UCI Gran Fondo World Series – Tour of Ayrshire, Sunday 28th April
We love it that York Cycleworks riders enter and take part in all sorts of events. Once again proving his amateur status within the club, Cycleworks rider Matthew "Amateur" Eastwood raced... I mean took part in, the Tour of Ayrshire.
So on the last weekend of April I travelled up to Kilmarnock in Scotland to take part in a qualifying event for the UCI Gran Fondo World Series. The idea being if you finish within 25% of the finishing time of the first person in your age group you have qualified for the Gran Fondo World Championships. That should probably be “World Championships”, as it’s not actually THE World Championships. Think of it as an amateur/veteran World Championships, although there is a 19-35 age group, then in 5 year groupings after that. This year’s “World Championships” are in Albi, France in August.
So the race, and make no mistake, it is a race, not a sportive, is held on fully closed roads in fantastic rolling/hilly Scottish countryside. The weather on race day was cold and windy, but thankfully dry. Before the start you enter your pen for your age group, but once the flag drops everyone sets off together. The event is 70 miles long and features 1400metres of climbing, which doesn’t sound a lot, but I honestly can’t remember any flat on the route which was made even tougher by the howling wind.
Mile 0 - 6: Stood shivering for 30 minutes before the start to get a good position in my pen. Just before the start the tape that separates the pens is removed and everyone surges forward. The flag drops and it’s straight up to maximum effort. The next 6 miles are spent at Criterium speeds, I’m hanging on the back of the front of the race, but the pace is fast, the road is constantly changing direction and gradient, people are constantly getting dropped. I am aware I am going way too deep for what lies ahead. I carry on at Cyclocross levels of intensity…
Mile 6 - 10: I finally pop and can no longer hang on to the fast moving front group. I end up dangling off the back in a group of 5, we are all battering ourselves with the bunch just out of reach. I am aware I am going way too deep for what lies ahead. I carry on at Cyclocross levels of intensity…
Mile: 10 – 12: Finally we hit a climb of decent length and I leave behind the 4 guys I’ve been riding with who’ve been killing me in the wind on the previous rolling roads, I could’ve missed a turn, but it’s just not polite. I am aware I am going way too deep for what lies ahead. I carry on at Cyclocross levels of intensity…it feels like there is a theme.
Mile 12 – 30: There are riders in little groups everywhere, some going faster than me, some going slower. Back on to more exposed and rolling roads and I’m really feeling and regretting my earlier efforts. Little groups keep coming past and I accelerate to get into them, but I’ve burned all my matches and I can only hang on until we hit a steep section or a side wind, at one point I can see about 10 echelons stretched out over a mile section of road in front of me, I’d been popped by every one of them. This is horrible and I want to stop.
Mile 30 – 50: I give up racing and realise the day is going to be about survival and just trying to finish. I get in a few groups for a while but get popped as someone always wants to attack on a climb or where there’s a side wind. I ended up just riding along and chatting to a few guys in similar situations. My head and heart are no longer in it, my legs left the party quite some time ago.
Mile 50 – 60: Cramp! I get the first twinges of cramp on a steep climb and there’s still 20 miles to go. If I get a full on attack of cramp I am in real trouble and wonder how will I get back, will I ever get back, will I ever be seen again? I decided it was time for a caffeine gel. I ride every gradient in my smallest gear and eat and drink as much as I can stomach. Utter misery, my ego is in disgust at myself, all this fancy gear and I end up riding like I’m going to the shops. Graeme Obree passes me on a road bike but with funny hybrid reverse cowhorn handlebars. It doesn’t feel any better knowing he probably made them himself from an old bed frame. In 2 years we will all be using them.
Mile 60 – 70: I reach the top of the last long climb and enjoy the twisting descent on the closed roads. I seem to have recovered a bit, the tail wind is cheering me up (Tailwinds Always ) and my legs feel better, I’m able to ride the last 10 miles pretty hard and pass quite a few riders. But I’m well aware I am way, way behind the front of the race. I catch Graeme Obree a few hundred metres before the Finish line. I draw level and say hi. (I’d spoken to him the day before at sign on and said how much I’d enjoyed his talk in York last year) He starts winding up for a sprint, but there’s no way I’m going to try and out-sprint him, he’s won Olympic medals and was, and still is, a hero of mine, respect is due. I cross the line just behind him with a big grin on my face. When he stops I stop and shake his hand. Erdinger isotonic hydrating beer (it’s a real thing!) is given out with a medal to all finishers.
It turned out, despite riding very badly, I only missed out on the qualifying time by 5 minutes. I wasn’t disappointed as I didn’t deserve to qualify after riding like I had. To be fair I’d not really trained in the 3 weeks leading up to the event due to being unwell (#standard), I only made the decision to go after doing a ‘kill or cure’ cross race on the Wednesday night in the week before. So I felt pretty short on fitness and still not really that healthy going in to the event.
As an event I can recommend it, it is well run, the course is brilliant, like doing a proper Belgian Classic, a shorter Liege-Bastogne- Liege maybe? It is expensive (£50 early entry, up to £65 nearer the day) and it does feel a bit like a money making scheme for the UCI and the event organiser. Parking was £10 (£20 after 8am!) in a field a 15minute march from the start and finish. Pre-driving the course is well worth it. I don’t think I’d ride it again if I didn’t feel on good form, it’s a long way to go to feel like you’ve not done well. I also probably would’ve finished in a faster time if I’d not tried to hang on to the front of the race for so long and just ridden it at my own pace, but it’s a race, what you gonna do? I’m intending to ride the Tour of Cambridge Fondo in early June as a second attempt to qualify, although I’m not too bothered now.
The 2018 Gran Fondo ‘Worlds’ have just been announced and they are a proper mountainous affair, 3000 metres of climbing over 90 miles in Italy, come to daddy. There is a qualifying event in October over the same course which I hope to ride and qualify in, there will be no Criterium starts or Cyclocross tank emptying efforts…probably.
There’s also a Time Trial (whatever one of them is?) the day before if that’s of interest which also has a “World Championship”.