Cycling stories to entertain and inspire

The Magic that is Audax Time

“I’m late, I’m late! For a very important date! No time to say ‘hello, goodbye,’ I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!”

Time in normal day-to-day life can feel reliable and predictable. Even without looking at our watches (or maybe smartphones these days) we have a good sense of what the real time is. In the world of audax, however, time can do some weird things. Here I explore one aspect where fast and furious can blend into slow and steady defying all logic.

Time: it’s not what it seems

Audax is a strange pastime. Grown-ups, riding around day and night in an imaginary quest for points. But there is one phenomenon thought always amazes me about long distance cycling. That is the magical and elastic nature of time which allows slow and steady riders riding heavy steel bicycles to appear to overtake the faster and more athletic athletes on their carbon super bikes.

Yesterday, I had the distinct pleasure of witnessing this magic in action when I “cycled with” some members of a local cycling club that I used to frequent (before I became too slow to participate meaningfully in their heroic endeavors). Knowing that I would be slower than the others, I decided to set off half an hour earlier in the hope that I would make some good progress, and maybe make it over the first of the major hills (in the shape of the Lambourne downs), before the others caught me up. And so, inevitably, on a short rise just after Lambourne where I stopped to apply some sun-tan lotion (for it was growing to be a scorcher of a day), I heard the gabbling voices of the four club riders forcing them to make an unscheduled stop and exchange pleasantries. I offered around my sun-tan lotion, but all politely declined. I took the opportunity (as did the others) to grab a snack bar for I wasn’t sure when the next stop would be (this particularly notorious Oxford-based club are hard like that). I was made aware that the team had a tight deadline for the day and must get back before 6pm. We were about 50km into the 200k route at this point and looking at their lightweight bikes I found it difficult to imagine that this target would be a particular challenge for them.

We rode on together over the few remaining hills before dropping down into Hungerford and then following the river valley to Marlborough at a furious pace over the relatively gentle but rolling terrain. Just before Marlborough the four clubmates gathered at the side of the road and after a short conference decided that I was the weak link in the chain. They would have to proceed without me. This came as quite a relief, because I was slightly alarmed that the pace would become unsustainable and that I might burn my matches too early. For example, my average speed had shot up to 21.9km/h!. In addition, it gave me the opportunity to pop into a nearby cafe for a late breakfast and rest my legs – for I knew what was coming.

The Marlborough Downs are not particularly steep, but they do go on at bit, and on a hot day they are steep and hard-work enough. I eased into my easiest gear and took it nice and steady admiring the wonderfully expansive views as I did so. This was a pleasant way to spend a summer’s day and I was enjoying the effort of working for the breath-taking views. Shortly after I crested the top and chicaned down the other side, I passed a pub. To my utmost surprise I saw the four club-riders perched on the outdoor seating and tucking into what appeared to be hearty lunches. “See you at the “official” stop”, I called out as I sped by.

I knew that I would be overtaken again, and sure enough, just before Minety (at around 108km) they shot past me again. I pulled over, changed the batteries in my Garmin, and remounted.  I doubted that I would see them again for the rest of the ride as they were clearly well-fuelled and gunning for their 6pm deadline.

I ambled on until reaching the “official” stop” at The Stump at Foss Cross. The place was heaving and most of the tables taken by group enjoying the gloriously sunny afternoon. To my surprise the cuatro amigos were no where to be found. I grabbed a light bite and welcome drink and headed off into the hottest part of the day. After Cirencester the route turned lumpy and that didn’t abate as the heat rose like the lanes up ahead of me. This was thirsty work and I could feel the salt of the crisps stuck in my throat. But this was a barren and parched land and there were no shops or pubs with which to slay my thirst. I ground on ever upwards past the scorched yellow fields and the bails of hay stacked ever higher but with geometric precision.

At Charbury, after what seemed like an age of never-ending rolling hills, a shop came into view and I pulled over for something cool and refreshing. It was only something like 25k to go and just shy of 5pm. I imagined the quatre amis celebrating the ride completed with maybe a handy pint and time to spare before their pressing appointments beckoned.

And so, just as I was polishing off an ice-cream, you might imagine how astonished I was when the gang of four rolled up outside the shop as hot and bothered as a swarm of wasps. Through their astonishment and exasperation (“How on earth did you get here?”), I heard tales of woe: mechanicals, too much faffing, over-eating and then suffering for it, and then there were the legs – sore and tired and in one case rather red and burnt. As I watched much of my sun-tan lotion liberally lathered over the angry skin I couldn’t help but wonder if it wasn’t maybe a bit too late in the day for that. And that’s when it hit them. It was late. Too late maybe? After checking their chronometers and a wave of the well-lotioned hands it was off down the road as fast as they could muster themselves for the “chain-gang” home. I slipped off the back at the first hill and watched them disappear ahead of me until they were nothing more than a rippling mirage on the road.

The last hour or so was spent reflecting on this wonderful magic of audax time. Often it seems – as during Paris-Brest-Paris, the longer the ride the more wormholes can appear in the fabric of reality. Frequently you might overhear comments such as: “But I thought I would never see you again” or “How on earth did you get ahead of me?” or “Where on earth did you spring from?”. What happens with our relationship with time when we embark on these adventures is one for the scientists, perhaps. Until then I believe in audax magic.

People often ask me what I eat during these rides. Here’s what I had on this occasion, which I guess is fairly typical for a summer 200km ride: breakfast of two soft-boiled eggs, 2 slices of toast for “soldiers” and one additional slice with local thick-set honey, one snack bar at 50km; flat-white coffee and two pastries at 80km; pint of hoppy beer and packet of cheese and onion crisps at 132km; can of Coke and Vegan mint-choc-chip Magnum at 174km. Copious amount of water and isotonic drink throughout the ride.


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