The Cotswold Challenge 2009

Today, I rode The Cotswold Challenge, an audax ‘century’ ride from the village of Meriden to the Cotswolds and back.

It was a very windy day – even on the short ride to Meriden I could tell that the wind would make the outward journey hard work.

Meriden cyclists' memorial

Cyclists’ Memorial at Meriden

I met up with the other riders at the village hall and we set off just after 08:00. There were about 50 of us, a surprisingly small number given how close we were to Britain’s second largest city, Birmingham. Perhaps the wind and a forecast of heavy rain showers put people off?

The first part of the ride took us through the villages of Berkswell and Balsall Common, and then we headed SW/S towards the Cotswolds – pretty much straight into the wind.

We soon split into two groups and I chose to go with the faster group. It would have been nice to help set the pace at the front but the wind made that impossible for me. Perhaps I should have gone with the slower group and worked at the front of that? Instead, I was a wheelsucker – oh, the shame!

I kept getting dropped and chasing my way back and that went on for 30 miles. eventually, the effort became too much so I let them go and carried on at a slower pace alone.

The winds overnight had been even stronger and I came across a couple of trees which had been blown over into the road! It looked like a mini-tornado had hit the area.

As I got down into the Cotswolds, the terrain became more undulating with pretty rolling hills everywhere.

Cotswold lane

Rolling hills of the Cotswolds

I thought that the villages looked very attractive, with many of the buildings built from the distinctive Cotswold Stone (a yellow form of limestone that I’ve not seen elsewhere).

Chipping Campden had a music festival on. It looks like a nice area to visit and the annual festival would be an extra attraction.

The road kicked up steeply to about 15% shortly after that as I left the village of Broad Campden – that was more like a Yorkshire hill! Some riders ahead of me were zig-zagging up it to lessen the effective gradient. There wasn’t any traffic, and I was on my Cannondale without my usual low ‘granny gears’ so I followed suit.

It wasn’t far to the audax control at the garden centre cafe at Batsford Arboretum. I was looking forward to getting off the bike for a while, and having something to eat, but first there was another stiff little climb to tackle out of the village of Blockley. And then the heavens opened up…

We’d had overcast conditions some of the time, and sunny intervals at others but now black clouds had scudded over and were unloading on us. I could barely see where I was going and had to stop to take my cycling glasses off.

The rain only lasted about 5 minutes and by the time I cleared the top of the hill the sun had come out again!

There was an ‘interesting‘ 2/3 mile descent through woods to the garden centre, probably more suited to a cyclo-cross bike or MTB than the full-on racer I was riding.

A cheese and tomato sandwich and can of Coke soon perked me up, and I left the control and headed down to the A44 where I turned left for Moreton-in-Marsh. It was immediately obvious that I had now picked up a tailwind and I was soon bombing along at 25 mph with less effort than 15 mph had taken on the way south. I started overtaking groups of other riders.

I turned right at Upper Tysoe and began the ascent of Tysoe hill. It was another stiff little climb with a maximum gradient of 14%. I stopped to take a photograph of a group of riders going up it and one of them called out to me “It won’t look steep in the photo, you know!” and he was right…

A 14% Cotswold hill

Tysoe hill – 14% gradient

The camera never seems to capture the steepness of hills properly – it was quite a tough climb.

Soon, our route took us along Edgehill, scene of the famous Battle of Edgehill in the first English Civil War. I was disappointed not to get great views from up there. The road along Edgehill is about 350 ft above the surrounding countryside but it is heavily wooded so all I could see was trees!

There was a fast 14% descent off the hill and I was watching out for a right turn towards the bottom. I spotted another rider ahead of me whose positioning on the road told me that he was going miss the turn so I accelerated hard and caught him just in time and shouted “Right turn here!” He wasn’t able to make the turn but I slowed down and waited for him. He soon came back and joined me on the right road; we ended up doing the rest of the ride together.

He was an older rider who had just celebrated his 70th birthday. I had a long chat with him about the health benefits of cycling and how I’d love to still be riding my bike in my 70s, like him. Apparently, one of his clubmates is 85 and still gets a decent ride in at least once a week – that’s great!

We did another 14% climb up through Burton Dassett Country Park and then headed round for another control, this one at Harbury village hall. I’d thought that the instructions on the route sheet were wrong there, and sure enough cyclists were going all over the place looking for the hall. I thought that the name Hall Lane was too much of a clue to ignore… 😉 Sure enough, the hall did turn out to be on Hall Lane!

‘Old Boy’ and I had a short stop there, then went on our way again. (We never actually told each other our names!).

The rain started hammering down again and we came across a group of cyclists sheltering behind a large bush. I read later that a tree was blown down just in front of them when they set off again!

As we passed through the vilages of Cubbington and Leek Wootton, the rain stopped and the sunshine returned – crazy English weather! One minute we were cold and wet, the next we were getting too warm!

At Honiley, we rejoined the route we had taken out in the morning, and rode back through Berkswell to Meriden. My GPS clocked the route at 99 miles (159 km). I did an extra 14 miles (22.5 km) from my mother’s house to Meriden and back afterwards making a total of 113 miles (182 km) for the day.

The weather had been disappointing but I was pleased with the route – not too many busy roads, and plenty of rolling hills and pretty villages.

Apart from the weather, the only other negatives for the day were (1) My back wheel was rumbling all the way round (that turned out to be worn-out bearings) and (2) I wore out my back tyre. There were great bald patches on it when I got home.

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