Many cyclists use exercise bikes for virtual racing but I spied an opportunity for a race using the app. Strava. A local cyclist has set up a Strava segment called “Birkacre race route?”. It starts and finishes at the high point of a circuit of 2.47miles, drops gently on a rough rocky track before it cuts across open grass land on single track. It then uses a loop around a country park, climbing, dropping and climbing again to another high point. It descends again to the lowest point again, by a small lake and climbs relentlessly on a varying gradient to the start/finish. A second rider has been trying repeatedly to break the fastest time of 17 minutes 50 seconds. He’s been making an error in the route, missing out a loop, though Strava has still given him at least one time for the circuit which is a very competitive 17 minutes 52 seconds. I can understand his motivation to become Strava King of the Mountains for a best ever time. I don’t believe I’ve ever met him but we do follow each other on Strava and so see the record of each others rides.
I thought today I’d ride 3 laps of the circuit to get the feel for it. It’s mainly familiar stuff since it’s only between 1 and 2 miles from home. I’ll confess, after walking my dog, Freddie, I was rather excited about a virtual race, no matter how unofficial. I had no idea how long the laps would take and I didn’t intend to to try a flat out lap. All I did know was that, as the oldest rider of the 3, I’d be fastest in the 55-64 year age category! I set off to the area and took an early off road climb up a steep and muddy slope. I was soon at the start point so clicked my stopwatch.
Is it rather small minded to see a totally unofficial race, which only I knew was to take place, as something of reasonable importance to perform well in? All I can say is that once the metaphorical chequered flag dropped I was like a dog after a rabbit. The first downhill was slippery and after the first corner I had to hop the bike over a fallen tree trunk. The route diverts from my usual choice on it’s way to Birkacre, the former site of a mill. It uses a grassy and currently muddy descent and at speed was exciting and unpredictable. Back on more familiar terrain I was slowed by several walkers enjoying the sunshine then started a tough climb. I knew that my competitor had failed to make a left turn and subsequent clockwise loop and I wasn’t sure if I was taking a short cut part way round.
The route would be very much cross country riding if it wasn’t for the next man made section of jumps and berms. With the slippery mud I was cautious and found a second fallen tree blocking the trail. I carried on down past a children’s playground then began the final, long climb. I realised that I’d been putting the work in so chose to push myself on the ascent. My stopwatch was showing 11 minutes 50 seconds and I figured that I’d certainly finish in under 20 minutes. I was massively thrilled with a time of 17 minutes 25 as I started my second lap.
I felt as if I was faster on my second lap and didn’t have to slow for walkers and dogs as many times. I took a longer loop where I’d worried that I might have been cutting a corner on lap one. This extra time turned out to be the difference between my laps and I finished in 18 minutes 10 seconds so was pleased with my consistency. I rode a slower third lap and used it to take the photographs. When I got back home I downloaded the Strava information to have my status as King of the Mountains confirmed at17 minutes 33 seconds. Colour me happy.