Yesterday, I rode 'The Gospel Pass', which is a long-standing and classic Audax ride. It's always held at this time of the year, and, at 150kms, is fairly long for an early season event. If you add in the Gospel Pass itself, the highest road pass in Wales, you have the makings of a proper adventure.
The ride starts at Chepstow, so I took my lodgings at the Castle View, where they made me a good breakfast before I walked across the road to sign in at the castle itself. There was a large field of more than 100 riders, many more than is normal in our part of the world. But everything was well organised and by 0800 we were climbing up to a hilly spit of land that has great views over the Severn and Wye, heading for the first control at Monmouth.
The weather was very cold - it probably didn't get much above freezing all day, and was well below it most of the time - but it was a dry cold, so really quite bearable if you wrapped up. The weather had given me some puzzlement with the choice of bike, too. My Pearson Carbon Audax is excellent for this type of ride, as you would expect, but it's light, and a little flighty, so it might be a bit of a handful if conditions turned bad. On the other hand my Croix de Fer is robust and capable and is fitted with snow tyres. In the end the Croix de Fer got it, and I regretted my choice all of the fifty hilly miles to Hay on Wye. Although there was ice in the ditches, and icicles in the hedgerows in places, the road surface was clear and dry and a lighter bike would have rolled easier.
Leaving the Hay control and beginning to climb the pass itself I began to change my opinion. The more I climbed, the more the road gathered strips of snow and bands of ice. Nothing to really bother about, but I was beginning to be able to ride where others chose to walk. Hmm.
Just before the summit the organiser, Nic Peregrin, appeared, warning that there was a large amount of ice on the far side and that riders should walk down. 'Don't worry about the time', he said 'just get down safely'. It's not often that your hear Audax timekeepers telling you not to worry about the time...
Over the top and down the other side, keeping a weather eye out for the ice. Nothing much for the first couple of miles, no worse than the ascent, but as the road left the open moorland it went into a deep cutting. Almost immediately it was covered with ice, for a distance of a couple of hundred yards. It seemed that the trees on the top of the bank provided enough shelter to let the ice form.
I stopped and took a look at it, and decided that, with a bit of care, I should be able to ride it with the snow tyres. Being careful to do nothing sudden I got across it with little difficulty, to the tarmac beyond. Round the corner, and here was another stretch of ice, and so on for the next five miles or so, until lower altitudes turned the ice first to slush, and then to water.
Having learned the trick of passing the first patch of ice, this suited me quite well, and I was able to progress steadily, not at great pace, but very much more quickly than my fellow riders who were walking across the ice in cleats. You could almost feel them willing me to fall off ...
On to the control at Abergavenny, which should have been in a pub, the 'Farmers Arms', but had been moved at short notice to a nearby cafe, as the rugby was on the telly and the pub was packed with people watching Wales win. The cafe owner could hardly believe her luck - a hundred hungry cyclists, when everyone else was watching the rugby. Well.
Twenty-odd miles to go now, with another big hill in the way, but again I was rewarded with expansive views, this time over the Severn Estuary. From the top, a fast blast down to the final control at the 'Three Tuns', Chepstow; in time, and ready for supper.
98.54 miles at a rolling average of 11.2mph and 8,070 feet of ascent. If you're looking for some early season miles and a bit of an adventure, I'd recommend 'The Gospel Pass'.