Black Rat Medio Fondo

This was one of the first events I entered at the start of the year to give me some focus but let’s not forget COVID is still about so it was never going to be simple.

The original event had already being re-routed so it remained wholly in England. Wales are not allowing mass participation events with greater than 50 riders across the border at the moment so the new route was taking me deep into the Cotswolds. Fast forward to Saturday night and an email dropped into my inbox effectively cancelling the 180km Gran Fondo route due to flooding, so I was on the 120km Medio Fondo route now and to be honest I dodged a bullet.

Awake at 5.45am I lay in bed willing myself to get up. The plan was out the house for 6.30am for the hour drive to the event and then away at 8.30am which I’d calculated from my number, the start time and the size of the groups and gaps they were letting go. Up and faffing I didn’t leave until 7am and then a check en-route meant I was technically supposed to be away at 8.10am which didn’t leave me much time but my experience is that these types of event are pretty relaxed so I wasn’t worried. It was dry but the forecast was looking grim for the afternoon.I reckoned 4+hrs may get me back to base before the rain if I was lucky.

The event was based at a school and I was directed to park on the school fields at the back. Plenty of riders about, it looked like a healthy start list. The wind though, blowing in off the Severn estuary was bitter. It felt much colder than the 8 degs my weather app was telling me. I’d already got changed at home, the bike was setup. All I needed to do was sign on and go. I rode around to the school entrance and there were no queues. I was late and my number was one of the last left. I fitted my timing chip to my forks but my number wouldn’t fit under my garmin mount very easily plus I needed snips, the cable ties were about 20cm long for some reason. Got a free Black Rat face mask too. So worth it! I rode back to the van quickly to snip and sort my number out and then it was back to the start. A quick briefing about gravel on some of the descents and I was away on my own.

I was cold and felt under-dressed a bit as I descended down onto the Severn Estuary flats. I’d gone with a long sleeve base layer, long sleeve windproof jersey and my much-lauded Galibier ultimate foul weather gillet. Light gloves, tights and some oversocks completed the look. Not too much, not too little. It was cold now but I knew I’d warm up later.

I quickly locked onto some riders ahead. Trying not to press too hard I got on their wheels and rode with them for a bit but dropped them on the first real climb so I rode across and joined another group which I rolled on the back of for a bit as they were trundling along happy at 20mph. The early miles were on some nice, quiet lanes. Tight and twisty in places it was a good warm up. Eventually I crossed the A38 then the M5 and began the first proper climb of the day. I’d dropped the group and had pressed on. I was blowing on the climb, just pushing too hard and getting carried away so I eased up a bit as I dropped into the first major town of Dursley. There wasn’t much traffic about and I was heading out of town before I knew it and then began the ascent of Crawley hill which was really steep and long. Here I caught a whole string of riders. Some stopping and walking, some climbing so slow you could walk faster. It gained height really quickly. Across the top was fast. Rolling terrain before the first feed in a layby. It was rammed so I opted not to and immediately began the first long, steep descent to Stroud over cattle grids, yikes! I got stuck behind a van so I couldn’t go full gas as it kept braking in front of me. Bloody drivers!

Stroud was a blink. As soon as you hit the bottom it was straight out and onto another steep climb back up and onto Rodburgh Common. I’d done this one before when I rode to Babbacombe last year. Bit of a beast even without panniers! Here is where I caught that rider that doesn’t like being caught. You know the one? Point to prove and all that. The climb is steep and then turned into the wind over the top. As it flattened out he came past, well literally sprinted past out of the saddle to get some distance between us. Fine by me but everytime the road went up I just drifted back up to him. As we dropped down the back of Minchinhampton Common, we were warned about the gravel and it was quite tricky. He cracked on pushing it until he hit a steep kicker at the bottom and up I came again and passed him. The next few miles were flatter and more rolling. I pushed on at my own pace with him in tow on my wheels and this time he came through to take a turn but opened the taps again and distanced me. I just didn’t get it. After a few miles of lovely open roads through fields of rape seed, we hit a busy A419 to Cirencester. A poor choice of road but given it was an emergency route I’ll let the organisers off. Most of it was a gentle downhill and here he properly burned some matches but again he popped and I rolled back upto him and he jumped on my wheel again. I didn’t realise but this bit of the route was out and back. We were supposed to enter the feed station but I didn’t want to stop so thundered past and hit a roundabout. My Garmin was complaining about being off-route so I rode around and back and then realised what was going on and headed back the opposite way back onto the route before a turn after about a mile. We were still together and had been caught by a couple of riders who came charging past. I jumped on and enjoyed the tow. We took a left and got back into the lanes and the road went up. I gapped them and my nemesis was about 30m behind me desperate to get back on so I thought fuck it, he can have it and I cracked on. After a mile I looked back and he was gone. Broken, never to be seen again. Quite satisfying.

a lumpy 120km

Out of the lanes I was back on main roads to Tetbury and the wind was now cold and strong and right in my face. There was no other riders around. The occasional sign confirmed I was in the right place though.

Out of Tetbury was the hardest part of the ride. Solo, battling a bastard cross-headwind with the road just gently going up and up. The higher I rode the harder the wind. In the distance I could see the odd rider but no groups. I just got my head down but the legs were buckling a bit. I was 3+hrs in now. This is where those outdoor endurance rides kick in. 1hr Sufferfest workouts can’t train you for this.

I was transfixed on a rider in a day-glo orange top in the distance. A few minutes away seemed to get less until I knew I was only a few hundred metres behind him and another rider he was with. Eventually a tortuous few miles gave way to a great descent into Wotton-under-Edge where I pushed it to catch them and I made contact at the bottom. I tagged on for a bit until we hit the first of a few steep kickers toward the end of the ride. I was about 10 miles from home and this was the first time my legs properly popped. Mr Orange cracked first and I crested the climb with his mate who waited for him so I pressed on but I was beginning to blow hard now and they caught me back up. I got a tow through the last of the lanes before another short, steep climb up and under the M5. Here they gapped me but I got back on at the lights on the A38. I hung on for a bit. We approached a roundabout which was sharp left but they carried on and went off route. I did shout but they didn’t hear me. Just a couple of miles to go now and one last 10% climb into Alveston. The legs were gone. I willed myself over the top and rolled into the finish as the rain began to come down hard.

Timing chip off I grabbed some food, a free chicken and pasta salad which was nice. I went back to the van and got changed in the back as the rain was hammering it down now.

Contemplating what could have been, I was so glad not to do the 180km due to the rain. I’d pushed on harder than I should have really but I will always have that racer in me. Can’t help myself but I paid for it at the end this time.

120km, 4hrs 10mins. Not bad for me off a diet of Sufferfest

Then to really piss me off, today I get an email telling me the Two Ton Tour, 200 miles, 2 days, 20,000ft of climbing I’d entered for July has been cancelled for the same reasons this event’s route was changed. Limited numbers for mass-participation events coming over the border. Come on Wales, sort your shit out!

19th from 375 finishers

4 thoughts on “Black Rat Medio Fondo

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