Well then, it was turning out to be a pretty rubbish start to the year of randonneuring. I failed to make the start line of a local audax in February, and then in April due to various reasons I didn’t even manage to get to the same county as my next planned audax. However I have now managed to complete my first randonnee! It wasn’t the longest ride I’ve ever done but at a 100km the Isle of Wight Randonnee was a pleasant stepping stone to the 200 and 300km rides I have lined up for June and July.
The IoW Randonnee is an annual event alternating each year between clockwise and anticlockwise laps of the island. This year was a clockwise year and the details are simple: Turn up at any one of the six checkpoints to sign on & collect your check card, then follow the blue & white Round The Island cycle route signs around the island, stopping off at each of the remaining checkpoints to get your card stamped, before arriving back at your starting point for the final stamp. The route was similar to my Tourist Trophy ride last year except I went anticlockwise and used roads that stuck as close to the coast as possible. I really, really, hoped the wind on the Military Road would be kinder than last year!
Of the six checkpoints Wootton was nearest to the ferry port at Ryde so I had a few kilometres to ride before I officially started. Signing on at a gazebo in a campsite I collected my check card plus route notes & a map. As you will have noticed I’ve already mentioned road signs & a map so again a gentle introduction to the world of audax. No coded route sheet to decipher or checkpoint questions this time.
This is a big event with upwards of a couple of thousand riders in total, and a real mix from clubs to families and assorted bikes; modern road bikes, retro steel racers, fixies, recumbents, hybrids, mountain bikes, tandems, and kids’ bikes. A lot of riders seemed to be regulars, and whilst there seemed to be a few club riders drilling round through and off to beat last year’s time the general atmosphere was that of just a (big) bunch of people out for a leisurely ride, stopping off for tea and lunch on the way. The weather was almost perfect, sunny but with a bit of a stiff chilly breeze from the south.
The great thing about having multiple starting point was despite the large numbers of riders we were all relatively spread out, and only on a couple of occasions did I find myself in big clumps or riders. The initial section took me from Wootton round to Bembridge on the east coast for the first stamp of the day, before undulating on to Alverstone where the route splits into 100 and 55 kilometre rides. I headed south for the 100km ride on narrow shaded hedge lined lanes towards the coast at Ventnor. Rather than dropping to the seafront at Ventnor I turned along a ridge with a view of the English Channel down to my left.
After a brief stop at Whitwell to collect my third stamp it was on to Niton and the big climb of the day over Blackgang Chine. Blasting down the long fast descent I had sudden flashbacks of grinding along the entire south west coast into a headwind last year. Fortunately 1) the southerly wind was offering more of an assist this time, and 2) the route cut slightly inland on to sheltered quiet lanes through farmland and small villages, before re-joining the military road just before the climb over the cliffs into Freshwater Bay. As I rolled towards the cliffs I could see the road snaking around the edge of the island with tiny riders on the climb ahead.
Passing through Freshwater we turned onto a short bridleway to the north coast and my fourth checkpoint at Yarmouth Primary School. As well as a stamp I grabbed a sandwich and cup of tea from the school canteen, which I contentedly consumed in the shade of a tree. Setting off again I was into the final third of the ride through bright yellow fields of rape and flickering green tunnels of woodland. I recognised parts of this rolling section from last year but in reverse. Usually the route would pass through Gurnard and around the headland into Cowes. Unfortunately the chain ferry across the River Medina at Cowes was out of action so there was a detour via Newport before picking up the Wootton road.
Turning into the campsite for the second time of the day I could feel every hilly kilometre I’d ridden since leaving a few hours earlier. After claiming my last stamp and a rock cake I turned for home. As I descended to Ryde promenade I could see a ferry at the pier head so I sprinted the last few hundred metres just in time to be the last to board. In total I’d ridden 120km and climbed 1280m. Back on the mainland I collapsed into a hungry heap on the slow train home.