I wasn't worried about being physically capable of finishing it, it was more about weather, route changes and a thousand of little things (should I carry winter gloves? sun cream? the heavy goretex rain jacket? should I fit new tyres?), somehow all of them looked critically important a few days before. It was like if my experience riding Audax instead of helping to take my natural relaxed approach were more used to add things to worry about.
In any case the moment I stepped into the Bulwark Community Centre all doubts and worries disappeared and there was only room for joy and good time.
It all starts meeting and saying hello a bunch of riders you have met in previous rides. I'm not a particularly chatty, extrovert rider but slowly you get to know people in the world of Audax and it is always a pleasure to expend a few minutes chatting and catching up with them.
The Kingston Wheelers were represented by Jasmijn, Sarah, Gavin, Chris, John and myself. Jasmijn was using the BCM as a training ride towards her LEJOG record attempt, Gavin was riding with a friend at a fastish pace, Chris was riding at an easier pace and that left Sarah, John and myself riding together at a not-that-slow-but-sustainable pace.
First stage is 75k and it goes very quickly despite of having some good climbing. It is still early and still cold. The sky is completely covered by clouds. The weather looked to me as it were at that edge that could go either way, it could start raining for the next two days or it could just clear out and give us the present of two days of blue, sunny skies.
We were lucky and blue, sunny days it was. Now add to that how beautiful Wales is. Top it with lots of long steady climbs and you end up with a collection of memories that if you could print them out it would be the perfect collection of postcards to promote tourism in Wales.
Between the first and second control we sat on the wheel of a Hereford rider. It reminded me Tomsk, The Mozart of the pace making. One of my Spanish friends says cycling is poetry and suggests that when you cycle you are writing a poem that reflects how you are cycling. This Hereford rider wrote a whole 55k long sonnet on his own with the quality of his pacing.
The second control was new and very welcome. Not only because it came 20km earlier than what the route sheet had marked but also because, with 140k in the legs, it was the first proper stop we were going to enjoy. Sitting in the outside, enjoying the sun, it was the moment of switching from cold gear to sunny gear.
Just after the second control it came a section that was new in the route. A series of short steep ramps one after the other. The last one was preceded by a 12% signal and I struggled quite a lot climbing it. I regretted every single gram I was carrying and I promised myself I was going to load a 32 in my cassette for future rides.
As soon as I arrived to the top I realized I had climbed the whole ramp on the big chainring. In a way that was a relief. True I had screwed my legs but it also meant there was a good reason while climbing the ramp was feeling that hard.
Now the view was totally worth the effort.
At this point I missed Alberto, the protagonist of my first BCM experience, now relocated to Canada. I'm sure he would have enjoyed this new part of the route. And the same happened every time we were riding in through a new section. Two thoughts kept coming to my mind. The first one is how much Alberto would have enjoyed the new section and the second one was trying to decide if I preferred the new section of the route or the old one.
I couldn't make my mind. The new sections had advantages and disadvantages. The new route is shorter and with less climbing (this counts as a disadvantage) but also it avoids some of the most annoying parts of the all route while they introduce amazing sceneries. In any case I was happy with the new route.
A bit before the control at Kings the road made us meet Ray, from Dulwich Paragon. We have lunch and from that moment on the trio became a quartet.
It always amaze me how sometimes riding with a complete stranger for 400k turns out to be something so easy and natural. Although in the case of Ray, he is a punchy rider in the climbs that knows how to adapt his pace to the groups' and that really helps.
We made it to Menai Bridge (km300) a bit before 20:00 (that is 14:00 to ride 300k, not bad) and that was a perfect timing. In one hand because the Waitrose that is in by the roundabout was still open which gave Sarah and myself the opportunity to raid it. In the other hand because in Menai you are offered hot food, so ideal for a proper dinner stop (jacket potato with beans and cheese and rice pudding for me). But also because that timing marks the night/day limit. At the control we put on all our layers, reflective jackets and lights. We were going to ride 100km during the night and it was getting cold.
Not as cold as we thought it was going to be. In fact after a few climbs we had to stop to take off some of the clothes.
Funny enough that was the moment were my biggest struggle began. I started to feel sleepy.
It was not late at all, probably around 22:00 but I couldn't help it. I started all kind of games to try to keep me awake. It's funny how one's brain works. Creep from Radiohead played in my head again and again.
To be completely honest it has been the soundtrack in my head for the whole ride, but now that I was falling sleep I couldn't take it off my head.
At some point I noticed my heart rate went down to 76ppm when we were climbing up a long steady hill. The idea of closing the eyes for two seconds to allow for a micro-sleep crossed my mind but I discarded it immediately. Some sense came out of my head I interpreted those signals as my body shutting down so I decided to sprint up the hill to try to get my heart rate up.
It was 23:30, I had 350km in the legs, 1 minute at 366w did the trick. My heart rate went up to 144ppm and woke me up enough to get to Kings in good spirits. It was around 00:30 and we had ridden 400km in 18:30 hours; not bad.
At Kings we had quick a quick dinner and we got ready to get to bed. When we asked for a bed we were told we would have two hours and then they would wake us up so other riders could also sleep. I remember in previous edition it used to be three hours but, hey, fair enough, everyone deserved a good rest and two hours in a bed is better than nothing.
I quickly headed to my bed. As we were ahead of most of the riders I was the first using it. Not that I cared that much at that point but always nice. I think it took me one or two minutes to fall deep sleep.
At 3:10 another rider woke me up asking for the bed. I moved out and he moved in in less than 10 seconds.
It was too early for breakfast to be served so I helped myself with some milk and a banana. In a few minutes John, Ray and Sarah were also around. Somehow I found myself ready when the rest was still eating something so I decided to sleep a bit more just there, sitting at the table.
I don't know for how long I slept but when I woke up breakfast cereals were available so went for a second breakfast before we moved on.
It was around 4:45 and we had daylight. It was also a bit cold but soon enough a long steady climb comes to warm you up. That climb is followed by a long and fast descend that it is followed by another long climb. The first stage of the day was only 65km but we were riding so slow that it took us three hours to complete it.
The good news was that at the control they had bacon and hot rice pudding. I liked this control, it had a relaxed atmosphere that went very well with the sunny morning we were enjoying.
Next stage was a short one, only 51km, and again it differed from previous editions. Instead of taking left at some point of the A483 we continued straight on the same road climbing and climbing and climbing. It was almost 15km of steady climb. I loved it.
A fast descend took us straight to the following control, a café that was open just for the BCM riders. Free tea and coffee, tomato soup and a roll for £3. It was 11:00 in the morning. We had cycled 110km already with some considerable climbing. It was the perfect time for a tomato soup.
Last stage (103km) was completely new and it was beautiful. True the weather was playing ball, but the beauty of those Welsh valleys was astonishing. I was constantly looking left and right admiring the creation mother nature was offering us.
We were 50km away from the finish when John's derailleur cable snapped. It was giving him problems the whole ride but at that point it was completely useless. John and Ray were very efficient making sure the derailleur would not change gears and from that moment John would have a fixed gear at the back and the option of big or small chainring. Challenging considering it was very unlikely the 50km left were going to be flat.
And the were not. One of the sections I was sad to miss was the final climb before Chepstow in the old route. That one is beautiful. It turned out this new route had a climb that was very similar to that one. Also very, very beautiful, with great views to the valley as you are gaining heigh and also with a final section of the road surrounded and almost covered by trees. The moment you finish this climb you know the BCM is done.
You still have a couple of punchy ramps, but you are five kilometres from the finish. Optimism and good spirits were in order.
We made it to the final control at 16:19 which means we rode the BCM in 34 hours 19 minutes. Not bad. In fact looking at my numbers this was my fastest 600 and surely the one I finished "less tired". That is the beauty of riding with a great company.
At the final control they had food available for a £3 flat rate. I went for a bacon sandwich and the "Spanish tortilla". It turned out the Spanish tortilla was more a Welsh interpretation of the Spanish tortilla but still good enough to please a hungry Spanish cyclist.
We relaxed some time at the final control. Gavin was there and it was time of celebration, taking pictures and telling histories.
This was my third Bryan Chapman (2013, 2014 and 2016) in none of them I got rain. As far as I can tell it never rains in Wales.
With this I have finished my this year's Super Randonneur (not a single puncture) which is my 5th SR. Slowly but surely I'm adding up kilometres and experiences.
The route in Strava
Javier Arias González