Posted by: Ian | April 18, 2011

Audax therapy

A week last Wednesday I had my cast removed. The next morning I started commuting on the Tempo and it felt great to be on the road again. A couple of days later I tried the Astraeus and went on a 12.5 mile Somerset training ride with Paula, then repeated the same route on my own the next day. Whereas I couldn’t manage to operate the left/rear brake on the Tempo – which is not a problem as I can slow and stop with the pedals alone – the Astraeus has new pads and I could get enough purchase on the back to make even quite steep downhills manageable. This was enough to convince me that I didn’t need the low geared fixie I wrote about last time. It was a shame in a way as I’d become quite attached to the idea of getting one of these from Engima. The more exotic alternative I’d started to consider was to get a custom-built Argos but the cost for this would, I’m sure, have been way out of proportion to its purpose.

Last Wednesday to see whether the turbo trainer had helped me maintain my fitness level I met up with Gav and Emily at West Hampstead for our 10 mile loops run round Regent’s Park. Despite being more cautious than usual when approaching the lights and junctions I turned in a respectable 30:02.

Since things were going well, on Thursday I signed up, on the closing date, for the Valley of the Rocks audax to see how six weeks off the bike had affected my stamina. Given the length (205 km) and the hilliness (2,800 metres), choosing it as my first long ride was not, perhaps, super sensible – but the route looked fantastic. Besides, the Glastonbury 100 miler has given me the audax bug.

Having checked on Friday night that I had enough hand strength to roll off a tyre and fix a puncture, I turned up on Saturday morning with three contingencies in mind:

  1. If I was struggling before the Dulverton control at 41km I’d turn round, or in extremis call Paula.
  2. If I pushed on over Exmoor to the coast, where a return ride would be infeasible if I was suffering and a call out to Paula would be unfair, I’d get to Barnstaple and get the train.
  3. If I was still in good shape at Ilfracombe I’d complete the whole thing.

In the car park where we started about 20 people assembled for the kick off with an impressive range of bikes. I noted a carbon Ribble in stealth black similar to the fancy singlespeed Trek I commented on in my last entry; a titanium Burls; a titanium Enigma; Planet X’s in both titanium and carbon; a current model carbon Scott; a couple of lugged steel Mercians; and a steel Eddie Merckx. There were no fixies this time. Everyone other than me was in lycra, with the latest Rapha collection on show alongside boardwalk Le Col gear, set off in most cases with Rouleur-chic stubble. Nonetheless there was a friendly vibe.

The first section went well (despite passing the excellent tea shop in Bampton without stopping) and I arrived at the Dulverton control – another lovely tea shop – with the first few riders. Wrist-wise, my only troubles had been on steep bumpy descents when to compensate for my less refined control on the left lever I had to scrub off some speed. At the tea shop I, fittingly, had a mug of tea and a slice of lemon drizzle cake.

The route out of Dulverton and into Exmoor was less severe than the one I’ve taken before (first with Zoe and more recently with Emily). Crossing Exmoor through Simonsbath was enjoyable, although I started to feel that I wasn’t getting quite as much power into the pedals as usual on the ascents. I was pleased to get to the point where the Barbour-clad hunting set always assemble in their 4×4’s since from here it’s essentially a downhill sweep into Lynmouth – the same run that Stu and I took on the Exmoor Beast a couple of years ago to find Emily in the back of an ambulance after her dreadful accident on Countisbury Hill.

From Lynmouth there’s a 25% climb up to nearby Lynton. Cycling up I started cramping all the way down both legs and had to stop and stand over the top tube a couple of times until the spasms passed. At the top I pulled over and did some stretches and by the time I’d found the cafe marking the 80 km control (after a misdirection from a local), I’d been joined by the ad hoc sets of cyclists who formed the nearest the audax had to a peloton. The cafe’s coastal setting at the entrance to the Valley of the Rocks is stunning. I sat in the garden and had a slice of cherry pie with another mug of tea.

I took a longer break than most to see if my legs would recover. Frankly, I doubted that they would. The path from the cafe along the Valley of the Rocks was fantastic, tracking the dramatic North Devon coastline to our right with deciduous woodland to the left. The blue sea, the black rocks, the yellow gorse and the greenery all around was beautiful. Sadly, my legs were beyond inspiration and the pace I could keep over the undulations was pitiful. I accustomed myself to the idea that best I could do was get to Barnstaple. Unfortunately, my CycleOps power meter crapped out during the ride so I couldn’t gauge the extent of this objectively. I hope this is easily fixable as I’ve come to rely on it as a training aid.

During this stretch I met the only girl to ride the audax when she gave me back a Buzz bar that must have been jolted from my pocket and fallen onto the track. She also clued me in to how to handle a gravelly 25% descent. The track here was narrow and there were several people walking up it from a nearby pub. The gradient was so intense that I lacked the hand strength to stop properly and when my co-audaxister hopped off and ran her bike down a particularly steep segment I did the same.

At the end of the Valley of the Rocks stretch the track met a road signposted to Barnstaple. I checked train times and generally dawdled around wondering what to do. After I’d been there a while another rider from the audax came by and on instinct I started to follow him down the hill to the third control – another cafe, this time in a little bay. Almost immediately though I halted, realising that any hill I went down was simply another one I’d have to ascend. I turned round and cycled my last twelve miles of the day, to Barnstaple.

I was delighted to learn that I could get a train all the way back to Honiton, via Exeter. Better still, I had time for beans on toast and another mug of tea at the quaint railway station. I chatted as I ate to a man who was either the town crier or was acting the part for the day in full regalia (there’s no difference, is there).

I’d cycled 70 miles – a little more than half the length of the audax – and made 2,200 metres of ascent – over three quarters of the total. Later, Paula asked me if I was disappointed not to finish and really I’m not at all. I’m sure that the cycling is helping my wrist too, which is getting better by the day. I plan to do more audaxes in future and I’ll certainly cycle the Valley of the Rocks again. Compared to a sportive, an audax is also cheap, at least in the south west. My entry fee was £6:50 plus £2 insurance as I’m not a member of a cycling body that provides cover. Car parking for a day in Honiton cost me £1:20 and my train ticket from Barnstaple to Honiton cost £10. I spent about another tenner on tea and cakes, and a final £4:30 on beans and mushrooms on toast plus more tea at Barnstaple station.

At Dulverton I had felt my saddle to be too low and raised it be a couple of millimetres. When I finished my riding for the day I found that it needed to be raised another inch. I’d checked it just a couple of nights ago and have now learned in future to record the correct position and check it properly if I have the same phenomenon of reduced power or cramping when out on a long ride. Yesterday, with the seat at the correct height, I had a ride with Paula plus sister plus friend who are training for a triathlon; then I cycled home from Wellington over the hill by the monument – it felt far better.

When preparing the course file for the audax I also discovered the cause of many of my Garmin 800 route/cause divergences and will put in an update to my post on how to create a Garmin 800 course when I get a chance.



  1. […] route that runs from the Valley of the Rocks at Lynton along or parallel to the North Devon coast. I had cycled this a couple of days after my cast came off earlier this year and ended up short-cutting to Barnstaple […]

  2. […] beautiful coastal section (with a great cafe) that I’ve been keen to return to since the Valley of the Rocks audax. This could be a tough […]

  3. […] Ian was joining me for the ride to Barnstaple and we’d be doing some of the route from the Valley of the Rocks audax he’d done the previous weekend. We were going to set off at 07:00, but got delayed due to […]

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