Tuesday, 31 March 2015

ElliptiGO PBP Qualifier - The Dean 300 Audax ride

6 intrepid ElliptiGOers on the start of The Dean 300 Audax: L to R: Carl, Stu, Shane, Andy, Chris and Alan
So with the 200k PBP qualifier out of the way things now start to get a little more serious. To quickly recap - qualification for PBP (Paris-Brest-Paris) requires you to complete a randonnée series - 200/300/400/600K rides within the qualification times. This was 'The Dean' 300k starting and finishing in Oxford with an advertised 4,000 metres of ascent to be completed within the 20hr cut-off window. That's just 9.5mph average speed which sounds easily doable, but when you start taking into account the fuel stops, the hills, the wind, the night section, and riding an ElliptiGO you soon realise that we would probably need most, if not all of that time.
The weather forecast had looked pretty dreadful all week, but as it got closer things didn't look so bad with rain forecast for only part of the day, and despite a head wind on the outward leg we would hopefully benefit from a nice tailwind to take us all the way back to Oxford. The route itself was a anti-clockwise loop out through the Cotswolds and the Forest of Dean, into Wales before coming back across the Severn Bridge and heading home.
The Dean 300 route & elevation profile
The team assembled was the best of British from the North (Team ElliptiGO Preston!) and the South (Team Shires..., oh and Essex - sorry Carl ;-) Team Preston even have their own ElliptiGO Preston branded gear too, courtesy of Shane who's an authorised ElliptiGO dealer and mechanic. That's the great thing about the ElliptiGO, as well as Audax in general, is that it brings people from all walks of life together to share the experience and adventure. And this was just another small chapter in this unfolding adventure that is PBP.
It was an early 6am start at the Peartree Park and Ride just north of Oxford. We lined up ready to GO (if not quite raring at this stage ;-) Breakfast was cheese and ham croissants with Mars Milk and coffee.
ElliptiGO taking pride of place at my bedside in the local Travel Lodge
The 300k broke down nicely into six 50k sections. This was a DIY style Audax ride meaning there were no manned controls where your brevet card is stamped as proof of passage. Instead at the end of each 50k section proof of passage was a receipt from a local shop, services or ATM.
Section 1: Oxford to Stow-on-the-Wold
The first section was Oxford to Stow-on-the-Wold (44k) which was described as 'lanesy with a bit of climbing'. That just about summed it up and it came in that order too. It was gentle start as Team Preston-Shires set into their stride. No drama and easy riding with a very sustainable pace set up front as we took it in turns to lead out. The wind was certainly noticeable but it wasn't unbearable. The major climbs came late in the first section as the talking stopped and we got our heads down. But it was early on and on fresh legs they proved no problem. We soon rolled into Stow-on-the-Wold and were on the look out for the 'as-advertised' BP garage. Shane was eagle-eyed and spotted it.

Andy and Chris at Stow BP garage - and yes we were displaying our disabled blue badge ;-)

Section 2: Stow to Newent
Stow to Newent (57k) continued where section one left off with more climbing! There was an absolute cracker at the 40 mile mark just before Bishops Cleave (as can be seen from the elevation profile opposite). The rest of the section flattened out to the relief of the team (especially Shane!) and was a mix of B roads, lanes and into the Cotswolds hills. A notable incident (avoided) was on a steep descent where the bumps in the road surface caused by front handlebar bag to fly off landing right in front of me. If it had got wedged under my front wheel it might have been trouble but luckily it landed with a bump and off to the side. Phew. 100k complete as we rolled into Newent and stopped at the Co-op.
Newent - Three hoisin duck wraps, and two crème eggs later and I was ready again :-)
Section 3: Newent to Chepstow
Newent to Chepstow (49k) was a rather hilly affair! It was also the most beautiful section too as it wound through the Forest of Dean. I was relishing the challenge and actually come alive on the hills. They just seem to suit my riding style on the ElliptiGO, and I was feeling strong. I'm not sure everyone in Team Preston-Shires agreed though. And unfortunately it was this section where we had to part ways with Chris who was battled with severe leg cramps. He tried to shake it off and ride through it but he was visibly in a lot of discomfort, and at one point had to jump off the ElliptiGO half way up a hill such was the pain. We rolled into Chepstow as Chris headed for the train station, and the five of us set off for the Severn Bridge. This was another highlight of the ride and the first time in the ride where the strong North-Easterly wind was now behind us. Just after we stopped at the Motorways services much to the surprise of on-looking motorists who weren't quite sure how we got there.
Wales back into England - The Severn Bridge looking a little bleak but twas fun!
Moto services at half way! Refuelling courtesy of BK and Costa. Stay awake Shane!
Section 4: Chepstow to Malmesbury
Chepstow to Malmesbury (49k) was.... yes you guessed it more climbing! Mostly short and sharp with the occasional longer climb. The most striking of the climbs was up to the Somerset Monument at Hawkesbury Upton. The pattern of ride was firmly set by now. We were all riding strong and well as a team. Naturally our pace was different on the climbs but overall no one was holding anyone back and the K's were ticking by nicely, helped by that ever-present tail wind! Oh thank you God.
Malmesbury town centre - does anyone know here Carl's coffee is!?... hehe
Section 5: Malmesbury to Membury
Malmesbury to Membury (56k). Just 100k to GO now and we were entering the night section. A team vote taken that we all set our rear lights to constant rather than flashing mode. Flashing LEDs directly in front can be really distracting and horrible on the eyes.  It was an awesome fast section that I really enjoyed. And whilst we couldn't see them we passed two Wiltshire White Horses as we crossed over the Marlborough Downs and along two ridge lines. There was one long climb where the group split but we were all rewarded once at the top with a nice long rolling descent where I hit my top speed of 59KPH. It would have been 70 in daylight I reckon. The control was at Membury motorway services where it was a case of fuelling up on caffeine for the final 50k into Oxford. Team Preston-Shires was still riding really strong and I was so pleased with how things were panning out.
Section 6: Membury to Oxford
Membury to Oxford (50k) was just a blur of lights, lanes and B roads. Andy despite saying at the services "guys my legs are gone so you're going to have to take it easy on the last section" then preceded from the getGO to set a relentless pace all the way to Oxford. I was totally cool with this as we took advantage of both the continuing tail-wind and positive descent for the final 50. We all performed exceptionally well and held a fast but steady pace. Hitting Oxford town centre on a Saturday night as the pubs spilled out and queues for nightclubs lined the street was an interesting sight. Five guys clad in Lycra on ElliptiGO's can look odd when you're sober so I can only imagine what they made of us in their state. I had at least two offers from drunk females for a ride. It didn't cross my mind for a second....honest! We were soon heading out of Oxford centre and north to Peartree Park and Ride where it all started 19 hours ago. It was 1am Sunday morning (2am with the clocks GOing forward). It was a job well done and real team effort. Well done team Preston-Shires :-) That's two down and two to GO in terms of official qualifying rides. But with the 400 and 600k rides still to GO this was really just a walk in the park.
Finished! 300k in 19 hours.
Our thanks GO to Andrew Rodgers the Audax ride organiser who I thought chose an excellent route with real variety in terrain and scenery which kept it interesting all the way. I'm sure not everyone in the team was rejoicing at the sight of yet another climb but I personally loved it. It was also perfect training and preparation for my second 300k ride in two weeks time in Wales - Yr Elenydd which has 5,000 metres of ascent and returns to the same area as the Mille Cymru including the infamous Devil's Staircase.  

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