This was my first ‘Gran Fondo’ race, 79 miles racing around Cambridgeshire. I have ridden sportives for years but never really raced a bike over that distance without a swim before or run after. I was quite excited at the prospect of racing with 8500 others, on the flat and not just plodding along to get around. It also seemed a nice distance, stopping 20 miles before a tonne and when fatigue starts to develop quite substantially.
I was in the female 30-34 ‘race pen’ and this was perhaps my down fall. I was dropped from the peloton very early on (why do I never warm up properly?) and then spent a good 45 minutes out on my own in the wind, waiting for another peloton to come along. Anyway, soon they came in their hundreds and I managed to tag along into a train. All on. I had set myself the target of keeping to 20mph as this would get me home in about four hours and last years’ slowest time for a world champs place was 4 hr 13 min. I had worked that out in December 2016 and trained with that goal. However, sustaining that pace wasn’t proving easy, I was having enormous foot pain from about 15 miles in. Unlike never before. Tears of agony were streaming down my face at one point and I had to keep unclipping and pedaling with one foot for as long as I could maintain reasonable cadence. Anyway, once in a group I picked it up. Got to 50 miles, now firmly onto my 20mph average. Sugar level wasn’t doing great, especially as one of the gels in my pocket had gone off (repulsive!) and I wasn’t planning on any feed station stops. The best I could do was keep forcing in my favourite powerade energy drink. Around 66 miles I had the last of my gels, it wasn’t enough but inspired by still holding the required average I had a big moment and realised the next 13 miles could be some of the biggest I have ever ridden.
With the gauntlet firmly laid down I decided to go all out. A kind guy could see what I was trying to do and that I was shifting fast and said to me “you just get on my wheel and stay there”. That lasted for about 5 miles or so until we got separated but it was a big help. Inside the last ten miles I was hurting, really hurting but I was also really motoring along and over took several of those in my age group. I was starting to believe. I could see baring mechanical I would be home in 4 hours and I gave everything I have ever owned to get that bike home in that time. Made it in 3 hr 56 minutes. Although I was dead chuffed with that time as it was way more than I would have achieved last year, I knew the poor start had let me down and I also knew that the quality of the field had gone up dramatically from last year. I waited for the results very ambivalently and sadly I hadn’t quite made it. I was just ten minutes away from qualifying for a world champs place. I was gutted, only blaming myself for accepting unconditionally last year’s target. I had such a fantastic time though, this was also my first UCI organised event and it didn’t disappoint. With 400 people working on the event they did an exquisite job, just what one would expect from the UCI, but still, an athlete is always grateful when things are perfectly organised and they can just ride. I know there’s more in me though and I have already signed up to try again next year. Once triathlon season is over I am sure I can make some big gains during the winter just as I have done during winter 16/17.