Posted by: Ian | March 23, 2012

My 2012 Lionheart Ride

Sunday’s Lionheart sportive at Longleat was my first event of the year and there was plenty to look forward to. The course looked good: flat enough to keep up a good speed but with a couple of hills, and set along pretty B roads. Paula came into this ride with more bike training than on any previous event, especially over distances of up to 40 miles, and training always pays dividends. It was also nice to have Steve, our other co-rider, riding with us for the first time since last year’s Blenheim sportive. And from a personal perspective I was especially keen to have a go at posting a decent time on the timed climb up the hill to King Alfred’s Tower.

The weather looked as though it might be cold – on Saturday my weather app showed a full house of symbols on the forecast for the day – but it turned out to be perfect. A base layer, jersey, arm warmers and gilet kept me at an ideal temperature in the slightly chilly sun all the way round.

Passing the cats enclosure on the way through the Park, we heard roars as the lions were being fed. Soon after, the roadway out of the grounds began to rise. Here, Steve regretted that he hadn’t been able to put in more winter miles and seemed concerned by his lack of form as we convened by the exit from Longleat. Paula, conversely, was doing well and kept up a good pace over the following miles and, for the first time, experienced the uplift you can get from settling in with a chain gang. Her speed on the long descents was also remarkably improved.

The route lived up to its promise and it was a pleasure rolling along admiring the views. Up till King Alfred’s Tower there were undulations but no steep stuff and it was a showcase of Southern English village scenery. There was an especially pleasant section through the woods around Penselwood. I had a feeling that I may have cycled there before but wasn’t sure until I correctly anticipated an upcoming uphill turn.

Paula and I had a long stop at the second feed station and hooked up again with Steve, who had lost contact during the early miles as waves of riders bunched, separated and recombined. Not long after the feed station I reached the timing posts at the foot of the KAT climb. I arrived before the others and pulled over to wait, hoping to be a bit sociable briefly before trying as hard as I could to gun it to the top. While waiting, I began to chat to the guy manning the timing equipment. “Is this the bottom of the hill climb?” I asked, for something to say. “Yes,” he told me, as though I was an idiot. I looked around some more, hoping that Steve and Paula would soon turn up, and wondering whether to cycle back up the little hill that approached the timing posts to gain more speed into the climb. “By the way,” the timing gear operative continued presently, “You’ve already started.” It took me a moment to register that even though I’d pulled in before the timing posts they had already detected the chip in my helmet and set my clock running. The guy had been right: I *was* an idiot. Angry with myself, I kicked off and did my best to salvage whatever time I could.

The only other times I’ve done the climb were on the Tour of Wessex, where you approach it with more hard miles in your legs. On Sunday it seemed a little easier. Also, the Cervelo is a big help and makes everything seem easier. At the top it was very enjoyable watching the riders come up. Many had walked and most of those who hadn’t found it exhilarating. One young guy even went down for another go, saying something about his Dad being down there.

There was one more major climb left in the day – Gare Hill – and that was perhaps even more fun. It wasn’t as steep as KAT but wound up a similar level of ascent and the crest was immediately followed by a nice fast stretch of gentle downhill.

In the final few miles, Paula, who was now beyond her triathlon-oriented training distances, lost her speed and struggled, like many riders, on a final hill leading back to Longleat. The ascent that that hill bought us was cashed in on a hugely enjoyable fast zip down the Park roadway that returned us to start/end outside the House itself. Despite being quite a short section, the path had a good surface and offered a perfect view ahead. I hit a top speed of 43.9mph and I’m certain other riders who built up more speed on the way in must have gone much faster.

By the end Steve looked somewhat restored and finished quite comfortably. With all our stops, our elapsed time was approaching six hours. My actual ride time was exactly 4:30, and with an average heart rate of 132 bpm I can class it as a textbook endurance training ride. My time up KAT was 9:39 putting me 23rd (out of those with a recorded climb time) in the 100km field. I’m marginally less annoyed with myself now than I was at the time with my beginner’s error at the foot of the climb but still wish I could have posted my true time. Here’s a chart of how far we all finished behind the chap who bombed up in 7:24. I’m the red dot:

There was a bean stew with crusty bread for the finishing riders that was the tastiest food I can remember being provided with at a sportive. It was most welcome. Trek had a stand where they had a few bikes out on display. I heard one of the Trek reps talking up how good electronic shifters are. Given the blanket coverage that they’re getting, and apparent universal adoption in the pro peloton, I guess we’ll all end up with them one day – but I don’t get it and I don’t want them. They’re more expensive and heavier than mechanical shifters, and there are more ways for them to go wrong. What’s more, they’re completely unnecessary: over 100km on the Lionheart course I changed gear countless times effortlessly without missing a shift, as usual. The Trek rep unwittingly made my case for me. “They [electronic shifters] are really smart,” he was telling his punter. “When the battery detects that it has less than 100 miles of life left, it automatically puts you in the small chainring.”

Here’s a snap of the timing posts at the top of KAT:

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