Team Saddleback turns out for the Sodbury Sportive and first-timer Tom gives a round-up of his 100-mile adventure on the lanes of South Gloucestershire
The Saddleback Sodbury Sportive has become a regular fixture in the south west's thriving sportive scene thanks to its varied routes, steep climbs and technical descents. Given that it bears our name, it's also the perfect opportunity for Saddleback staffers to have a fun day out on home turf.
We had riders spread across the 30, 60 and 100-mile courses. Saddleback newbie Daniel Oakshott took on the 30-miler on his randonneuring CX machine. On the 60-mile route, it was Nick versus Nick as our head of creative Nick Cox just edged out Saddleback's head of finance Nick Mason. Also choosing the mid-distance, ENVE brand manager Ash Matthews joined warehouse staff Will Fussell and Steve Light to beast the course in 3:42.
Being a first-timer at the event, I figured 100 miles would ensure I got a full flavour of the event with my regular riding buddy / wife along for a tow. Chipping Sodbury Rugby Club hosts the start and finish and our planned tardiness meant that the drizzly rain of the morning had cleared by the time we arrived on site. Unfortunately, this also meant once we'd collected our bike numbers from the charming volunteers, there was barely time for nervous bladder emptying before the last wave of 100-mile riders was being called forward.
Following our race briefing, we were off onto the fast-drying South Gloucestershire lanes. Before long, the climbs – and the notion that Nanoflex armwarmers were overkill – were upon us. With just under five miles in our legs, we hit the Hawkesbury Howler and the first sign detailing each climb's vital statistics by the roadside. If the legs weren't warmed up before, half a mile at 7% ramping up to 14% certainly did the trick.
This first outing was followed by a pair of leg sappers in quick succession. The Alderley Grunt took us up to 20% while less than half a mile on, the Tresham Tester maxed out at 19%. We'd been warned the course was front loaded, but being firmly in the granny gear so early on – and the amount of people pushing up the hills – caused a little trepidation.
Luckily, the hills turned to rolling roads and carefully navigated single track lanes as the 60 / 100-mile route split occurred at 11.4 miles. After this, there weren't any major worries for the legs until after the first feed stop at 35 miles, which was the perfect opportunity to stock up on a wide variety of snacks including sandwiches, jelly babies, crisps and fig rolls as well as energy drinks and water.
The day had warmed a little, so I was glad of my wardrobe choices – my now go-to Mondiale Bibshorts joined by Castelli's Climber's Jersey 2.0 to give the perfect combination of comfort, airiness and aerodynamics.
After the spectacular switchback descent down The Ladder into Nailsworth, the halfway mark was celebrated with the Nailsworth Nailer, an altogether nastier test for the legs than its 5% average gradient would suggest. In typical fashion, this was where the svelte climbing machine who'd been sat on my wheel for the last fifty miles decided to show up her husband by distancing him – that is to say me – on the steeper 14% section.
The next 10 miles were a lumpy but generally downhill affair until we rolled onto the foot of Frocester Hill. At 8% average, this 1.6-mile test was all about clicking down the cogs, conserving energy and riding as efficiently as possible. This was my favourite climb of the event as we overtook plenty including someone who'd buzzed past us on the flats only to falter on the climb.
The routes merged just before the 65-mile feed stop and after a drinks refill and a few too many fig rolls, it was on to the remainder of the rolling course. This gave a chance to find a rhythm and stick to it as the miles ticked by. There was only one hill of note, an un-named rise coming in at about 88 miles, which was just after the heavens opened.
We skipped the 91-mile food station in favour of staying warm and puddle-dodged our way on a slightly upwards trajectory towards Nibley, before kicking north for a slightly cruel, meandering detour around Yate and back to the Rugby Club. Here, a crowd of bell ringers saw us over the line in celebratory and cacophonous style. It was certainly a relief to unclip, receive our trophies and inhale a post-ride pasty! The atmosphere in the rugby club was buzzing, with many a pint in hand and food being devoured as riders chatted about their adventures on the bike.
All in all, the Saddleback Sodbury Sportive proved to be a great event. The excellent signage, a huge amount of marshals and some of the best-stocked feed stations I've ever come across made the day stress free and we really enjoyed the whole ride in spite of the downpour for the last 15 miles or so.
The course is also a nice balance of climbing, technical, narrow-lane riding and faster sections to help get the average speed up. It's not a savage, destroy your legs affair like the Fred Whitton Challenge, rather, it's a great ride to build endurance in some beautiful countryside.
Photos: Sportive Photo / Saddleback