I can’t believe it has already been a week since the Tour! Last Saturday we were just having a nice dinner fuelling before the Sunday big race: 81 miles or 128km, approximately.
It was the first ever Grand Fondo in the UK – Tour of Cambridgeshire. Fully run on closed roads. First day was time trial and on the second day over 5,000 cyclists of various abilities raced against the clock and the winds of Cambridgeshire.
As the race date approached suddenly taking part didn’t sound like such a great idea. And I did not have time to put in enough outdoors training, I mean miles, at all. All I could rely on were the 7-8 indoor classes a week and about 20-30 miles over the weekend in Richmond Park.
Now I have explained in my bio that I am really new to this outdoor cycling malarkey. Yes, I have spent last two Easter breaks cycling with friends across Norfolk and Holland but that was lovely. No rush, no race, frequent pub and bar breaks included. Life was beautiful.
I did do a long 56 miles ride last year – Nightride London to Brighton for British Heart Foundation. My friend Jana made me sign up with her and then couldn’t do it so I was a lone warrior on my red Pinnacle Bike with panniers, struggling up those awful hills including the Devil’s Dyke from midnight until 5:45am.
That was the longest distance I covered in one go. Until last week.
Now a lot has changed since last year: I have become a stronger cyclist and have cycled more outdoors. I have also finally changed my pedals and started wearing SPDs when outside. I am telling you, even though I have been using the Specialized shoes indoors for over two and a half years and I know full well how much difference they make, it was still a shock to the system when I finally put them on for my usual weekend loops around Richmond Park.
If you have ever cycled there you know that if you choose to go anticlockwise you face two short but steep hills. I have been frustrated for so long when riding in trainers using pedals with no cages, that I could not conquer these hills. And the times I did, I had to get off as I was completely out of breath.
The first time I did these two wearing my old Specialized friends I had a big grin on my face: I finally could use my strength and pull my knees up instead of only pushing my legs down. Result!
The downside of wearing cleats outdoors is remembering that you are wearing them so you unclip in time to get off but I have had no problems. I was ready for the Tour!
There was the question of the bike though. Hybrids were allowed but Lee, my training partner, and my sister were both telling me my bike was too heavy for such a long ride. My sister offered hers. Still a hybrid but I can lift her Hoy with two fingers. I contemplated it. For a long time. Finally I decided against it: better the devil you know. My bike has 24 gears, hers only 8. Her frame size is different and the saddle squeaks.
That was it. I was going into the battle on a warhorse. Heavy cavalry. None of the carbon wheel rockets.
On the morning of the Tour we arrived onto the massive car park already filling up with cyclists. Boy did they look professional… Serious bikes costing an equivalent of my quarterly wages, carbon wheels etc. They started pulling out the special thingys to fix their bikes onto next to their cars so they can warm up riding them while stationary. I have only seen these things on TV before… And then we took my Pinnacle out of the car and the silence fell over the car park. Not only it’s a hybrid but it still had the rack mounted for panniers. I looked like Marty who just came into the future! Thankfully Lee discreetly took the rack off to make me feel a bit less self conscious.
We attached our time chips, pinned our numbers to the tops and applied copious amounts of sunscreen as the weather was marvellous and it was only 9am. We still had 3 hours to the start.
As it was my first ever proper race I decided to invest £60 into the official Tour top with my name on it. It was beautiful and it arrived on time. Medium size. Medium only if you are a borrower though. Hence not willing to risk my breasts bursting into the open at mile 40, I decided not to wear it and opted for a new top that I bought at the event.
I also had to buy a new pair of gloves – as seen above. Why? Oh, it’s just that my right hand was so swollen it wouldn’t fit into the old pair. Yes, last 5 minutes of my last indoor cycling class before the race we were climbing out of the saddle. Suddenly my cleat came loose and I lost balance. To save myself I fell into the handlebars jarring my index finger badly. Great!
When I saw St John’s ambulance crew a day before the race they just said: ice it and get as much ibuprofen in as you can. So I did turn up to the race properly doped up on painkillers and hoping they would not be doing blood tests…
Around an hour before the start we proceeded to form an orderly queue to the start line. A very, very, very long queue.
About 6 trips to the toilet later – just in case – we were off. I said goodbye to Lee who is much more experienced and who I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up with and I was on my own. Well, with 5,000 or so others. But some of were cycling teams, some just groups of friends.
I was OK on my own. I stood out on my Pinnacle. The handlebars could not be hidden. Putting on a face saying: “Oh, shit, did I take the wrong bike with me?! Oh man! I knew that would happen!” didn’t work. Neither did the look “This is not my bike. I just found it on the side of the road”. So I adopted the Minority Pride approach: Yes, this is a hybrid. Yes, it weights 3 times as much as your bike. Yes, the tires look like from a motorbike but I can handle it. I am a pro. I am an indoor cycling instructor. And like Tina Turner said before me I was “gonna do it rough”!
I have never ridden on closed roads before and for the first 20 miles I kept expecting a car to pass by. Especially that when you have trains of 4-6 cyclists passing you by at around 20-22 mph they do sound like an approaching car. It was great to actually experience riding with some semi-professionals. Sun was shining, the roads were mostly flat. What else can you ask for?
And then I saw him!
My heart quickened – there were more of us! “This is how you do it!” I shouted to the guy. “Damn right!” was the response. Over the course I actually got thumbs up from some serious pro racers saying: “I can’t believe you are doing the Tour on THAT and you are already that far!”
First feeding station was next and I was doing great. On schedule. No problems. I called my sister to let her know all was fine and I was back in the saddle.
Around mile 40 I was in high spirits. My legs were fine even though my right adductor was beginning to feel like it was going into a cramp. But what really started bothering me was my nether regions. yes, my WOMAN AREA.
This is one of the main things I need to vent about OK? And before you freeze in “No, she wouldn’t, would she?!” expression – I will not be posting any pictures of that area but what follows in the next paragraph will be quite graphic but it has to be said. Women who just venture into long distance cycling need to be told!
I noticed in one of my training rides around 30 miles long that my legs, HR etc were all good, my bum in the padded shorts was comfy but my front was anything but. It was so uncomfortable and sore that I could not continue my ride that day. I decided to ask for advice. Next day I was teaching a class where two of the regulars are women triathletes (both of them were doing the Tour). I went straight in for the kill: what do I do to make it possible to ride 80 miles.
Lara gave me a knowing smile and recalled that in one of her first long races she had to stop she was so uncomfortable THERE. She went into the medics and said her bits were getting so destroyed she would have to stop the race. The nurse said: Rubbish! Loads and loads of Vaseline. Failing that look for a ripe banana and mash it before you apply it! Before you go “Ewwww!!!” – if you have never felt like you were on fire down below (cystitis) and at the same time going to tear into pieces, hold your judgement. Suddenly mashed banana sounds like a genius idea, believe you me.
So here I was: I knew it was going to happen so I applied Vaseline and some lady cream to prevent any major damage. Boy did it fail… Ladies, if you ever needed a motivation for completing a long distance race as fast as you can – THIS IS IT!
After about 2,5 – 3 hours second feeding station stop. Loo. Jeez! Fire! Fire in the hole!!! More cream applied. Back in the saddle. That continued until the end.
Oh, but not before I crashed spectacularly into a nettle bush. How? Nothing too dramatic. I stopped to stretch. Came to a stop. Forgot to unclip. Went onto my left side like a log. I was actually laughing at myself and thinking – lucky me, this didn’t even hurt! On Tuesday (2 days after the race) it turned out it actually did. Massive bruise on my hip and dead weight left shoulder just proved that the numerous ibuprofens that I took to numb my right hand started to wear off…
My last 10 miles were the slowest ever. I struggled. My leg was crumping but all I could think of is that I could not sit in that saddle any longer! I wished there were hills so you could work out of the saddle.
Then there it was. The finish line. 6 hours after the start with 5:20 of actual riding, the rests were stops.
Lee and my sister were waiting for me. They took care of my bike when I went to the loo again. Well, I hobbled like John Wayne, more like. I just wanted these padded shorts off and ideally wanted to go commando! All the way from Peterborough to London. Man! I could not continue I swear to God.
The saga continued for the next 5 days. I was so sore and uncomfortable I thought my nether regions would never look the same again. Or feel. I just wanted not to feel them all the time. If a man approached me in hope of intimacy I would kill him with my bare hands.
Will I do such a long race again? I think it’s like with childbirth – if you give yourself enough time to forget, at some point another 80 mile race will sound like a good idea again. But not yet.
For now, tomorrow I am going to check out a proper racing bike. I am told they have got saddles with a groove in the right area, if you catch my drift. I am also going to up my training so I can slash at least 30 minutes from that kind of distance. But main thing, I will keep researching for ways to deal with this burning problem we as women face when cycling for hours at a time. Any advice will be most welcome!
Believe it or not it’s not just a ‘female’ problem….I don’t think I need to elaborate further.
Start by getting a proper bike fit (from the photo that’s required). Then the right, gender specific, saddle for you (like clothes they’re not all the same fit), ditto cycling shorts… then you have to get used to anything new = ride with it for a decent amount of time… which leads me on to the most important point:
at the end of the day, sorry, practice (preparation) makes perfect. If you’ve not built up to, & therefore prepared for riding for that duration, of course your body is not going to know what hit it…if you know what I mean…
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My God, lady! You ROCK! I had no idea you were such a great writer either 🙂 I laughed my butt off reading your story. GREAT job, Bella! You rocked that ride – way to go and you should be super proud of yourself!
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Thank you Lena. Your blog was one of the blogs behind my inspiration to start one
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