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01 February 2014

200km Brevet Elefsina-Nemea-Elefsina

There and back
At the start in Elefsina, waiting in line to have my card stamped

Last Saturday, January 25, I was out to ride a Brevet, a cycling event that would take riders on a course of 200km. The course on this day was from Elefsina (a bit out of Athens), over the Canal of Korinth, into the hills near Nemea, and back to Elefsina. It was the first time for me to do such a distance or that type of event. So far I had done 147km on my own. As I was planning and preparing for this right, I also thought about how long it had been that I had subjected myself to any similar "test", with set rules and a protocol to follow. The preparations started with a lot of unknowns...


Starting with a sunny day and lots of riders passing

First of all, I had started the procedure to sign up very late. I had to officially sign a paper and get it stamped at a municipality office, then send it in by mail. Once it arrived, I would receive a confirmation mail and then need to pick up my "brevet card". The mail didn't arrive and didn't arrive... when it finally arrived, there was only one last chance to get the card, and the office to get it was in the middle of nowhere on the other side of Athens. Another adventure, but with the help of a friendly taxi driver I made it.

I also had to organize to get me and my bike to the start point. As one cyclist I met pointed out, "it's only about 30km to get there" - but would I want to add another 30km at the start of a day with my first 200km ride? Not really, so I shanghaied my friend Panos into the job of waking up very early, mounting his bike rack on his car and playing the bike taxi for me. Thank you Panos! We arrived in good time and with the help of lots of cyclists all over the place found the start point easily.

My sportive preparation was to cram a few more rides into the previous weekend, that way having done about 360km in 8 days. One of the rides was the one where George and me were trading pulls in the wind, which was a good preparation. Then I took off 3 days totally from riding, letting my legs relax and recover. The day before the event, I just rode a few kilometers in town, at a very easy pace. My legs felt good at that point.

So, there I was at the start, waiting in line to get my card stamped. Once the time was written down, the clock would start ticking for me. I didn't know anybody there, but I'd just find my way and join groups of cyclists as the need would be. The day started sunny and warm enough. I took the picture above while I peeled off my rain jacket (which I was wearing because waiting in line in the early morning was cold).

I followed the stream of cyclists as they moved along, not really having to look at the "road book" with the driving instructions. I had set up my cycling GPS to give me a little line to follow, warning me when I'd be "off course". I jumped on the wheels of a couple of cyclists here, a small group there. After a short while, we came into the first climbing region.

Now the usual problem with beginners in brevets is to start too fast and then run out of juice - that's what I've been told many times over. So here I was on this uphill stretch, feeling great and zipping along with some fast riders, passing by lots of others. I wasn't redlining it (neither according to my legs, nor to my heart rate monitor), but all the warning lamps should have gone off. I didn't care, I had great fun!

After we crested and went down the hills again, we came into flatter parts and into a strong headwind. At first I soldiered on by myself. Then, while I had the camera out to take some pictures, along came this group and someone told me to glue onto their rear. Damn right, that's what I did, no use to battle the wind alone.

Along comes a group to give me some shelter from the wind

They weren't really doing any organized turns in the wind, just from time to time some people switching around. I was happy sitting in the slipstream. From time to time I was moving some positions up, and in the end I managed to do a turn pulling at the front. When we passed the canal of Korinthos, a part of the group decided to make a food stop there, I stayed on. Soon we turned inland, starting to climb again. The group fell apart instantly, with some of the people obviously being much stronger climbers than the others. At first I stayed with the slower ones, aiming to take it easy. But then I sensed them to be way too slow for me, so I sped up and caught the faster climbers again.

Things had splintered so much though, that the group was basically dissolved. I hung out with Theodore, a guy with a really nice steel bike, and stayed with him for a while. Later we met Dimitris, a guy who was in the previous group and we rode on for a while the 3 of us, with people coming and going, as seems to be the habit in brevet riding. At some point I felt in need for a rest, but Theodores suggested to stop at a cafe in the next village, where he wanted to meet a friend who is the cafe's owner. I kept on for a little, but enjoyed the rest a lot and the fuelling up even more.

Theodore's business there seemed to take a bit longer, so Dimitri and me went on. Not long before the first control (at km 105), we felt a few first drops of rain. We made it to the control, got our cards stamped, more food into us and I enjoyed sitting down for some minutes. At that point it started to rain for real. People were discussing to wait there in case it would stop again - something which I did not expect to happen at all. Dimitri's father had cought up with us, and they pressed on because it was also getting cold and we were cooling down a lot.

I put my rain jacket back on (Mavic Vision, which also doubles as a high-viz "vest", a very good piece of kit), donned my shoe covers and off I went. My rain tights (from Decathlon), fenders, and a cycling cap under the helmet completed my rain gear and made me very comfortable in the rain.

Since few people had fenders, and those who had didn't have low mudguards on them, there was a lot of spray in my face. At some point where the rain had washed the soil on the road, it was mud-spray. I had to stop to put on rain gloves, because my hands started to get cold. After that it took me some time and energy to catch up again to Dimitri and his father. Even after I caught them and their group, it wasn't good to draft directly, too much spray in the face!

Still we kept on riding together, with a small group of people. At one point they turned off to the right on a smaller road. My GPS warned me to be "off track", but as I told them, they insisted that this was the right way. Until a few km down, they noticed that it can't possibly have been the right way. We asked a farmer and turned back to where we were. I guess we put in an extra 4 km there. Given that I never had to search for the route, still it's better than what I would have managed on my own.

We made it to the second control, another fuel up, another little rest. The rain lasted for about 2 to 3 hours, thinning out to the end. The wet roads continued to be annoying for most of the ride. Riding in the rain lessened my desire to stop, and most problematic, with the thicker gloves it made eating on the bike a lot more difficult.

Dimitri and his father on the canal of Korinth

At the crossing of the canal of Korinth, we stopped for pictures. Here we see Dimitri and his father performing for the famous "bike-lifting" picture. As we settled our way back on the coast road, the "old national road", a lot of memories came to me, of having been on this road as a child, and later with the 2CV. It's much emptier now that the big, new highway is there.

Our group shrank and grew and shrank again. Towards the end it was thinning out more and more and suddenly I found Theodore again and was riding along mostly with him for a while. By now there was no more headwind. I felt pretty flat and empty. No matter what I was eating, it didn't help... I was dreaming of having a lemonade, I was sure that would help. In the end I dragged myself to the finish more or less following Theodore, who did a bit of an extra lap, putting another 0.5 extra km on my counter.

So here I was, after riding about 210km (official course: 205km), I was getting my card stamped for the finish. My clock showed about 9 hours 35 minutes after stamping. I went to the next kiosk and got me a lemonade... ahhhh, that was the ticket. I instantly felt better. After a 2nd one and a bit of rest I was able to ride to the train station in the next village, putting another few kilometers on the clock. As I was heading out, it was nice to see other riders coming in. I also saw other riders packing up and loading bikes on cars. With a little bit of asking around, I found my own drive (the train station) and headed back home, for a shower, a change of clothes and a huuuge fillup at the "therapy" restaurant near my place.

There and back... all the way
Total distance covered: 215.7km
Total time: 10:14 hours
Moving time: 8:47 hours
Total elevation gain: 1878m (only, not a lot of climbing)
Estimated avg. Power: 166W (from Strava)
Average speed while moving: 24.5 km/h
Average speed overall: 21.0 km/h
Average speed overall over the official brevet distance / time: 21.5 km/h

A few days after the ride, the official times were announced. They had me with 9:13 hours. The only way I can explain that is that somebody switched the ciphers 3 and 1 when transferring from the card to the computer. Once I'll get the card back I'll investigate.

No matter of 9:31 or even 9:13, this is a great time for my first brevet. My idea was that I would be satisfied with a time under 12 hours and that a time under 10 hours would be very good. There I was!

Posted by betabug at 16:08 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
ch athens
Life in Athens (Greece) for a foreigner from the other side of the mountains. And with an interest in digital life and the feeling of change in a big city. Multilingual English - German - Greek.
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