In which the Reluctant Cyclist wins a medal
Riding in the Woburn Cycletta 20km ‘novice’ route had been playing on my mind for several days, and on the morning of the big day I was up early. We had to arrive at Woburn by 8am for the non-reluctant cyclist daughter to ride in their triathlon-style ‘Scootathlon’.
Following on in the Team Reluctant support car, to provide moral support and childcare were my elder daughter, my parents and my boyfriend’s dogs. The actual boyfriend was in Corsica watching the Tour de France from a helicopter. While I admit that a bunch of women cycling around Bedfordshire may not have held quite the same appeal as seeing the yellow jersey riding around France, I was still pretty annoyed at him for not being there to support me in my hour of extreme panic.
I arrived on time, but looking around realised that I was acutely under-prepared for the whole event. It was too late to do any actual training, but to ensure I was at least comfortable for my predicted two hours in the saddle, I descended on the VeloVixen tent waving my debit card and emptying their stock of everything in a size L.
As I changed into my newly acquired cycling leggings, complete with internal nappy, it did occur to me that as I was changing at the back of an open stall, Chris’s no knickers rule might have to be forsworn. Fortunately a helpful ‘Vixen’ made an impromptu pashmina changing room so I could whip into the new clothing without scaring the locals.
Heading to the start line with more than a little trepidation, I waved goodbye to ‘Team Reluctant’ and set off (in the wrong gear - I always click the wrong lever) with around 70 others taking part in the novice challenge.
The first part of the route was really stunning, taking in the landscaped grassland around Woburn. Riding along, I was neither the fastest, nor the slowest in my group. As we came to the edge of the park there were cattle grids to negotiate. All I’ll say is that the nappy-trousers are good when the going is bumpy.
Moving out onto the roads we were signposted along the country lanes, and I managed to keep up a reasonable pace according to the Garmin watch I had tied around the handlebars. The day was really starting to heat up and I could now see the wisdom of starting everyone off so early.
As we came across the first hill, I could see some women pedalling and some women walking, so selecting completely the wrong gear, again, (my muscle memory is clearly hardwired the wrong way round) I started the long haul up the slope.
I know Bedfordshire is not Tour de France country, and that the inclines weren’t steep by most cyclists’ standards, but I was quite chuffed that I didn’t walk at all on the route. I think that could be put down to a combination of the decent gears on the Trek 7.5 I was riding, the thought that walking up the hills would be no fun either and sheer bloody-mindedness.
After about 40 minutes and 10 kilometers, I was waved over to the rest stop where not only did I find water and bananas, but sweets and posh jaffa cakes galore. Now this is how us athletes should be treated. The fact that I ate my own weight in jelly babies, thus undoing any positive calorific effects of the ride was beside the point. I had earned those babies.
Several kilometers later, turning back into Woburn Park, I called my dad on speakerphone. Sounding like a 40 cigarette a day addict, I told him I was nearly at the finish line.
Twenty minutes and one mahoosive hill later (note to course organisers - that was REALLY unfair!) I finally arrived on the - thankfully downhill - stretch to the finish line looking red and knackered and trying to ignore the person taking event photos.
After being given a medal and a drink, I found that the lovely Cycletta people had laid on massages, and my dad had laid on a proper picnic, complete with table, cutlery and proper napkins.
I had made it round the 20km in an hour and a half (including the rest break) and surprisingly wasn’t a physical wreck.
Checking the stats later, I wasn’t the fastest in my group, but neither was I the slowest. Admittedly, three days later my legs were still so swollen my boss insisted I went to my GP to check I hadn’t got deep vein thrombosis, but hey, who said exercise was meant to be good for you.