I initially planned to do this ride in November on my winter bike however the frost soon put an end to that mad idea. I am very glad that ride didn’t go ahead as I have my doubts to whether I would have been able to do it as I have learned so much over the past 8 months and have become a much stronger rider.
When I replanned this ride the idea was to bridge the gap between my final 600km qualifier and the 1200km I would have to ride in Paris. After my final 600km qualifier I felt a little disappointed with my time however as time passed I became satisfied with my effort and my mental resolve to keep on moving that day. It just so happened that I also had a cousin getting married in July and so the cycle would save me on airfare and reduce my carbon footprint.
I decided that for this journey I was going to be prepared and have a stress free ride. This meant having my bike and all my gear ready on Monday which made things much easier. I made a nice batch of flapjacks and packed plenty of warm clothes and necessities in a smallish dry bag which I attached under my seat with bungee cords. I have been having some serious issues in regards to saddle comfort and was adamant to get this sorted before Paris. I decided to test some saddles that Chris Wilson had leant to me and I settled on a Selle Italia. I also invested in a new set of Assos S7 Mille bib shorts and mixed my own chamois cream which consisted of Vaseline, sudocream and voltarol, 1 part of each.
I decided to tell most of my family that I was riding home except for my mother as she would just worry the entire time and I would be getting constant phone calls. My bike felt in good shape as I had my fork repaired after the 600km ride and also was trying out some new compact handlebars for the first time. I hadn’t had a chance to fix my deep carbon rear wheel and so had to run with my standard one.
I set off at 5am on Wednesday morning after a good solid breakfast and was feeling very motivated. Traffic was still light as I easily escaped London via the north west and soon negotiated around St Albans and decided to get off the busy A414 for a while. I had a few different routes set on my Garmin which would be used depending on my mood and how pushed I was for time. The quiet roads didn’t last long and I had to get onto the A41 as I exited Hemel Hempstead which led me to my first food stop. My mission for this ride was fast and efficient food stops and over time I have realised I can eat anything. With this in mind I stopped at a greasy spoon van on the side of the road and had a large sausage and egg sandwich, a can of coke and a cup of tea.
I got moving again however was halted by a deluge of rain as I felt it was too early in the ride to be soggy and so took shelter in a petrol station for 15 minutes. The next few hours were pretty uneventful with the highlight being the number of times I had to take my coat on and off as I powered on to my next stop in Worchester. I was hoping to find a bakery as opposed to a cafe to keep my stops short however I ended up sitting down for 25 minutes and having a nice baked potatoe as well as a sandwich to go. I also took some time to reapply chamois cream and was very happy with my new selection of saddle, shorts and cream so far.
Like all of my recent big rides I had a headwind today again which was a little bit more manageable this time and I had no choice but to get on with the ride and keep moving. At one stage this meant being reduced to riding at 20kmph in my small ring along a flat section into Shrewsbury for 2 hours. Despite this I was still happy as I was more comfortable than I have ever been and I was also rewarded with my first Greggs ever for my next food break. I had now been moving for 12 hours and was feeling good and so started thinking about the last stretch to the ferry.
The roads were not as quiet as I liked but I soon crossed the border into Wales at the 340km mark and had a few more route options so decided to wander along the quieter roads with a bit more shelter from the wind between the hedges. I was soon back on the A5 which wound its way along the Dee Valley and was much quieter than before. I hit a few substantial climbs before having a stop in Corwen to top up my sugar and waters levels.
As I got closer to Holyhead I began to calculate an arrival time however the distance on the Garmin and the road signs did not match up. I panicked a little as the road signs were telling me I had an extra 35km which was about 80 minutes of riding in current conditions and would leave me very rushed for my 0240 ferry if I was to have any mechanical issues. I got a little stressed at this time and responded in the only way I know how by putting my head down and riding harder. I still cruised up the hills however on the descents I went as fast as possible to maximize the advantage. I rode hard for around 3 hours and as I got closer to Bangor I began to settle down and started to enjoy the peace and quiet of the night.
The A5 got very busy as it crossed the Isle of Anglesey towards Holyhead however it had a large hard shoulder and the trucks always stayed at least one lane away. In hindsight I probably should have been on the A55 however I did not realise this road ran alongside the A5 and I was up for a straight shot all the way to the port. The riding along this section of road was like ground hog day as I passed an off ramp, an overpass, an on ramp and then a lorry rest bay which repeated continuously for over an hour.
I arrived at the port just after schedule at 1am and felt a little stiff but in good spirits overall. I got my bike stripped and stored any valuables in my rear dry bag to keep in safe while on the ferry. I also put all my clothes on as it had gotten quite cold and I needed to stay warm while I stretched and waited for the ferry.
I was soon boarded and managed to find a ‘good’ calorific breakfast and a decent place to sleep. Despite sleeping for 3 hours it felt like one of those 10 second sleeps and I was woken by an Irish Ferries attendant telling me I had to get off the boat as I was the last passenger. Once again I felt very energetic and was welcomed to Dublin by a sharp blue sky and a cold, fresh breeze. I took a few minutes to organise my kit before leaving the ferry terminal and started hunting for breakfast.
I found a convenience store which also had a subway inside and began to shop for what felt like a family of four. I took on plenty of liquids including milk, coffee and coconut water and also went for a 6 inch turkey melt sub which has the highest calorie value. It was almost 8am before I started moving out of Dublin which turned out to be much easier than I thought it would be and by 9am was on the N3 to Navan and sufficiently warm so I pulled over and stripped off. My first planned stop was Kells so I put my head down and kept moving.
I found a nice cafe on the way out of Kells and had my first piece of cake of the trip and also topped up with chamois cream. I was now sending regular updates to my sisters to try to give them a time of arrival and the motivation of seeing my family kept my legs turning and my body battling through the wind. The roads so far had been in excellent condition however I hit the town of Virginia and my bones began to rattle and did so for the next 6km which was quite horrible.
I continued along the N3 to Lavey before deciding to get onto some quieter roads. Once again I had a couple of routes planed however I had not done much research into this section and I soon found plenty of hills to kill my speed and my legs. As I continued up and down I soon arrived in Clones for what was to be my final substantial stop and the last town before I crossed the border into Northern Ireland.
My home country welcomed me with open arms and my biggest climb yet. The first section was easily 20% for 250 metres which I had to do twice as my bag came loose on the first effort and I had to go back down a bit to get clipped back into my pedals. The climb continued for another 20 minutes but at a much steadier gradient and didn’t have much of a downhill section before I hit another decent climb.
As I hit a steep section of this climb a car coming the other way decided to come onto my side of the road and stop about 30 metres in front of me. I stopped and stood on the pedals for a split second to see what was going on before trying to move again and having my chain split under the effort I had to put in to move from stationary. Luckily I didn’t fall or go backwards and I also had a good mechanic on hand and the tools to get moving again. I quickly pushed a couple of pins from my chain and inserted a new quick link and was moving faster than it would take most people to change a tube.
I was still 80km from home which was 3 hours at my current pace. The prospect of seeing my family and having a good dinner kept me moving well and I was soon in Omagh and on the final stretch. I could continue riding the hills for 45km or have a flattish 70km run home along main roads. I opted for the flatter run home as I was now heading east and would only have a crosswind to contend with.
First of all though I needed some fuel and opted for a small dominos pizza and a coke. I’m not sure if it was the pizza or the ‘motivational’ phone call from my brother telling me to hurry the frank up and get home but my legs started moving much better and I held a good pace for the first few kilometres out of town. It was raining quite heavily and I sat up as I hit a main roundabout and contemplated putting on my coat however I decided to stick my head back down and push on rather than be attached to a parachute.
I couldn’t comprehend what was going on as I had struggled for the last 700km to get any kind of pace together despite working hard. I continually looked down at two huge hairy pistons that pumped me along at 40+ and could do nothing but let out a laugh that made me sound a little insane. I stayed on my compact drops which were very comfortable and I pushed hard into Strabane and it was only when I sat up did I realise how hard it was raining and how wet I actually was. I blasted out the other side of the town with my next target being Derry which would leave me 13km to home. I had a quick stop in Derry to meet Amy before completing the final stint of my journey in the pouring rain. As I get to the end of a hard ride I always remove a medal I have around my neck that my dad gave me and it always helps me with the final push.
As I made my way up the final hill to my house I phoned my Mum who was expecting to have to lift me at the airport at 2030 so I was bang on time and she got a serious shock when I told her to come out to the front of the house. It took her a while to comprehend why I was on my bike but it eventually sank in and she was definitely glad I didn’t tell her what I was up to.
It was very nice to be welcomed by all my family and I soon got a much needed wash the get rid of the 40 hours of dirt. I was very satisfied with my effort and the ride has given me that little bit of extra confidence in the run up to Paris and I am finally comfortable. I’m a little disappointed not to have taken any photos as I was so focused on moving fast and having short stops.
With less than 3 weeks to Paris (August 16th) I feel ready and won’t do much more, if any, hard training and will be focusing on eating, sleeping, stretching and getting myself mentally ready to go under 50 hours.
Event: Home to Home (Paris-Brest -Paris Qualifier No. 5 of 4. OVERKILL!!)
Start/Finish: 0500 on 8/7/15 in Tottenham/2030 on 9/7/15 in Greysteel
Route: https: http://www.strava.com/activities/344823003
Totals: 734km in 39:44:59