Today is one of the only two days of the year that above all others you can pretty confidently call a bike ride on. My wife is great and very supportive of my riding but I'd been looking forward to my Father's day ride for the last couple of weeks. Tracking the weather forecast in the days leading up – it was all looking good too – a predicted 18 degrees and sunshine right up to yesterday.
This morning however, started a little more slowly than planned. Stupidly I'd gone to bed after midnight, had then been woken by the kids at 3am and again at 4am before stuggling out of bed about 8.30. My wife and the kids presented me with a Liquigas jersey as my Fathers' day present, which was cool. A large bowl of porridge for breakfast and I mixed up my energy drinks and hit the road 5 minutes later than planned. I'd also run out of time to put on my "lighter" wheels but was feeling ok as I've been doing well with my Mavics recently.
Heading out of Tunbridge Wells, I hadn't noticed a guy coming up behind me and only noticed him on the first climb of the ride and thought "where did he come from?" Because he'd come out of nowhere I thought he'll fly by me at any minute as he must be motoring. After another kilometer or so he was still 20 metres behind me and he gradually got onto my wheel but he didn't fly past. We started chatting and were heading the same way so we kept riding together, introduced ourselves and I said he was welcome to join our little group ride if he wanted. Dave said he was up for that and we headed to Chiddingstone to our meeting point, even arriving a minute or so early. A few minutes later Malcolm arrived on his De Rosa and a few minutes after that Warren arrived on his Colnago complete with his terrific new Lightweight wheels.
Warren's not been well this week with a nasty stomach bug so it was chapeau to him for coming out going for a group ride. We're not the fastest guys in world but we don't cruise around either – it's generally a good pace and to be honest we're all a little bit competitive.
We headed off in the usual direction towards Cowden, Warren seemed fine and he and Dave set the pace on the first little climbs as Malcolm and I talked about the new wheels he's just ordered from Harry Rowland and Malcolm told me he'd been out for 40 miles yesterday, which I told him was brave. I always have the day off before a group ride as I need the strength!
On the hill going into Cowden you come off a nice downhill where you can get a bit of momentum and seeing Warren a bit slower out of the blocks than usual – I threw in an attack. I got the jump on him but he came back well and we hit the top of the climb pretty even and had dropped Malcolm and Dave on the way. Warren rightly pointed out that it was a tough call attacking a guy who'd been sick – but in fairness, he's been hammering me on the climbs since we've started riding so I needed all the help I could get.
From there we rode through a horse riding event on the way into Hartfield where they're doing re-surfacing on the road up to Upper Hartfield. We stopped and chatted to the roadworks guys to see if we could get through and although we probably could, it didn't feel like a smart move to ask Warren to do some cross country and kerb hopping on the Lightweights so we headed up Jacks Hill which then runs into Cotchford Hill and is the big hill on the Elevation profile for today. Malcolm and Dave started first and Malcolm probably had a 30m jump on Warren and I at the bottom. It's a 4-5km hill and roughly 150m of vertical climbing over the climb.
For the first half of the climb, I struggled at first to not be dropped to much as I slipped back at first and then I started to come back. I caught and passed Warren (for the first time ever) and Dave but Malcolm was still out in front. By the 4km mark you come out of the trees and onto the top of the hill and I was pleased that I got to that point on Malcolm's wheel and we had a good gap on the others. I pushed on past Malcolm after suggesting that we stop and regroup on the top of the hill so that we could agree where we were going to go from there. Warren started catching me pretty quickly on the flat at the top but had struggled on the climb – still suffering the after effects of his illness. Malcolm decided to head back further into the forest to collect his car so after a few minutes chatting Malcolm headed off and Warren, Dave and I headed down the descent towards Groombridge. About half way down the hill I lost a bottle again and told Dave I was going back for it (it was new and my best bottle – a Camelbak Podium). It had stopped rolling right in the middle of the road on a corner but a kind chap in a Ford Focus Estate who saw me lose the bottle stopped next to it in the road and sat with his hazard lights flashing whilst I collected it – Thanks very much! I was amused to hear later that Dave had told Warren when he saw I'd disappeared that I'd "lost my bottle on the descent" and Warren had rightly said – "no – Scott loves the descents"
We rode uneventfully from there back to Groombridge where Dave left us after giving us his email address so we can include him when we're organising other group rides. Dave had been an excellent addition to the group today and good company as well as a decent rider and it's always nice to have new people to ride with. Hopefully we'll see him again soon.
I rode with Warren back to our meeting point in Chiddingstone and was starting to feel a bit tired on the last little climbs. We stopped for a chat and a debrief on the day's ride and took on some well deserved energy drink and bars. We had a chat with the pub manager as we sat outside the pub in Chiddingstone and he checked out our bikes, saying he was a long retired roadie. Once we started to get cold again, we said our goodbyes and I headed back towards Tunbridge Wells. After the first 10 minutes of the ride home, I warmed up a bit and the speed picked up again, the hills were still tough but not too bad but I was definitely tired when I got home.
For me it was another great ride – well done to Warren for coming out – he said he was pretty shattered when he got home and I'm not surprised he worked hard considering the week of illness he'd had – chapeau also to Malcolm for doing back to back rides and to Dave for coming and joining the fun.