The first audax in our series is a 200km leg opener aptly named the Gently Bentley. Seasoned long distance rider Phil Barella talks us through his ride.
Sunday 17th March 2019, the alarm goes off at 6am, and I roll out of bed, get some breakfast on, and then get kitted up for the Audax, as per the description “This is a gently rolling ride, mostly on quiet lanes except for some unavoidable main roads at the start and finish”.
So, in terms of kit and preparation, this year’s event was going to be in slightly gusty conditions, with occasional rain and a short burst of hail. Average temperature looked low at between 5 and 9 degrees, but wear the right kit and you’ll be fine (I used just 3 layers up top, but possibly could have done with one more). Anyway, got the bike out and set off after some food, and a drink. Brought a few mini Soreen bars and some shot blox for on ride food. Two 750ml bottles with 2 salt tabs each. That’d get me through the ride. I also took a power bank and an USB lead for if the Garmin was running out of steam.
I set off for the tennis club and got there in good time and signed in, number 9. Nice. Grabbed a coffee and took in what was to come, as Javier would say using his system of grading rides, this was a flat ride (the system works on metres climbed to the overall distance), that’s why it is called the “Gently Bentley”. The only real hills are out of Henley and near Golden pot, and even then they are just drags, though there are a few bergs, which require the little ring, though most would be pretty much all big ring efforts. Basically there isn’t much on the ride that is troubling, though the fatigue certainly accumulates.
Got chatting to a few people, around the ride and the previous day’s rugby amongst other things, and had to say everyone was in good spirits. The conditions dictated to me at least, that I’d get across to a decent group and share the work where I can, and get round steadily, the ride wasn’t a race or a time trial, it's more about pacing and keeping everything relatively steady and riding within yourself as well as eating and drinking sensibly. It worked out well.
Set off pretty much last, except for Javier’s group, and immediately made steady progress through Kingston, when a few small pelotons were forming, and riders were riding in small and not so small groups! I bridged past Caroline and Claire’s group taking it sensibly, and then got into a group with Helen and her team, this was quite large, but they were riding at a sensible speed, so I thought I’d get involved. Big Dave, G, and Neil also moved across, though again after we hit Ascot and Drift road that’d be the last I saw of them for a while, partly because I moved ahead of the group to get across to yet another group… The first of three points of interest we had to record were near Ascot, and then we had to get across to Henley, via Waltham, a fast route (though the headwind slowed our group up a fair bit). Once we arrived at Henley, with part of the fast group, we all made our way to places for a bit of food, but because of the delays at the choc café, I decided to eat a Soreen bar and wash it down with some of my water… still, I now joined a group that were again pretty solid in terms of pace making ahead of the next section which was the rolling hills from Henley to Pangbourne. The initial rise was Gravel hill, a steady climb that gets you up to near Peppard common, and then the road goes up and down towards Goring, Whitchurch and Pangbourne. It’s scenic and unspoilt, and this part of the course flows well.
The group was ebbing and flowing and we were catching and passing a few riders, and when the group had partially splintered and others had stopped to wait for one of their colleagues, I went on ahead knowing that one of the climbs was a bit steep and they’d catch me, then the front part of the group had a mechanical, so I trundled past them as well, knowing they’d catch up on the rollers coming up. I worked with a few others that were going at a similar pace including one person that kept getting the turns wrong! Anyway, once the faster part of our original group, David, Nick and Emma came through again I jumped back in with them and carried on to the second point of interest, the War Memorial at Bradfield.
This was a welcome break for a few minutes and the bigger group reconvened. We then headed towards Lasham garden centre via the oddly named Golden pot and in between the group splintered a little to the point there were 5 of us for a bit, and Emma, myself and the last person were getting dropped on a few of the rises, not drastically, but we kept each other in good spirits, until we got to Lasham and then went to the garden centre where we saw Sarah and Chris ready to stamp our card, and it was good to see them!
After this we went to the café area and ate a fair bit (Jacket potato and beans for me with a side serving of tuna mayo sandwiches! And two cokes). After a bit of food we went out to realise Nick had a puncture, so that got repaired and we were on our way, the roads from Lasham to Bentley are again gently rolling, so we did our usual thing of riding uphill at our own pace and catching up on the descents, which were becoming more plentiful. This part was where there was a bit of rain and hail for a few minutes, before we got to familiar terrain (from Dockenfield I know a number of routes back), and went past some recognisable farmland (Mellow farm). I recounted the music festivals I used to enjoy there involving a weird steel drum (the Hang), it’s called the hangout and happens every September, they are a good bunch, though the field they play in does get a bit pungent with the amount of herbal ciggies being smoked….
Anyway, because of this we were all going at a decent rate of knots, David leading from the front, and we got to the final fuel stop at Brookwood Premier, and again stocked up/ ate a fair bit this occurred after the wonderful climb near the B3000/A31, going towards Normandy. That was fun, with me trudging up alongside Emma who looked like she wanted an easier gear (it’s a funny old climb that one)… once that was done, and the fast descent down to Normandy, we headed towards Pirbright and the fast roads and tailwind helping us along at a very good speed. We then headed back to our regular roads around Ripley, Esher, and home to Surbiton, so along a traditional route back that gets you back into Kingston pretty well, it seems some folk went down to the bottom of plough lane which was flooded just before Cobham, whereas if you did the proper route along Downside you’d miss that. The last few rises along Esher went by very quickly, and then we got into Surbiton just as it was getting dark. I think we got the ride done and dusted in a decent time, and we all had fun, that’s the main thing. High fives at the end from Emma and a shake of hands from David and Nick meant that we’d got the job done. Soon to follow us were the other parts of the big group we were in and hopefully everyone got back safely…
In terms of a route, it had everything someone wanted to get out of it, if they were starting or experienced, as it’s not too challenging, and the food at the end (vegetarian pasta), was very welcome. it is an ideal starter 200, and one because the course isn’t too demanding is relatively stress free, and you’d always find a group to work with, or could happily do it by yourself and take in all the views.
Speaking to others during the ride, the overwhelming view was that, it was a great day, and the route kept everyone on their toes, especially that ford around half way round, from what I gather quite a few people walked around it, but a few of us just rode through it, it’s not that much stress to get your feet wet for 20 feet! Tim W even cx’d the walking path…
Anyway, I’ll be back next year, and speaking to others on the ride, they will as well.