Team Cycling Plus - Malcolm Ratcliffe

Malcolm takes on the Cycling Plus Sportive

Team Cycling Plus will be updating you each week with the highs and lows of their training as part of the team. This week Malcolm tackles the 70miler at BikeRadar Live!

Team member: Malcolm Ratcliffe

Malcolm from Erdington is determined to shed some of his 17stone before his 45th birthday this October. To do this he hopes to take his cycling to the next level with Team Cycling Plus, by extending his 10-20mile rides, and include a sportive or two in his season. As well as losing weight, his goals include regularly commuting the 10miles to work and doing a London to Paris charity ride.

Jul 15: All records broken and another sportif under my belt, that was the BikeRadar event at Brands Hatch on Saturday.

The build up to Saturday was non-existent, not a pedal turned all week.  But with the 70 miles of sweat and toil that was the BikeRadar sportif on Saturday it ticked off as one of my biggest week in terms of mileage and time in the saddle.  Not the best way to train, better to smooth out with regular sessions, but none the less.

So with the lack of build up on the bike, lack of sleep the night before, due the rave party being held by neighbours, it was on the road at 4 to make registration on time at Brands Hatch.  Driving in the weather girl on the radio was declaring another hottest day of the year!  The landscape was becoming hillier and on the final drive up to the course I was beginning to doubt my sanity.

I joined the other riders and strolled down to the registration tent.  All very well organised, efficient and stress free.  Although I’d pencilled in the 100 mile event, given the conditions I opted for joining Kay on the ‘shorter’ 70 miles.  A wise choice as it turned out.  It was then back to the car to get changed and prepare the bike for the off.  As I devoured a cheese buttie for breakfast I didn’t quite realise that this might not be sufficient to see me round.  A magic bottle of isotonic drink to wash it down and I was set?!  The Millook was again easy to prepare, a number pinned to the front, check, a timing chip slotted onto the front wheel axel, check, Garmin fixed on, check, done and dusted.  A couple of flapjack bars, phone and emergency tenner in the back pocket and two water bottles and I wandered down to the start to find Kay and Sam.

It was only 7.30 but it was already warm and I was glad I’d applied some suntan lotion and had worked out how to construct the bandana.  Everyone was milling around waiting for the start, club riders, cycling enthusiasts, triathletes and Team C+.  Kay came down looking a little nervous but the usual big smile and with the appearance of a seasoned pro.  As the start time came round we decided to join the throng on the race circuit and leave Sam to his own devices, we were sure he’d catch up before too long.  At 8 the first group of riders set up for a full lap of the circuit before heading out into the Kent countryside, then the next group … and finally it was our turn.  A quick safety brief and some encouragement from the marshals, Garmins set, and we were on our way.

Speaking as a seasoned veteran myself of one previous sportif, the first few miles were the usual steady tempo down the main drag out of Brands Hatch with the riders stringing out along the road.  No real dramas and the first few miles were soon ticked off with some long eye streaming descents and sudden braking to clip around a few junctions and roundabouts before heading out into the countryside.  Sam flew past and wished us luck as he sped away to complete the 100 mile route.  Whilst enjoyable, speeding headlong downhill, there was the thought that at some point we’d have to regain the altitude lost and that would mean an uphill slog at some point.  This came sooner than expected and after a short ‘sprint’ up Bow hill after 18 miles there came the longer steeper Hunton Hill at 22 miles.  Hit the granny ring but on the Millook there was not the ‘get out of jail’ of a triple and I was at points crawling at little more than a brisk walking pace wishing for just one more gear change that never came.  Kay had skipped up the climb ahead of me but on the descent I hit a new record speed of 43 mph and caught her up at the bottom.

The first feed station at Headcorn at 30 miles was a welcome site and I quickly devoured a banana to help me on my way.  At this point we’d clocked a reasonable average speed of 16mph but that was to all change over the next 20 miles to the second feed station at Brenchley.  The terrain became very undulating and no sooner had you crested a hill to enjoy the ride down than another hill loomed.  It was incessant and I’d soon lost Kay as I’d dropped off the back of our group grinding my way onwards.  Winchett Hill at 44 miles was another killer and I had to make the decision to stop and push the Millook part way.  I was not the only one as the heat and course started to take its toll.  My average speed had nose dived despite topping 30mph on some of the downhill sections and when finally I reached Brenchley I was nearly broken, literally chewing the hot humid air with every laboured breath.  I sat down in some shade, took on some fluids to rehydrate and thought very seriously of calling it a day, after all 50 miles was no mean feat given the conditions.

But, only 20 miles to the finish, I can do 20 miles, I do do 20 miles or more on my normal training runs, it’s only 90 minutes or so.  There’s still plenty of daylight left, I could walk 20 miles in a little under 5 hours if I had to.  After 20 minutes I’d watched people pass through, some looking worse off than myself so I picked myself off the ground remounted and headed out on the final section.  It wasn’t pretty, well the countryside was as it had been all the way round, and on hitting the slopes of the final and longest climb, Exedown Hill, at the 44 mile mark I barely had the energy left to walk the bike to the top never mind pedal up.  No Etape for me anytime soon!!

It’s amazing how the scent of the finish line suddenly gives you new impetus and on cresting Exedown it was back on the saddle and for last few miles I managed to pick up the pace once more and flew in to the finish back at Brands Hatch.  So an official time of 5 hours 45 minutes and a bronze medal, ride time 5 hours 20 mins according to the Garmin.  I’d clocked a new highest speed of 43 mph and even beaten my previous highest max heart rate with a new all time record of 191bpm whilst climbing the first major hill of the day, Hunton Hill.

Did I enjoy the ride?  They say time is a great healer and on reflection I’d say it was a great day out.  It was my biggest cycling challenge to date and although not managing to pedal the entire route I did complete the course, didn’t come last, 226th out of 267 finishers on the 70 mile route, and I’m still standing and actually felt ok physically after the drive back home although mentally exhausted.  Would I do it again?  Yes, and I’m already eyeing up the remaining Verenti Kilo to Go events to se which I might be able to fit in this year.  Anything I’d do differently?  Yes, prepare better, not just more training, that’s obvious, but my race and pre race fuelling strategy, if there was one, was not ideal and certainly contributed, with the heat, to my slowing down considerably in the second half of the race.

A big thank you to all the event organisers, helpers, marshals, feed station teams, out riders …etc.  And respect to all my fellow riders, it was tough out there.  See you all next year.

Now, where’s that beer?

Who are Team Cycling Plus?

Team Cycling Plus powered by Verenti are readers Andy Ward, Kay Bowen, Malcolm Ratcliffe and Sam Shaw. We’ll be following them in the magazine for the next few months as they train towards their personal cycling goals under the guidance of Team Wiggle’s Ben Simmons and we will be publishing their weekly trials and tribulations here too. For regular updates check our twitter page twitter.com/cyclingplus and the Team Cycling Plus facebook page.

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