Saturday, April 07, 2018

VO2 sportive – Here I go again on my own

Here I go again on my own
Goin’ down the only road I’ve ever known…

As I started up the car on Sunday Whitesnake told me something I already knew. I’d be doing this ride on my own. The VO2 sportive has to be my favourite sportive, as it takes in the majestic Ashford Forest and the climbs/descents aren’t too technical, just long and dragging. Usually, there are several Tritons entered, but I think because the event fell on the Easter Sunday everyone else was busy. I’d spent about an hour trying to convince myself to get into the car and go because I was a little terrified of going up and over Toys Hill, but I’d managed to convince myself that I’d done the back of Toys several times in the past so I could do it again.

I got to the car park and instead of the usual manic crowd of participants there was a handful of people. No queues for the ladies or anything. It was bizarre. The start, instead of going out the school exit, was out through the finish line which also almost caught me out. Two minutes before we were due to start I got into the queue, the guy told us there was a small change to the course, and we were off! This time we didn’t get sent off the wrong way and went off towards Tonbridge and Shipbourne. Lots of cyclists came past me, but I wasn’t worried as I wasn’t planning on going too fast. I always forget how long Shipbourne is. The corner where I think it is is actually the end of a very long drawn-out climb. By this stage most people had come past me already. I cycled past the deer park, trying to look out for deer (all I saw were walkers) and then down what I used to call “Death Hill”. I was still on edge and not really enjoying myself at this stage. We didn’t take the direct route to Ide Hill once we crossed the main road and I did get a bit confused by the signs at one stage, which for no particular good reason made my chain fall off as I stopped to check. A couple of ladies came past me, and I tried to catch them up after I’d sorted my chain to no avail. I kept seeing them in the distance. Finally after going past Bough Beech reservoir I started to climb up to Ide Hill. There always seems to be a white house half way up these hills, where either the road starts to flatten out or get steeper. The rest stop was a sight for sore eyes and I was very grateful to get some more water, grab some sweets and go for a “comfort break”. The ladies that I had been following were just leaving as I got there, I’m sure there were three but now there were only two.

Ok, I thought, now let’s do Toys and go home. Down Ide we go, starting to enjoy myself a bit more, through Brasted… there’s the left hand turn, but no signs. Do I go on? Oh, don’t tell me I don’t have to do Toys! I thought, right, I’ll carry on into Westerham and hope that we get to go over Hosey hill instead (a favourite for my rides with Rebeca last year). Out of Brasted, the road gets busy with traffic and I hope that I am going the right way. A guy, let’s call him Grey Man, comes up behind me and says “I think this is right” and lo and behold here are the signs directing us towards Hosey instead. I start to smile. We start to ride up Hosey. I notice the bluebells aren’t showing yet – perhaps a few leaves in the woods is all. The guy overtakes me and then stops somewhere near the top. I shout to him “Nearly there now” and a few minutes later he comes up behind me. He starts to draft but I tell him I’m far too slow for that and that he can overtake me! It turns out he’s doing the short route. He asks where the turning point is and observes that it seems we’re cycling in circles. I think to myself, more like a loop. We get to the turning point where we have to choose the short or the long route. Another older guy who has joined us has also stopped. Grey Man says, “So are you doing the short or the long route?” Older guy says “It seems a shame not to take the long route”. Up to this point I was just going to cut my ride short and do the shorter loop. However, there is that bit of me that remembers my favourite bit of the whole ride is down the long route and up into Ashford Forest. That bit of me agrees with the older guy and decides, why not?

Within about two seconds the older guy has disappeared into thin air and I’m left on my own cycling into Edenbridge wondering if I’ve made the right choice. I could always turn around and go back to the turning point? No, I’ve made my decision. If the sweep wagon catches me up, he can pick me up and take me back.

It isn’t much further before the sweeper van does catch up with me. He comes past, shouting out his window “Are you OK?” I ask him whether he’s the sweeper van, and he confirms he is. I say I’m fine. He continues to follow me, picking up signs every now and then which slows him down. We get stuck in a traffic jam behind a rather beautiful steam wagon which it turns out was going to a local fair. I lose the sweeper van for a while again. I think to myself, OK, I’ll get up Chuck Hatch, then hopefully I can take a photo, and I’m happy if he needs to take me off the road. He finds me again on Chuck Hatch. Again, he asks me if I’m OK, and I ask if I can get to the top of the hill. He says that’s fine. Every now and again I see him out the corner of my eye as I heave my way up Chuck Hatch (to be fair I’m actually faster than I was last year!) and wave to him when I do. Nearer the top he shouts that he’s going to wait at the aid station. Aid station I think, I’m sure there wasn’t one of those last year. I get to the top. Hooray! I take a photo.

Then I look for him, he’s at the very final car park, eating an ice lolly. No aid station, surprise surprise. I stop and chat to him. I ask if he has to pick me up. Apparently I have 45 minutes to get to the Groombridge stop before I get pulled off the course, and if I feel up to it I can carry on. I decide to carry on, despite being “midly broken”. This is the furthest I’ve been for a while and I’m actually starting to enjoy myself and relax a bit on the bike. After all, most of the next section is downhill. Most. Plus the sweeper van has most of his lolly to finish before he starts to follow me again.

I whizz down the hill and then encounter the rolling sections of Lye Green. Very soon I see the characteristic lights of the sweeper van slowly following me. I watch the time creep down slowly. I’m reminded of doing this ride with Mel three years ago, this is where she really started to struggle. Finally I get to Groombridge, hooray I think, but I still have the long hill after Groombridge before I get to the aid station. Where is the aid station? Ugh. Another corner and there it is, hooray. I’ve made it with 10 minutes to spare. The lady there is really nice, she asks if I’m OK. I say as I’ve said to the nice man following me that if I need to be taken off the course I’m fine with that. She explains that they want people to finish if they can and gives me the option to finish but not have to go up Hubbards Hill. At this stage I’m really not bothered about having to go up Hubbards so I happily agree to her plan. I will follow her through a short cut and to the finish. I cycle off as it’s clear that she will catch me up before I need to take the short cut. Soon I see her car overtake me and I start to follow her to the end. I even have a bit of time to take in my surroundings and recognise that this part of the countryside is truly pretty. I really am enjoying myself now, even though I’m tired and sore. As we cross the main road I start to recognise the area and start to smile even more. There’s the entrance to the centre, and the finish! Hooray! Nearly 5 and a half hours after I’d started… but on 97 km. This may sound a bit crazy, but I was determined to go over the 100 mark. So I then spent the next 5 or so minutes cycling up and down the road until the distance marker showed 100!

I cannot thank the organizers of this event enough for their help and patience while I pootled round their course. I hope I’ll be there again next year.

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