So, the first event of 2016 and I got to ride it with two of my mates, one very new to cycling and the other looking to start off the year with a long ride. The purpose of the early season ‘reliability ride’ is to test out the legs and see how you’re faring for speed as you complete a shorter but testing route. You’re given a route beforehand but generally it’s not signposted and it’s up to you to go the right way and sort out mechanicals en route.
I’ve seen the Stourbridge CC reliability ride come up the last few years but never quite found the time to do it, this year the plan was to cycle over from central Birmingham with George, meet Adam in Stourbridge, do the ride and then cheat and get the train home. The route was uploaded to the Garmin and we set off in the dark. A gentle ride across the city (and a collection of Adam) and we were at Kingswinford Rugby Club, handing over our money and signing in before having a cup of hot brown for warmth.
Conditions were relatively good, not raining but chilly and quite mucky from the previous day’s rain.
We set off early (the slowest group) in order to give us plenty of time (being George’s first ever club event and Adam’s first in a while) and ended up following a couple, who seemed to be having an early battle with plenty of orders and assistance required on climbs from the two mile mark. We were meandering along, keeping a steady pace without rushing and it was no surprise when the faster groups who had set off later caught up to us in a big long line and didn’t hang around.
We had a very hairy wet descent into Bridgnorth, I came into the first sharp bend far too quickly and had to try and do the big no-no of cornering whilst still on the brakes, which led to a load of under-steer and a second of panic as I saw the opposite kerb coming up and thinking I wouldn’t make it – luckily I did but I took the next bend at a more respectable speed. I had a bit of fun on the climb out of Bridgnorth, attacking it properly and overtaking a dozen other riders before sitting up at the top and waiting for the guys behind who had been sensible.
We’d found the headwind at this point and the most difficult stretch of the ride, a constantly undulating up and down series of solid climbs and descents that didn’t let up and didn’t give much chance to rest the legs. The average speed started tumbling but with the quick guys long gone all the riders were now struggling, we had a brief altercation with a car who didn’t appreciate some of the more wobbly unstraight hill climbing – cyclists going slowly uphill don’t have the energy for such nonsense. Eventually this hard section finished with us reaching Bewdley and crossing the river Severn.
This is where not knowing the area properly showed, we took a brief re-fuelling stop, tacked onto the back of a small group that passed us, had a tractor come past us on a tiny road and then straight up the steepest hardest part of the ride. The gradient shot up to between 15-20% and the group very quickly blew apart. I caught up to the rider who had made it to the front and had a laugh as Adam let out a loud cry of anguish at the effort behind. Struggling up in the lowest of the low gears at little more than walking pace I made it up using the bike and set to waiting at a crossroads at the top. 4 minutes later the guys appeared – I’ve been reliably informed that they walked/ran up the worst of it and Strava tells us that they weren’t the only ones that day. This effort pretty much killed off Adam’s knee for good, which required some nursing back to the finish.
The knee prevented Adam from going at anything like his usual pace, especially on the climbs where it was having the worst effect. We stuck together and managed to coax it back the final 10 miles as a unit without any serious damage being done and a restorative bacon sandwich as the reward at the finish. Our end time wasn’t amazing which wasn’t surprising all things considered with the injury – 3 hours and 16 minutes to complete the 42.3 mile course. Strava says that we came 101st out of 110 so a confidence boost to the guys that they’re faster than others with plenty left in the tank. A good ride and plenty of extra grub on offer too.