Losing my virginity

Posted: August 24, 2011 in Cycling, Places
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Bike Blenheim Palace 2011

Bike Blenheim Palace 2011

Sportive virginity, that is. On Sunday, 21st Aug 2011. It wasn’t the first sportive I registered for but the first I attempted. The first one I registered for is a much harder, longer one about a month from now.

I had read about the Blenheim Palace sportive on road.cc last year and, having learnt that it is one of the easiest sportives in the country, planned to attempt it this year. So, when I read again on road.cc that the entries were open, I registered right away.


Had driven down previous day from LDN, checked in at our fav B&B in Oxford and then driven to Woodstock and registered for the event, collecting the number and timing chip. The result was that I was already a little tired the previous night. Then insomnia struck. At 2AM when I’d finally started to doze off, the phone buzzed with an SMS tone. I tried to ignore it but given the torrent of bad news that has been flowing in from India, I just couldn’t resist. Thankfully, it was a good luck message, but my heart rate was already sky high by then. Another hour of tossing around in the bed before I finally fell asleep. 3.5 hours later I was awake again to get ready. Our hostess had been kind enough to provide a huge tray full of stuff for breakfast and I helped myself to a large bowl of cornflakes with milk and a banana. Wasn’t much in the mood for yogurt or blueberry muffins. Later, I was to be glad that I’d eaten atleast what I did.

7:15 AM and were were off, driving to Blenheim Palace. 7:30, Parked in the grounds. I got down immediately to assembling & checking both our bikes while Rags went to register for her ride (26.5 mile ‘pink ribbon’ ride – shorter than the sportive but much longer than the 2.5mile ‘family ride’). She came back and we changed into our lycra & tees. 8:10, heading towards the start line.


After much prodding from her, I joined the medium speed start group (5-6 hours for 60miles) rather than the fast one (<5 hours). I’ve been doing most of my century rides in under 4.5 hours so was sure this wouldn’t be a problem. That over-confidence was to be my undoing. After a bit of waiting, our group was called to the line, the pressure horn blew, and we were off. Like everyone’s first time, I was excited. I knew I could do it, and had done it by myself a lot of times, but this was the first time I was doing it with others. So many of them.

The initial section inside the park was super slow. The roads were narrow and we were still one large group ranging from super-fit riders on all carbon bikes to even an odd MTB. I rode patiently till the park gates, reminding myself all the time that I needed to warm up before picking up the pace. Suddenly, a couple of (tall, thin) riders overtook me and I felt the adrenaline rush. Immediately got on their tail and accelerated away. Soon, we were picking large number of people off. By the time we hit the first climb, I’d passed half the ‘fast’ group as well. My average speed for those 10 miles  – 19 mph. And then I cracked. The foreplay was over.


I hadn’t warmed up before the ride and by starting pushing at close to top of my capacity so early had blown me. To add to it, I hadn’t been drinking any water all this while. I started to cramp, the heart & lungs started to give away and all this was at the base of first (and longest) climb of the day. My heart rate usually averages between 160-164 bpm for rolling rides. Here, I was later to learn, it had averaged 182bpm for that first flat section. I had lost my senses, let the adrenaline take over too early and was now suffering.

Having pushed myself into a corner, I did the only thing I could – spin. Went into the smallest chainring and started steadily spinning my way up the hill. Also, started drinking lots of water, in small sips. By the time I crested the hill, almost all the people I’d overtaken earlier had gone past, and I’d finished one of my 2 bottles of water. Still, I was happy. For not having given up and stopped or walked. And for the long downhill ahead :)

A smart thing I’d done the previous night was written the distance marks at which each hill began, specially the 6 category 5 hills. So, I knew there was a hill immediately after this 1st one but a decent stretch of level road between the 2nd and 3rd hill. The rest stop was after the 3rd hill.

I curbed my usual die-hard-downhill self and instead gave my legs and heart a long recovery on the downhill. On the next hill, I went to the old setup – low gear and high cadence. I could only spin at  75-80rpm by this time but it was enough for now. Soon, quite a few people who had gone past me on the first hill were falling back. Even saw the first walkers. But then there were the strongmen too – two old fellas overtook me near the top of the hill warning me it was too early to be using the granny gear. Smiled at them, gritted my teeth and carried on. Freewheeled on the 2nd downhill as well and took an easy pace – 80-85rpm cadence in a ‘soft’ gear – on the level stretch.

By the time I hit the 3rd climb, legs were already starting to recover. Those initial signs of cramps had disappeared and the heart was feeling better as well. The only concern was that my 2nd bottle of water was getting over fast. It was a good sign though, that at the top of third climb I realised that I was subconsciously still waiting for the climb to kick in. It was an easy freewheel down to the pit stop now.


I don’t think there was anyone else so delighted to see the first rest stop that day as I was – just 10kms back I’d been wondering whom to ask for the ride back in broom wagon.

It was time to rest, recover, refuel and even reflect. Started with a flapjack. Then a bottle of water. Then one of the best bacon rolls I’ve ever had and a cupppa of coffee. Finally, half a bottle of gatorade and a long rest (~20 mins). My guess is I spent almost 45 mins at this rest stop, feeding and recovering. I’ve never been a fan of most energy/activity drinks and prefer a combination of water and energy-food. That flapjack and bacon roll should’ve been good enough but today I wasn’t taking any more chances. Filled one of my bottles with gatorade and the other with cold water.


It was my first time. I’d suffered the pain. Now, was the time for pleasure.

Right on the first pedal stroke, I knew this section would be better. I could feel the energy back in my legs and on the short climb away, the heart and lungs barely fluttered. Soon, I was flying (by my standards!)

There was a long up & down section before we hit the three hills again on our way back. I caught up with a group that seemed to be going at a decent pace (~28kmph) and settled down. Finally, as we hit the first hill on return, the group fell apart and I climbed ahead. That my speed never went below 15kmph on this hill and the cadence was now comfortably in high 80s & low 90s was a good sign. Finally, I pushed on the downhill as I like to. And stayed steady on the levels. I was catching up groups on the downhill and dropping them on the hills, both up and down. Of course there were still quite a few riders who whizzed past me, but I was overtaking many more than those going past me. More importantly, my rhythm was fluent, I was in the zone and finally enjoying the ride.

The 2nd rest stop came really quickly. Though I didn’t ‘need’ to stop, I still stopped for a 10 minute break. The initial rush had made me a little cautious. Ate a peanut butter thingy and a banana, filled up water bottle, picked up an energy gel, checked on the cricket score with a couple of fellow riders (Dravid scored a century, rest of the team failing, again), and stretched the back a little.

The final 12 mile stretch was the easiest. It was up & down, with just one small but steep uphill. I drafted behind a 3 man group till that hill, dropped them on the hill and comfortably solo’ed till the finish. The final short uphill to the finish line was the only one that I jumped on the pedals and accelerated up. Just for fun. :)


Crossed the line. Timing chip was taken away. Medal was handed over. Downed a small bottle of water and poured myself a coffee. R, who had finished her ride over an hour back, came over. We sat on the grass, exchanged notes (mainly her telling me excitedly about how hard her ride was, how she drilled everyone on the downhill sections and how badly she wants a road bike now), finished my coffee and soaked the sun. After I’d cooled down a bit, packed the bikes back in car and changed out of the sweaty clothes. There was a time trial and a Brompton championship race also scheduled that day and I’d badly wanted to see them both. My stupid start and resultant long break at first rest stop had paid put to those plans. Now, I went around clicking pics of the few people around still ‘dressed’ for the Brompton race. Treated myself to a half-pint of ‘extra cold’ lager, some Thai food and a cone of fresh ice-cream. Soon, it was time to go. The long drive back to LDN awaited us.

The drive back, as expected, was boring and tiring. Lack of sleep from previous night and morning ride’s exertion were starting to tell. Stopped at a services stop after Oxford and picked up a large serving of Coke to keep me awake. It worked and we got home safely. Next time, though, I’m staying there for the night before driving back next morning.

Now, 3 days later, I’m still feeling happy at having done the sportive. It was stupid of me to go racing at the start and that’s a lesson well learnt. Recovering from that mistake was a good experience in cool headed thinking and keeping it simple. Learnt the value of staying hydrated and warming up. And the form on latter 3/5th of the course is now a source of confidence. Got an additional confidence shot when I saw that I’d done over 1000m of climbing in those 100kms. That is almost double of the previous max I’ve done over that distance. Yet, I had an average speed of 23kmph, not too below my usual avg, and avg cadence of 81rpm despite suffering through that section over first 3 climbs. Even the avg heart rate was 164 despite avging in 180s for that first part. Must’ve done something right after that.


This week has been a whitewash. Did a strong 38km ride on Monday, then the bike was away for scheduled servicing on Tuesday, skipped today and next two days are forecast for rain. On Saturday, friends arrive from India and Monday we head off for a week long tour around England & Wales. And just like that, 2 weeks are gone. That leaves me under 3 weeks to prepare for my next sportive – the Big One.

It’s called the ‘Ride Around London‘ and it takes a 115 mile loop around the south-west, west & northern fringes of out city.

Yep, that’s 115 miles – almost double of what I rode on Sunday, and 15 miles longer than what I’ve ever ridden before. Moreover, knowing the broad route that’s being planned, I know it could have proportionately more climbing than the Blenheim Palace sportive. So, I’m looking at doing 115 miles of riding with 2500-3000 m of climbing with just a 20 day period to prepare. As if the pain of losing my virginity wasn’t enough. Bugger!

Some of the Brompton Championship riders I saw later:

  1. […] 1st first sportive (60+ mile Bike Blenheim Palace) […]

  2. Steve says:

    They may have helped a bit. I didn’t use them properly, mixing them with Gatorade instead of with water. It made the taste pretty awful but the benefit would be the same, I should think. I would recommend against trying new things on your first century. Best to stick with what you know what upset your stomach.

  3. Steve says:

    Congratulations! With only twenty days to prepare, my recommendation is to focus on your strategies for nutrition and pacing. Especially nutrition. You’ll need about 300 calories per hour. How are you going to get them? It’s best if you get them a little at a time, not in one big snack. You’ll need certain kinds of foods – ones with simple carbohydrates like bananas. Where are you going to get those? And how do you intend to stay hydrated? In your part of the world, the heat is usually not as significant a factor, but if it is a hot day you’ll be less acclimated than those of us who live in the heat. I also recommend drinking plenty of water in the days prior to the event.

    What kind of pace do you want? How about your heart rate? I suggest keeping your heart rate in Zone 3 for as long as possible (you can carry on a conversation while your heart is in Zone 3. Zone 4 is characterized by short sentence fragments. Zone 5 is simply you breathing like a steam engine).

    If you have a good strategy, I believe you will handle the increased distance. It won’t be easy as riding 115 miles is NEVER easy.

    Good luck!

    • raven says:

      Thanks for the tips, Steve. I am pretty psyched out about this ride. I’ve done a 100 miler before but that was mostly flat in the second half while this one’s got rolling hills all the way.

      Bananas are my snack of choice on all rides – short or long. Also rely on chocolates. Gels are a last resort. Need to figure out how I will manage carrying so much food on the ride. On the drinks side, I prefer water to any energy drinks so will still try to stick to that.

      On heart rate: As per garmin, my usual average is 3-3.5z, though I do blow like a steam engine near tops of many climbs. It’s more important, I guess, to not commit the same mistake again and blow my HR at the start. Gotta remember that!

      Planning to do a few long rides in those 20 days – 2 100km rides in week 1, 1 100mile ride in week 2 apart from shorter rides in all 3 weeks. Shall be saving the energy in week 3 for the ride.

      Any more tips from your 100 miler?

      • Steve says:

        Not really. By the looks of things, you’re all set! Just be prepared for the long haul and “stay medium.” Nothing too exciting and nothing too depressing. Just keep pedalling and eventually you’ll finish. Everything else is just a detail. Good luck!

        • raven says:

          Another thing: That nuun tablet you’ve mentioned in the 100 miler post – how good was it really? Is it something I should be looking into as a backup to my backup gels?

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