My esteemed riding partners Neil, Huseyin and I decided to enter CTS back in 2021. We were looking for an event along the lines of the epic Tour Of Kent ride Neil and I did at the end of lockdown 2020. CTS was about the same distance, and was similar geographically, i.e. it looked impressive when plotted on a map. The start was in our neck of the woods, about 25 miles from my front door, so logistically getting to the start should be simple enough. Looks good, let’s enter!
And that was that until a few weeks before the event when we started planning. Huseyin had booked a hotel for his family at the finish. Neil and I considered doing the same, however it wouldn’t have worked for our families’ prior commitments, so we opted to get the train home instead. Planning the start of the day was simpler; I volunteered to drive the three of us, and pick the car up the next day.
Leading up to the ride we had been doing regular 3 or 4 hour rides together. Each of us were going well enough. Whilst Neil had knocked back his usual training a notch, he still had an abundance of residual fitness. Huseyin had been putting in some impressive TT races. I had managed a couple of 100 mile rides in a week, and was getting better at fueling on the bike. I’d managed to stay with the lead group at Ride London, got a top 10 in a crit and a 25 mile TT PB too – so I was hopeful that I would put in a strong ride, and keep up with the other two.
The day before the ride I carb loaded by eating plenty of rice and pasta. It was a really hot day, so tried to constantly drink water, but still felt thirsty. I cycled a rucksack of supplies over to Huseyins, which would be waiting for us at the finish. I showed the bike a bit of love (oiled the chain), and made sure all my electronics were charged. Possibly due to the heat my DI2 battery (which my gears use) was dead, and refused to charge. Eeek! I tried again later when it cooled down, and it started charging, phew! As I said, it was a very hot day, we were lucky not to be doing the ride until the next day which was going to be cooler(but might rain). I got an early night and tried to get some sleep.
On the day of the ride I woke at 2:30am, tried waking myself up properly with a coffee and a shower, ate breakfast and packed the car. Huseyin rode to mine, then we picked up Neil. We arrived in Minster just before sunrise at 4am. There were already masses of cyclists getting ready and spinning their legs. It was a beautiful sight. Excitement levels had been rising throughout the morning and were just about peaking now. Although we were excited we were also confident of our abilities, so there were no pre race jitters, what with it not being a race n-all. We unloaded the car and rolled to the hotel to pickup our orange ribbons which we had to tie to our seat posts. We then spun around to the start on the beach and waited in line. At the start was a phone number and code word which we had to text with our names and start time – somebody suggested that this was nothing to do with the event but just someone playing a prank on someone they didn’t like, Not true, but one to remember..
We rolled up and started about 4:45am. The weather was absolutely perfect, warm enough for summer kit with a gentle tailwind. We were given the all clear to start and were off!
Immediately we started going past the masses of cyclists who had already started. Each one another hare to chase, their blinking lights a red rag to a bull. We all instinctively knew we needed to get to some clear road. Get away from the chaos that is, to all intents and purposes, a mass start cycling event. Zooming past hundreds of cyclists is a guilty pleasure, but one has to be both careful and respectful – so we said lots of “good morning” and “on your right”. The odd rider joined us for a bit, I chatted to a few of them: “you guys are insane riding this hard so early.. .. I love it” said one guy. I think I replied with something obnoxious like “we’re just warning up”. I’m such a dick.
We knew most of the roads for the first 50 miles, the route went within a mile of my house and past the building I worked in when I started commuting by bike over 10 years ago.
As we got into Rochester we’d picked up a handful of others who were able to stick with us. One of them turned out to be a guy who Neil knew, Matt. Matt had ridden CTS 7 times before, so knew what he was doing. With little to no traffic on the roads yet, we had a bit of fun blasting down the slopes into Rochester together. By this time we’d left the bulk of the other riders behind us, but we still picked up a few here or there.
Leaving Rochester we picked up another couple of riders who stuck with us up Cobhambury Road, a guy and a gal, who we chatted to for a few minutes. We saw them again at the pub at the end, they must’ve put in a strong ride together. We went nice and steady up Cobhambury, then followed the route through a cut through that I use a lot. As the route was at it’s closest to my house I used my local knowledge to blast down a valley, carrying my momentum to get up the other side, only to slam on my brakes when I was faced with a road full of less savvy CTS participants who were making a meal of the one minute climb. We then headed along Longfield road where we saw Gemini clubmate Colin going the other way. He said he might make it out and ride with us for a while, but he didn’t turn around. We soft pedalled for a while, but he didn’t catch us up.
The route then headed through St Mary Cray and then Bromley. Bromley is where I lived when I got married and started a family, so full of great memories. Whilst I enjoyed the nostalgia, central Bromley doesn’t lend itself to great cycling; too many cars and traffic lights. From there onwards it was a similar state of affairs as we navigated the streets of London. The route went up to the top of Crystal Palace, which is where I worked for many years. Cadence Cycle shop had a little crowd outside it, so I assume the route was planned to go that way because of the shop? I grabbed a bottle of cold water from a chap stood at the side of the road, which with hindsight was a good move, as I wasn’t drinking enough. As we went around the CP triangle I drank my water and had another nostalgia hit having gone to many fun gigs at several of the pubs. I also worked there for the best part of a decade and commuted by bike for much of that. We stopped at the lights at the end of Westow street, and our group savored the view of central London beneath us.
With the stop start nature of the London roads we found our little group swell to probably over 10 cyclists. There were a couple of guys who weren’t all that clued up on group riding and were a bit all over the place. Some of the more experienced of us gave each other knowing looks and I warned my friends to give them a wide birth. With the larger group navigating all the junctions became trickier. Eventually we got a bit of clear road with a slight gradient and Neil drilled it on the front which split things up nicely. Then half of the guys still with us decided to stop for food and water. This diminished our group to the three of us and a couple of others who both seemed like nice chaps. This was around the Kingston area, and from here on my geographical knowledge fades. Soon after we stopped at another petrol station and realised that we had lost Matt. Matt had been hanging on but suffering a little, and said not to wait for him. Didn’t see him again that day, hope he got on ok.
After refueling and fixing some loose bolts we hit the road again. As we came out of London the roads improved and traffic lights were less frequent. We’d picked up a young chap from Islington Cycle Club who was very strong, he pulled us along for a few minutes at over 40kph which was nice, but not sustainable. Huseyin must’ve taken this as his cue, so put in some powerful turns too. I kept reminding everyone to keep it steady, mainly because I knew I wouldn’t last 200 miles if we let things get too spicy. I had a game plan, and needed to stick to it. We picked up a group of ultra distance triathletes for a bit. One had aero tri bars on his bike and kept blasting past us, getting 20 metres up the road then sitting up. I thought it weird. Riding in a group of people you don’t know with tri bars is a bad idea, and there are reasons that other events ban their use. Fine, if you want to go solo, however.
And along we carried on. The weather stayed pleasant; the sun actually started breaking through the clouds for short bursts. We’d left the last bit of suburbia and were enjoying the lanes again. At this point Neils orange ribbon undid itself and flew off, never to be seen again. Neil didn’t seem to care and continued to keep a decent steady pace on the front. This wasn’t Neil’s first rodeo, his exemplary pace setting testament to his class – consistent, smooth and strong with the odd burst of soft pedaling to help keep everyone’s legs from fatiguing. Perfect.
Neil was enjoying the company of our new friend from Islington, both of them on the front, as we cruised to the halfway lunch stop. 100 miles done. We’d managed to get in at around 10:30ish, officially the lunch stop was meant to be open from 11, but everything was ready for us. There was a stall with cheese rolls, crisps, bananas and flapjacks which were all of decent quality. But my focus was drawn to the fish and chip van. We parked our bikes and looked around. There was a small number of cyclists who had made it there before us. I was glad we weren’t racing, and I could afford my body a well needed rest. My neck, back and one foot were aching a fair bit already. I headed for the van, Huseyin ordered us both some food, I went for a chip butty and a sausage which didn’t even hit the sides. I bought myself some bananas for the second leg, and a flapjack and coffee for an immediate sugar/caffeine hit. Huseyin then handed me a cheese roll which I inhaled too. I tried taking a photo of the three of us, and in doing so I realised I couldn’t open my eyes past a squint. A combination of tiredness, fatigue and hayfever was taking it’s toll. Huseyin made use of the mechanic and got his squeaky chain some oil. I filled up with water, splashed my face to try to wake myself up a bit and got ready to leave.
We set off again with just the 3 of us. Stopping for a decent chunk of time had allowed my body to recover, and I was feeling much better. Despite all the stop starting through London we’d averaged 19.5mph for the first 100 miles, but that average would soon come down as the majority of the climbing is in the second leg. Huseyin was keeping track of each climb and calling out the number of them.. He also had a useful feature turned on on his Garmin which shows the upcoming climb in length and gradient. This really helped us pace our efforts. None of the gradients felt too bad, apart from one pretty steep ramp which was probably about 15% for a little while. I stuck it in bottom gear, stood up and ground my way up. Meanwhile Neil and Huseyin stayed seated and pulled away from me, strong strong lads. Between the climbs Huseyin was happy to sit on the front for long turns. Over the course of the ride Huseyin did more than his fair share of turns on the front, with no sign of fading. Not once. In fact I had to regularly shout to him to go softer, even with the benefit of a draft I was finding it hard to keep up with him. He is such a talented cyclist, one wonders what could have been if he’d found cycling as a youth!
My memory of the middle of the second leg is a bit hazy, so I probably have the order of things muddled, but I’ll try my best. I remember when the rain came. Neil and Huseyin had bought rain jackets, but Muggins had not. I continued solo whilst they got their jackets on. The first shower was quite short, and soon enough I was probably more comfortable in my summer jersey than the other two. I was quite glad when Huseyin caught me and took the front as his rain jacket acted like a parachute, slowing him down and giving me a much better draft. Soon enough Neil and Huseyin were taking their jackets off again and normal service was resumed.
At some point we caught up with a couple of riders who latched onto us. We’d ridden with them earlier in the day and started chatting again. We were all glad not to have any loose canons in the group this time! We rode together over the North Wessex Downs which was beautiful, but challenging. You could see the next couple of miles of road ahead which rolled up and down into the distance. The open fields offered no cover from the cross wind which blew from right to left. At this point I could feel fatigue once again creeping in. I wanted to eat or drink something, but the gusting wind was strong, so I didn’t feel comfortable taking my hands off the bars. It was also spitting rain at us again…
Then we came up to Devizes, where the route went through the town centre. I was on the front as we came up to a roundabout. A car came out of nowhere and I had to stop quickly. One of our new friends didn’t judge the situation and zoomed past us into traffic. Thankfully he was OK, but he then opted to drop off and ride alone. Huseyin put in a decent effort to put some time into the others and it was just the three amigos riding into the distance once more.
We had another pitstop at about 160 miles, at a petrol station in Yarnbrook. Neil helped out a CTS entrant from Brazil who needed a pump as his was broken. Huseyin bought us water and ice cream. I was ungrateful enough to moan about having to carry the extra weight. Dick move number 2! I was now suffering a fair bit, so I was probably a PITA to be cycling with. Huseyin had continued to count down all the climbs, and had got to the end of his list, only we hadn’t got to Cheddar Gorge yet. I had been trying to save something in the tank for the climb through Cheddar Gorge and was confused why it wasn’t on Huseyins list. As we approached Cheddar the rain started again. The road started descending and Neil and Huseyin stopped to put on their rain jackets once more. I continued solo. The road continued to descend – “are we going down it instead of up then” I thought to myself. I really should have checked this small detail before the ride! As it turned out, yes we were going down it. On the one hand this was great news, but countered by the fact the rain was now coming down heavily. The road through Cheddar Gorge is a series of tight bends. In the dry it would have been the most fun part of the day, but in the greasy wet it was super sketchy. I still enjoyed it immensely though, it was a stunning place to ride through near the end of such an epic day. I waited for the other two in Cheddar and we continued on.
The road surface gradually deteriorated and we found ourselves riding over wet mud, gravel and potholes. With about 5 miles to go Neil was just reminding me about something stupid I’d said when my chain came off the chainrings. It got really jammed between the crank and the frame. Neil and Huseyin carried on for a bit and I stopped to sort it out. Only I couldn’t sort it on my own. I was on a steep section of road and my head wasn’t in the game. So I walked the bike up the hill round the corner where I could see the other two waiting for me. I waved at them to come and help me. Between us we managed to yank the chain and bend the crank and frame apart slightly and free the chain. Phew! The whole episode took about 9 minutes and was mildly upsetting, especially as my frame had sustained some superficial damage. I was also now quite cold and wet. So I put in a little effort to get up the hill and warm myself up a bit. After this I actually started feeling better and better. Not letting the crap weather dampen my spirits, I sat on the front got a bit aero and put in a half decent turn. I was averaging around 35kph feeling a bit better about myself when another group of three guys caught us up and went past me. So I wasn’t going all that fast then! We jumped on their wheels and let them tow us into Burnham on Sea. We rolled over the finish to a mildly moist heroes welcome. Huseyins family were there waiting for us, and Neil and I were given our rucksacks. Then the heavens truly opened, and the storm hit a proper. We hid under a shelter on the esplanade, ate some food, shared stories and changed into some dry clothes. Huseyin and family went off to do their thing and Neil and I opted to settle for the Wetherspoons over the road, making our move once the rain calmed down a bit. We were so lucky to have missed that downpour whilst on the road. We had got pretty damp, but avoided being absolutely drenched.
Then the ordeal of the return journey started. Honestly this could be another blog altogether. In a nutshell though – our train was cancelled, we went to another station, had to wait 90 minutes, had to argue our way on to the train, got to London too late, got a taxi and ran but missed the fast train home, had to cycle to Victoria at about midnight and eventually got the slow train back to Meopham. I got to bed about 1:50am, spent. The next day I drove back to the scene of the crime with the family and picked up my other car. Eventually I got to lie on the sofa with a beer at about midday, nursing a pretty sore arse. Well worth it though. Always a pleasure to ride with Neil and Huseyin, and such a fantastic event to do together too.
Moving time for the 205 miles about 10 hrs 50mins
Average speed 18.9mph or 30.5kph
Average HR 135bpm (Neil and Huseyin both about 122bpm)
Average power 160w (Neil and Huseyin both about 180w)
Normalised power 180w (Neil and Huseyin both about 200w)
If you’re interested in fueling, Strava reckons I burnt 6268 calories during the ride. Neil and Huseyin did more work, so burned more than me. I probably burnt another 2000ish during the rest of the 23 and a half hours I was active, but this is a total guess. My wife put my food intake into a calorie calculator and worked out that throughout the whole day I consumed 5358 calories. I reckon that means I was in a calorie deficit of around 3000 calories. A quick google says that equates to half a kilo of body fat only.