Essentials

Distances:       90 km / 180 km
Participants:    300 (Sold out)
Start:               Eaton Dorney Rowing Lake, Dorney SL4 6QP
Cost:                £25
Transport:        Parking on-site
Slough, Maidenhead and Windsor Stations within 6km
Feedstops:      Long (3), Short (2)
Timed:             Yes (Ankle tag system)
Signs:              Clear Black Arrows on varying backgrounds, didn’t cover all junctions but generally OK.   Signs were removed at a critical section leading to many riders, me included, going off course. The event organisers were working hard to chase down riders and re-direct.
Road:              Generally a little rough, some surprise tarmac – fast with the odd chasm.
My Ride:         http://bit.ly/hFrPvz and http://bit.ly/eQ09iZ (This deviates from the planned route)

Summary

This was a really enjoyable ride and quite challenging both in terms of its distance and the frequency and steepness of its climbs. It took in a lot of picturesque country lanes and some beautiful views of the Chilterns. It was a popular event with the Ironman fraternity and the use of the Eaton Dorney facility gave the event a really professional feel. Some issues with sign removal proved frustrating for participants and organisers alike.

The ride

…and just like that it was summer. Well almost, as we congregated on the banks of Eaton Dorney Rowing lake, ride HQ, in bib-shorts and short-sleeves there was still a chill breeze to remind us we’d only just left winter, but if you’d only seen the pictures it could have passed for July.

The lake was also the site of a duathlon that morning and something about the soon to be Olympic venue with large tents, bikes racked for transition and advertising banners gave the feel that you were part of something a lot bigger than the usual sportive. This was an illusion however as by rider numbers at least, less than 100 on the 180km route the event was quite small. Registration was a streamlined affair, collecting an ankle mounted timer chip and numbers for our bikes and helmets we pedalled over to the lakeside and took our place at the line for a pre-ride briefing.

I left the lake with a fairly large group and tried to match their pace. A tough task as they were pushing quite a rate and were very jumpy, chasing down every TT bike that flew by. Pro-VO2 are a fitness training group with particular focus on triathlon and because of the distance, 180km, many participants were present or future Ironmen. So aero-helmets and some of the most expensive looking bikes I’ve ever seen were the order of the day. Quite frequently I’d be pushing along a flat to hear the unmistakable whir of those deep wheel-sets buzz past me.

So with my head down I quickly shot through the green fields and villages to the north of Dorney, pretty undulating throughout. I parted company with the main group around 30km where the ride swung westward. We’d been forewarned of the descent into Wycombe Marsh though it still seemed to provide a shock, the road dropped off at 20% with traffic lights halfway down – a real brake tester. The 20% seemed to be matched on the other side of the village on the climb out and got me right out of the saddle, it levelled off a little before meeting the first of the drinks stations which took the same format throughout. Maxifuel flapjack, bars and gels as well as water and sports drinks.

We pushed on down some very narrow lanes and another extremely steep descent, some of this ride you longed for it to be closed roads as you really could have let go a lot more.  The ride passed through some housing estates before dropping into Marlow where the route split. I took the 180km branch up Marlow high street.

Leaving Marlow a big brown sign informed us what my legs already knew, this was the start of the Chilterns and unfortunately this was also where the trouble began.

Unbeknown to us, or to the organizers who had checked the course before the first riders of the day, someone had removed one of the key signs directing everyone off the main road so large numbers of people ploughed on towards Henley.

Fortunately I was flagged down by one of the race organisers who were quick to try and recover, they directed me to turn back and head up to Hambledon and re-join the route there. I took what I thought was the correct turn but after a mile or so began to have my doubts. I was joined by two other participants who were equally bemused and after much consultation of maps, cue sheets and cycle computers we could only agree we were lost.

Just when we had begun to lose faith a group flew by with a heroic local at the helm, we joined the back and he guided us up a pretty steep incline which eventually afforded us a fantastic view, one which I was informed was used in the opening credits of The Vicar of Dibley.

Close to Stokenchurch we found the route and miraculously I hit the 70km sign with only around 75km on my clock. Long stretches of country lanes followed in the 20° heat, twisting past Stonor country house, a steep climb back up to meet my earlier diversion and a descent on the same piece of road to where another feed station had now been set-up. A heavy climb over Rotten Row before we joined the main road in the opposite direction back to Marlow, this time to cross the Thames for more climbing and yet another great view.

There followed a slightly hazardous route choice in my opinion as we were directed all the way round a fairly major roundabout that left riders scattered in all directions and prompted a liberal use of horns.

I was beginning to tire now but the route had no mercy and we negotiated another two big climbs before reaching familiar ground and eventually the lake. A sandwich and T-shirt greeted me at the finish and a massage if I’d been so inclined. Instead I turned by bike homewards truly shattered in that uniquely satisfying way.

Learning

Participating in a full season of Sportives is a steep learning curve for me, at each event I hope to write a little about what I’ve picked up, or more likely still need to pick up. Perhaps I’ll help someone avoid the same mistakes or at least give a good opportunity to point and laugh.

  • Map. I didn’t pick up a map or cue sheet for this ride which was pretty sloppy. With only 90 riders on course I was very lucky to meet some people who put me back on track. I should really carry these if I want to be self sufficient.

Kit

Jamis Xenith Pro with Continental GrandPrix 4 seasons tyres

Topeak Aero Wedge pack, Topeak TriBag, Camelbak Podium waterbottles

Blackburn Air Stick III pump, Cateye Strada double wireless, Topeak Mini18+, Bontrager Air Rush regulator

Specialized BG Comp Road shoes, Hincapie Merino S/S base layer, Cyclosport.org Endura shorts and jersey, Specialized Propero helmet, Gore Bike Wear Power mitts