Just over a week ago I replied to an email from Tredz bikes as part of a competition to win a place in the Carten100 bike ride. For those who don’t know and too lazy to click the link this is a 100 mile bike ride from Cardiff to Tenby. That’s quite a long way.
I didn’t think much of it, after all what were the odds on winning, and then when Palace clinched a place in the play-offs I booked a ticket for the home leg without a second thought to the competition. Then a few days before the ride I got an email saying I’d won (gulp) by which point there were a number of things against me.
- I wasn’t getting back from London until about 2am the night before a 7:30 start.
- My bike was still in for repair and I’d again have to prep my turbo bike – by this point safely back on the trainer
- The weather forecast was grim, the worst of it being a 25mph headwind most of the day the whole way
- 100 miles had been extended to 106 following police advice
I rushed home from work on the Friday and spent some time swapping bike cassettes again regretting doing it up so tight a few days before – was not being able to remove that really a viable excuse? Not really but I must admit my heart sank a little when the wrench finally moved. An hour later I was in the car to London, thankfully in the passenger seat and over 4 hours, a 0-0 draw later I’d decided that I probably couldn’t do the ride. Crossing the Severn Bridge at about 1am I’d pretty much written it off and although K had got all my kit and nutrition ready I climbed into bed, decided I wasn’t doing it and didn’t set an alarm.
This decision meant I slept well but woke up just before 6. I sat awake for 15 minutes when I realised that I’d regret passing up the opportunity and proceeded to get myself ready. Kit ready, nutrition sorted I got in the car and while K drove I downed a can of Red Bull and a banana. Arriving at the Cardiff City Stadium start location riders were already leaving and I joined the queue. I spoke to Peter, the organiser of the event, and he handed my my race number and bike jersey and shortly after I was ready to go. One of the last to leave I reasoned that would mean I’d have groups to pick up all the way to the first stop at Margam where a proper breakfast would be provided.
I said to myself that if nothing else I’d won a free jersey but inside knew fully that I’d be far too stubborn not to go the whole way unless it was physically impossible. Mentally I told myself to break the trip up into 3 separate legs of 30 miles and then do the short bit to Tenby to finish. Easy…..
I quickly left behind the group I departed with as we went up Cowbridge Road but found I kept getting caught at red lights just as the group ahead moved through. The first climb on the A48 I span my way past a few riders, some of who were pushing already. Couldn’t help but feel it was going to be a long day for those riders but massive respect to them if they finished.
Along the undulating A48 before passing my office in Bridgend when the first of the rain started and on through Pyle and then Margam. Closing on the back of a group as we crossed over the M4 I think I missed the start of the sprint as the riders ahead suddenly surged away. obviously they’d picked up the scent of sizzling bacon at the first stop. Here the Express Cafe served up one of the nicest sausage baps I’ve ever eaten and having been stopped for about 30 minutes I set off looking forward to passing the half way point and getting onto the part of the ride on roads I don’t actually know. I often find it easier to ride on new roads as looking around makes the time go quicker.
Navigating through Port Talbot was a bit tricky due to traffic and lights so a mini peleton of about 30 bikes formed but once onto the bypass we were away and I once more left the group behind. It was shortly after as we crossed at Briton Ferry that the wind really started to take effect and then for the first and only time on the ride I gave up my triathlon instincts and joined a line of bikes to get some protection from the wind. I probably stayed in that group for 5 or so miles before it broke up in traffic through Swansea and we joined the Clyne Gardens cycle track which due to the tree lined nature offered a nice respite from the ever increasing breeze but when we crossed into Llanelli the toughest part of the ride was about to begin.
Progress was tough here and I found myself working my way past many small groups working hard to shield themselves from the wind but when we went onto the undulating coastal path, normally a very pleasant riding experience, the elements really did make life difficult. Sections of the path were covered in sand which was both slippery and energy sapping and there was sand battering your face as well as the wind slowing progress to a crawl. Going uphill was actually easier than the flat with the hills themselves shielding the wind. Having navigated through this area the next break couldn’t come soon enough and the Ship Aground pub was a welcome sight for the next official stop at around 62 miles. Drinking a can of coke and using the facilities I must admit I didn’t rush to get back out there but when I did I felt newly invigorated and confident I had the remaining 44 miles left in my legs.
The first decent climb in a while took as past Kidwelly before descending into Carmarthen where riders would get to experience the new longer route. Leaving the A40 at Johnstown to follow the NCR4 path up a very steep hill where numerous riders were pushing I soon found myself in my own spring classic as I rode on some bumpy roads with no sign of anyone in front or behind and it stayed that way for most of the new route until my conservative descending allowed a few people to catch up as I joined the back of a lead group. I took advantage of a short break at a service station on the A40 just outside St Clears leaving myself with two lots of around 20K to the finish. Once more leaving the A40 we picked up the new route to Tavernspite and the final stop but it was clear that many riders didn’t fancy the new route and continued on the A40, I learnt later that many more did the same at Carmarthen doing significantly less distance than the majority.
I’ll take this moment to have a short rant – I understand conditions were tough, and the route was changed at short notice but when you’re in an organised event, carrying a number and wearing the colours of that event you should abide by the rules. The organisers were clear that the two diversions were in place on police advice and I would hate to think that the event could be in jeopardy because some selfish riders didn’t fancy doing the full ride. Also I should add that the number of idiots I witnessed running red lights made my blood boil – one accident would be enough to ruin the event. If you lose your group another will be along shortly. Rant over.
There was a long drag to the final stop and when a Cardiff Tri member went past me on aerobars it was quite satisfying to reel him back in nearer the top of the climb. A glass of lemonade later it was time to finish this thing and knowing there would be far more down than up was a great feeling. I did the final 20K in 50 minutes and the adrenaline rush was palpable turning onto the A478 and seeing a “Tenby 5 miles” sign. Knowing this stretch well I was aware that this was still an undulating road but I worked hard on the uphills and for the first time in a while rode the downhills rather than free-wheeling. It was nice to have small groups cheering during the whole ride but as they do with Ironman Wales the locals of Tenby and New Hedges really get behind these events and it was great to be cheered towards the finish especially when entering the town square and under the finish line.
K was there to meet me right at the finish and while I was out on the road had booked us into a B&B and reserved us a table in the popular Blue Ball restaurant. Not having to head straight home was something of a relief. I didn’t wear my finishers shirt to the meal but the weary look in my eyes and the band on my wrist ensured that everyone knew I was one of that hardy band of men (and women) who had left Cardiff early that morning. Walking around Tenby afterwards it wasn’t hard to identify your fellow Carteners and while no words needed to be exchanged the mutual respect was told in a single knowing nod of the head. Anyone who’s done the Carten has to be given a lot of credit, those who did Carten 2013 have earned just a little bit more.
I can confidently say that 112 miles in Nottingham in 8 weeks time will not be any tougher.