This 600km event had caught my eye when perusing the audax calendar over the winter – the idea of traversing countries, endless climbs, quiet lanes and heading to the sea pulled me inexorably in, along with the fact that it hadn’t been run for five years so I might have to wait a long time to get another go at it.
As we assembled at the start, I briefly chatted to Shaun, the only other rider on fixed, but it turned out he was on the double-century (330km). This started with us and followed the same route south to Chepstow, but skipped the last control on the return, as our first loop of the figure-of-eight course was 370km.
It was an enjoyable run to Hay-on-Wye via a checkpoint at Clun with the small group soon fragmenting on the hills. After a fourth breakfast at the Granary Café, I started the main climb of the day over Gospel Pass. The soft summer rain began to fall with perfect timing to help stop me cooking on the ascent. I passed Shaun getting his rain gear on, but continued to the summit before layering up for the descent. We regrouped and spun our way down, it didn’t seem as bad as I was lead to believe, though we did have to dive into the hedge to avoid a couple of cars.
Chepstow feels like a second Audax home now, and no ride is really complete without a trip to Wetherspoons. Turning north, the heavens opened at Tintern Abbey, but I pushed on, passing cyclists huddled in doorways, cafes and under trees, some of whom shouted encouragement to me as I ground past, lifting my sodden spirits.
I finally cracked on a steep climb just before the next control, Eardisley, but a short walk, a few sweets later and I was back on t’cog. Controlling at the quaint New Strand bookshop/cafe/pub it was great to meet up & chat with other riders, as happened at every stop despite the small field – for once I wasn’t spat out the back, though I preferred to continue to ride solo at my own erratic pace.
An atmospheric climb in the dark around Kerry Hill past sleeping sheep was followed by a quick post-midnight pitstop at McDonalds in Newtown before a flattish run to Upton Magna whilst I wished this section was over. However it was great for once not to witness the dawn whilst still out riding, arriving back at the village hall at 3am.
Dinner, a quick kip and breakfast followed in quick succession and I was on the road again around 5:30am for the northern loop of 240km. We now had a choice of routes up to Horseshoe Pass, and as motorbikes roared past me on the way to Llangollen I settled on the quieter, old road despite the warning of a 25% final section. I also opted for the spectacular Pontcysyllte aqueduct crossing high above the River Dee, gingerly riding the narrow path as I recalled falling in a ford on Windsor-Chester-Windsor last year. The climbing that followed was as brutal as I feared, my mood made worse by those on the 200 that had started some time later flying past as I plodded my way to the cafe at the top.
I continued to struggle with my pace all the way down to Prestatyn, the fast descents were almost as painful as the ascents, and I was further demoralised to realise that it was another 20km back inland to the control at Holywell, which I hadn’t planned for.
The rain began to fall again in earnest whilst I enjoyed a Welsh Rarebit at the Pet Cemetery tea rooms, as it continued to do so for the rest of the ride. This strangely had a positive effect on me as the world closed in, I focused inwards and got into the groove, achieving that zen-like state of fixed-gear riding where you feel at one with the machine and the road, gliding over the undulating lanes to Chirk and thence back to the arrivée for a 8:30pm finish
The food and service there was fantastic, as it had been throughout the event from John, Linda and volunteers, but it was even better to be greeted by Joolz, a clubmate from ACH, proffering a local ale. Turned out there were only 9 finishers, out of 23 starters, which surprised me – the danger of these figure-of-eight courses is the strong temptation to pack once you return back to the hall in the middle of the night. All in all, probably my favourite 600 ever, with excellent routing, many unbelievably quiet sections (though this was helped by Wales playing in Euro 16), spectacular views and a variety of interesting controls.