Martin Malins writes…
This is a classic ride organised by Nik Windle, run very much as a “permanent” ride in that there are no controls and you put your brevet card in the post with receipts from the towns you have passed through at the end. But because it is a calendar ride it has the advantage of a full field; over 35 on this occasion.
On paper it seemed like an easier shorter version of the Severn Across 400 which I’ve ridden twice as it uses much of the same Cotswolds- Forest of Dean – Severn Bridge route as the 400; but it actually has 400m more climbing.
I got the train up to Oxford on Friday night for a floor space in the Travelodge with old PBP mates Julian Williams and Peter Turnbull (the AUK 2007 points champion). We met Nik in the nearby car park for an 0600 start and before long were heading west along quiet lanes towards Stow on the Wold for the first garage control. I rode mostly with Deniece who failed to qualify for PBP but was keen to make amends.
After Stow the route kicked up a lot over Cleeve Hill before a full breakfast in Newent (100km) in the Forest of Dean. The Forest route was very nice, quite steep in places and it had started to rain heavily by now. From St Briavels to Chepstow we were riding into a gale with the rain pricking our faces. We huddled in Tesco’s petrol station (150km) before a very bracing crossing of the old Severn Bridge back into England where Deniece suffered the only puncture of the day.
The serious hills started now with the one up to the Somerset monument before a flattish ride over to Malmesbury at 200km where we huddled in a chip shop. I hadn’t really studied the route sheet and thought that we would now turn north towards Oxford for the last 100km with a strong headwind behind us; how wrong I was! we hooked up with a Vet of the ride who informed us that the ride was about to play a cruel trick on us, for as well as having to ride straight into the rain and fierce headwind we had to climb over the Marlborough Downs. At the top of the second horrific climb (which I had seen a premonition of for several km due to the car headlights appearing over the top high above) I was caught full in the face by the weather as I struggled to reach the summit. From here there was nothing for it but to grit my teeth and pray for no puncture as I rode along the top of the ridge.
After what seemed hours I finally saw the glow of lights in Marborough below and plunged back down into the town for an info control. I waited for Deniece and also Don who had kindly offered me a lift back to Guildford. Unfortunately no sooner had Don arrived than he announced he was abandoning and went off to find a hotel. I hooked back up with Deniece for the section to Membury services on the M4; we got lost. Fortunately the services are highlighted by a large TV mast with red lights all the way up so after a bit of a detour we found them. With no room booked at Oxford, no room in Deniece’s car and no lift home I considered abandoning at the services and waiting until the morning for a train from Hungerford. But Dave from Oxford soon appeared and offered me a spare bed back at his house, what a star!
The last section was comparative bliss with a tailwind, no rain and a nice group of about 8 of us, and I eventually purchased a ticket at Oxford station to mark my arrival time at 2.35 am. Unfortunately the clocks had gone forward 35 min previously so I had to send an explanatory note back to Nik with my card.
The hardest ride I’ve ever done; give me PBP anyday!