It was a cold but sunny February morning in the car-park by Chepstow Castle. A queue of cyclists had formed. At its head the organisers, Nik and Jen, were handing out brevet cards for the Gospel Pass 150km. More cyclists were still arriving, others milling about, in conversation or anxious to go.
There were a few comments about the recycled, year-old route-sheet, but, hey, the entry was only a pound.
My watch said eight, so I tagged on to a group and we set off across the bridge over the River Wye and up the first hill. Dave Stevens and I were the only ones of the group to take the traditional short-cut along the cycle-path, which gained us a temporary advantage.
Drew Buck, stoking a solid looking tandem, told me in gruesome detail about his broken leg and the various bits of metal now holding it together – and also about the cage he had kept the leg in for six months, adjustable for height and looking as if it had been made out of bicycle bits. He later found out that it had been designed by an engineer, who built the prototype out of …bicycle bits.
Phil Chadwick came alongside as we continued to climb. He was on a 68 inch fixed, and I felt a twinge of envy, thinking of mine lying unused in the shed – only a twinge, though.
A couple of fellow Exeter Wheelers rode past – my jersey was hidden under a cape. We saw them heading off left on the wrong road by the information control, and shouted. They turned out to be Andy Thompson, time-trialist and randonneur, and Nick Denning, who declared he wasn’t used to this touring lark (he is the Wheelers’ time trial representative). We saw them a little later take the correct turn, small figures in the distance ahead.
The café at Monmouth was doing a good trade – I was going to say ‘brisk’, but they were understaffed and overwhelmed, and the stamp was self-service. As we left the controller turned up, having been waiting somewhere else for the cyclists.
I sat glued to Sandra Shaw’s wheel through the Golden Valley. The sunshine was interrupted by abrupt pockets of freezing mist. We climbed free of them towards Haye, Sandra testing her turbo-trainer fitness and making my legs hurt.
After slightly too much food at Haye, we turned towards the Gospel Pass. As the road went up, so my speed went down. Sandra pedalled lightly into the distance. I concentrated on maintaining an economic pedalling technique and keeping off the ice. Someone went past and stopped further up the road. He passed me again and stopped again. I kept a steady effort going and refused to be irritated.
At last the top came in sight. Sandra was out of sight. I concentrated on enjoying the descent, whilst remembering the chap who had broken his jaw against the front of a car a couple of years back..
Sandra was ambling along the lane towards Llanthony, waiting for me to catch up. We did a complicated detour into Abergavenny and had to ask a passing cyclist where the control was. My stomach advised against food, so I had a pot of tea. Nik Peregrine came in a little after, having levered his trike over the Pass behind us.
The final leg included the road to Usk which features the Neolithic paintings of bicycles on the margins of the road (interspersed with obviously recent fakes). It seems to be the remains of a prehistoric cycle lane.
It was getting dull and misty as we climbed to Shirenewton, but the Severn and the two bridges were still visible. A quick detour through Chepstow (my fault) took us to the Athletic club and finish. I tried rehydration therapy using orange and lemonade, then started on the beer. Sandra was having none of that, she’d gone home.