Over the Bank Holiday weekend, I was a fortunate participant in my cycling club’s annual Humber Bridge Audax. Every year Huddersfield Star Wheelers meet up at Huddersfield train station and set off on an epic flat ride (flat for us anyway) out to the Humber Bridge and back in a day. In the previous years, I’ve not been available to join the ride as it has always been on the late May bank holiday weekend, but this year we had nothing planned and I was given the proverbial “day pass”. This year was also different too, it was now an official open Audax and therefore open to all clubs so a total of 90 riders were expected to join in the fun.
I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it either! My training, in the build-up to the event, had been marred by illnesses and a severe lack of time in the saddle, raising my concerns of even completing it, nevermind being able to keep up with my usual riding partners. As the day grew ever closer, a watchful eye on the weather for the event turned up the paranoia one notch further. We were forecast an outbound tailwind, but a fairly brisk headwind on the return leg and every cyclist I know knows what that means when you’ve already got 120km in your legs before the turn. So throughout the week preceding Sunday’s epic adventure, my inner voice was formulating all kinds of excuses as to why I could fail and why it might not be a good idea to even embark upon such a journey.
It was Thursday, however, when I set my mind somewhat at ease. I completed my last “hard” short training session and smashed an arbitrary goal I’d been seeking for years, on my VLC (virtual lunchtime commute). I felt good that evening and at least the weather forecast hadn’t gotten any worse since the beginning of the week so I settled the argument with the voice and told him I was doing it.
Friday I coached, Saturday I coached, Sunday I woke early and had a VERY large portion of porridge. The day had finally arrived and I set off on a cool and drizzly Sunday morning for the 8am station meeting point. I set off in good time so I took it fairly steady, as it was going to be a long day out. When I got there, I met up with a whole bunch of familiar faces telling tales of the suffering of years gone by and I was all on, to tame the “told you so” voice in my head. I also heard that the “Steady Eddies” were already long gone, as they had taken it upon themselves to leave at 6.30 so as not to be returning way after dark, so my get out of jail free card of riding at a more sedate pace had already been used up, unless of course, we could catch them up.
We set off and the large group was very quickly split with a pacier bunch making a break due to traffic signals riding through town. By the time we reached the roundabout at Grange Moor, there were a number of very distinct groups and I found myself at the front of the second one of these groups. As the undulating terrain through Flockton began, it became clear that a couple of the riders our group were new to this form of riding and this caused for some early concertina-ing, which can be quite energy sapping. After the second rise, when the front two riders rapidly scrubbed off speed as opposed to just digging in a little, I let my momentum carry me through and then put in a few strong pedal strokes to carry me to the top of the hill. This quickly formed a gap of around 200m, after continuing at that pace on the flat for a while, and as I came round the corner I caught sight of the leading group, about 250m ahead. I was between a rock and hard place. I decided to just keep on pedalling and hoped that I would either be able to tag onto the back of the leading group or get swallowed up by the trailing second group as my energy drained. Fortunately, my good friend Steve had registered what had happened and picked up the pace of the trailing pack and they caught me about 100m out from the leading group. We made up ground towards them fairly swiftly and before we reached West Bretton Roundabout the leading group was now around 24 or more strong.
Using the tailwind to our advantage we made great progress out to the first checkpoint and took a wise decision not to hang about more than to get our cards stamped and fill up our water bottles. By this time the sun had also come out and what started out as a grey drizzly morning turned into a wonderful sunny day.
The halfway point of Humber Bridge was the next stop and, having lost a couple to the lure of a longer rest and ride out at a more sedate pace, we set off again around 22 strong. The pace was, once again, pretty stiff but even with an unbalanced load sharing on the front it still made it attainable for everyone involved and we arrived at the Bridge ahead of the Steddie Eddies. They did clock us though! And sneakily snuck into the cafe ahead of us whilst we took a photo opportunity 🙂
Refuelled and ready to go, although my food arrived delayed and I was forced to leave 1/2 a coffee cake and 1/4 of a baked potato as a result, we started our return journey.
The headwind very quickly made itself known and we had to arrange the group on the fly to balance the load sharing much more evenly. To a large extent this worked well and our average speed, although taking a hit, didn’t diminish too much. It did, however, take its toll and there were a few who could no longer take their turn at the front. On one occasion this was me too, as two of the stronger riders in front of me pushed up the pace so much that I was struggling to hold on whilst directly behind them and so when it came to me doing my bit I lasted no more than a minute or two before having to own up and calling for some assistance from behind. We reached the final checkpoint at the same time as this same group in the previous year had only just left the Bridge, and Dick wasn’t going to allow us much time to breathe before rallying us all back together to continue. With one energy spent casualty having to stay behind at the stop, we received a rousing and very clear instructional speech from Jonny asking those who could do their bit to do it, but to, this time, keep the pace more reasonable as we all needed to get back together. At this point, I held my hand up to announce that I would struggle to do my bit but I’d give it a go as did two or three others, honesty was needed at this point.
It was in this final leg of the journey which found me sat inside the hurt locker. I’d done 2 turns on the front, despite announcing I probably wouldn’t be able to, but with 30 miles (50km) left to go, I was hurting badly. The next 15 miles (25km) I was in a pretty dark place, every slight elevation caused me pain but I managed to work through it and by the end of it I still managed to enjoy the final 15 back to the starting point and didn’t hold up the group all too much either.
After 7h44m34s in the saddle, I’d managed to complete 237km at an Avg of 30.6kmh making this the longest ride I’ve done to date. It is a credit to the group that I rode with, as much as anything else, as to why I accomplished this in the way that I did and I’d like to thank each and every one of them for their encouragement, support and laughter when it mattered most. You are a credit to your clubs and yourselves and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the day. And yes, even when I was sat in the hurt locker!