Photo: A full field despite the cold
“Hey Islington, do you know David?” boomed the question across the room when my club jacket was spotted.
I explained to the enquirer that Islington CC has over 700 members and quite a few Davids. “Do you mean David Shannon?” I speculated. “That’s the one”. A good start to the Willy Warmer 200k audax organised by Paul Stewart and his team.
I knew the question was directed at me as I was the only Islington rider in the field. Last year Ben and Yiannis rode this audax, helping me get round in 10 hours 19 minutes. I decided to try and better that time despite not having two fitter, faster and younger riders for company.
Last year’s starting temperature was 0°. This year -3°. Not exactly optimum conditions for riding faster. I rode the first half alone tracking my time through the controls at only slightly slower than last year.
Over lunch at the half way point in Hungerford I met Dmitry. I mentioned that I met another Russian speaker, Sergey, on PBP. There are a quite a few Sergeys in Belarus. “Do you mean Sergey from Kaliningrad?” “That’s the one” I replied. Audaxing is a small world.
We rode togther on and off for the rest of the ride. The lanes back from Hungerford were filthy. Wet, muddy and icey. We needed to take great care to stay upright, especially in the descents.
Approaching yet another flooded section I happened to be ahead of Dmitry and another rider. I calculated the speed I’d need to get through the water, unclipped and raised my feet away from the water. The other rider followed me. I wondered why Dmitry was riding off my line and in my wash? Then I heard that noise. The noise of a bike and rider falling into the water. Dmitry had hit a pot hole. Bike, Garmin, iPhone, car keys and most of Dmitry ended up under the cold, dirty water.
Stopping to make sure he was OK, Dmitry was back on his bike and out of the water quickly. I asked if he wanted to find a pub with an open fire to dry out. He decided to ride on. They make them tough in Russia.
At the next control I recommended the excellent hot chocolate I’d enjoyed the previous year. Over the hot drink Dmitry admitted he’d made a stupid mistake not following my wheel. I explained that as the first rider I could just about make out the road surface through the water so following my line was the best route. “I know, I was stupid”.
We all make mistakes but I really respected Dmitry for admitting it and taking responsibility for his own actions. That and riding on despite being cold and wet. That’s why I love audaxing so much. We are responsible for ourselves. Dmitry demonstrated real randonneur spirit.
I was keen to get going to make use of the limited light left. Dmitry was using the hand dryer in the gents to dry out and warm up. “You go on, I’ll catch up” he said. Even more respect for Dmitry.
To beat my last year’s time I’d have to complete the final 41km in just under 2 hours. Easy enough on a flat open road. Unfortuantely Saturday night traffic around Maidenhead was building up and having to weave between the queues of traffic didn’t help. I reckoned I could still do it until I heard that noise. The noise of a rear puncture.
I tried to repair it quickly as possible. “Can I help?” I heard in the darkness. It was Dmitry. He had indeed caught me up. “Just a puncture, you go on, I’ll see you at the finish”.
Back on the bike. I thought that’s it, just get back safely in the dark. Don’t worry about your time. I pushed as hard as I could just to get the last 19km completed as soon as possible.
My time last year, 10 hours 19 minutes. My time this year:
Update 20th January: Just to emphasise how small a world audaxing is, I was walking in the City this afternoon with my wife and I spotted a familiar cyclist at the lights. We stopped for a chat. It was Dmitry.
Year to date