The final springtime Thursday Training ride saw eight brave souls set out for the Greenham Common Control Tower and its museum about the airbase and the cold war, not to mention its coffee, cakes and breakfast baps. Nev had to leave us halfway, but seven of us did the round trip of 37.8 mi, making it our highest cumulative mileage (264.6 mi) so far.
The busy climb from Thatcham to Upper Bucklebury was one we probably don’t want to repeat, but there were compensations with lovely descents to Thatcham, and from Bucklebury Common to the Pang.
The six Thursday rides ranged in length from 24 mi (The Blackbird) to 47 mi (Stokenchurch), taking in five cafes not normally open on Mondays, and one that does open Mondays but which none of us had been to before.
On a personal note, it was great to have the company and encouragement to assist with my training preparations for the Audax Challenge ride next week. The training has gone pretty much to plan, with the notable exception of the last week in March, when the weather took a serious dive back into wintriness. Fortunately this coincided with a need for some serious bike maintenance.
My rule of thumb from previous years of cycle touring is that one should get 500 mi in the legs before embarking on a tour, so this bodes well. I did one ride (just) over 70 mi, so I know I can do it, now I’m just hoping for decent weather on 23 April.
It’s likely that this Thursday training ride will be the last I organise, at least for a while. Thursday next week is only two days before my challenge ride, so subject to the purdah that real athletes refer to as “tapering”, recreational cyclists as “taking it easy”. As well as the lack of incentive to carry on training after The Ride, it’s also the beginning of the boating season, when a volunteer’s thoughts turn to lockkeeping, and Thursday is my regular day.
Shorter and not as hilly as last week’s outing to Stokenchurch, it’s another opportunity to bag a café that is not open on Mondays.
This week’s Thursday ride was the longest training ride for which I’ve had company, and very welcome it was too. Special thanks to Phil, Chris, Alun and Steve for the craic. There’s no scenic picture to grace the top of the blog post, as the most salient feature of the day was the wind, for which the Met Office issued a Yellow Warning 35 minutes after we set out.
Normally you only notice when the wind is against you, not behind you, but today we felt the benefit of it pushing us up from North Stoke, and from Ewelme all the way along the Chiltern foothills to Postcombe. After bidding farewell to Phil near Watlington, we had a good view of the Stokenchurch telecoms tower ahead of us. Steve E said it reminded him of Mount Ventoux , the way it looms up ahead but never seems to get any closer. The A40 climb from Aston Rowant up through Aston Wood may not compare to the ascent of Mount Ventoux, but it has a feeling of the long steady climbs common on the continent. Climbing for 1.8 miles at around 4-5%, it’s good mental training as much as physical.
From the top of climb, the next 10 miles to Hambleden Mill were nearly all downhill, largely still with the wind behind. After our stop at Coffee On The Green in Stokenchurch we said goodbye to Chris, who went off to High Wycombe to find a bus he could fold his bike into for the journey home. Turning westwards at Hambleden for the journey home via Henley we were into the wind, but much of the route was sheltered by the leafy Chilterns. Approaching Henley Bridge, at least one of us was still alert enough to notice one of our Olympic heroes, Sir Steve Redgrave, emerging from the Royal Regatta building.
Home at last and time to put our feet up after 47.2 miles, and a 2022 PB for Alun. Chapeau!
BJ (the bike) is looking shiny and ready to go after last week’s sojourn in the garage away from the snow and north winds, with a new chainset, cassette and tyres. Hopefully the motor is also showing the advantages of a week off.
The hilliness of rides can be assessed by measuring the amount of climbing relative to distance. Gromils rides vary from the low 30s (Tour des Clumps is 34) to over 80 (Twin Peaks of Streatley and Whitchurch is 80, as is Catsbrain and Gatehampton for a much shorter ride). This ride checks out at 33 ft/mi, at the flatter end of the range.
One of the best types of road for cycling is a former trunk road that is not bypassed by a motorway or dual carriageway, as it tends to be wide, well-surfaced (at least formerly) and relatively quiet. In the case of the A40 from Postcombe to Stokenchurch it’s also a well-graded steady climb, much easier than the Kingston Blount ascent parallel to it.
This week’s Thursday ride heads to a café that was popular with Gromils before it stopped opening on Mondays – Coffee On The Green in Stokenchurch. This was formerly known as the Back Street Café, before it moved from a back street to The Green. It’s a 40-something mile ride that takes in one of the easiest climbs up the Chilterns Escarpment and one of the most delightful descents on the dip slope. From the junction at the top of Kingston Hill to the bottom of the Hambleden Valley there’s 10 miles of near-continuous downhill. The route takes full advantage of the forecast westerly wind for much of the distance, with the final stretch sheltering in Chiltern lanes from Henley to Goring.
For those not wanting to do the whole distance, return by bus from Stokenchurch is possible with a bus-friendly bike. Alternatively you could return by train from Saunderton, a mere 6.5 miles from the café. You’d need £37 for the fare though, and it could be quicker to cycle. There’s also the options of bus or train back from Henley.