This was to be the first major test in our training.
After much deliberation of where to go we decided on Bath for two consecutive days of riding as a round trip. The final route found us on a Farnborough-Bath-Winchester circuit of 160 miles. Epic.
A beautiful weekend opened out in front of us, with wall to wall sunshine over two days of cycling through the stunning British countryside of Hampshire, Wiltshire and Somerset calling for a lot of loud singing of Jerusalem, for the ‘In England’s green & pleasant Land’ final line.
That probably sums up the random delirium that is now setting in on our long rides, the mutual singing like strangled cats as we slog up yet another hill. Although I have to thank Jacko for changing to a bit of Dire Straits to get me up one of the hills, which was a significant improvement on his rendition of Summer Holiday that immediately preceded it…
Rich had assigned himself Captain Discipline (a bit of a change from Captain Belligerent, which I’m sure will be a pleasure to read in a future blog post), planning the fuel for the ride by creating each of us a suspicious looking cling film wrapped package of gels and shot blocks (caffeine charged jelly sweets). He took charge of shouting when and what to eat – cue nearly falling off every time we tried to multi-task (well, pedal and eat), and sod’s law being that the road turned into a pot-holed joy every time.
Whether the gels and blocks actually work, or are just a great placebo, is a valid question, but they got us through both rides and were worth every penny in my eyes.
The route took us through idyllic villages, past a windmill, into fords and past beautiful pub after beautiful pub (cue constant ‘puuuuuuub’ shout from Rich and I that was rebuffed by the militant dictator that Jacko is) until we arrived at our final destination, Pewsey. Pewsey is about 35 miles from Bath.
Garmin fail. So, with the Garmin now a redundant piece of plastic, we navigated by sign-post, dodgy iPhone signal and various apps through yet more beautiful countryside (probably cannot reiterate that enough) to the outskirts of Bath. It was in these outskirts that two things happened:
1. We saw the most beautiful cricket ground, with a match being played out in front of an old Roman viaduct
2. We saw the final hurdle between us and Bath. Brassknocker Hill (note – we could take a tunnel to avoid the hill)
The hill was a comedy-named beast, pretty much beating all of us into at least one stop. While I was cursing Jacko with sweat pouring out of every pore, Rich was nearly buckaroo-ing his bike when trying to get back on to continue climbing. But we got there eventually.
We were treated to a stunning view of Bath opening out in front of us as we tore down the other side of the hill into the city. Fair play to Jacko for forcing us to do the hill.
We met Andria, my girlfriend, at the thermal spa for a bit of well-earned relaxation. She was probably really keen on spending the next couple of hours in a pool when she saw three incredibly sweaty, salt-crusted, red-faced chaps. Cue roof top pool action, with middle-distance staring views the best that we’ve had to date (a cathedral is better than a pub wall, anyway). Thermal pooled and steamed to the point of becoming a raisin, we left to find the hostel and a pub. Bags dumped, beers poured and we were ready to entertain some chat until about 10pm before we all dropped into pub sleep and time to call it a night.
I’m not sure what the others that were sharing our dorm thought of the bib-short / cycling jersey combos that were slowly releasing their lovely aromas into the room!
So to the next morning and after a pretty decent night’s sleep we eased our way into the day with a couple of breakfasts, one being an awesome doorstep bacon and egg sandwich, which is obviously what they do on the Tour (well, we can keep telling ourselves that).
A trip to the famed Royal Crescent for a couple of photos and then we were on our way, via a massive hill to get back out of the valley (slightly less bad than the route in, but still pretty gruelling).
With that punchy start dealt with, we got our legs spinning back through the beautiful countryside and towards Winchester. It’s good to note that we all shared the same ‘my legs don’t feel too bad today’ chat, apart from a niggle in my knee that I’d dosed with ibuprofen and a few sores in the area now deemed ‘the San Andreas Fault’, which the chamois cream was helping with!
The route on the way back was just as pretty as the previous day, bar a few hiccups when having to content with a no cycling allowed alleyway down a steep hill, a stop-start railway line with gates every 50m or so, and a gravel track up a steep hill. Sadly we couldn’t blame the Garmin as it was guiding us precisely along our chosen route. At least we got to learn a new, probably northern, word for alleyway – the ginnel.
The last 10 miles into Winchester were tough; undulating countryside, but very tired legs and probably not enough water consumed on such a baking hot day. The Fosters train beer never tasted so good!
All in all, a solid weekend that goes a long way to demonstrating that we should be okay come August, both mentally and physically – although our repertoire of songs has to be improved before then.
Times Chris has been late: 2 (63 minutes)