Posted by: Ian | January 30, 2011

My First Audax

This weekend last year I began my sportive season with The Hell of the Ashdown. This year the Hell of the Ashdown has been timetabled a month later to avoid the treacherous ice and it sold out before I managed to enter. Instead, I signed up to my first ever audax: the Glastonbury 100 miler. The route was ideal for me: it begins in Honiton, just 10 miles away by car, and encircles Crickleaze on its way up to Glastonbury and back, along lanes that I generally know well.

My preparation was far from perfect. The weather has mitigated against much winter riding and I’ve lost form. A week last Thursday I was slower than I’ve ever been before on park loops and I’ve felt underpowered on all of my recent training rides. Last Sunday, feeling the lack of miles, I went out for a last pre-audax Somerset run. At the end of a long downhill I ran over some vicious black ice and came off. Fortunately, the Astraeus was okay. I didn’t break anything but have been sore since.

All week I’ve been in two minds about cycling 100 miles but by yesterday morning I felt pretty good about it. I drove down to the car park in Honiton in time for the 8:30 start to find a relatively small number of people picking up their brevet populaire cards. On an audax the route isn’t signed or marshalled and your progress is validated by getting your card signed at a handful of control points. Also, there are “information control” points at which you have to note down the answer to a question that’s apparent if you’re there (the name of the pub on the bend, the signed distance to Langport…).

The cliche is that an audax is a cheap sportive – the cost of entry to this one was £5.50 – and I was keen to see if it had a different vibe. The fact that there were only 30 or 40 people participating was one major difference. The bikes, cyclists and gear were otherwise ostensibly similar, except that there were a few more touring-oriented bikes, some with bar bags, and in place of the race numbers zip-tied to their handlebars several riders had their route sheets attached in waterproof covers.

At sportives, riders are released in batches to avoid too much road congestion near the start. Yesterday’s start was much simpler. The organiser announced an optional route change to avoid the worst of the ice and then one guy asked if it was okay to go yet, and then – when told it was – he bolted off and we all followed. We were soon on the A30, which, being a busy road, was the section of the route I relished least. To my surprise, I found that the guy who went off on his own and I were setting off at a faster pace than the others. I checked my Garmin and my speed was normal. Even more surprising, my temporary co-leader was riding a very low-geared fixie. While I can’t imagine riding my Tempo (with its 48×16 gearing) around Somerset, the much lower ratio on his customised Charge looked interestingly manageable. Proving the point, another rider on an even lower-geared Genesis fixie came past us. Up to this point we’d been mainly cycling uphill: these fixies would face a different challenge on the descents.

With the Genesis rider a few metres ahead of us we came to Churchinford. I know this area well and was aware that the next section of the route would lead us to a sharp shady downhill that had every prospect of being iced over. I presumed that this was why an alternative route had been proposed, but since the arranged alternative involved staying on the A30 for even longer, that held no appeal. However, I had no appetite for coming off again, especially so early on in the ride. Instead, I drew on my local knowledge to make my own diversion. Leaving the Charge and Genesis guys, I struck off on a route that I knew would be a bit longer but would keep to better lanes.

Although I had my route sheet, I was intending to rely for navigation on a combination of my knowledge of the area, boosted recently by a couple of targeted weekend rides, and my Garmin 800. Unfortunately, I discovered a new feature of the unit to add to those that I documented previously. As I wrote then, the navigation directions the Edge 800 shows for the course are provided with the course definition rather than derived by the Garmin. The training courses I’ve created on bikeroutetoaster come with these navigational cues. However, the gpx course file provided by our audax organiser did not.  This doesn’t seem to be a feature of the gpx versus the tcx protocol but an artefact of how the files are made. Courses created on the fly on the Garmin from prior rides also lack navigation cues. The upshot of this is that I didn’t have any course cues as I cycled round. I knew better than to rely on the dynamic route instructions determined by the Garmin – if I had I’d probably still be out there now. Instead, at times when I was unsure of where and whether to turn I consulted the route sheet – which I found to be excellent.

Apart from the reduced number of riders and the lack of signing and marshalling, the next difference between an audax and a sportive on the road was evident at the first tea stop. After missing it initially, I discovered that it was at a real tea shop in North Curry. It was as fabulous as it was tiny and I had a delicious slice of marmalade sponge and a large mug of tea for the cyclist special price of £2. After my diversion, a few more riders had caught up by this point and the organiser, who had driven ahead, was seated and signing brevet cards. I gathered that the hill I’d bypassed had indeed been icy.

From here, there were many miles of cycling through the Somerset Levels. I’ve only relatively recently done much cycling in the Levels and I have mixed feelings about them. While it’s a contrast from the usual hills – the Levels really are level! – it’s a bleak and sometimes windy landscape. But yesterday it allowed me to settle into my own thoughts, uplifted by swans and the odd heron resting near the dykes, and get some miles under my tyres. A pair of riders whom I’d seen at the cafe came up to me, chatting as they cycled, and gave me a brief feeling of participating in an event before they fell back. The only others I saw were a quartet of young guys who passed me at a fair crack. I kept up with them for about a mile but they were too fast for me to stick with.

I ran into them again at the next stop – a cafe in Glastonbury, where the staff signed our brevet cards. The Genesis guy was there too tucking into beans and egg on toast, and the Charge guy pulled in soon after. I nursed a mug of tea and the two ham sandwiches I’d brought with me and read The Independent for a while as the Charge guy left. I also replaced a contact lens, having lost one as my eyes streamed in the cold wind 15 miles earlier. The temperature never broke zero, though wearing a base layer, bib tights, shorts, a winter jersey, a soft-shell jacket, winter gloves, two pairs of socks and a woollen hat I never felt too chilly.

Leaving Glastonbury, it was good to be on the return stretch. The Astraeus is getting increasingly comfortable and is perhaps at its best on these longer distances. Now that I’ve done over 500 miles of varied cycling on it I’ll post a review soon. Although the pedals still turned easily, I was glad that It was only a 100 mile run. The remaining events of 2011 organised by the same club run to 200, 300, 400 and even 600 miles. On the longer ones I gather than riders grab a few hours kip on a floor somewhere en route. I’m not that hard core.

By the final control – the Duke of York at Shepton Beauchamp – I was already in Hill Farm House territory with a very familiar ride back towards Crickleaze. The Genesis and Charge guys were having a drink and a roll in the pub. I simply got my card signed and called Paula to arrange a mug of tea, a banana and another ham roll to be brought out to me as I passed close to home. On the drag up the hill at Crock Street, Genesis guy merrily cycled past me. Soon after, I was chatting to Paula and Zoe who came out to meet me, bearing snacks.

The final 15 miles was the most difficult. There was no signature climb – nothing comparable to a Dunkery Beacon – but the rolling hills were a constant challenge to tired legs. The four young and fast riders whom I’d last seen at Glastonbury flew past me again, one of them riding yet another low-geared fixie. As they cycled up one of the steeper hills ahead of me he snaked up the road to leech some of the gradient out of it.

Approaching the endpoint – the Awliscombe Inn – I saw the Genesis guy cycle away from it, having finished already. In the pub the organiser was taking the brevet cards from the four lads, who were the only other people to have made it to the end ahead of me. The Charge guy arrived quite soon after. My sense is that audax riders are less hung up than some of the keener sportivistes about their times, with the placings being irrelevant. I bet the organiser doesn’t even publish them, which is very civilised.  At the end I felt relaxed and in no worse shape than I had been the previous night. My average power output (188W) was a bit low but reasonable for January and my average cadence (63 rpm) and heart rate (154 bpm) are bang in line with my norms for this sort of ride. On the climbbybike Difficulty score the route rates 175 – below each day of the Tour of Wessex, the 2010 Tour Ride and, of course, Haleakala but above all of my other rides from last year.

Today would have been a much better day for it – crisp and sunny as you can see in this self-portrait.

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Responses

  1. […] Regent’s Park – and some innovations – outstanding riding in Corsica, my first audax, the very enjoyable Engadin Radmarathon, a preview ride round the Olympics road race […]

  2. […] a higher average speed, and felt much fresher at the end of it. Earlier this year, I sailed round the Glastonbury 100 miler without complaint […]

  3. […] first long ride was not, perhaps, super sensible – but the route looked fantastic. Besides, the Glastonbury 100 miler has given me the audax […]

  4. […] It occurs to me that a low geared fixie like the ones I saw some of the audax riders using on the Glastonbury 100 could be just the ticket. I can see myself doing more miles more quickly on one of these, which […]

  5. […] couldn’t image that you could cycle 80 miles and encounter so little incline. For comparison, the Glastonbury 100 miler, which was billed as “relatively flat”, had 4,300 feet of ascent compared to the 3,200 […]

  6. […] the bad map and the elevation/gradient profiles but no directions. This meant that on the road when I did this event I was relying on the Garmin’s route rather than the actual course. If I hadn’t known […]

  7. I think so – certainly for rides in Somerset of <= 100 miles a sportive doesn't add anything for the money over an audax. But I'm still very much looking forward to the Tour of Wessex. Do you do any of the multi-100's?

    • This is my year for longer ones as I’m not racing road this year so I can save it all up for ‘cross season. The problem I have is lighting. What I use for commuting is not adequate and I don’t have several hundreds spare to get decent stuff.

  8. Are you converted? I enjoy Audax so much more than sportives.


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