The final qualifying ride for Paris-Brest-Paris 2019 616kms.
For the Muswell Hill Peloton squad, a fickle bunch of timewasters, this was going to be a tough ride due to the fact that 3 out of the 4 riders insisted on sleeping in a bed after 350 kms!
The Wattmeister’s suggestion of traditional tried and tested ‘audax hotels’ accommodation….a bus shelter, a cemetery or a cold concrete garage forecourt…. was outvoted by Long Tom, Old Grey Socks and Bubbles, and so the Raglan Lodge hotel situated in the A40 service station was duly booked.
The plan was to ride 350 kms from the 6 a.m start in Raynes Park on Saturday morning to arrive in Raglan at 11 p.m…..take 6 hours off the bike….depart Raglan at 5 a.m and arrive back in Raynes Park by 10 p.m on Sunday evening. Easy peasy.
Hah! In order to achieve this, we would either have to be super organised regarding time spent OFF the bike….or, ride E-bikes. You see, both the charm and weakness of Team MHP is their combined ability to effortlessly extend a five minute stop into a twenty minute holiday.
We departed on time and made good progress to our first control stop at Wallingford (78 kms) after traversing some pretty lanes in the Chiltern Hills. Most riders were in and out in ten or twelve minutes, but true to form, Team MHP lasted 23 minutes before deciding to press on.
By the time we arrived at Stow-in-the-Wold (147 kms), the weather had deteriorated, the scenery had disappeared and all we could manage was another 25 minutes sitting outside in the rain shivering our bollocks off, or in Bubbles’ case…her tits.
We pressed on to Worcester (202kms), the rain was replaced by a deluge of biblical proportions and despite our casual approach to time management, we were riding well and still on course for an 11 p.m arrival in Raglan.
Finally, the precipitation (which was not forecast), stopped, it warmed up a bit, the stunning scenery re-appeared all around us and we celebrated by visiting Mcdonalds in the town centre….but not before taking a detour as the River Severn had flooded our route.
Here, we squandered about 35 minutes….most of it trying to find reading glasses to better see the digital ordering screen. Old Grey Socks went retro, asked a human being and was served quickly.
The road to Hay on Wye (287 kms) was tough. The sun came out. As we winched ourselves up some wicked climbs, Titterstone Clee Hill dominated the northern aspect and the Brecon Beacons loomed in the distance under clouds pregnant with rain. The countryside looked splendid, verdant, dappled with a plethora of freshly rinsed wild flowers.
In the village of Eardisland, an aficionado opened their cosy front garden and plied passing randonneurs with food, tea, coffee, juices…this was one stop we could not miss….a most lovely interlude.
In Hay, our 5 minute stop was truncated to a mere 25 minutes at the Co-op, plus a bonus 9 minutes as we hunted for 20p in order to use the public conveniences.
Our 11 p.m date with Raglan now looked like being delayed to 00.30 a.m. However, with the assistance of benign weather, quiet roads and the power of Long Tom, Old Grey Socks and Bubbles, the husk of The Wattmeister was dragged into the hotel at midnight… on the dot.
A bed though is not for this breed of audaxer…..as soon as the others had nodded off, he took himself off to sleep on the floor of the hotel lobby using the fire extinguisher as a pillow.
We left Raglan only 15 minutes later than scheduled for our trip to the control in Chepstow (274kms) …..our supposed 75 minute journey had only taken 95 minutes due to a route miscalculation and a couple of humongously steep hills which no sane cyclist should ever consider tackling at 5 in the morning.
The planned 15 minutes in Chepstow magically became 45 minutes at we were wrapped in a cocoon of love by the sylphs of organising club Kingston Wheelers. Eggs, beans porridge…nothing was too much trouble.
When we were finally kicked out, the possibility of missing the cut-off time at 10 p.m was becoming a vague possibility…..so we ploughed on through the rain into a headwind across the Severn Bridge to our date with destiny.
Tiny lanes and steep hills slowed our progress to Pewsey (457 kms). But the sun came out near Chippenham, an opportunity not to be missed…. we decided a brief 29 minute stop for coffee would help our cause. Why rush?
In Pewsey, we were the epitome of efficiency, only 14 minutes, as the seriousness of the time situation took hold. A long stage to Hindhead (553kms) ensued, which was ridden practically non-stop. As we approached the never ending climb up to the Devil’s Punchbowl, the effort took its toll on Bubbles. A prolonged ravitaillement of 25 minutes was prescribed in order to revive our beloved Welsh warrior…..the promise of a pint at the finish was the clincher, and off she roared.
With 63 kms to go and 3 and half hours in which to do it, this would normally be seen as a simple task. But after 550 kms of riding and the formidably steep Surrey Hills between us and the finish, nothing could be left to chance.
Coombe Lane endeavoured to slow us down, but as we descended to Cobham with just 19 kms to go, Long Tom suffered a puncture. A reasonably swift tube replacement was effected but now things were getting sweaty. A fast, edgy ride main road ride from Esher into Surbiton tipped the scales back in our favour, and another rider, Ken, steered us back to the finish through a labyrinth of back roads, underpasses and cycle paths.
The Kingston Wheelers team welcomed us with hugs, handshakes, food and beer. A memorable ride.
The result was never in doubt.