There was no racing at the Weekend and after a day off on Saturday, to go down to London for the Olympic road race, I cycled to Prince Risborough for a few of the hills around the Chiltern ridge.
The weather was glorious for the first three hours – 20 degrees, sunny, and with only a light breeze. After the fifth ascent of a hill around Princes Risborough, an ominous looking cloud started to empty its contents. When it starts to rain, you never quite know when to get the rain jacket out. You often start off hoping it will pass, and then regret putting it on over already wet clothes 20 minutes later. But, this cloud looked pretty bleak, and with the rain starting to really pelt it down, I stopped by a tree in a posh part of Princes Risborough. It’s funny the places you end up sheltering under a tree. I’ve stopped in many places from isolated barns to leafy oaks in suburbia. This was definitely one of the posher places to take shelter. You wonder what people in the houses think of that cyclist down below hiding under their tree. The people of the house did actually came out in a big 4*4 and sped off up the road, whatever they thought – they didn’t offer a hot cup of cocoa to the bedraggled cyclist.
It’s kind of satisfying to be under heavy canope when the rain is sleeting down. You are 95% drier than you would be out on the road. The problem is that it’s rather fun to shelter under the tree and it becomes unattractive to go back on road. It’ easy to think – I’ll just stay under the tree until the rain passes. But, despite pushing myself deeper and deeper into the hedge to get more protection, the rain was still finding its way – slowly but inevitably through; nature’s waterproofing is good but sill imperfect.
Leaving the comfort of a tree is rather like summoning yourself to get out of a nice warm shower, when you know the bathroom is freezing cold. But, I was glad to get back on the bike. I thought I would just put my head down and ride fast the 25 miles back home. But, despite a decent starting speed, the rain got heavier and the temperature colder. I saw the temperature on my garmin had fallen from 23 degrees to 12 degrees. Quite a fall, especially when you add the cold effect of rain.
Earlier in the day, I had passed a seeming record number of happy cyclists. Whether it was the good weather or ‘The Wiggins effect’, I don’t know – I’ve never seen so many leisure and lycra clad cyclists out on the Buckinghamshire roads. Now, these happy cyclists were rather damp and a bit on the glum side. As I road along, it seemed like carnage, with cyclists hiding under every bush. I saw one chap in just a pair of shorts and a short sleeved top. He was on his mobile phone, I surmised the clothes he had on were the only thing he had. Without any waterproof I guessed he was sheepishly ringing some wife / girlfriend asking if they wouldn’t mind giving up cooking the Sunday dinner and come and pick up a rather wet and cold cyclist. I wonder what he had to offer into the bargain…
At least he had someone to ring. In the 2011 Etape du Tour, many cyclists were caught out on the descent of mountains, when the temperature fell close to freezing – leaving record numbers of cyclists having to abandon in unexpectedly cold conditions. I was cold enough at 12 degrees. 0 degrees would have had me squeezing into a phone box or something.
After half an hour of torrential rain, I stopped and got out a second ‘waterproof’ – actually more of gillet, but another layer was welcome after the rain had seeped through the original lightweight waterproof.
By the time I had a second extra layer on, I felt marginally better, but my legs were now too cold to function effectively. It was a long hard, big geared slog back to Oxford. In the last 20 minutes, the rain abruptly stopped and the sun came out. The temperature rapidly soared from 12 to 18. I could feel the sun drying out my wet clothes whilst I rode. I could feel the warmth returning to the body. It was a great feeling and showed me how cold I had got.
After a warm shower, I turned on telly to see the Women’s Olympic road race. It was just as torrential if not more so, I’m just glad Lizzie Armitstead didn’t stop under a Surrey tree to fiddle around with a zip on her waterproof. By contrast to their gutsy performance in the rain, it made me feel quite an amateur hiding under a tree hoping for rain to pass. But, then to be fair I didn’t have 300,000 people cheering me on through closed roads.
On a serious note, I was very pleased for Lizzie Armitstead to come second in the Women’s Olympic Road race – a great achievement at only 23. She comes from Otley, Yorkshire. Otley CC was my first cycling club with many good memories of club rides out into the Yorkshire Dales. She went to school at Prince Henry’s Otley. A school I often pass when training in Yorkshire – it’s just around the corner from Norwood Edge and some other excellent hill climbs.