Straight on at roundabout

Getting through the week
January 9, 2011, 8:45 pm
Filed under: 200, Rides

A friend of mine once commented that the problem with commuting to work by bike was that you had two high points in your day – neither of which had anything to do with work.

In the first week back after the long Christmas break the truth behind these words really rang true.

Everyone knows what it’s like – the short hours of weak daylight, the getting out of the habit of late rising and the general fat-induced lethargy make the early days of January a struggle.  Any distraction, no matter how feeble is leapt upon and any work that doesn’t come with a life-threatening deadline gets put off.

So for me, the challenge this week was to stop looking at weather forecasts for Saturday (yesterday), the day when I rode the Poor Student – my first 200k of 2011 and possibly the beginning of my PBP campaign.

I’ve hardly ridden my bike since the end of November.  Freezing fogs, snow and ice have provided easy excuses to concentrate on the more important December business of drinking, eating to excess and drinking.  My fear of slipping on black ice or being run over again by skidding motorists has allowed my natural gluttony to create over half a stone more of me.

Through the week I have been watching weather sites, praying that ice wasn’t going to show up on Saturday.

And watching weather sites can be a full-time occupation.

Firstly there is the BBC weather site – which changes quite a lot, especially when you research weather that is more than a few days away.  Accuweather has a better track-record for a week ahead although Metcheck offers a few interesting details about wind direction and chill factor.

Secondly, the sites change a lot.  Over the course of a day they can shift their predictions by small increments – but enough to warrant rechecking.

And finally, for a ride of 200k you need to look at the forecasts for several places.  I was checking Oxford, Cirencester (because I keep confusing it with Malmesbury – understandably I think) and Chipping Camden.  Plus I want to keep an eye on the conditions here in Rickmansworth and also in Central London where I work.

Which, when all things are considered is a pretty poor alternative to working – especially when the weather on the day was so ordinary.

Apart of course from the torrential rain that was lashing down when I left the house at 6 am for the drive to Oxford.

The windscreen wipers on my Defender were struggling to cope as I charged along the motorway.  But it all miraculously stopped as I arrived at the car park on the outskirts of town.

The Poor Student 200k is an institution in Audax cycling.  It’s the first ride after Christmas and you’ll normally meet all the regulars from all over Southern England.  It feels a bit like the Charity Shield – the start of the new season, a prologue to the coming year – a year which includes Paris Brest Paris.

In the gloom of the car park bikes are assembled and gossip is exchanged before, just as the day arrives we’re off.

Through the Centre of Oxford, around back alleys behind colleges before escaping the City up Cumnor Hill into rural Oxfordshire with its yellow-stoned houses and quiet lanes.

The first 80K of this ride is pretty-well a straight line westward to Malmesbury – into a constant and forceful headwind that carries a chilly bite and which gnaws away at your hands and feet.  Remembering the first time I did this ride when the wind carried a driving rain and I discovered what people meant when they talk about ‘grinding it out’ I was glad of the company of two old friends who had caught me on the climb out of Oxford.

Paul, Martin and I talked nonsense – but distracting nonsense.  I remember discussing brake callipers, web site content management systems, the work of Helena Bonham-Carter, the Sea Cadets and the absence of hills on a ride that Paul organises.  It got me to Malmesbury and to the turn northward.

The wind sort of helped a little as I rode alone through the tourist-board designed villages of Hankerton, Oaksey and Poole Keynes en-route to Cirencester after which the Cotswold Hills threw some big climbs at me.

It was around this point that the additional volumes of me that were created over Christmas really started to make their presence felt.  My heart-rate thumped through my ears and my inner thighs started to scream as one short brutal climb followed another.  Somewhere along the way there were some descents – I don’t remember them apart from the sheering cold that they brought.

But almost as suddenly as they seemed to have started they stopped for a rolling ride into Chipping Camden (which arrived at the bottom of steep winding exhilarating pot-holed descent).

After an outrageously expensive cup of tea, it was time to spark up the lights for the final leg back to Oxford.

I hooked up with another rider for more chit-chat about lights, Manchester, snobbery about universities and cars as the villages of Broad Campden, Draycott, Evenlode, Kingham, Shipton and Leafield flashed by unnoticed.  Before I really noticed we were flying through the last 20k of Finstock, Hanborough and Yarnton back to the car park and the finish after about 11 and a quarter hours.

In January you couldn’t really ask for much more.  A challenging route that wasn’t sadistic, stunning scenery through Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, good company and no rain, snow or ice sort of justifies the endless weather watching of the preceding week.

The problem now is going to be getting through the next fortnight until the next one!


For another, far better written account of this ride check out what Els has written here

8 Comments so far
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Your post isn’t so bad either Liam! See you at the Willy Warmer.

Comment by swarm_catcher

Thanks – I’ll remember to bring my camera as well and maybe I’ll top some of your photos!

Comment by manwithabike

Will do the Little Willy on the 22nd I will try and spot you 🙂

Comment by Antonio

Will do the Little Willy on the 22nd I will try and spot you

Comment by Antonio

I’ll be on the Blue Ribble – but I normally help out with the teas at the beginning – say Hi if you spot me in my Willesden jersey

Comment by manwithabike

I follow some audax bikers along with my sisters blog, swarmcatcher.I congratulate you for your writing and courage to cycle 200 kms in full wintertime!Kris

Comment by kris vermeulen

Thanks Kris

Els’ blog has become a ‘must read’ – she describes things so well and her photos are fairly good too!

Comment by manwithabike

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