To ride or not to ride, that is the question.

Photo: The Dean audax works it’s way through the Forest of Dean on it’s way to Wales.

The coronavirus was both a reason to ride and a reason not to. It could well be the last audax for a while if such sporting events are stopped but it was a gathering of people that would be in close proximity at the start.

I checked the Audax UK site the day before. We could ride the event, indeed we were being encouraged to stay active, but had to take precautions.

I decided to go for it, especially as the weather forecast was so much better than last year. I think I earned a better ride after last year’s experience.

My plan to keep myself to myself included an alarm at 03:00, arrive after 05:00, collect my brevet card then prepare the bike and start away from larger groups. I was assisted by the fact that I was the only ICC rider in the field.

The Dean is more like a DIY. All the controls are just towns. We have to provide a receipt from each place, including the finish, then post the brevet card for validation. With controls every 50km or so, my ride strategy was to consider it three 100km rides, only stopping to refuel at Newent (95km) and Malmesbury (187km). All other stops were coffee/hot chocolate and a receipt, then back on the bike.

Between the first control and re-fuelling at Newent I had my first conversation. Simon, a fireman, had caught me. We kept a safe distance apart. He explained that the fire service was asking the government not to close the schools as it would take away so many staff to look after their children.

I carried a list of last year’s times at each control to compare. The good news is that I arrived in Newent (95km) 33 minutes sooner than last year. Even better it was The Good News Café:

“Do you have soup?”

“We do”

“Is it ready”

“Yes it is but they’ll be a wait as we have a few customers in at the moment”

Four of us ordered soup as it’s hot, easy to digest and usually arrives quickly. After twenty minutes we asked about our order. The young lady explained that they always do the soup last before any other orders. That explained why other people who ordered after us got their food before us. A most bizarre system. When we asked why it took so long to serve the soup they said it was our fault for not telling them we were coming. So sorry to inconvenience you, I thought. I suspect in a few days/weeks time the café will be desperate for business, or even shut. The Bad News Café.

It must have taken all of 10 seconds to put the soup in a bowl and add the bread roll.

Losing so much time meant pushing on. Simon had left the café before me but I managed to catch him about half way to Chepstow. For the rest of the ride we conducted this dance where I was leaving a control just as Simon arrived. By the time I crossed the border into Wales I had made up for most of the lost time in Newent, now 29 minutes ahead of last year.

The Severn Bridge was a breeze to cross compared to the leaning into the wind last year.

By the time I reached Malmesbury (201km) I was 26 minutes ahead. A good result without the tail wind from last time. Another rider saw me using the hand gel I was carrying. “Blimey, that small bottle is worth about £50”

The last 100km included some leg sapping climbs. It was great to feel the wind behind me but sapping after the hairpin bend to face the headwind full on. The reward was the control at Membury services (242km). Not for the hot chocolate, but for the fact there was one last gentle climb to complete before some great descending in the dark then flat all the way to Oxford. As The Dean is traditionally the first 300km of the season it’s great that the route includes this flat section to finish. Thank you to the organisers for that.

Arriving at the final control I celebrated with a prawn cocktail. An M&S Foodstore in the BP station. Even better I finished 1hr 8 mins quicker than last year. Good News Garage.

Completely knackered, happy and safe.

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