I wrote most of this in 2010, have only just filled in the second half.
The Dean is a 300km Audax from Oxford out across the Cotswolds to the Forest of Dean and Chepstow, then back via Wiltshire. I had done this ride a couple of times before. In 2007 it was one of my Paris-Brest-Paris qualifiers and I also rode it in 2008.
2007 was a good ride apart from an upset stomach during the final stage which cost me a bit of time and it ended up taking almost 17h. 2008 was a real battle, with the weather being really bad during the second half, and it took me more than 20 hours. As it is run as a BRM event this year that would be too slow, so I was looking for a better performance.
Things started to go wrong the night before, when my rear tyre spontaneously deflated in the hotel room. Investigating revealed the rubber had separated from the valve on the inner tube. I put one of my two spares in, and inflated the tyre, only to then notice a tear in the sidewall. So then I had to change to the spare tyre also. Brand new tyres front and rear, then! I made a tyre boot from the old tyre, jus in case as I now had no spare.
We set the alarm for 5.20, which is pushing it a bit. By the time we left the room it was 5.51 and the ride started at 6. With getting the card off the organiser in the park and ride next door and also having to connect up the dynamo there was no time to say hello to people before we were off.
I'd been training hard, so I expected to hang onto the fast starters and get some time in hand. It didn't work like that though, I felt sluggish and was overheating inside my jacket. So after we'd gone through Woodstock I was dropped and watched them dissappear up the road. "It's going to be one of those days" I thought, and I was also worried that my knee had been a bit achy during the week; I started thinking about where I might be able to pack (commonly used term for abandoning the ride). I was still feeling slow and got passed by a few riders but after about 20km I started to feel a bit stronger and started keeping pace with other riders.
The first stage isn't too hilly and I averaged about 24kph or 15mph for most of it. However it does get a bit harder towards the end as you reach the Cotswolds. The finaly climb into Stow on the Wold is quite hard.
This control is just at a petrol station. There were a few riders there when I arrived. This was a quick stop, I ate a pasty from the petrol station and took my jacket off.
Once I got going again I immediately realised I'd been wrong to remove the jacket, as I was freezing on the descent out of Stow; back on it went. I don't much like the next bit as you head across the Cotswolds. The road has a lot of unreasonably fast traffic. However it's nice and hilly and it isn't too long before we turn off into quiet lanes. I rode this entirely on my own, occasionally catching sight of a couple of riders but never gaining enough to overhaul them.
The biggest climb on the route is Cleeve Hill just after Winchcombe. Being a lightweight, I overtook 3 riders on the ascent. Then I missed the right turn just after the summit but was able to take the next turn about 200 yards later and didn't have to climb back up the hill. The route is then flat for most of the way to Newent. One of the riders I overtook, a guy in a Willesden top, overtook me - being a lightweight doesn't help on the flat. I rode with him for a bit, but the pace was a little fast so I stopped to take my jacket off as I'd warmed up by now. The wind was against so I was working fairly hard, but it was much easier than 2008.
I think I arrived at Newent about 11am. This was another control; in 2007 I'd controlled at the Co-op (i.e. just bought something and kept the receipt as proof of passage). In 2008 I'd gone to the cafe while the rain poured outside, but this had wasted a lot of time and contributed to a very slow overall time. So it was back to the Co-op, but there was a slow queue so it wasn't as quick as I'd have liked. I think I took about 20 minutes to get going, and all the time I was worrying about the bike as I had no lock with me. However, I got away with it.
The next section is through the Forest of Dean to Chepstow, and this is one of the nicest parts of the route. It rained a little bit at Newent, so the jacket was back on, but it wasn't long before it came off again, and I got quite warm climbing up to Aston Crews. The gps route was incorrect here, but I knew about that, and knew the way. The Forest of Dean was lovely in the sunshine, and I caught a couple of riders, one of whom I'd ridden with earlier, and was on his second 300. I also rode this as my second 300 in 2007. I eventually left him behind as we approached Bream as I was pushing the pace a little bit too much for him. The lovely descent into Chepstow took an age to show itself, and the section from Bream across to St Briavels was hard work into the wind, which had got stronger through the day.
In Chepstow, I controlled at the Tesco Petrol station. A quick sandwich, and a chat with another rider, and after 20 minutes I was off again. Chepstow is at around 150km, and it had taken me just under 7.5h to get there, so I was on target for 300km in 15h. We were now about to turn away from the wind, so it should get easier, and I think the second half of the ride is also less lumpy, though there are some climbs that are quite challenging. The first is getting from Tesco back to the main road to the Severn crossing, but I found it much easier than in previous years. I had to stop about half-way to let an ambulance past, though.
Once over the crossing, the route heads across Gloucestershire and then into Wiltshire to Malmesbury, which I was looking forwards to as there was the Summer Cafe where I would have the first ‘proper’ stop of the day. There is one fairly tough climb, up to the Somerset Monument. After that, it’s easy to Malmesbury and the cafe. I found the Things’ tandem outside and parked my bike next to it. In 2008, I and the others I had ended up riding with didn’t get there until well after dark but it would have been about 4-5pm this time, the cafe still open. I had soup and cafe and coffee, and nearly knocked over the Things’ bike. Fortunately I saw it move and grabbed it. When they emerged I joked that ‘some idiot nearly knocked your bike over’ but Joth looked worried so I explained who the idiot was and that I’d caught it. I asked casually how much the bike had cost - it’s a Santana Beyond Carbon frame - and was told ‘£9,000’. This explains the worried expression. I have seen it knocked over since and they seem rather more relaxed about it now, though!
From Malmesbury the route diverts south through Wootton Bassett, then takes you over two significant climbs past two Wiltshire white horses, first at Broad Town followed by Hackpen Hill. These were both clearly visible, unlike 2008 when it was pitch dark, blowing a gale, and raining. This time we were treated to the sun in the sky, though higher than in 2007. From there we headed down of the Marlborough Downs into Marlborough itself for an info control. The question was the same as in 2007, and I knew the answer from memory. I could easily have cheated. In fact anyone with a smartphone could have cheated, since the answer would have been clearly visible on Google Streetview.
Having checked that it really was the same answer in 2007 (it could have changed in the meantime) it’s then off towards Membury, and this being my fastest time on this ride, the sun was only setting as I approached the services, rather than just around the time I climbed Hackpen Hill in 2007, or hours earlier as in 2008. I started to feel the effects of riding for so long and stopped for an energy gel (note: it’s not clever to have to stop for a gel, really they should be in your back pocket and consumed on the move). The rider who had said I was too fast passed me while I did this, but I repassed him proclaiming “It’s just kicked iiiinnnn” as my energy returned.
This was the only time I’ve actually seen this climb in anything approaching daylight. The services offered a chance to have a quicker stop again, and I was keen to keep moving. By the time I left it was getting dark, though, and the final run to Oxford was dark as usual. I was trying to keep the pace up as 15h still seemed on, and in fact for the 300km to central Oxford I was spot on, arriving back at the Peartree Services for my final control and hotel bed. Jo, who I’d shared the hotel room with, was surprised to see me back so soon, he having only been about half an hour ahead. Over 15h you have no idea where people are, if they are 30 mins ahead then you never see them unless they stop for a long time at a control. Nowadays it’s far more likely I’ll see Jo than it used to be, I assume that’s me getting faster rather than him slower.
That ride was a great day out, in beautiful weather. It’s interesting how the sluggish start didn’t materialise into a slow ride, it was by far my fastest time on that event. One of my favourite rides, managing to be nicely scenic without being excessively challenging, and avoiding both significant main road riding and too much laney stuff.