They say cycling is about suffering, well on Sunday along with many others I suffered, probably more than I have ever suffered on a bike. If I knew before what I knew after then maybe I wouldn’t have ridden, ah come on who am I kidding.
Mansfield Road Club’s “Big Red Ride” has become more and more popular over the years, it’s not a race, but people want to finish first if you see what I mean. The forecast for the day was not good, cold and heavy rain throughout, but at 7am on Sunday morning when I made my decision to ride it was bright sunshine and dry, I forgot the fact I’ve been struggling with a cough, I forgot the fact my bike would be stuck in the big ring, loaded up the car and headed across to the HQ to meet my South Normanton club mates.
On arrival I saw a lot of my old Bolsover club mates, the Godfrey bikewear team were in attendance, the AMAC death star was in the car park too, throw in every man and his dog and a large contingent of SNCC and the HQ was bustling.
A small group set off including some of the faster riders, myself, Leigh, Brent, Luke, Matt Brown, Matt Bagshawe, Dean Eason and few others quickly got in line and set off. The weather although cold was still dry, could the forecast be wrong? After a short while we caught up the first group and then before long the pace began to creep up, some through and off and a bit of cat and mouse taking place as a natural order began to form.
The group was about 20-30 strong, strong being the operative word, Joel and Bish (AMAC) doing a lot of work, ably joined by Godfrey Bikewear, SNCC and a few others as we smashed our way along. My legs felt good, I wasn’t shy about putting my nose in the wind because I figured the more I did today the better I’ll get and the stronger I’ll be for proper racing this year. The conundrum is not doing too much, blowing up and getting dropped, after all a large proportion of the group were Elite (??), Cat 1 or 2, they are used to this pace. To be honest it’s not so much the pace, it’s being in the wrong place at the wrong time, losing a wheel and never seeing it again that’s the hard bit, it all depends then how much you want to suffer to get back on, it’s all too easy to quit if your that way inclined.
Biblical? What’s the next stage on?
After about 10 miles or so the rain was very heavy, the wind had picked up and the temperature had dropped, it was tough going. So not only were you fighting not to get dropped you were in a battle with the elements, the latter being just as hard.
Looking around the bunch, everyone’s pristine kit and bikes were now covered in mud, cow shit and everything in between, my new SNCC gilet (first time in club colours) was looking trashed, my Gabba normally adept at keeping off the water was feeling heavy, my glasses were ditched, my shoes filled with water but the worst bit was my hands. My gloves were full of water and starting to get very cold, I suffer with cold hands at the best of times but this was going to the next level. Despite all this I ploughed on.
Pinging off the front
The Godfrey boys obviously keen to get one up on the the AMAC lads were sending one rider up front, waiting for someone to bring them back before going again, this was hard work, but the SNCC boys did our bit as did everyone else. I went to the front into a brutal headwind and almost shot my bolt, I had to dig very deep to stay on, but I knew others would be suffering too, so teeth gritted (actually they were covered in grit too) and on we go.
The terrain is pretty rolling with some lumps to get over, thankfully nothing that required the little ring but testing all the same. As the miles wore on the conditions just got worse and by mile 40 I was getting a few negative thoughts, mainly thinking that if I got a puncture I would have to call either an ambulance or my dad, there would be no way my hands would function to change a tube, thankfully that wouldn’t be required.
Race to the HQ
By now the bunch has really thinned out, I know a few riders got caught at a junction and were unable to get back on, but we still had Brent (who looked totally at ease with the pace and weather), Leigh (poker face) Veldeman who reminds of Nibali, you’d never know if he was on the limit or in zone 2, then Luke who mentioned (and looked like) he was starting to suffer in the conditions, then also Matt Brown who looked like I felt, not good.
When I say not good I don’t want to overplay it but I started to have thoughts of taking my gloves off and there being black fingers that would need amputation, funny how the mind plays tricks on you. I couldn’t change gear or brake properly but the main thing though was that my legs were working just fine and although at 50 miles my hands and feet were in all kinds of trouble I was mentally trying to workout how long we’d take to get back to base, at 22mph average not all that long.
The pace really began to hot up, there was no way anyone was quitting now, Matt and myself were near the back at one point which made it harder but we dug in and moved up when the chance arose. Joel had done a massive amount of work on the front and as we approached the last few miles the Godfrey boys began attacking some more, in fact most people began attacking, the SNCC boys held firm as fireworks began to fly to make it home first. I didn’t know where the finish was but as Joel made a break I tucked in behind his wheel to close the gap, but as he went again, other riders came past, a combination of cooked legs and unable to change gear meant the other riders came past on the smash for the finish, Joel taking those honours, Brent and the rest of the boys right behind with myself about 2-3 seconds after that. Ride over, now get me in that HQ.
Soaked from head to toe, freezing and shaking uncontrollably I stood the bike against the wall, saved my ride on my garmin and got myself inside. I don’t drink tea but I needed something warm, so having stripped off my gloves I got a cup of tea, I couldn’t feel any heat coming through but sipped away trying not to let my trembling hands spill it on me, I scoffed some cake too, then went back for another tea. Luke looked visibly in trouble, Matt also, a couple of godfrey boys were shaking more than us, 60KG and not much body fat not serving them well right now.
Once we’d returned closer to the land of the living we congratulated each other, had a photo and then I made my way back to the car, back out into the pouring rain and cold and headed home in soaked kit. Not sure I have ever ridden 20 miles with the heating on full blast before, today I needed it.
This ride was another great learning curve but most of all it was a great experience riding with others at that pace and particularly my SNCC crew, a great bunch of lads. Respect to everyone who rode today, I’m sure it’ll live long in the memory.