Having ridden most of the local sportives such as the Lionheart and Bath 100, it seemed too good to turn down the chance to do the Bike Bath 100 in our home city. So I signed up for the Sunday 100 mile ride, which took a route to the north of Bath into the Cotswolds, somewhere I’d never ridden so another good reason to take part.
The Bike Bath event differs a little from the other sportives that I’ve taken part in, its more akin to a mini cycling festival with some ‘celeb’ evening speakers, an evening of rollapaluza static bike racing and a range of rides from 30 to 100 miles to cater for a range of riders. Its also worked hard with a local club VC Walcot to put on training rides prior to the event for ‘beginner’ riders, so its definitely the most ‘all inclusive’ sportive event in the region.
It couldn’t have been a smoother start to the ride, no queuing – we just turned up and singed in, got our timing chips stuck to our helmets and went to the start area, this all took about 5 mins. We got a good briefing on the route, with a warning about debris on the roads with the massive storm we experienced the night before. Calamity stuck early, not us, but another rider barely 20 yards from the start line had a blow out and collided with a parked car. It seemed like a dramatic omen of things to come!
We headed up the first climb of the day on the immediate outskirts of Bath, Bannerdown hill. It rears up steeply at first, then levels off a bit. To be honest it wasn’t that bad, it certainly got my legs warmed up. When we got to the top which is a flat plateaux, we realised that the wind was going to play a big part in how well (or badly) the ride would go. It was very strong and knocked me sideways half a foot at one point, which was a bit of a surprise.
We forked off the road to Marshfield on a pretty well known lane, that is usually a pretty nice untroubling route to cycle on. Today the road was half submerged at one point with a puddle almost as deep as the bottom of my bike frame, and the rest of the route to Marshfield was rivulets of water all the way. Luckily we had race blade mudguards on so no wet backside for us, hardly anybody else seemed to have them!
We cycled on and came to a very impressive monument after Hawkesbury Upton, at this point the road dove down a fantastic 14% hill with wide sweeping views of the countryside, it was fun and fast and we were feeling fine. We shortly came to Wotton Under Edge and turned up a little tucked away lane that hung to the towering wooded hillside that overlooks Wotton Under Edge. It was steep. We passed a casualty halfway up with a carbon bike that must’ve weighed at least 2kgs less than mine, but if you don’t have the legs nothing can help you! We had been passed at least 10 miles back by the road.cc crew (just 2 of them!) but I caught up with them at the top of this hill. Apparently one of them was having issues with lack of grip from his rear tyre! So you can see how steep this hill really was!
It just got worse, the hill out of Wotton Under Edge was doable, and a nice challenge, but now the route took us down a mucky rock strew horse track, hardly suitable for a sportive where a flowing ride rhythm would be appreciated. Despite the weather conditions the night before the aforementioned track would still be a track. Then we came to Waterly Bottom, the steepest most unrideable hill I’ve ever had the misfortune to tackle. Its also a joke trying to walk up it in cleats. A bad route choice I think, and hardly 10 minutes after a very tough hill as well. It seems as if the route here was chosen to ‘prove’ how tough the ride could be, rather than to make it a tough but pleasant experience. In comparison the hill on the Lionheart up to Alfred’s Tower is one of the most feared climbs in the region, but it is doable. This hill is not!
After this we headed north along the edge of the Cotswold escarpment with stunning views out across to the Severn estuary. We eventually reached Frocester where there was a refuelling point. I was just carrying 1 750ml water bottle and it seemed that I had judged it right as I had just finished it. I was using some High 5 Zero tablets and I was blown away by their taste, but most importantly by how refreshed they made me feel. They replace the salts you use in exercise and stave off cramps, they just seemed perfect! Out of Frocester the road climbs for a long way back up to the Cotswold escarpment, it was quite a challenge.
The next point of note is Nailsworth, where there is a climb called The Ladder, there are quite a few switchbacks and if you’re lucky and there are a few other riders around you get a good view of them and can suss out if they’re looking like they can catch you or if they look past it! Its quite a long hill and a real challenge, there’s a bit of traffic but it wasn’t too bad. The road then crosses a bit of wild open heathland with cattle free to roam, graze and mix with the traffic. The descent down off this moor down to Brimscombe is really fun, steep, twisty but manageable at speed. Then quite quickly after there is another hill, which is a long steep drag that just gets steeper after you traverse the one way traffic lights. At this point the legs were grumbling and it felt like we had to tap into hidden will power to keep the legs turning, the water was running out too and we felt a refuel station was sorely needed. It was quite a way at least 15 miles I think to Mintey where the next fuel stop was, but the gradients levelled off and we started to get into a more rhythmic cadence and up to a bit more speed.
The route through the Cotswold Water Park was stunning, amazing blue lakes surrounded by Californian beach front style villas – very nice! After our fuel stop at Minety (where I think we spotted Ben Rockett) we had more pleasant lanes to cycle through, luckily with high deep hedges that gave moderate protection from the wind. At this point we teamed up with Robert and Kelvin on a Lemond and Specialized respectively. They were training for the Etape, and had somehow managed to escape family duties to do both 100 milers!! We worked together almost to Bannerdown and had fun chatting to them about bikes, riding the Etape and how their training had been going. I’d sum it up by saying it sounded like nothing could prepare you for the Etape, I mean where can you go uphill for 20 or 30 miles round here!?
We cruised down Bannerdown into the outskirts of Bath, finding it hard to grip the bars with every bump and jolt on the way down as our bodies were nearing their limit. Luckily the route back into Bath was flat and it was a relief to cross the finish line.
Thanks to the organisers for a superbly put together day – great food stops, helpful volunteers, etc etc. Only route choice in one place left a little to be desired but you can’t please everyone! And we just found that we beat Ben Rockett, but then we all know he wasn’t trying too hard!!