Home Forums Upcoming Events Merlin sportive Re: Merlin sportive


As I understand that my short missives are being read by an increasingly wide audience (Andrew to check I don’t mention that Dancing Queen is his favourite motivational track, Roger that I am not taking the piss again and Mike Smith that I am maintaining a high standards of inclusiveness), I thought I should add an educational slant to my write up of the Merlin Ride educational.

What good fortune, therefore, that as I began to contemplate how to best describe my personal highs and lows, Kim arrive home with Cycling Plus magazine that contained 15 top tips on Sportive sucess. Not one to shirk criticism, or subject myself to a cathartic bout of Maoist ‘Self Examination’, what an opportunity I thought to review my performance on the day against these top tips such that others could perhaps profit from my mistakes. (I have scanned a copy of the article for reference, however, it is about 8Mb so might take some time to download.)

Continuing in this theme, I am even prepared to overlook the slightly pointed jibe levels at the Dynamos ‘image’ penned by the Ace’s Diversity (and now High Fashion?) Officer. However, one more comment about the size of our text…

As you may have gathered from the preceding posts, there was a smattering of familiar faces assembled in the car park, myself, Andrew and Huw of the Dynamos, Mr and Mrs Smith from the Aces, Wayne from Clunderwyn and new Dynamos member Jonathan. It is clear that the illusive ‘swancvs’ was out there somewhere too! As Roger decided to sit on the banks of the River Thames for the weekend rather than endure his now ritual weekly humiliation, there was every chance that we would get more than the usual fleeting glance of Andrew. It was agreed that Wayne would join the three Dynamos doing the Merlin for a gentle ride on lovely summers ride; a ride to be savoured rather than endured…

Anyway with reference to the aforementioned article, I will begin.

1. Pack it all in before you begin…

So far so good, bike checked over the night before, tires pumped up, gel sachets retrieved from back of kitchen cupboard and bottles of sports drink made up. Check weather forecast and make sure to bring suntan lotion.

2. Get Stuffed

Again, on programme with a face full of pasta the night before.

3. Shut eye

Early to bed, alarm set. How hard can this be?

4. Morning munch

This is perhaps where the slippery slope started. This was definitely a four Weetabix ride, however, I got complacent and went for only 2 and a sports drink. Plus I thought I was in a rush.

5. Don’t be late

OK, no hiding here, major f**k up on my part. I offered to give Andrew and lift and so a few texts were exchange on Friday on what time to pick him up. Not wishing to be late, and remembering the difficulty I had getting my timing chip on the bike for the Wales Sportive, I wanted to arrive in plenty of time. Seeing that the registration opened at 6.00am I ‘naturally’ concluded that the start must be at 7.00 in common with several others I have done this season. Contrary to common belief I don’t spend all day surfing the internet and so had to make do with a cursory glace at the Merlin site. Who after all would want to arrive 2 hours before the off?

Anyway, Andrew thought that my suggestion of a 5.15am pickup was a bit extreme and we settled for 5.45, however, just in case I got lost in the 3 miles on the way over, I gave myself a bit of extra time and of course we had to pack his bike in the car which would, as you can imagine could be a time consuming and traumatic experience. I got there at 5.30.

We got to the car park at 6.10am and I did wonder where everybody was, however, a sunny day was forecast and so I assumed people had opted for a day on the beach rather than in the saddle. As we sat in the empty car park I explained to Andrew that I wanted to get my chip sorted and be ready to go for 7.00 to which he replied ‘and what are we going to do for the next hour?’ Ah. One small consolation was that I was first to use the toilets….

Needless to say Andrew very kindly offered to share my slight faux pas with anyone who would listen (see posts above).

6. Check it out.

Nothing seemed to drop of the Bianchi as I dragged it out of the boot and so it was deemed fit for purpose.

7. Easing in

I think we perhaps followed this a bit too lierally (see 9. below).

8. Achieve your PB

I set off with the idea that as this was my 5th Sportive of the season that I should be able to better the 15mph I averaged for the Wales Sportive, after all, we weren’t even in Pembrokeshire, so how hard could it be?

9. Pace Maker

This is where it all went horribly wrong. Wayne said he wanted to get round at a nice even pace so we all (Andrew, Huw and myself) agreed to stick together. I had been worried that even with Andrew in non-combat mode he might be a bit quick and I have struggled to keep up with Huw, so listening to Wayne’s plan of attack I felt slightly relived. We all lined up together and we were off. Two minutes later, where is Wayne said Huw? Perhaps he wanted to do it by himself after all said Andrew and off we went. It transpired Wayne’s chain came off at the start.

I should have known better, but the ‘gentle’ pace was a three-up time trial over admittedly smooth, relatively flat, roads reaching the first feed station at 38 miles at an average of over 19mph. There then followed the climb over the Black Mountains which I think Huw and I did at a respectable pace (no one passed us!). Andrew didn’t realise this was the long climb and had decided to have a little blast at the start of the accent and then decided to keep going passing in the process Peter from Pembrokeshire Bikes on his multi-million pound Look 695SR (it is not just you Roger!). It was a long steady climb that reminded me of a few Cols in the Pyrenees followed by an exhilarating decent on new tarmac. How much more fun could you have wearing lycra?

We regrouped at the feed station at the bottom of the climb having completed the first 50 miles at an average of 17.4mph. We will have this cracked in under six hours predicted Huw (his Garmin only shows the profile of the road 1 mile ahead). This was the high point of the ride, mountains cracked nice ride back to the finish.

However, the euphoria lasted for about 10 minutes when we hit the 50 miles to go sign and I realised I was in trouble as at the first hill (of which there were many more to come) my poor little legs seemed to loose all power.

Whilst I don’t wish to digress too far ‘off piste’, we are only at ‘Top Tip 9’, I had been staring avidly at my HRM. Racing towards and going over the Black Mountains my heart rate was at 92% to 95% of my maximum (a respectable 184 for someone now in his 50’s) whereas Top Tip says keep at 80% to 85%. Now, no matter how hard I peddled up the hills or on the flat, after 50 miles it would not go over 80%. I concluded this was probably a bad thing (I certainly didn’t feel like I had suddenly discovered a new level of fitness) and recalled that this was a phenomenon reported by Huw on a previous sportive. Perhaps one of the Doctors in our ranks could perhaps provide a physiological explanation for this. (An opportunity perhaps for an ‘Ask the Doctor’ section on the forum? ‘Dear Doctor Roger/Martin, I have a friend who…’)

Andrew and Huw did their best to drag me along what little stretches of the flat there were and I did my best to catch them on the downhill sections. We then came to a very nasty climb of 17% that went on and on (think 3 or 4 times Wisemans Bridge). As I came round the last corner I saw Huw off his bike ahead and walking. He’s cracked I thought which I must admit gave me just a slight lift, but no he had a puncture.

10. Chain Reaction

If only I had read this before the ride I could have got Andrew to at least tow me up the hills. I will remember this for next year and fit one of those quick release links on my chain to feign a mechanical.

11. No Spare, Don’t Despair

Having fixed his puncture, Huw got another one about 5 minutes later 50m before the 80mile feed station at Newcastle Emlyn. Andrew and I decided to offer Huw all the assistance we could by leaving him there and buggering off to get a drink. It was only then I realised quite how hot it was, and more importantly I was, sat in the sun trying to force more sports drink down.

12. Rain or shine

What a contrast to the Tour of Pembrokeshire. I did recall for about the first mile feeling a bit chilly and wishing I had taken my arm warmers but once we went up the first incline it was hot all the way. Luckily I remembered the suntan lotion (see Top Tip 1) but was perhaps a bit casual in its application on my legs as I how have several rather uncomfortable patches of red skin. Again (see Wales Sportive), I am not so sure that predominantly black jerseys are a great idea in the blazing sun and Huw’s excuse that ‘I couldn’t find my Dynamos jersey this morning’ was beginning to sound a bit contrived.

13. Om non non

Two Weetabix down to start with was becoming an issue. I resorted to sports drink and gel sachets to get me round with a couple of Geobars thrown in. The climb out of Newcastle Emlyn seemed to go on for ever. Every time I thought I was at the top and was enjoying a bit of downhill it kicked up again sapping more of what little energy I had left. Somewhere at this point, I heard a ‘quack quack’ as Wayne cruised up alongside me and then on up the hill after exchanging a few words. There was a man who got his game plan right.

Finally a decent, however, on the way down I started to feel very light headed and a little unwell. It got to the point I was worried I might faint which probably was not such a good idea at 30mph. I therefore stopped and got off the bike for a bit. I was overheating and knackered. Several people stopped to check I was OK and that I had enough drink and gel.

I really did feel crap but forced probably the 6th gel sachet down with a big swig of sports drink and set off again. The restorative power of gel! Within a couple of minutes I felt right as rain and was screaming along the beautiful valley road towards Carmarthen. Roger and Huw had been waiting for some time and called me just as I caught them up again. With only a few miles to go, and still on my gel induced high, we flew into Carmarthen and than out along the Llandeilo Road before crossing the Towy for the final climb to the back door of the Botanical Gardens.

I think I consumed 6 gel sachets and 5 bottles of sports drink and have now started pissing candyfloss. I think I have had more than enough of that sickly taste to last me a lifetime (well until next year). Perhaps part of my winter training should include trying to overcome a life-long aversion to bananas.

14. Winding down

Once off the bike I just grabbed a bottle of water and slumped into a chair whilst Andrew got me a plate of pasta. Not sure this was quite in accordance with the Top Tip but I starting to feel a bit iffy again.

15. Back in the tank

I vaguely remember Andrew nagging me about eating the pasta, nothing altruistic mind you, he was just worried I was in no fit state to drive him home. Eventually, having tipped the water over me instead of in me, I started to feel a better and managed a few mouthfuls before the long walk (no cycling allowed) through the gardens to the car park. I got home without further incident, had a quick shower and then Kim and I went to Saundersfoot for a paddle in the sea and a bag of chips. I did forego the beer thought.

As a final reflection, my finish time of 7:36 was an average of 13.6mph which I was very disappointed with, however, I learnt a great deal to put to good use next year. Thank to Andrew and Huw for sticking with me who would undoubtedly have gone much faster was it not for my complete blow-up. I dare say Andrew might even beaten the time Roger set last year (was that what you wanted me to say Andrew?). The organisation was brilliant with marshals at most junctions and the Police stopping traffic for us. This was a hard ride that I completely underestimated and it turned round and bit me in the bum.

I have always found it is easier to learn by other people’s mistakes, as it often avoids a lot of embarrassment, but sometimes you just have to f**k it up all by yourself! Sportive lesson over.