Unfortunately I’ve always found the Poor Student Audax to be a pretty miserable affair. Its renowned for poor weather. Last year it was foul all day and the forecast this year was no different. I wanted to step it up this year though, so had this crazy idea of riding out and back in addition, regardless of the weather. Crazy maybe, but come on, number nine in the Velominati’s crazy rules says riding in bad weather is badass…so lets bring it on!
Ready to endure
Wet, cold long days on the bike are always hard work so to make it home in reasonable shape I had to be prepared. The bike was in tip top condition and continental gatorhardshells were the order of the day. On days like this there was no avoiding getting wet, it’s all about good layering, fuelling and keeping moving to have any chance of staying warm. In the bar bag I had a spare base layer, arm warmers, buff and a second pair of gloves, a quick change is sometimes in order. The fuel tank went on for easy access to food. I was carrying one 500ml bottle which I’d top up as required, generally around every 40-50miles.
An early start
The start was at the Peartree Park and Ride in Oxford around 43 miles from where I live. I allowed a sensible 3 hours at 15mph to get there for the 8.00am start. I was up at 4.00am and out the door by 5.00am. At that point it wasn’t raining and the waterproof was stowed away. It didn’t take long before the rain started and the waterproof was on, once on that’s where it stayed. By the time I’d run down the Chilterns at Stokenchurch Hill, in the dark, thoroughly wet and cold that little voice in the head was working overtime, but I wasn’t having any of it. I then hit a muddy off road trail for a couple of miles which slowed progress and started those voices off again. It would have been easy to turn tail and scurry back home! Eventually I rolled through Oxford and reached the start with 5mins to spare. At that point the voices had finally been put to bed, there was no going back now. I picked up my brevet card, had a quick glance round to see if there was anybody I knew, there wasn’t, so off I went just after 8.00am.
Control 1 – Malmesbury 79km/49miles
The route is run in alternate directions every year. This year it was clockwise. So the run out to Malmesbury in Wiltshire is fairly benign. You can get a bit of a move on. At about 20 miles Simon Neatham caught me up, we regularly bump into each other on Audax’s and generally end up riding together. It was good to have some company and time flew chatting. We were moving along quite quick as Simon mentioned he was averaging 17mph plus. We arrived in Malmesbury at around 10.50am. At the Co-op we purchased refreshments and collected our till receipts, meanwhile a gaggle of cyclists formed outside including Stuart Birnie and Ciaran O’Hara, the latter only wearing shorts, brave man!! Just a quick pit stop for us though, both Simon and I were away, no hanging around, 5mins and you were getting cold.
Control 2 – Chipping Campden 147kms/91 miles
Moving on we finally passed through Cirencester shortly after which we met the hills at Compton Abdale. By then both Stuart and Ciaran had passed us, we could see them at the start of a quite relentless section of hills through the Cotswolds. At that point I completely blew, maybe the extra miles and not enough eating but the legs stopped functioning as they should. All I could do was let Simon go as he and the other two disappeared into the distance. Onwards I toiled eventually arriving at Chipping Campden just after 2.00pm, for me that was around 130 miles covered. I resupplied at the ‘One Stop Convenience Store’ just on the high street. Two bottles of milkshake and a packet of Jaffa cakes helped raise the spirits and gave me the energy boost I needed, I was on the move again 5mins later.
Control 3 – Oxford Peartree Services 206kms/128 miles
The next section was rolling and I was hoping I could peg back Simon down the road somewhere. Little did I know Simon was dealing with a puncture back in Chipping Campden. As the ride progressed the new energy was feeding where it was most needed and things slowly got back to as you were. This section I was riding on my lonesome, I couldn’t see anybody up ahead or behind. I wasted a little time dealing with a Garmin issue when the track I was following wasn’t sticking to the road I was following. Its always good to look over the route beforehand this helped me remember some of the places I’d be passing through. A bit of guesswork, or maybe luck but I managed to get back on track at Lynham. That was when I realised I’d stopped the timer instead of recording the lap back in Chipping Campden. I guess that was the route of the problem. Bummer, that was a good number of miles lost which would really mess up my ride stats. As I reached the outskirts of Oxford in darkness I started to press the pedal to get finished. I arrived at the Peartree Services just shy of 5.00pm at around 170 miles, as I arrived both Stuart and Ciaran rolled up behind me, they’d taken a pit stop somewhere back down the road. A quick 10min chat, refreshments, collection of till receipt then it was homeward bound, the good news was that it had stopped raining.
I opted for the most direct route home. I followed the straight road out of Oxford to Stadhampton then a right onto the airfield road following signs towards Watlington. In Watlington I had my eye off the road and hit a huge pothole, I just about prevented myself from flying over the handlebars. A lucky escape. I now had to get over the Chilterns. I decided to follow Hill Road (commonly known as Watlington Hill) up into the fog at Christmas Common, then rode along the ridge to Pishill. All along that road you could hardly see anything for thick dense fog. At the end of the road it was a left then the long run down Pishill to Henley keeping fingers crossed for no punctures…its pitch black! In Twyford I eyed up the ‘chippy’ at the traffic lights but the lights changed before I’d really make up my mind. At about 7.50pm I walked in through the front door with 212 miles under my belt after being in the saddle upwards of 15 hours. I was feeling pretty ravenous and raided the fridge before I’d even taken my helmet off.
Not bad I suppose for the first week of the New Year.
Strava details here
Until next time catch you out on the road somewhere troops.
P.S If your interested in reading Simon’s cycling blog and his story it can be found here.