IOW Randonnee 2011

Every year the Wayfarer Cycle Touring Club, an active and very friendly (if a little geriatric) group of riders from the Isle of Wight organise their free "sportive" type event 'The Isle of Wight Randonnee'. It follows a signposted route around the perimeter of the Island, taking in some of the best roads, climbs and sights that we have to offer on the Isle of Wight.

This year, the route was to go in an anticlockwise direction around the island; with many of the roads that the route follows having been resurfaced already under the Private Finance Initiative, the route can be a fast one, especially if there is a prevailing South Westerly wind to blow you along down the back of the island.

However, today's wind was not South Westerly, not even a bit; it was coming from the East with a good 25mph volume. From the outset then, today didn't look like it was going to be one to set a record time on the route; but the legs felt good and I set out around 10, to complete my last ride as a 19yr old and the last one on the Island for a while as I head back to uni tomorrow.

Heading out towards Bembridge the wind didn't seem too bad, and I was making good progress with the average speed just over 20mph. There are checkpoints along the route with cake and tea etc. but I don't tend to bother stopping on a ride that is only 3hours any more, as I find it breaks up my rhythm rather too much. So I passed the checkpoint at Bembridge and made good progress all the way through to East Cowes.
The Chain ferry was just boarding as I arrived at it, so fortunately there was no time stood around in the chill waiting to cross the Medina. On the other side I lead the large pack of 50 or so cyclists off the chain ferry and up Mill Hill Road, and it wasn't long before I was on my own again -as the groups of cyclists get bunched together by the chain ferry crossing I was just between two groups.
I caught the next one up around Porchfield and continued to hop between mini Peletons all the way to Yarmouth. There is a huge mix of cyclists that take part in the Randonnee; from large mainland clubs all in matching jerseys, to groups of "occasional" cyclists on mountain bikes and even some guys on fixed speeds! seems like a challenge too far to me when there are some pretty large climbs on the route.

The real big challenge for most riders is the ascent of Freshwater down - especially today as we had the full brunt of the 25mph headwind all the way up the climb. It is an impressive sight though, to see the whole road just one long string of cyclist grinding away to the top - with a whole mix of age groups, bikes and abilities, all enjoying the fantastic views out across the channel as they spin their way to the top.
To get an idea of how strong the headwind was, the descent down the other side of Freshwater Down is one where you can often reach close to 50mph (my max is 47 I think); it's short, but straight and a good surface. But today my speed topped out at a dull 28 coming down there and that was churning away in the big ring as well - it didn't bode well for the long, straight and exposed military road that I follow down the SW edge of the Island.
Indeed the speed drop off there was just as dramatic - it's a 10+mile stretch of good road that you can normally sustain 25mph+ along, but today battling into the wind the speed was as low as 15 at times. In the end I decided to divert in-land to follow the actual route which follows a series of winding country lanes that I normally avoid, but today offered some much welcomed hedge cover from the wind.
Riding down these lanes always used to be a bit like riding a stage of cobbled Pave in Flanders - closer to muddy farm tracks than an actual road. But too my pleasant surprise they have also been completely re-surfaced! Winding my way through the lanes I was able to let my legs recover a bit, but unfortunately it was while watching my average speed steadily drop off, as it is hard to maintain a speed of 25mph as you head down country lanes packed with hundreds of cyclists - I didn't mind too much though; it was nice to see so many guys out there.

The last real climb of my route was Blackgang - its again been resurface recently which improves matters, but it has a nasty kick of a 15% gradient towards the end of the 1mile ascent, which today seemed to finish me off. Pushing over the brink was certainly a bit of a relief and there is quite a bit of time to recover on the long descent the other side, as my heart rate returned to a reasonable level.

The last 12miles or so were a bit of a struggle to be honest, with the legs feeling rather drained; but I had a bit of entertainment in the way of a Vintage Car Rally and a Scooter Rally coming passed in the other direction - the Isle of Wight seems to attract a lot of driving clubs on the bank holiday weekends, this one being no exception it seems.

I eventually finished in just over three hours; (03:04:54) with an average speed of 19 something mph. Not bad considering the wind, but not anywhere close to my current PB of 02:55:18 : another day I guess.

If you've never been to the Isle of Wight, and/or never done The Randonnee, it is well worth doing, whatever your ability. With roads getting better all the time, and the interest in the event building year on year it is a great route and there is some fantastic support offered in terms of free route maps and very reasonably priced cake stops. The free entry means that despite the ferry fare it is actually probably cheaper than many mainland sportives; and far more friendly and casual in my opinion.


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