden with us at times, but dropped back on some of the hills) arrived only 15 minutes after us – another rider that just gets his head down and gets it done.
All in all a great day out and an event I’d happily recommend as a nice early season leg opener. Nothing too tough, plenty of nice scenery and great organisation.