The third and final sportive of my fundraisers!
It finished how it started, not feeling too great on the sportive. Ever since coming back from L’Etape Du Tour I haven’t really felt that fit on the bike, the training for that ride had peaked perfectly. Trying to peak again just over a month after, with some rest, was proving hard. Then, on the night before the Rise Above sportive I developed a bad headache and all of my skin felt sore to touch, my muscles felt bad, it felt like I was fighting some sort of infection off. I hadn’t been well for the Dragon Ride in June either!
The problem was that the last time this happened in 2015 at L’Etape London, by Le Tour Du France, I ended up very ill for weeks after. I didn’t want to go through that again, but equally I didn’t want to miss the Mark Cavendish sportive. I’d sleep on it and see how I was in the morning.
Sunday morning arrived and I had a very slight headache, body felt ok to touch now, I just had a sore gland in my left groin. What the hell, I wanted to do everything I could to meet my hero, Mark Cavendish, so I would just have to get to the start line and see what I could do. I was down to do 100 miles with 8,500ft of ascent, which at this point felt daunting. I had the option to change routes if need be, so I decided to go off and see how things went.
Just as my wave rocked up to the start line to get our debrief, I caught out the corner of my eye the familiar face of Mark Cavendish! He had just arrived on the side and came to say hello to us. He then counted us down and off we went. What an awesome start to a sportive! I was getting closer to my hero, could I get any closer, later?
The route started in Chester and went in to Wales and onto some roads I was familiar with from a ride in 2013 that I did with Adrian Watkins, the Etape Cymru. The scenery is beautiful and when I got to the top of the infamous Horseshoe Pass, I knew I needed to cut short. Although I say short, I was still going to be covering 77.5 miles and it was the same route Cav was doing, so I was in good company!
I took each hill at a steady pace, I didn’t want to burn out and make myself ill. My glands ached, my legs felt drained of energy and despite some gels and energy drink they just didn’t feel alive at all. I was so disappointed to feel this way, but I was there on the day and giving everything I had available.
With 10 miles to go the route levelled back out and I was able to pick up the pace again, I had some riders sitting on my wheel as I pushed for home, none of them wanting to come to the front. This always annoys me, so I caught up with some other riders going a little slower, but sat on their wheel for a few seconds. This was enough to force the wheel suckers to push past and allow me to sit in my own pocket and work for myself.
The miles came down quick and I was slowly working on creating a gap for the finish, I wanted to sprint up the hill to the finish line, a peak of 5.4% gradient and 100 metres long. I managed to engineer the perfect gap and have the whole finish to myself. It was the Mark Cavendish Sportive and there was only one way to finish this, despite how I felt, it had to be a sprint. As I hit the bottom of the hill, I just summoned up everything and launched, people were banging the barriers and clapping and shouting “Come On”, “Look at him go!”. I was flying up the hill, my heart was pounding, the adrenaline was pumping and the more banging of boards, the faster I got. The hill kicked up at 50m to go, I kicked harder and felt a power surge, I wasn’t going to give up, I had to sprint to the line. More banging, more sprinting, I was loving this!
Then the line was passed, people were cheering and clapping, “Well done”, I sat back in the saddle and I was F*cked! But I was elated. It turns out I was 4th fastest in the finish area and considering I wasn’t at my best I am very happy with that!
It reminded me of how I used to feel sprinting and I can’t wait to get my training back to this and not concentrating on mountains, as no L’Etape Du Tour for me next year. I want to get back to what works best for me.
I made my way through to the village area, where I collected my medal and my musette, plus some water and some Pistachio nuts. I was greeted by Emma, always a nice way for me to finish. After a bite to eat and more water, it was time to get changed into something more comfortable. After a bit more to eat and drink, it was time for Mark Cavendish to make an appearance.
We were right at the front as he came out and thanked everyone for coming along. Then he started to make his way to the back of the village, after a quick scan of the situation, I ran round some of the tents and found myself at a railing with no one else stood there and out he came, looked straight at me and I just said “Mark, would you mind signing this for me?”, holding out my CVNDSH Evade. “Sure” said Mark. Well I’d be lying if I said I was calm, my heart was pounding with excitement. He took the helmet and pen and said, “What’s your name?”, “Richard”, I replied, so he started to sign the helmet to me. As he did, I said “I just want to thank you for the inspiration, you are a legend to me”. He said, “That’s ok, Thank you”. He handed back my Evade and pen and I said “Thank you very much for this”, he said, “No problem”. He was very genuine and seemed genuinely pleased with what I had said. When watching him with other people, there was very little conversation if any from them. The odd person said Thank you or nice to meet you.
After watching him hand out some medals, me getting a photo with Steve Cummings, I was given a second opportunity to meet Cav, where I asked for a photo with him and then asked if he’d sign my medal. He was very happy to do so and I just thanked him again for his time.
WHAT A DAY! I was in shock on about cloud 9,000,000, let alone cloud 9! Despite not feeling well, this was without a doubt, the best day of cycling I have ever had, nothing is ever going to top that! Well not unless I get a bike ride and cafe stop with Cav.
77.5 miles with 5,500ft of ascent in a moving time of 4 Hrs 55 Mins. Official time 5 hrs 7 Mins.