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Saturday 8 June 2019

Rawlinson Bracket: I hate it but I'll be back. Crying and getting snot everywhere.

This ride is the Tough One. It’s the first Sportive of the year in February and because it’s so early, I haven’t done many outdoor rides instead trusting to the indoor trainer. I was going into it today with 3 previous outdoor rides of 2019 in my legs. It was going to be cold, it was going to hurt and I was probably going to get stroppy. Especially if they ran out of coffee like last year.

The Rawlinson Bracket is 97km long and has 6 solid climbs in it with just under 1000m of elevation. It would be a delightful ride in June with some miles in my legs and a bit of sunshine, but in February it’s pretty bloody awful.

I know that no matter what happens in my year, there won’t be a lot that feels as bad as the early season Rawlinson Bracket. When I’m almost throwing up from heat at the end of a triathlon or being surrounded in open water by triathletes pissing themselves, at least I can look back and think “At least I’m not doing the Rawlinson Bracket.”

But I keep coming back. I suspect it’s the amazing cakes.

I had a lift in to the start from Rich. Rich appears to like mornings about as much as I do. 

We were going to need a LOT of coffee.

And possibly some sort of miracle to stop me throttling Rich if he didn’t stop being sarcastic at me.

Look at that sarcastic beard.

However I’d like you to take a moment to appreciate how good it is to be a female at a cycling sportive ... This is a photo of no toilet queue:


The weather was forecast to be sunny – which was a going to be a first at the Rawlinson Bracket. But true to form there was fog. Proper fog. It was almost a relief. It wouldn’t be a Proper Rawlinson Bracket if there was sunshine and we all enjoyed it.

Basically it’s like a FTP test in sportive form. It hurts, you wish you hadn’t started it but you know it’s good for you and you’ll be glad when it’s done. And did I mention the cake?

I had optimistically hoped that the fog would lift once we got on the road but the lanes were grey and dull and there were no views past the hedgerows lining the roads. The fog deadened sounds and kept the roads damp which isn’t good when you’ve been meaning to change to winter tyres but hadn’t bothered because it’s February and that’s practically Summer anyway. **cough**

However the temperature was ok and my fingers and toes still had feeling in them. I was starting to feel a bit concerned. This wasn’t like the Rawlinson Bracket AT ALL. By this point usually I’m regretting my kit choices, having started cycling and ever having seen a bike. This was just WEIRD.

The hills on this sportive start fairly quickly and with only 62 miles and 6 fairly chunky climbs, they’re usually piling up in fairly short succession. Just as your heart rate stops buzzing like some really distressed and angry bees, you’re onto the next hill and regretting all of your life choices which involved 2 wheels and really overpriced lycra. And not having learned from last years Rawlinson Bracket.

My sarcastic-cycle-buddy-of-choice Rich and I picked up a group and we stuck with them for the first 10 miles or so sheltering from the wind and basically getting a free ride off the large bloke up front who was doing all the work. The time flew past – as it does when you’re coasting – with some good chat with different people we shot the first hill – leaving the poor chap doing all the work heaving himself up the hill - the group spread out and we settled into smaller packs which actually involved doing some work. 

The first proper hill is at Fenny Compton which gets progressively steeper and has a bit of a kick towards the top. It’s a nice first hill. Not too awful but it gets you warmed up and it separates out the big packs that form when you’re set off in waves. Basically if it was an ice cream flavour it would be mango. Nice, a bit fruity but with a weird aftertaste.

The road surface wasn’t too bad. Damp but not too slimy. Some smooth roads as well as some proper patchworked monstrosities with craters you could lose a Fiat 500 in. Or an overpriced road bike with summer tyres on.

The climb at Shotteswell is a short steep climb lined with houses. It’s a very pretty little village but the hill is deceptive. This is my 3rd time doing the sportive and you’d think I’d remember these but apparently the pain does something to my memories as I keep coming back agin. The hill starts off steep and I assumed – unwisely and rather optimistically – that it was over at the twist of the road, but no it keeps on going. And going. And going. I passed a sign which informed me that ‘Shotteswell Hill’ is actually called ‘Snuff Lane’. Rather appropriate I thought considering I felt like I was in some kind of cycling-themed snuff film possibly titled “Kill Them With Lactate.” The winding lane is fringed with Snowdrops and very beautiful, however I was unable to appreciate this due to my vision blackening at the edges and my heart rate going into the red. 

Next was a bit of winding lanes with a few undulations which lulls you into a false sense of security and the hope that actually you might survive the sportive. But no. You’re now onto number 1 of the 2 big ones: ‘Edge Hill’ (or ‘Knowle Hill’). According to the organisers this climb appears in ‘Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs’ by Simon Warren. I’m going to suggest a different title ‘Another 100 Hills You Wished You’d Just Bloody Cycled Around Instead Of Over’ by Sarah Booker. ‘Chapter 1: Regret, Tears and Realising You Paid To Do This To Yourself.’

I don’t know why this hill always feels so awful. I suspect it’s lack of training, lack of outside miles and the fact it’s a steep bloody hill. I know I’m going to make it all the way up but it always feels like I won’t. 

Around 30 miles in there was a group consensus that a wee stop was required. You could practically pave the road edges with port-a-loos but there’s always one person who decides that a ‘wild-wee’ is required just to show that despite the fact he has an office job, 2 kids and a wife called Cheryl, he is A Man and therefore needs to piss outside every once in a while to prove it.

The problem with a ‘Wild Wee’ in February is that there are no leaves on the trees or bushes and everyone is wearing a luminous colour. There is virtually no bushy bush or heavy hedge where a cyclist can hide for a private wee without their bright clothes showing through the sparse twigs of a February hedgerow. The problem with a hilly course was also trying to find a spot where other cyclists wouldn’t get an accidental eyeful while descending a hill which would end up with them cycling into a ditch in voyeuristic horror. At least we’d be able to spot them in the ditch in all that hi-viz kit.

Where've you been, Rich?

The aid station is practically a mandatory stop and it’s the rule that you have to stay at least until you’ve eaten one of the green bananas that you’re provided with as a mid-event snack. It’s like a weird Rawlinson Bracket initiation rite. If you’re not knackered enough to actually fancy eating one of the green bananas you haven’t been riding hard enough and have to go and do all the hills again. Bizarrely at the aid station the sunshine came out briefly. Clearly it couldn’t have known that the date was that of the RB and that it’s mandatory fog or ice. In a moment of optimism I joined the queue for a coffee. The queue was monstrous but as is standard for all queues I was the last person in it. For half an hour I waited for a coffee. Once I’d committed and 10 minutes had passed, I needed to stay until I got that coffee. It was nice coffee and it got the last few chunks of green banana down.

After waiting 30 minutes for the coffee to be served and then another 20 minutes for it’s lava-like temperature to cool enough to be imbibed we were off for the final 30 miles of the ride. The 4th hill is Winderton Hill but it’s a nice one as you don’t realise you’re climbing until you look back and realise how far you’ve come. Winderton is a pretty little Cotswolds village and by the time you get here the hill is pretty much done. Number 4 hill ticked off. I wish all hills were like this one. No max heart rate, no burning in your lungs and absolutely no crying. It’s the vanilla ice cream of hills.

Lady Elizabeth Hill is the next climb and it’s a drag during which you can see the steep part of the hill from half a mile away. And know that’s what you’ve got to come next. It’s like a bad horror film. You can see what’s coming, you’re screaming at the oblivious idiot pushing the action not to do it but they tootle on. And then it’s too late. And there I am swearing at myself and climbing up that bloody hill.

The final climb of the day is Sunrising Hill which is the other side of Edge Hill. Final climb sounds somehow glorious and ultimate and cathartic. It’s not. It’s horrible. There’s a gradient of 16%, a cratered road surface and an alpine style switch back at the half way point which the organisers describe as ‘fun’. Never EVER accept any kind of invitation from people who think this is fun. They probably butcher small, cute fluffy animals in their spare time and have the scalps of their ex-wives hanging up in the larder. This is not fun and never will be fun. But oh my God it’s a relief when it’s bloody over. Or it would be if I could get enough oxygen to my brain to grasp the concept at the top of the hill. 

He's smiling. Must have had coffee. Or is plotting my death. Either.

The last section of the ride is swooping undulations all the way back to the start point. The hard sections of the ride is over so this is a gentle sweep back to the cakes at the end.

Except this time, about 6 or 7 miles from the end, we came over a hill and found a lady who had come off her bike at a cattle grid. She was pretty cut up but conscious and breathing. Rich went to catch up her cycling buddy who had gone on ahead unaware that she’d come off and I helped get the recovery car called. It made me realise that I had nothing on me physically of any use except my phone. No first aid kit, nothing. Something to start carrying. On a normal ride we wouldn’t have the benefit of a recovery car.

Got to the finish line and the realisation that cleaning the bike was clearly not worth the bother. I’d given it a scrub down before the start of the event but now it was covered in cow pat, snot and miscellaneous crap. February was clearly not a month it was worth cleaning a bike in.

New resolution. Only clean the bike between the months of May and September. Or if it got REALLY snotty.

In the rugby club at the end, the cake spread was something beautiful to behold. I was definitely smiling. First sportive of the year done, didn’t cry, didn’t die and there were cakes.

I’ll be moaning, but Rawlinson Bracket, I’ll be back next year too. 

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