So, here I am again, writing a blog about another one of my silly ideas. The idea this time was the Audax Brevet “North Evia”. A 200km ride with a total of 3500m of climbing. This would be on paper the hardest ride I’ve ever attempted to date.

I first thought about this idea only a month or so before ago, as I had been feeling quite motivated since August. Wanting to support Evia as a cycling destination I decided I would give it a go.

Armed with 1250km and 17000m worth of training, a nutrition program by Tonia Zilianaiou , an amazing dietician and fitness coach , and a race management plan by local cycling legend and friend of GCH, George Kondylidis, I was feeling quite positive. A feeling which in the main was to be well founded.

Training and preparation

My biggest concern was lack of general cycling throughout the year compared to last year and the usual weight gain that comes with that . I decided that my best strategy would be to do as much climbing as possible as opposed to kilometers to get ready for the huge amounts of climbing that I would have to do. All of Evia is pretty hilly so it was no problem finding plenty of hills to go up.

My other concern was nutrition and fueling. On previous big rides I have always experienced the much-dreaded “Bonk” at some point. In my effort to eat enough to avoid it, I usually ended up with digestion problems and a seriously dodgy stomach. I have to be honest though and admit that my previous strategies were never anything more than eating a load of crap under the guise of “carb loading”. Then eating whatever crap I could find or crave on the ride, usually sweet stuff and coke! I made the decision to get some professional advice on how to fuel properly. A decision I would definitely recommend to anyone who is thinking of doing a big event.  <cough-peter ><cough-Fred whitton>

The big day – part 1

Well rested with a good night’s sleep under my belt and with coffee and breakfast done, we headed out at around 6 in the morning making our way to the start point by car. Upon arriving at the start point it is always great to see friendly faces and catch up. At 7:30 roughly we got our cards stamped and we were off.

There was Richard- the 4-time Iron man, George –the veteran of many brevet and experienced Randonneur, Andreas- the ex-National road race champion, and ..err…. me – Chef and GCH host! ( no pressure there then)!!!

We started as expected with a steady pace on the first 15km of flat, getting warmed up and ready for the first climb of the day. By then the sun was shining, and it was a near perfect day.

A Brevet is a type of unsupported, non-competitive sportive to be completed within a certain time limit. The time limit being 13.5 hours for 200km. Normally this is plenty of time but with the amount of climbing it was by no means certain that I would complete it within the time. Rather than trying to push myself too hard to save time, I decided it would be better to stay well within my limits, hopefully conserving as much energy as possible for later in the day. With no heart monitor the best way to do this is monitor your breathing and keep it under control. Every time I felt I was getting out of breath I slowed down.

After descending down the other side spirits were high and we joined on with the guys and one girl from BLe cycling team. Pushing on at a good pace, in bright sunshine all the way to the first control point.75 km done.

The next part was to be the most difficult. 10 km of climbing at an average of 7% with a couple of cheeky bumps at around 20 % .Then, a short descent followed by another 10 km of climbing taking us to our highest elevation of the ride at just over 600m . We dropped down with the next control point not too far away. It was at this point that I was starting to feel it. The climb had been long and slow and I had dropped back from the group and lost touch with Andreas and George. The climb took a lot of energy. I hadn’t eaten much up to that point and my thoughts drifted to  what I was going to eat at the control point. A Flap jack and a gel was my preferred option at this point. The road surface on the descent was not very good so I wasn’t really enjoying it. I just wanted to get there and have our first real rest of the day.

I had done most of this route before in the past on various other rides, but this that particular section was new for me. And boy was it beautiful! I wish I could have a professional photographer with me on these rides because a mobile just doesn’t do it justice.

And guess what? The control point shows itself, just in time! Thank God

Part 2

We pulled up to a fairly big crowd of cyclists at a tiny taverna, perched on a mountain in the forest in the middle of nowhere !! OH MY GOD !!  Cyclists everywhere tucking into plates of amazing looking pasta and cans of coke. If I was on my death bed and had one last wish, my wish would have been a plate of spaghetti and coke. This was going to be a good day!

With 105km done, we would now officially be on our way home . After a quick chat with the organizer and “ultra” randonneur Pavlos we were off once again. This time though, it was just Rich and I and this was how it would be for most of the remainder of the ride.

Cold muscles from the stop, bellies full of undigested pasta, and the realization that we were still only half way, the next 30 minutes were to be the lowest point of the ride. With the usual doubts and dark thoughts creeping into my head, I have to say though as far as cycling low points go, this was pretty light and nothing compared to the feelings of despair and loneliness that I have felt on other rides. My training and better preparation with nutrition was paying off and as a whole I felt comfortable throughout the ride.

With the pasta now digested I could breathe again !  Fully topped up with energy, we turned onto the flat coast road and bright sunshineagain. The mood lifted and cycling side byside witha chance to do some testosterone-fueled male bonding, with the conversation being mainly about women, ex’s and sex ! but I won’t go into that !

Once again we soon found ourselves climbing. I estimate that out of the 10.5 hours we were cycling, at least 7 of those were uphill. Steady away, an energy gel just to keep myself topped up and we were not far away from Prokopi and into the last ¼.  An ominous-looking rain cloud showed up ahead and a few spots of rain so we sped up trying to beat it. Bright sunshine, black rain clouds and the brightest full rainbow I’ve ever seen made for a dramatic backdrop.  150 km done and time for a coffee.

Part 3

“This is it Rich, last climb of the day then its downhill all the way “ I said cheerily, and that’s exactly how it was. It must have been around 17:30 by then and it was getting dark and cold. Up we went, plodding on in eerie darkness. The silence only broken by the odd car passing and waterfalls running close by.

One last energy gel at the top, jackets on and down we went for a very tough and cold descent in the dark before finally reaching civilization again.

Buoyed by the effects of the gel and excitement at being almost done, the last 15 km was to be a smash fest! Pushing ourselves hard at a good pace we were soon at the finish line!

As is often the case with these events there is a sense of anticlimax at the finish, handshakes and congratulations all around and the obligatory post-ride beer.

The time was coming up to 20:00 and an unofficial finishing time of 12.5 hours. That is one hour under cut off time and my own personal target. Well chuffed with that!

So another challenge completed and another amazing day on the bike. Once again Evia kept its end of the bargain and provided us with stunning views and a variety of scenery for the whole 200km. The organization and volunteers were all super and I’d like to thank them all for the effort that they put in .

I am super happy with my own performance both time wise, and also the way I felt throughout the ride. Although I don’t feel I could have done it any quicker, I do feel that I had more left in me to have carried further if I had to .

Maybe it’s time to think about attempting a 400km brevet !

Highlight of the day: The spaghetti of course J