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My First Sportive: Commuter To Wannabe Racer

I'm not the world's biggest cyclist. I often nip on a Boris bike to get to work, but I don't generally spend my Sunday mornings racing up Box Hill or at the velodrome. Imagine my surprise then, when I was told my friends had entered me into a sportive, Le Tour de Broads, earlier this year...

A week before we were due to head to Norfolk, I suddenly realised I was woefully underprepared. I actually have two bikes to my name: a red Brompton of a fairy old, heavy model; the other a shiny single speed Fixation Holborn, with smart narrow handlebars and pristine white tyres. Quite clearly neither of these were going to be very useful for the coming weekend's jaunt. As luck would have it, I was pointed in the way of Bicilet. With little time to spare, I was hooked up with a practically new hybrid that would work perfectly on the country roads. The seat would go up and down easily so I wouldn't have to worry about size, and it was there waiting for me when I arrived in Norfolk. Hurrah. 

I also realised I didn't have any appropriate kit, or have any clue about whether I'd need food. Would yoga leggings and a hoodie be ok? How would I carry my snacks?  (And on that note -- what snacks can you eat on a bicycle? Would I have to go down the dreaded energy gel route? Surely not!) 

I managed to wangle some kit off some friends. So when I came down early on Sunday morning for our pre-cycle feast of croissants I was dressed head to toe in Rapha, complete with a Look Mum No Hands casquette. I felt so pro. 

I carefully filled my jersey pockets with a banana and a couple of cereal bars (and flatly refused the offer of energy gels as they looked horrible). I filled two water bottles up a popped in a rehydration tablet. Again, pro. 

While others in our group were doing 50 and 100 mile races, I was in the 25 miler, with two other women. While outwardly feigning nonchalance, inwardly I was actually a little worried. The last cycle I'd done was across Hyde Park, all of about 2.3 miles.

Luckily Norfolk is quite flat... The three of us set off at a pleasant pace - not too fast, not too slow. The day was gloriously sunny, the hills non-existent, and my newly hired bicycle an absolute pleasure to ride (who knew gears were so useful!). The course was fairly relaxed and posed few problems. The occasional car would make its way round us, and the route was well signposted. Many of the locals were wonderfully supportive, and had made banners and posters to cheer us all on, which drew a smile every time.

And then, perhaps 20 minutes in, we saw the boys zoom past us at an incredible pace -- we'd been lapped! Yes they'd started a little before us, BUT STILL! Spurred on by this, we endeavoured to go (a little) faster. Soon the last turn came, and we were onto the final straight! A man with a megaphone interviewed us at the finish, and we were presented with a medal and (excitingly) a voucher for a free ice-cream. 

We were finished! We had medals! I haven't had a medal since the sack race at primary school! It was an excellent day out. We three decided we could have done it faster, or we could have gone further -- which seems like a good thing to say at the end of a race. Next time, the 50 miler perhaps! 

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A small postscript: the three men who had so quickly lapped us had their own comeuppance, much to our later glee -- while they had been on track for a fairly swift finish, some local youths had swapped a sign or two around, sending them several miles off track! While we were glad that they realised their mistake just short of the motorway, we couldn't help but chuckle! 

Helen Hugh-Jones: 22nd Nov 2017 10:46:00