To celebrate the beginning of my first year of sportives, I’ve adopted a local pro cyclist. His name is Felix English, and he rides for Rapha-Condor JLT. While I haven’t adopted him in the conventional sense (I couldn’t afford to feed him, for a start), I feel we have a lot in common: we’re both of Irish extraction, we both live on the Sussex coast and we both like to ride bicycles. The only real difference – and it’s a crucial one, I’ll admit – is that he rides his bike much, much faster than me.
If you’re wondering how we met, the answer is of course Strava. (For those unfamiliar with Strava, it’s like a geography lesson but you get to ride your bike over the maps.) I live just outside Brighton, and my training rides – if I can glorify my rain and windswept bimblings as such – sometimes overlap with Felix’s. Surprisingly, the difference in our average speeds is not as vast as you’d think: ocasionally as little as 5 km/h. While this shoots up to 15 km/h when he’s out with his team mates, it’s still encouraging to dream that, with a few months solid training under my belt, I could start to approach his speeds. And then…?
Well, Sir Wiggo can relax. Now may be the time to mention that I’m 33 years old, with no athletic history. I like pastries with my coffee; the kind with custard inside. A typical working days sees me sitting for eight hours straight gazing at a computer screen and most of my ‘training rides’ are on my desk chair (it has wheels; they aren’t aero).
When I add that I’ve yet to ride a single sportive, it should be clear that I’m a deluded fantasist, if not a deranged cyber-stalker. But isn’t daydreaming par for the course? Cycling can be a solitary activity. Alone on the road with just our thoughts, I suspect many of us indulge in performance-related reveries like mine – perhaps we even rely on them to haul us over the chilly cols of winter.
‘This year,’ we tell ourselves, ‘I’ll complete every sportive I enter. In gold time! And this year, I’ll bring my average speed up to 18mph. Damn it all, this may even be the year I apply for Race Silver Membership; a cat 5 licence; a carbon skinsuit, and some lycra wheels!’
Tip: At this point in your thoughts, it is a good idea to open your eyes and check you’re not about to steer your dreams into a hedge.
But back to the subject of preparing for sportives. Daydreams aside, I’m finding Strava and my Garmin useful tools for creating training courses and tracking my performance. Although I’m new to sportives, I rode on some charity events last year and that’s where I caught the cycling bug. What’s more, I genuinely am in training because this year – don’t ask me how – I’ve somehow landed a dream job as an unpaid domestique on these same events, culminating in LEJOG in September. To put it another way, I’ve signed up to take part in a whole bunch of long rides guaranteed to make me cry. Basically, this is an emergency.
Hence the training, and the stalking. I get out at least twice a week, not counting my short commute. I have a couple of favourite routes for weekends, one of 25 miles and a 50-miler. Both include some decent climbs through Ditchling and finish with a satisfying sprint home along Brighton seafront.
And, with a few weeks to go before my first sportive, the indicators are good. I’ve yet to meet the discarded chip wrapper that can drop me, although I’m still not as fast as a hungry seagull. It’s another target to add to the list: bring on the season!