The Windsor Chester Windsor 600k is a particularly historic Audax. It was the first 600 km event run in the UK and enabled riders to qualify for and participate in the 1976 Paris-Brest-Paris. After a gap of around ten years, it was back in the calendar, this time avoiding the main roads that had caused its demise the first time around. Living on the outskirts of Chester near Tattenhall I rather fancied the ride. It was a shame it wasn’t in reverse as I could then have avoided the drive down to Windsor… And the drive back…
I left Windsor at 7am with a fairly large group of riders in glorious sunshine. For the first few hours, I rode in a big group at a very decent pace. We headed through the beautiful Henley on Thames of Regatta fame before crossing the river just below Oxford and entering the Cotswolds. The Cotswolds were a real delight to ride through with quiet lanes, beautiful villages and many an undulation to keep you from getting bored.
The route was inspired as it managed to avoid most large towns of note. It wound through beautiful Cotswolds villages before skirting Kidderminster and going on up towards Telford. It didn’t quite manage to avoid Telford though….
At Telford (230 km) I bounced the food control and pushed on alone to Chester. I rode right past my house before getting to the control in Chester around 12 hours after the start. The Chester control (300 km) was manned by a few members of the Chester and North Wales CTC. They cared for us perfectly before pushing us once more into what was now the dark of the night. Leaving the control, I opted to make a slight detour – adding about 20 km to the ride – and went home for a shower, a change of clothes and a few hours of sleep.
I think the hardest part of the whole ride for me was getting ready at 3 am to leave my house and cycle into the dark and the expected Hurricane Bertha. As I set off, it was a bit windy but not what you could expect from a hurricane. There was also no rain...yet!
The next leg was rather slow in the dark to Upton Magna near Shrewsbury. I reached Shrewsbury just as Hurricane Bertha arrived! It still wasn’t that windy but, blooming hell, did it rain! The next few hours were not the most pleasant ever spent on a bike. As the route wound through Longbridge and south towards Kidderminster, the roads became so flooded that the water was almost tidal in places. The rain stopped at some point but I can’t quite remember when. The wind then picked up and promptly changed direction from a modest headwind into a rather fine tail wind! The last 150 km or so was certainly wind assisted!
Riding back through the Cotswolds was a delight the second time around as well, although the undulations just seemed a bit bigger with a few miles in the legs. I had transient company for most of the ride back to Windsor in cracking riding country. I also passed a fellow rider who had both shifters fail and was therefore reduced to riding a single gear. They breed pretty resilient Audax riders!! To be fair, a few people of questionable sanity were riding on fixed. Why???
For me probably the finest part of the ride was before and after Henley on Thames, I recognised some of the climbs from riding down to Surrey a few years ago. It was just as beautiful this time around with views of the countryside bathed in sunshine. I was also in fine company having managed to latch on to a small peloton.
In the end, the 620 km (383 mile) ride to Chester and back was a much more senic route than I expected. My GPS was also showed over 5000 meters of climbing at the end (16500 ft) which isn’t bad for a flat ride!!