Cycletta: New Forest

I’m going to be honest with you, six months ago I had never even heard of a cyclosportive. My road cycling world was either dominated by watching the pros, laughing at the fact my Dad shaved his legs more than I did, or was still aching from the psychological damage of watching amateur time trials in the 1980s (come on, they are boring. Especially when you are 6 years old). But having made the significant purchase of my first road bike (aged 34…) I needed some focus, just riding it on my own wasn’t enough. I wanted to participate, I wanted to be challenged. Step forward Cycletta and their enticing promise of ‘fitness and fun’, ‘female cycling revolution’ and a timed, organised, mass participation road cycle event. I had discovered sportives.

Two things appealed about Cycletta: Their choice of venues was astonishing – beautiful landscapes, stately homes and (my personal choice) national parks. You don’t have to ask me twice about spending a morning on my bike in the fabulous surroundings of the New Forest.  I also was reassured by the fact they were female-only. Being a bit of a ‘tomboy’, I’ve never been normally attracted to female-only events. Nor do I want my cycling defined by my gender – if the boys can do it, so can I (just ask the Aussie about me out-sprinting him…). But this was different, riding a sportive was completely new and I didn’t want to feel like anything would stop me from doing the best I possibly could. Apologies gentlemen, but I didn’t want to be intimidated by machismo.

So I signed up and vowed to train. And did a lot of vowing but not much training, bar hacking around town on my folding bike. I knew I could just about ride 20 miles on the road bike, I knew I could just about ride twenty miles on the mountain bike. How hard could it really be? So on the last glorious Sunday morning, we drove to the New Forest, I pinned on my numbers and lined up with over 300 other women to take part in my first sportive. My first proper road cycling challenge.

And what did I learn? Firstly, that I really really need to learn how to convert kilometres in to miles – the last seven miles hurt a lot when you have given everything for the previous ten, mistakenly thinking those were the last ten miles of the course. Lesson 1: Know your distances and energy budget accordingly. Secondly, that you wear layers for a reason – if you are hot, take something off – don’t forget you are wearing arm warmers and carry on hot and bothered regardless. Thirdly, that mucking around on a single speed folding bike can count actually as training, when you are faced with a steep hill and a broken front derailleur. I could have got off and pushed, but I hung on in there and hacked up regardless – slowly, in the wrong gear, but I didn’t get off. And I’m really proud of that. I cycled it all, every single leg burning mile of it. And lastly, I learnt that Jelly Tots are possibly the greatest energy food known to mankind.

So that was my first sportive. 42 kilometres in 2 hours 26 minutes 55 seconds. A small but good start to hopefully see me on to bigger and maybe even better things. A proud new road cyclist with a heart filled with joy at what she achieved. Thank you Cycletta.


Rode across the desert on a bike with no name*

It’s a funny place, Kent.

I grew up in Essex so I like to think I am down with all things eastern. Lincolnshire – *high five*, Suffolk – I’m with you tractor-loving brethern. But Kent – it’s meant to be the Garden of England but those quaint cottages, rolling downs, even the white cliffs, as beautiful as they are, just don’t move me. I thought I had Kent sussed –  then I went to Dungeness.

View over Dungeness

Dungeness is the world’s largest expanse of shingle and the UK’s only desert. It is an extremely bleak, yet rather beautiful place – its flat expanse only broken by lighthouses, buildings traditionally made of old railway coaches but with the nuclear powers stations looming ominously and incongruously over the almost lunar landscape. The foreland can only be accessed by two ramshackle roads or rather eccentric miniature steam railway, complete with Royal carriage, just in case her Maj fancies a walk on the shingle.

Road bike leaning against a wall at Dungeness

We rode to Dungeness from St Mary’s Bay, about 10 miles north up the coast. We tried to follow the road all the way down the coast, but some of Coast Drive north of New Romney was just a grass track, unsuitable for the road bikes. So we just cycled down the concrete seawall instead.

The Aussie on his bike

Battling through some coastal cross winds was well rewarded with Tea and Jaffa Cakes in the Light Railway Cafe. The road surface was variable, at best and despite some the coast road through Greatstone and Lydd being a 40 speed limit, the volume was moderately low and I felt safe – which is important to me, as I am still ever so slightly wobbly at times on the new road bike.  The only other cyclists we saw were commuters from the power station, but you could tell regular vehicle users of the coast road were used to cycle traffic. I imagine they get a lot during the holiday season.

Dungeness Lighthouse

Dungeness is astonishing place and really rather evocative. On a clear day it was wonderful to be able to see from the shingle, across the marshes of Romney to the chalk downs. Getting to cycle through a a bona fide desert was a delight, though I suspect it might be a little more difficult to add to my desert-crossing list.

Kent, I take it back. You are more than just cliched green and pleasant land, you are full of surprises – miles of pebbly shingle, quirky buildings, looming nuclear monoliths and odd plants battling against the elements and thriving –  that’s much more my idea of a garden of England.

You can see more of my Dungeness photos on Flickr.


*For the sake of blog continuity my road bike does have name, but the title was irresistible.