Sunday, 2 October 2011

Saw the police and they rolled right past me...aka Rourkie's Cat & Fiddle Challenge

Today didn't augur well. It was a route predominantly on A roads and ones that I ride a lot. I haven't felt on top form for some time. I woke up with a sore throat and tickly cough. I had to go to Stoke. And yet I had a magnificent ride....

Yes, I rode the Cat & Fiddle Challenge, which starts and finishes at a community centre adjacent to the very famous Brian Rourke Cycles in Stoke-on-Trent. Officially it's course of 55 miles (Stoke to Kidsgrove to Congleton to Macclesfield, up the Cat & Fiddle, down to Buxton, up Axe Edge, to Leek and then back to Stoke via the Brown Edge climb), and Sean Kelly rides it. Unofficially, it was only 53 miles and no-one I spoke to had seen Sean in the 3 years they'd be riding the event.

In view of my bodily grumblings I'd resolved to have a nice little pootle round at 7.30 this morning. Then we started riding just after 8 and in the first couple of miles a group from Audlem Cycling Club shot past. I thought that a couple of miles of wheel sucking might be in order just to see how things were now I was actually on the bike. Hmmm...just under 2 hours 50 mins later I was back at base, having raced those buggers the whole course. I don't often put stats on here, but I averaged 18.6 mph today, which given the climbs we did and the number of traffic lights we had to go through into and out of Stoke is just extraordinary (for me). But that's not the best of it - today I achieved a holy trinity: fantastic ride time, achieving a long held ambition (setting off a speed camera), and a new lifetime maximum speed - 56 mph, smashing my previous best of 52 mph.

The story of the ride is fairly simple really - a group of 8 of us chainganged from Stoke to Macc (and many thanks to the guys from Audlem CC; we worked together really well for that part of the course), the group split, predictably, up Cat & Fiddle. There were 3 of us together at the top and though we were joined temporarily by a 4th, he'd cooked himself to join back up with us, and so we were soon back down to 3. The new max speed was set on the A53 between Leek and Buxton where I'd set my previous best. (The difference today? Staying fully on the drops rather than covering the brakes. Plus, probably, the huge pressures in my tyres). The 3 became 2 on the Brown Edge climb, and 2 became 1 (me!) on the final rise to the finish. I was first back out of the 500 or so that started, but I don't think my time of 2:50 was the fastest - a pair of riders who started a little after me finished in 2:40-ish I think. But I'm chuffed with my efforts, partly because I really didn't feel I had the legs at the start of the day.

A couple of other things to comment on. First, I knew it was a good day even more after the ride because of this; I dropped one of my water bottles about 5 miles before the finish, but decided not to turn round and pick it up as it was bound to be damaged by following cars. Where I dropped it was on my route home, and conveniently there was a bus-stop to park in briefly directly opposite. Not only was the water bottle still there in the gutter, it was completely undamaged. Given that it was £8-worth of Camelbak bidon, I was almost as pleased about that as I was about the ride.

And finally, I had a good look round Rourke's bike shop before I left to come home, as the next bike I acquire will be based on one of Rourke's steel frames. Not that I'm copying  Robert Penn or anything (see "It's all about the bike" by said author on Amazon. Other booksellers are available), but it seems to good an opportunity to miss out on when such a legend of frame-building is just down the road. If I wasn't convinced beforehand I am now. Apart from the fact that the shop is about the size of a small B&Q, it's got a bar. That's right, a fully-functioning, bike ephemera-cluttered, integral bar. So after you've finished being measured up you can celebrate your imminent arrival with a small tincture. How cool's that?!

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