The route took us out for a tour of the Oxfordshire Thames and Vale of the White Horse, passing through towns like Wallingford, Faringdon and Wantage along with countless pretty villages. First half was really quite flat and pretty quick as a result with some good group riding - second half less so as the course climbed up and over the Berkshire Downs around Lambourne and the self-styled 'Valley of the Racehorse'. Very pretty cycling country, this, made even more so by the sunny weather, which resulted in my case in a nice pair of sunburnt wrists. Unfortunately there was also a fierce headwind to contend with for much of the route, but beautiful cycling country nonetheless. Somewhere I would like to return to with a tent and a proper touring bike so I can explore a few of those lovely village pubs without worrying about Strava segments of what-not. The stretch past the famous Uffington White Horse was particularly bucolic, all classic English chalk downland, distant Ridgeway vistas and blue skies, whistling excerpts from The Lark Ascending to myself in between climbs and thinking of the paintings of Eric Ravilious which I also love. At one point we were even overtaken by an old couple in a beautiful Jaguar XK120, just as we were passing a village cricket match - the scene could hardly have been more English, it was like some period drama, I swear, all that was missing was a solitary Spitfire describing victory rolls across the azure Oxfordshire sky.
Even more pleasing was the fact I was feeling pretty strong on the bike, possibly helped by the fact my saddle was no longer killing me. I had taken advantage of Specialized's saddle exchange scheme to swap out my new but crippling Romin Evo Pro for the oddly-named Toupe Pro (who makes this stuff up?), which quickly proved a much happier fit with the old posterior. It was really good to feel all the recent training pay off, though - I am not a quick cyclist by anyone's standards but still, 75 miles is a decent distance to ride a bike, especially in that headwind, so I was really quite pleased with my average speed of 25.4 km/h (15.8mph). Even more pleased with the massive BBQ blow-out that ensued afterwards but recovery meals as I've said before are very important. Joking aside, my legs were definitely feeling it the day after this ride, despite my usual borderline OCD-esque dedication to stretching etc. It was a nice sort of burn, though, suggesting I had pushed just hard enough for a good training ride. Important to keep these things in perspective as well - 75 miles would have been a very long way to ride a bike but a few years ago, now it feels completely doable which is a nice feeling.
This pleasing feeling that at last the training is paying off was reinforced last night when I cycled off after work to the SW London cyclist's favourite haunt of Richmond Park for a couple of quick laps before sundown. 'RP' if you've never been there is basically like cycling around the grounds of a stately home, complete with roaming herds of wild deer. It is very beautiful and all the more so given its proximity to Central London and Heathrow. It is also a great place to train, with pretty smooth roads and couple of useful little climbs. Unfortunately it also suffers from nose-to-tail traffic over the weekends but the best time to ride there is weekday early mornings or dusk in the summer time when the gates are closed to motor traffic, creating a fantastic car and traffic light-free circuit for cyclists. As long as one remembers to observe the strict 20mph speed limit, of course.
Last night it was just beautiful there anyway, balmy enough for short sleeves in the evening sunshine and lots of deer about. This was supposed to be a steady 1.5 hour training session but buoyed by Sunday's ride I decided to give it some beans for a couple of laps before pegging it home to Nine Elms via the South Circular. Felt like a bit of a time-trial towards the end as I battled through the traffic lights to keep my average speed up but was quite chuffed to get home with an average speed of 26.1km/h (16.2 mph). Again this is all relative and I'm not going to give Wiggo any sleepless nights but by standards this is a pretty tidy speed and further evidence that all those freezing cold weekend rides and sweaty early morning turbo sessions haven't been in vain.
A particular highlight was being overtaken by a trio of riders from Westway CC coming down the steep bit of Broomfield Hill (I will never be a natural descender), managing to tag onto the back of their group for a mile or so before pulling out of their slipstream and skinning them on the long drag up Sawyer's Hill. This sort of thing never happens to me - I'm normally the one being spat out the back of the bunch on club rides! I was also used as shelter a couple of times by some seriously quick triathletes on TT bikes, which I took as a compliment given they usually just blat straight past me without a second thought.
Now we are approaching the first 'monument' of my 2013 season, the London Revolution which takes place across the weekend after next. In the meantime I have one more turbo interval session, a couple of long, steady weekend rides and then some tapering next week. Also hoping to book a sports massage with these guys as a special treat after all my training. It's still early days but really pleasing to feel the training make a difference and starting to feel like, well not exactly quick but borderline-respectable at least. Now I just need to make sure I don't fall off and avoid the usual office bugs for the next two weeks and we shall have a better indicator of how I'm doing ahead of what promises to be an Dolomites trip in June.