Hell Of the North Cotswolds

My first event this year, and the start of my build up to the Big Red Randonnee. Along with Carla, and my Bro’ I tackled the 20th edition of the HONC. Described as…The original and Classic British Endurance event. This popular cycling event genuinely deserves it’s “classic” status, having been inspired originally by the “Hell of the North” Paris-Roubaix bike race, which takes place on the same day in Northern France. The reliability trial starts and finishes in the picturesque town of Winchcombe and uses a combination of tarmac, “white” roads and bridleways. Last year the event attracted an entry in excess of 900 riders…

It’s a mass start, with a police escort through Winchcombe, an incredible sight as close to a thousand riders sweep through the narrow streets. Not that I was able to see it. I was too busy trying to maintain my position near the front ready for the moment the escort pulls over and the event proper begins. As we hit the dirt I was still in the leading group. The first climb wasn’t too painful, and I was part of a group of about twenty riders that went clear. I noticed that the rider at the head of the group had a GPS on his bars. We were flying along, and I thought that with GPS man showing the way we would flash round the route in record time

You know that thing about following instructions? Well on the route card it says in big bold letters “Follow this route card, not the rider in front”. Our leading group swung left onto a bridleway and raced down a superb track that had us whooping in delight before climbing across a field and up into a small lane by a farm. All of a sudden, confusion, GPS man fell silent, quiet discussion, and mutterings. I notice that even after a few minutes there are no riders coming from behind. We’ve gone off course. I am the first to abandon the group, and retrace my steps.

Back on route, and with lots of cyclists in front to point the way I press on. Some twenty minutes later I caught up with Carla, riding at a sensible pace, and navigating properley. Having learned from my mistake (not), It wasn’t the last time I caught Carla that day as my enthusiasm got the better of me and I raced off like a ‘headless chicken’.

The Cotswold countryside is stunningly beautiful, and we rode some fabulous trails. This combined with sun, hail, wind, and the odd shower made for an epic ride. Five and three quarter hours later I arrived back at the start, tired but happy (exhausted actually), with my control card stamped at all checkpoints to claim my medal. My brother had arrived 15 minutes ahead of me, and was trying to look pleased with himself, but looked knackered. We sat there, with our tea and sandwiches, going on about how tough it was, and how tired we were, when Carla arrived looking suprisingly fresh and clean, and smiling!

A great day in the saddle, and one to treasure. The HONC really is a “classic”.

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