In January we teamed up with Cyclosport.org to run a competition to find the Evans Super Sportiver to take part in a variety of Sportive events throughout the year and write blog reviews of the events. We picked James Berresford, the prize was the loan of a Jamis Xenith Pro 2011 Road Bike worth £2,299, plus kit, petrol and event entry costs paid for the year. This is his first report.

Essentials

Distances:       145km  / 95km / 50km / 20km
Participants:    400, places still available on the day with no maximum limit specified
Start:              The Pavilion, Rushmere Close, Bow Brickhill, Milton Keynes, MK17 9JB
Cost:                £12.50
Transport:        Approx. 3 miles from the centre of Milton Keynes, Free parking on site and reserved nearby.
Bow Brickhill Station 0.5 miles, Milton Keynes Central 3 miles
Feedstops:      3
Timed:             Yes (Chip system was down but times were taken manually)
Signs:              Clear Black Arrows on Pink background well placed at all necessary junctions
Road:              Mainly reasonable rolling surface, great sections through Woburn grounds some parts rougher narrow track, particularly on the long loop.

Summary

Don’t let visions of grey concrete fool you this Milton Keynes ride featured beautiful countryside and villages throughout, criss-crossing wooded national trust land,  Woburn Abbey’s grounds and skirting Whipsnade Zoo. No real testing climbs but a great early season ride to introduce some distance to your legs, run with the professionalism and facilities you would expect from an operation like Evans.

The ride

The travel to the venue proved to be a bit of a challenge as the train we had scheduled to catch out of Euston was cancelled due to industrial action. This meant jumping on a Virgin intercity to Milton Keynes Central arriving quite late, and with the additional pedal out it meant we were up against it to arrive in time for the last long route start. So registration had to be a lightening quick affair and fortunately simply involved filling in a short form and exchanging it for a chip timer which velcroed around the ankle and a clear Ordinance Survey waterproof map.

The HQ featured toilets, food and drink for sale, Gore Bike Wear and bikes for loan during the ride and an array of shiny cycling bits to purchase or peruse. There was no time for any of that for me though as one of the last groups to depart we took our place at the start. We each gave our timer number to Dean on the line and after a short ride briefing we were off.

100k runs I began to pull away quite early. I felt pretty fresh and as it was my first real ride of the new Super Sportiver loan bike, I was enjoying putting it through its paces. My previous Cannondale Caad9 was no slouch but it was soon clear the Jamis Xenith Pro was a few notches louder. The stiffness of the full carbon frame meant that even when pushing fully out of the saddle there was no twist and felt really responsive. The double tap system of the SRAM force took a little getting used to, I found myself jabbing at the brake a few times when reaching for a lower gear but I soon settled and found I could easily shift up with my little finger while covering the brakes from the hoods a real boon when bombing down country lanes, of which there were many.

The route at first took me through some sparsely wood lined lanes then opened up into beautiful, open arable land where you could see the road snake off to the horizon.

Pushing on through Pitstone then Aldbury where we first entered national trust land, the wooded Berkhamstead Common. I reached the first feed station shortly after, an excuse to stretch the legs if nothing else it was stocked with SiS, water, bananas, cake and flapjack with mechanical support and the all important track pump.

Leaving the stop the long route split off pushing down into Little Gaddesden, eventually entering some very narrow high hedged lanes, fortunately with not a car in sight as there was little room for manoeuvre.

We climbed a few inclines but always seem to pull away before it got too steep, something I was later thankful for. Following some more pretty sections of woodland I rejoined the medium route after visiting the same feed station.

I pedalled up over the Ivinghoe Hills where the road at first climbed towards the beacon before giving way to a beautiful vista of the Chilterns, a real ride highlight for me, especially as after crossing the main road it then broke into a long, fast downhill.

Beginning to tire I was fortunate to tag on a group to share the load a little until we reached Woburn Abbey. At this point we were passed by a second group headed by a guy in Navy Cycling kit. I wondered how you got on with cycling in the Navy, but never got to ask as he was pushing a hell of a pace. My recently acquired peloton were obviously fresher than me and dug in to match him and I began to fall off the back. Crossing the cattle grid exiting the grounds was the final straw as I suddenly experienced that dreaded feeling of my back rim against the road.

This needn’t have been a disaster but I managed to make a real hash of the repair wasting my two CO2 canisters on a badly adhered patch and a dodgy valve, snapping a tyre lever and after many kind offers of help from the many passing riders and expletives from myself (unrelated I might add) I eventually pedalled away on a soft back tyre.

This point I really began to fatigue, a combination of the step-up in distance from any recent rides and the psychological drag of knowing I was sat right at the back took its toll and it was a struggle over the last section. A real shame as the scenery kept delivering and even the clouds began to clear. I dug deep and pushed on barely seeing anyone on the final section and began to worry that everyone would have gone home. The 10 and 5k markers seemed much farther apart and I eventually limped over the line in what must have been over six hours. Not the most super start to my super sportiving.

I was grateful to tuck into some warm pasta and a coffee with Henry who had been back at HQ with his feet up for a couple of hours by all accounts. After washing my bike with the hose provided -a really nice touch when you live in a first floor flat like myself- we turned our bikes homewards, me with my expensive carbon tail between my legs.

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.

●      Start early. It’s much easier to find others of a similar ability and people to share the ride with after all that’s a lot of what Sportiving is about for me. It also takes a fair bit of shine off knowing you’re up against the clock to get finished all the time.

●      In my rush to set off I didn’t reset my cycle computer, riding without knowing how far I’d come or had left made it very difficult to judge when I could and couldn’t push.

●      I am so far off “Etape ready” it’s frightening. I knew this but this ride was a big reminder. Although it didn’t feel it I’m hoping it’s a move in the right direction. Stepping up in distance has got to be a good thing no matter how much it didn’t feel like it at the time.