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Gently Bentley

As usual I ride too fast for the first hour. I know I’m riding too fast but I don’t like suburban London roads so the quicker I get off them the better. Also the weather forecast is generally good so I’ve brought the CAAD rather than the commuter slash winter audax bike. I always get carried away on the CAAD. It makes me want to ride fast. However the plan was steady away and efficient stops – make good time by not stopping for long rather than hammering round. Somewhere in Windsor Forest sense prevails and I ease off to a more sustainable pace. However I know I will regret this first hour later. In fact I regret it about 10 minutes later when the road bears left, exits the forest, and the landscape opens up so the full force of the wind can be felt. The road is long and straight and undulates and it hurts.

In Wargrave I catch a bunch of riders at some lights just as another bunch arrive behind me. I follow the Thames for a handful of kilometres to Henley at pace with ease in this large group. Then all of a sudden there’s someone on my outside slaloming cat’s eyes to avoid oncoming cars. There’s random slowing going on and overlapping of wheels. Then someone near the front takes their hands off their bars and stretches in a crucifix pose. Jesus Christ! I remember why I avoid riding in rag tag groups of people I don’t know. Entering Henley I decide to bounce the control and get some clear road around me.

Catching the edge of the Chilterns the roads start to rise and fall. Somewhere I pass a sign for Oxfordshire. I wasn’t expecting that. Crossing the toll bridge at Whitchurch-On-Thames I decide I need a coffee and some grub. Seventy seven kilometres down, over a third done, seems as good a place as any. In Pangbourne there’s a Coop and a Costa but I spot an independent café between them on the other side of the road, so I opt for this. Possibly a mistake as it’s expensive, they forget my order, and when it does arrive the coffee is dreadful. I leave disappointed and ten minutes later than I intended.

The route turns south not long after this and the wind becomes a bit more friendly, more of a shove on the shoulder than a smack in the face. Some red kites are swirling and diving above a field, it looks like they are playing and having fun. I recognise the roads and place names from a previous ride but can’t think which, maybe the ride back from volunteering at the Lambourn control on LWL last year. On the climb after Upton Grey towards Lasham I feel strangely sick, so much so I think I might need to stop. For a few minutes I feel really ill. Odd, never felt like this riding before. Something I’ve eaten? But I’ve hardly eaten anything…ah hang on, that’s probably the problem. I need food. 110km on a banana for breakfast and a sausage roll at 77km. I probably burned all those calories in that fast first hour.

The queue in the garden centre café at the Lasham control is huge so reluctantly I don’t bother stopping and hope I find something in the next few kilometres. I don’t, but fortunately the next few kilometres gently angle downwards. Bentley is smaller than I anticipated and I don’t find a shop until Churt, back up a hill of course, at 141km. Phew. Cheese and pickle sarnie and a bottle of juice sitting on the astro turf next to a giant Costa Coffee cup outside the Spar.

The next section through Elstead is vaguely familiar from my teenage years riding in the area. A hail shower for a few minutes makes me question my kit choice briefly. Showers mid-afternoon were possible on the forecast, I don’t remember seeing hail though. To my left through the trees blue sky so it shouldn’t last long, and it doesn’t. I find myself in Puttenham and I’m on 30 year old home roads. Wet roads. Seems the rain is ahead of me. Over the Hog’s Back, Normandy, Wanborough, Pirbright, Brookwood. I hammered around these roads on a Peugeot and then a Raleigh racing bike between the ages of 15 and 19. After the Brookwood control, the supermarket in the army barracks, it’s yet more familiar roads around Old Woking and Send. Ducking under a tree that’s fallen across the road in Ripley I continue to Cobham on lanes I know from other southwest London audaxes.

The Esher road from Cobham is the usual boring drag that always goes on for longer than I remember or want it to. Waiting at the lights on Esher High Street my legs sense the end is near. My speed increases to this morning’s pace along the main road to Surbiton before zigging and zagging through residential streets (and noting the location of the train station) to the arrivée.

Back before six p.m., 208km in under 10 hours. That was the aim so happy with that, and I know I could have knocked 30 mins off that with better pacing and fuelling. Not sure I want to do next month’s 300 on the CAAD though, fancy a bit more comfort. I need to rebuild the Reilly.

Thanks to Kingston Wheeler’s audax branch for the organising, route planning and the meal at the finish. My second KW audax after Wander Wye last year, and I’ll be back for Amesbury Amble next month.


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