In her second post for British Cycling and her second ever sportive event, new blogger Madeleine Iafrate relates her experiences at the Forest of Dean Classic, a longstanding springtime sportive starting in Monmouth and exploiting the heavily forested and deeply delved valleys of the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley areas. Turns out that Madeleine's learning curve is as steep as the hills she faced, as she discovers the joys of the Bakewell Tart as a sports fuel and the meaning of the word 'chicked'.
If there is any place a person should be the day after their 19th birthday, on a bike in the Forest of Dean would be that place. Using my birthday the day before as an excuse to make all my friends accompany me out for a big fat Italian meal, I stuffed my face in order to stock up my carb supply before my 6 am start.
At first light the next morning and alone in the car, I found myself calculating how the hills might feel if riding up them, which spoilt the views somewhat because I knew that as the Monmouth Showground got closer, it was more and more likely that the hills that I was happily cruising along would have to be conquered under pedal power. In my mind, this was near enough alpine conditions. Anyway, I soon snapped out of my dread and the sun came out! If there was anything that would certainly go downhill rapidly it was likely to be the lavatories, so I headed there first. People were flocking to the start lines with their bikes, and I hadn't even got mine out of the car! I jammed my front wheel on the bike, and found one of the last remaining spaces on the 8.20-8.30 time slot bike rack, so far so good, and attached my timing chip. Things were actually running smoothly, and I was perfectly on time for a prompt 8.20 departure. In a moment of calm before the start, I smiled for the photographer, before realising that I'd forgotten to put my front brake lever back down- oops!
A small cyclo-cross start took us to the road, where I tootled along at my own pace, wondering if I'd be able to make any friends to ride with. Some kind club people exchanged friendly words with me, but the first climb split everyone up very quickly so I decided to go at my own pace for a while. It was oddly peaceful, except for the occasional over taker with their deep rims whooshing past. I now think I need some of these wheels just because of the cool sound they produce.
As expected, views were magnificent (apart from some horrifyingly see-through shorts, please make sure your lycra hasn’t degraded over winter!) and I was glad that I had taken off my long leggings; everyone had bare legs out at the car park, so I succumbed to subliminal peer pressure. The sun was sparkling through the cloud in rays and I have to say, I can see why JK Rowling set part of the Deathly Hallows around there. I was very glad for the feed station at 32 miles. My nutrition for the first part of the ride had been pretty nonexistent apart from energy drink, so my eyes practically popped out of their sockets at the table loaded with Bakewell tarts, swiss rolls, fruitcake, banana, etc. This was the first time I'd visited a feed station because in my first sportive I didn't use them. Cherry Bakewell tart is now at the top of my cycling food list- I really needed the sugar kick.
Back on the road, I quickly tucked in behind a jersey that I recognised from drafting in the first half. I knew he was stylish because his bike was kitted out with red tyres like mine, so I followed him. I struggled to keep up with him on the flat, but then I found him again on a nastily long hill that warranted yet more consumption of some chocolate fudge energy bar. It tasted better than it looked at least. After that, Scott and I stuck together for the remainder of the ride. I was wearing my University of Bristol club jersey, and when I said that I was going to be the club’s 2013/14 ladies rep, he said that he felt better about "being chicked" or something! Bewildered, I asked my dad after the ride, and this apparently a form of emasculation which occurs when a man cyclist is caught up by a girl. You learn something new every day.
As 84 kilometers ticked over on my GPS, Symonds Yat rudely materialized out of a quiet country road. A 1 in 4 brute of a climb, it comes in bursts, so when you think 'phew that wasn't too bad', it proves you wrong when you turn the next corner! There is a link to a backdated Cycling Weekly release on the event website, which refers to some riders "simply unclipping and walking". Under no circumstances was this going to be my predicament; I’d try my very best not to dismount. Concentrating on forcing every ounce of weight I have down through the pedals, somehow I managed it, but all I can really remember was how stupidly steep it felt! If one thought, like Scott did, that the organisers had a sadistic sense of humour by sending the route here, you were then even more unpleasantly surprised to find the photographer lurking around the steepest part in order to catch you gurning and wiggling across the road. A false flat section followed for a while before finishing off in style, with a proper treat of a descent with smooth tarmac and shallow bends. Although 1750 m is a lot of climbing within 100 km, the route was enjoyable- I felt like it was over too soon!
After all that climbing, a massage had to be had. It was for charity anyway so I think it was the philanthropic thing to do. Scott genuinely needed one though, before zooming off to catch his plane to Majorca to compete in a half iron triathlon (good luck if you're reading this!).
I’m now looking forwards to giving a slightly longer sportive a go. This is inspired in part by the girls at the Forest of Dean sportive who took on the long route, and also a group of guys from UoBCC who apparently enjoyed no less than 190 km in the Somerset Hills Gran Fondo. For the next few weeks, I have some exams which will be competing for my time with my bike, but after that, I‘ve signed up for a couple of epic sportives in summer… so watch this space!