Posted by: Ian | August 27, 2011

Our 2011 Blenheim Sportive

Only two years ago I rode my first ever sportive at Blenheim with Emily and Martin. Last year Emily and I rode it again, and this time Paula joined us for what was then her longest ride to date. Our friend Steve had intended to enter last year too but that didn’t work out. Last weekend the four of us – Steve, Emily, Paula and me – set off together for the 60 mile route on what was thus a third Blenheim for Emily and me and a second for Paula. The weather was perfect: bright and dry but not hot.

Up until the night before I’d been undecided about whether to take the Astraeus or the Felt. Seeing that the whether was set to be fine, I chose the Felt. Recently I’ve been using a set of Fulcrum Racing Zero wheels. When I got them I fitted tubeless Hutchinson Fusion 3 tyres. Since the Fusions softened up they’ve been great to ride. I’ve been running them at about 90 PSI, making them very comfortable, and they also inspire confidence on downhills and bends. Over hundreds of miles I’ve only had one puncture and since I’d poured Protect Air into them I didn’t need to repair that until I got home. However, the repair I did make cannot have been perfect as I was still losing air slowly. Reluctantly – because they’re a bit of a faff to take on and off – I had another go at making a better repair in preparation for the Blenheim. This time I couldn’t get the bead to re-seat in the rim. If I’d been determined I could have tried again/harder but this increased my worry about my ability to make a roadside repair to a tubeless tyre during an event that I’d paid to enter. With some regret, I removed the other tyre, which was holding air perfectly and hasn’t given me any trouble since the first fitting, and put Schwalbe Ultremo ZX clinchers on front and rear.

Bunched up at the start I looked around at the other bikes. For once, I found the wheels more interesting. Quite a few riders had invested in deep rim carbon hoops. I’m curious about how they ride, but not £2,000 curious. I got my more modest Fulcrums at a decent price and am very pleased with them. It seems de rigueur when discussing wheels to slate Mavics. Well, my Mavic Ksyrium Elites that I’m currently running on the Astraeus are excellent. After several thousand miles they still run true and have required no maintenance beyond cleaning. Nonetheless, I do prefer the Fulcrums, which, in addition to their rotational and stiffness qualities, are quieter on the road and look great with their red spokes.

From the start we rode along at a pleasant pace. The course is a joy, with smooth road surfaces, beautiful Oxfordshire countryside, calendar photo villages and no big hills. For the third year running, Emily and I completed the ride in our large chain rings, causing one other rider to tell Emily on one of the rises that she was making things hard for herself. Steve paid the price for changing the front ring by dropping his chain a few times, and Paula lost her chain once or twice. Emily’s hint is to make sure that the chain is towards the middle of the cassette at the back before changing at the front.

Over the past year Paula has done much more cycling and over the last few months has been training for triathlons, making the most of the years she spent as a competitive swimmer in her youth. The improvement in her form was marked: she looked comfortable all the way round and at parts of the course where she was tiring last year she was enjoying the ride and looking fresh this time. Steve was also in good spirits all the way round and didn’t appear stretched at any point.

The one part of the course where I ratcheted up my own effort levels was in the six miles or so before the second feed station – here I had a bit of a blast, ramping up my average heart rate from the 130’s to the 160’s. The Felt – and the Fulcrums – responded with verve and transmitted all of my effort into road speed, which increased by 50% over the six mile stretch. I passed a guy on a Condor Fratello – a bike I especially like and which I’ve recently bought for Zoe. The rider caught my wheel and followed me for a few miles. When I eased off to see how far off Emily was the Fratello guy cycled re-passed me. I asked him how he liked the bike; he didn’t reply.

The four of us met up again at the nicely-stocked feed station and then rode in together, more or less, to the end. Paula, who had been happy just to finish last year, came in 48th out of the 161 women who finished this time, cutting an incredible 1 hour 37 mins off her/our time. Emily’s time two years ago would have been enough to make her the second placed female this time and if she’d managed to save 20 minutes (say, by not falling off as she did then) she could have been top. The fastest three men just broke three hours, which in the perfect conditions we had this year looks far more attainable than winning times at other events. We were lucky – between the four of us we covered 250 tyre-miles without a puncture – but relaxed rather than exhausted at the finish.

We didn’t quite get back in time to see Gavin finish the Brompton race but we had ice-creams together at the end. Gavin enjoyed it but reported that it was tougher than expected.



  1. […] repeats from 2010 – the fabulous Tour of Wessex, some great long rides in the South West, Blenheim, the Exmoor Beast, weekly loops round Regent’s Park – and some innovations – […]

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