Monday, May 04, 2009

Isle of Wight Randonnee 2009

Went to: The Isle of Wight
Distance: 67 miles (plus 15.5 commute to the ferry)
Total time on bike: 4:44 (plus 1 hour commute to the ferry)
Average speed: 14.2 mph
Fastest speed: 38.3 mph (according to my Forerunner 305 GPS)
Total climb height: 966m

On Sunday we cycled around the Isle of Wight. A tiring but thoroughly enjoyable day was by all: Alan Chatt, Mark Halliday, Jim McDonnell and me.

I'd never been there before except for a quick trip to a single pub up-river in Cowes on Janet Willmott's yacht a few years ago. It's a really pleasant place around which to cycle - lots of sea views, coastline, chalk cliffs, beaches, cute villages and rolling hills.

The day started at 8:00 as Mark arrived at my house and he, Jim and I set off to Southampton port. After 7.7 miles and 28 minutes of formation cycling along boring main roads we arrived. Despite having pre-booked and printed our tickets we still had to check in and get a boarding pass (although on the way back just showing the printed ticket was enough). We joined the queue of gaudily attired cyclists and Alan arrived after 10 minutes.

We boarded the ferry after most of the motorized vehicles and were instructed to lay our bikes down on the floor. There was plenty of space so we weren't overly worried about laying down our collective £8000 worth of carbon fibre and titanium.

We went up on deck and enjoyed the sun breaking through the early clouds as the ferry steamed towards Cowes at 16mph (according to Jim's Edge 705). When we docked they let the cyclists off first and Mark lead us to the Randonnee stall. We collected our cards which we would get stamped at 6 points around the island to prove that we had done the whole 100k distance.

We set off at about 10:00 and 100 metres later ran in to the back of the queue for the Cowes chain ferry. There were already about 100 cyclists waiting. Foot passengers and cyclists travel for free; cars are £1.50. The first time the ferry reached our side the cars were let off and then the waiting cars were let on, followed by as many cyclists as could be squeezed in between the cars.

The second time the ferry came back the cars were let off but the mass of cyclists refused to part to let the cars board first. The cyclists had been there longer and there seemed to be a whole boatload of us. A brief stand-off ensued as the ferry staff refused to let us on unless the vehicles boarded first. After shouts of "What do you want, £1.50?" and a minutes procrastination common sense prevailed and all the cyclists were allowed to board.   When we got to the other side we all mounted and headed off amidst a sea of colour.

The density of cyclists was amazing - for the first few miles we seemed to be surrounded by bikes, some passing us but most being overtaken by us. The density caused problems at one switchback corner as the road steepened to perhaps 13% gradient for 20 metres. Weaker riders wobbled to a stop causing those directly behind to stop too. You don't want unexpected stops when you're clipped in to your pedals but all of us powered past and up the hill unscathed. The event had 2156 cyclists registered including 1851 doing the full 100k route. It was virtually impossible to get lost as you could almost always see a stream of cyclists ahead and behind.  The route-marking blue signs were easy to find and we'd also been given a leaflet with the route marked on it.  All in all, pretty well organized.

We then had a nice flat mile-long section with a view of the Solent and the mainland before the road turned inland and we entered the kind of terrain that we'd spend most of the ride doing; quiet country lanes with views of fields and hills, but not so much of the sea.

After about 5 miles we were passed by a 16-year old boy on a mountain bike. After Mark drafted him for half a mile I decided that it wasn't the done thing to be pulled along by a knobbly-tired bike and we passed him, leaving it up to him if he wanted to draft us in return. He didn't, and we didn't see him again. Given that our bikes are at least 30% easier to ride on the roads than his, he would have had a much more demanding day than us.

After 16 miles and 1:03 of riding without stopping we reached our first checkpoint at Yarmouth. After a quick bit of packed lunch and a comfort break we remounted and were disconcerted to find that our next 2 miles were to be along a stony bridleway. Skinny-tired road bikes and trails aren't the best of bedfellows so we were pretty apprehensive but we made it down the 2 mile section without picking up any punctures. The boy on the mountain bike would have been going faster along here than we were as we were going pretty slow. I'm not sure there's any evidence that riding at two-thirds pace will reduce your chances of getting a puncture but that's what we did.

From Freshwater Bay we climbed from an elevation of -2 to 81 metres in a 1300-metre long climb - about a 6% gradient.   This was the second hardest climb of the day but we were still quite fresh and the views of the cliffs and beach were spectacular.

Once over the top we were treated to a 38mph descent. This began the pattern of climb/descent which repeated itself for the rest of the ride. When your legs are tired the joys of the descents are somewhat dulled by the knowledge that what-goes-down-must-go-up.

Mark snapped his rear gear cable coming down the hill so we stopped and tried to affect a roadside repair. He had a spare cable with him but we couldn't work out how to get it in to the shifter so instead we adjusted the hi-low screws on his rear derailleur to give him the 3rd smallest (and hardest) cog at the bike and the 2 rings at the front. He thought that part of the old cable might be stuck in the mechanism so we'd try to get it fixed at a shop in Ventnor. This left him without any easy gears and the longest climb of the day to broach.  But this is the crazy guy who's soon to be doing London to Edinburgh and back in 4 days so we had no worries about him.

Shortly after Jim nearly "clothes-lined" another cyclist. We were approaching a right hand turn on a narrow country road and Jim vigourously thrust out his hand to indicate his intentions. I'm not sure whether his intentions included punching the woman in to the hedge but he nearly succeeded.

We stopped a mile before the biggest climb to have the rest of our packed lunch and to try to regain some freshness in our legs before the ascent. As we ate we were passed by a team of about 10 guys in team formation all in matching red lycra, prompting some discussion about getting matching outfits for the Hursley cyclists. Watch this space... (with fear).

The ascent wasn't too bad. It was quite long but it wasn't very steep. Over 1.8 miles we gained 124 metres of elevation in a long drag that took our slowest team member 12 minutes of continuous slog.

After another couple of miles we reached the second checkpoint, ending a 19 mile stage with the 2 biggest climbs of the day.  I treated us all to a chilled Kit Kat, and Mark found that during the stage he had freed up his gear lever which enabled him to fit the replacement gear cable; better late then never.

I remember less about the second half of the ride - partly because it was familiar-feeling country lanes but probably more because we were getting tired.  Alan in particular didn't relish the last 10 miles which felt like a procession of semi-steep climbs and descents.  The ride was also over twice as long as any he'd done before so he did particularly well to make it without stopping on any hills and without complaining.

Towards the end I attacked one longish hill in a big gear to try and blast up it and found I was suprisingly fresh.  So for the rest of the ride I would attack the hills until I ran out of steam, grind on in discomfort for a while, then turn round and coast back to join the tail of our group.  I was quite pleased with how quickly I recovered though - I found that the coasting back phase was enough to give me the energy for another sprint.  After a few of these my legs were burning and and I think I had an idea of how Alan must have been feeling for the last 10 miles.

The was one corner somewhen near the end when the Spinnaker tower suddenly appeared and seemed to be really close, but then we turned back inland and didn't see it again for ages.

We arrived back at Cowes just before 5:00, collected out final stamp and received a certifcate.  We joined the ferry queue in the sunshine and were on board after 15 minutes.  A tasty pint of 1664 each, some evening sunshine and a ferry trip home was a great end to a great day.

I half-jokingly said to Mark that we should do it again soon but do 2 laps.  I've just received an email where he's called my bluff and proposed two weekends when we could do it.  The less crazy in our gang could join us at lunchtime for the second lap when we'd have burned off our excess enthusiasm and would appreciate a more relaxed pace.  Sounds like fun.


Alex said...

Count me in for the next trip...if we book it early enough to ensure that I won't be in London.

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