I've been trying to improve my sleeping recently after listening to a podcast featuring Nick Littlehales, who has worked with Team Sky. I haven't quite got the hang of it yet, but on the very basic level you are meant to pick the same waking up time every day - in my case, 6am - and sleep in 90-minute cycles in line with circadian rhythms. So, going to bed at 10.30pm, or midnight, or even 1.30am.
So what to do about that Evan Cycles Mendips Sportive? The event centre was the Wells Blue Sports Centre, which is about a 45-minute drive from my house. Registration was open from 8.00 to 9.45am. Riders were allowed to set off from 8.30am. Long route riders had to be on the road by 9.30am and all others by 10.00am latest. My calculations showed I could either get up at 4.30am and be one of the first on the road, or spring out of bed at 6.00 am and be one of the last out of the gates. (I take a while to have breakfast.)
In the end, events on the Saturday made the decision for me as I was later to bed than I'd hoped. This was the first significant ride of the year for me, and I spent more time than I'd planned making sure my bike was up to scratch after effectively being taken out of metaphorical mothballs.
I also procrastinated over kit. A dry and sunny day was forecast, but it was still only March. I didn't want to be fooled by the sunny weather if a chill still lingered in the air. I hate being too cold on the bike, but too many layers become cumbersome to carry if the day heats up.
In the end I took a variety of kit but went for full-length leggings, arm warmers and a thick windproof gilet. My general rule of thumb is to look at what everyone else has got on and then add a layer. I got it more or less right, as the temperature through the day fluctuated between 8C and 16C with an average of 13 degrees.
There weren't that many other riders to draw a comparison from by the time I arrived. The pre-ride briefing had warned of limited parking, but when I arrived at 8.55am I was easily able to park on site.
Registration was a short walk to the main hall. There was no queue as most riders seemed to have set off already. No fuss, number and course map collected, toilet used in the hall, back to the bike and ready for the off just after 9.30am. There was a breakfast wagon just outside the hall for anyone who wanted food or drink.
I don't know if there was another way around but you had to carry your bike down a short flight of exterior steps to get to the start. I received a very short briefing with two other riders and then we were off, cycling through the outskirts of Wells and reacquainting myself with my best bike after several months apart.
There were four routes to choose from:
- Long route - 93 miles/151km with 6,469 feet/1,972 metres climbing
- Medium route - 70 miles/112km with 4,606 feet/1,404 metres
- Short route - 30 miles/49km with 2,014 feet/614 metres
- Fun route - 19 miles/31km with 762 feet/232 metres
Advance prices were £25 for Long and Medium, £20 for Short and £7.50 for Fun. I had foolishly already committed to some big summer events, so toyed with the idea of the Long route. However, head ruled heart and I stuck to the Medium. Plus I had no chance of getting to the Long route split by the cutoff time of 2pm.
I was quite excited by the route, because I've done a lot of sportives around the Mendips but this course offered something new by taking in Weston-super-Mare, where I work. I understand the Evan Mendip sportive has been going for some years but I hadn't ridden it before.
The first part of the ride was flat around the Somerset Levels and it was the perfect opportunity to get back into the swing of things. There were only a few sets of temporary traffic lights to break my momentum. The route was well marked all the way with easy-to-see black areas on a pink background. I headed through Wedmore and into Cheddar, which was as chock full of cars as ever. It was strange not heading straight up the Gorge, which was the fate of the Short route riders, but instead Long and Medium riders headed up a sustained but even 7% gradient towards Shipham. I've only been down this hill in the past, but it was a nice confidence-building early test.
The next section to the first feed station at 25 miles was again fairly flat as the route worked its way round the edge of the Mendips and into Wick St. Lawrence on the outskirts of Weston. Here it was farmland transforming into the sought-after village location. The feed stop was situated outside, adjacent to a village hall with toilet facilities. There was energy drink and water available along with a good selection of sweet, salty and savoury snacks and some energy bars and gels.
Once back on the bike, it was surprising how quickly farmland turned into housing estates and then back to a more picturesque coastal ride along the exposed but charming Sand Bay. The original route was meant to go all along Weston seafront, but there was a clash with the town's half marathon on the same day. This necessitated a late change and a few miles of twists and turns through some of the more mundane and traffic-heavy parts of town.
Canada Coombe out of Weston came as a bit of a wake-up call at 6% gradient. There was also some downhill mixed in, but all roads ended up at the bottom of Cheddar Gorge. The tourists were out in force by now due to the weather. Whilst the initial really steep section at the bottom seemed more of a struggle than usual, I felt surprisingly good by the top. This was probably due to the lack of the usual windy, inclement microclimate conditions that can exist there, and also that the second and final feed station at Priddy on the 58-mile mark was not far off.
When I arrived at the feed station they were just starting to make moves to pack up so I knew I was in the last few riders. It was sited by a school and a church, again with toilets. The Long route spun off at some point after this to go round the Chew Valley Lake, including a descent of Burrington Coombe and a climb of Harptree Hill.
Only twelve miles to the finish for me, although it turned out to be a bit of a slog via undulating A roads back into Wells, with the wind in my face for what seemed like most of the way. I was glad to see the finish line, and pick up my medal. I wasn't even the last rider to finish.
The course turned out to be well thought out for an early season sportive. There were a variety of distances to suit everyone, enough climbing to ease you into the season and work out any rustiness without going overboard, and contrasting environments to cycle through.
The Evans Ride It series always seem to be well run, relaxed and friendly and I will definitely be looking out for this one again next year.
Find an Evans Ride It sportive near you at www.evanscycles.com.