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30 December 2017

A day in the saddle - Brevet Ble200 / Tatoi

Riding my 2nd brevet, this time with friends
On the first climb

It's been almost 4 years since I rode my first brevet, going 200km from Elefsina to Nemea and back. I had wanted to ride another brevet for a long time with my friend George, but always something happened. You know, small stuff like breaking a leg, or moving to an island.

This time I was sure nothing of the sorts would come up. There would be a bit more traveling involved, as I had to get from Naxos to Athens. The brevet we picked was the "Ble200 (Tatoi)" on Sunday, 22nd October 2017, organized by the Ble cycling club where George is a member. That helped with the first step of setting things in motion: George went and signed me up in Athens. For some unknown reason we still would have to pick up the card at the event (normally you get it in advance), but that was manageable.

So on the Saturday, one day before the brevet, I installed me and my bike on the Blue Star Ferries boat to Pireaus...


Leaving Naxos with perfect weather The trusty steed in the boat's hold

I spent the afternoon in Athens visiting people and eating. Eating is quite important. In the evening I prepared my things and went early to sleep. I'm more used to sleep in the almost absolute quiet of a small village night, but I managed to get a good rest even with the car noise and neighbor's TV squeaking.

I needed the sleep, because I got up at 5, a time which I usually don't consider acceptable for being awake. By 7 I was at a Metro station on the other side of the Athens sprawl. Transporting your bike on the Athens Metro is easy if you know what you're doing. Doing it on Sunday at a godforsaken morning hour with fewer people around certainly helps. At the Agia Marina Metro station I met George. We inserted my bike into his car (where it joined his bike) and off we were. I did't miss the streets of Athens at all, and I missed them even less after watching still more cars on a Sunday morning on fast streets.

Trusty bike in Metro station

I got my bike ready and went to pick up our cards. There was a separate desk for people "from the province" who couldn't have picked up their cards in advance. Then I stood in line to get my bike checked (lights? Reflective vest?) and my card stamped. And then I stood around trying to find George. In the meantime I found Fenny and Hana, two well known riding friends. As I was roaming around, they had already taken off when I finally found George. So we took off in pursuit of them and some others from George's club.

In line at the start

The first few kilometers were along some "back roads" bypassing most high-traffic roads in the area. I didn't have much problem to find the route, all I had to do was to follow the stream of cyclists going in the same direction in larger or smaller groups. Meanwhile we didn't just follow, we pushed along quite a bit, passing a lot of riders. This was all on flat terrain, so not that much effort involved. I had a scary moment when I had to pass through a lot of small bits of broken glass next to a trash container. I kept on riding, no time to stop and check the tires. I rode for a while with a fear in the back of my head that I'd end up with a puncture early in the day - but nothing happened.

We were on the way out of Athens. This was on a Sunday morning, so really not much traffic. Except for us on our bikes. As soon as we got to the road that climbed out of the "basin" of Athens, this changed a bit. For one thing, it seems there were cars heading out of the city for the Sunday. The road was smaller now, winding it's way up the mountainside, so not much chance to pass hundreds of cyclists in small groups, alone, or in pairs. If you managed to pass one group, well, you were just stuck again behind the next group. Most drivers took it easy, but some were cursing and gesturing. A lot of them passed in stupid and sometimes dangerous ways. I didn't let that bother me. In the opposite direction there were a lot of classic cars who were on some rally type event, complete with race numbers. One of them had smashed into a tree, we saw the driver on the phone, probably calling in a period correct helicopter for air support.

Partially into the climb we finally cought up with George's club mates. We settled into a group and started to go up on a steady and easy rhythm. Meanwhile I was chatting with Fenny, catching up on life from when she was with her family on vacation on Naxos in summer. Things were going according to plan. Before the brevet, George had told me something like "you know, on the brevet you really should take it easy on the climbs", to which I had replied "I've been training to do that all week now!" But then best plans can go down in flame once fun arrives at the scene. At some point a group of about 12 very fit guys passed us at a good speed. We were joking about it, when Fenny and me decided to go and pass them again. Which we did... and then we kept on going. We had a good rhythm, we were having fun, and soon after we were at the top of the climb, where we would wait for the others. Obviously getting such a strong effort in so early in the brevet was not a good choice, as George had said, it's better to take it easy and save the energy for a long day of riding!

Personally I made another mistake at that point. As I'm a really slow descender (always have been, and even slower since my accident scared me of going too fast downhill), at this point I should just have kept on going and let the others overtake me on the downhill. I noticed that mistake when everybody was flying down the road (with a very good surface and only slight bends). I was much slower, so I just saw them disappear down the road. Once the road leveled out a bit, I chased and cought them, but here was another unnecessary effort eating into my reserves for the day. There was another, longer downhill section, where I lost them again.

George giving the go

At this point the road leveled out almost completely. We were on a long, straight country road. Luckily no wind at all. I came across Hana, who had been descending slower than the group too (but still faster than me). She asked me to pull her to the group, so I put my nose onto the handlebars and pulled, while Hana followed on my wheel. With another bit of effort, we reached the group again. Riding was easier now in the slipstream, even if the speed was quite high. Still I enjoyed the flat road. We don't really have that on Naxos. Even at a good speed, there is this nice, rolling sensation to it, especially in a bigger group.

This wonderful state didn't last so long unfortunately. After a long stretch of flat road, there came more of a lumpy downhill with people speeding away. Again me and Hana were behind, but this time Hana declared that she wouldn't go chasing. I gave it a go by myself and cought the group with George. This was a speedy train, the group hammered it good and fast. People were taking long pulls. Then my time came up to be in the front. I tried to keep a steady rhythm and not change speed too much, but as I'm mostly riding alone, I relied on the guy next to me. When the road was going slightly uphill, I noticed that the guy was standing up a lot. I stole some glances back and reduced my speed a couple of times. After the top of the little rise, I moved over to let the next guys take their pull. I didn't want to burn myself out. At this point George passed me by and remarked "you showed them well and good on the uphill". Guess I should have reduced a little bit more!

Stopping to view Halkida from afar

I stayed with the group some longer, but when the big descend down to the coast near Halkida started, I told George that I'll let them go. No way was I going to try to keep up with them, and I was looking forward to a nature break. Then I took the break I, and I also started stopping for a couple of pictures. I got into a bit of a more relaxed rhythm and felt that now I was really enjoying the ride! Going downhill definitely helped there, letting the bike roll without having to work at it feels good.

Near Halkida I remembered well that the road wasn't going into town. But where was it turning? So far I had always been with lots of other riders, playing the "let's follow these other guys" game. Since I was concerned that the battery in my Garmin wouldn't last, I had not activated navigation with the GPS track of the course. I've got this Garmin (520) fairly recently, and I'm not yet sure how the battery would hold up compared to my old one (500). So there I was, stopped at a big intersection, trying to figure out how to start "navigating" a "course" on the Garmin when you have already started an "Activity". I couldn't figure it out at that moment, and I didn't want to risk breaking the currently recorded track. At that point I was joined by another rider. Unfortunately he didn't know the right road either.

Nikos waiting at a closed train passing

But Nikos was of the more down-to-earth variety of "randonneur" than me. He grabbed his copy of the "road book". While I still tried to figure out on my copy of that piece of paper what I was supposed to do, he said: "We're at kilometer 102, what does it say there?" I had a look and said "Turn right, with a sign to Athens." Easy enough. We had to stop another two times or so in the next few kilometers, by which point we were well on our way, and two other riders passed us. One of them was from Halkida himself, so we followed them. Meanwhile Nikos and me had a little chat and he told me about the time he rode a Fidusa frame in some handicapped Athletes races. We kept on riding together till the first control, which was on the coastline. On the way there, we had to pass through another pile of broken glass near another trash container. This time I stopped to check my tires, I didn't want to risk my luck another time!

The first control was in a cafe near the sea. The volunteer staff (thank you very much!) enjoyed some tables in the outdoor part. Their life is much easier with reasonable weather like we had that day, while on other days they might be outside in heat, cold, rain. Here we were reunited with George, Fenny, Hana, and others from their club. I had a toast and a "Portokallada" (orangeade), to try and fill up some calories. Service was slow, but we were still waiting for others. When the others arrived, we were waiting for them to eat and refresh themselves too. We might have "lost some time" there, but in the end it's not a race, and that time wasn't lost, but spent on recovery.

Then we finally took off in a small group again. The fast train had departed long ago and was well off - not to be missed by me. We were riding along the coastline now. We were doing good speed, not just taking it easy at all. People were taking turns riding in front. At Aulis we passed by the spot where the Achaean forces had sailed for Troy. Luckily we didn't have that far to go and we were on a more peaceful mission!

Riding near the coast by Aulis

Near the end of that long, long coast section was the 2nd control. This time our never enough to be thanked volunteers did not have the luxury of a cafe. They had set themselves up at the side of the road. Together with getting our cards stamped, they also handed out little packets of salty snacks and packaged "croissants". I skipped on the croissants (there is probably more preservatives than food in these things), but the salty snacks were tasting wonderful at this point. There was a tiny little bit of coast road left, but going through a more urban area with shops and cafes. Some of the guys in the group stopped at a cafe for a real sit-down. I rode on with the others. We stopped at a kiosk and filled up on water. One guy got a "pita souvlaki" next door. He was greeted with a mixture of bewilderment and raw humor. He claimed that he needed the energy, but the next part of road made me question his choice - even if I hadn't already made the experience a long time ago of how a pita souvlaki can turn into a millstone in your stomach when out riding.

We hadn't left the kiosk for long, when the road started to go up. And when the road said "up", it really meant it. I had reviewed this spot on the map and on gps tracks from riders in previous years. It hadn't appeared so bad to me. Obviously we were leaving the coastline and going inland to a hilly area. But compared to some of the climbs on Naxos, this was ok, kind of a medium level affair of a climb. What I hadn't really factored in back then was, that we now had about 150km in our legs already. That way the climb insisted on not really being medium level.

The pecking order of our little remaining group was quickly established: Fenny and Panagiotis passed me after a short time, while George was somewhere behind me. A bit later I had lost Fenny and Panagiotis from view, while I couldn't spot George behind me any more. Business as usual then, me and the climb. It was about 28 degrees Celsius, which became quite stiffling. What's more, most of the forest around this climb had burned down a few months before. That didn't help to lift the spirits. There were some nice little spots where the gradient got to 10%. I was in my lowest gear (thanking myself for having insisted on having really low gears on my bike). There might have been some level of grinding it out involved, but I managed, even with tired legs. Since this was an unknown climb to me, I tried to look ahead and spot when it would be over. Unfortunately it's one of those climbs that mocks you by pretending to be over many, many times. Including ploys like having a taverna with a view at the side of the road ("they woull likely put that at the top, wouldn't they?" - well, they didn't).

When the climb was finally over, it wasn't really so obvious. There was a bit of a flatter part, some more uphill, some more flat. Found Fenny and Panagiotis and rode a bit with them. At some point as I was riding behind Panagiotis, I mentioned that his rear wheel was out of whack. He said he knew about it. And then there was a small cafe next to the road within the forest (now unharmed by the fire), where we stopped. A rest well looked for. More Portokallada for me. And even more Portokallada and filling up water. We waited out for George to arrive, sweet rest. As we left, Panagiotis asked me if I had a spoke key. I told him that my multitool might have what he needed. He gave it a try and tried to adjust his wheel. Turns out that at the top of the climb Fenny had grabbed her water bottle. Being a bit out of it after the climb, she didn't look and ran her bike into Panagiotis' rear wheel, breaking a spoke.

George cought up with us, and we were riding on together. It went up and down for a while, but the downhills weren't really enough of a rest to make the uphills easy, even being in the majority - I guess I started to be tired here. The third control was at a cafe again. I filled up on water, but didn't like the sandwiches they were selling. That probably was a wrong decision, anything would have been good now.

Then there came a bit of a longer uphill. Fenny and Panagiotis were keeping up well, when they started to pull away, George motioned to me to follow them. But I said I'd stay with George, better to reduce speed a bit and conserve some energy. So I tried to keep a steady rhythm, not going too fast. I was sensing George behind me and tried to accomodate to his speed. Until at some point I looked behind me and it wasn't George at all behind me! George had stayed behind together with a bunch of other guys. When the road rounded down again, I waited for George, and we continued in another little group.

At this point I was looking more and more at the kilometers on my GPS. How much did we do, how much was there left? How much time would that take? Having 30km left seemed to be a big deal, but even 20 was still something. Also I wasn't ever really sure how long the ride would be in total. I had some bubbles of energy coming back, and some lows where I thought I'd have to stop and rest. I tried to eat more, but the stuff would hardly go down. We passed the dam and reservoir at Marathonas, which was quite a nice sight. Others had stopped for pictures there, but I was glad to just go on.

Some times later, I was maybe 50m ahead of George, I heard shouts from behind. Looks like we had missed a turn. We were about five of us, but now we were in areas that some of the group knew. So we did some extra kilometers and got back to the main track. Now the road was going mostly down, through urban areas.

It was here that I had a strange feeling switching gears on my left shifter. I remember thinking "do these things ever break?", but not in an immediate way, more out of idle thought. It felt a bit squishy, but I didn't connect that squishiness and my thought. Shortly after I tried to shift up and... the plastic lever broke. It was only hanging by a thread now, no way to shift up again. Luckily the chain was on the middle ring. I moved up to ask some of the others how far it would be now. We had only 3 or so km to go, and it was only slightly downhill. That should be doable. I managed to stay with the group, even taking a longish turn in front. Then there was a car that got into an intersection when the group was a bit drawn out and I got cought behind it. The driver was going really slow and I didn't have the gears to pass her. My little group was gone. It wasn't such a big problem though, soon I passed from an airfield, and I remembered that we must be really close to the start/finish point. And right, there we were! I almost passed by the cafe where we had started.

The broken shifter

Here I found George again. I took a picture of my card after I got it stamped, and then I handed it over. While George got changed, I had another Portokallada, but my stomach didn't like any more sugary drinks. Finally George gave me a ride home. An opportunity for some more chatting and I didn't need to fight myself through the metro system while tired from riding 200km. Thanks again George!

At home, I stuffed myself with food. First some spaghetti, then I ordered a big hamburger. I had a lot of calories to refill. The next day I was still a bit exhausted. Comparing to the exhaustion I had after my first brevet in 2014, I was in better shape now. And I'm looking forward to the next brevet already!

Stamped brevet card
Distance: 212km
Elevation gain: 2653m
Moving time: 8 hours 29 minutes
Average speed moving: 25km/h
Elapsed time: 9 hours 50 minutes
Average speed over elapsed time: 21.5km/h
Calories burned (according to Garmin): 4500
Average temperature (according to Garmin): 20°C

Posted by betabug at 14:30 | Comments (1) | 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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Re: A day in the saddle - Brevet Ble200 / Tatoi

Great report Sascha, reading it felt like being there riding with you two.

The part where you mentioned the exhaustion one starts to feel at one point, specially towards the end, feels familiar...

Looking forward now to your next brevet report!

Posted by: Wu at December 31,2017 09:32
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