The final warm-up before tackling La Ronde Picarde a week later, the Mad Summer Hare was to provide a good challenge. It’s the first time that this sportive has taken place but it’s a sister sportive to the Mad March Hare which I tackled in 2016 and very wetly in 2017. The Mad Summer Hare was 100 miles and worked its way up Snowshill, Saintbury, Dover’s and Campden Pitch.
Again, we found an organiser who decided that wet mown grass is the perfect place for a sportive, this ended up worse than the recent Wiggle Yorkshire Tour as it managed to get everywhere. Somehow it snagged so much between wheel and tyre that it jammed up on the way to the start line and needed unclogging.
We also ended up having an issue with Hannah’s bike. She’d taken it into a bike shop during the week for a wheel true only to be told that the bearing in her rear wheel were dead so it needed chucking (might try replacing the bearings first…).
A last-minute swap with one of my wheels had given her something to ride but we hadn’t noticed that the gears didn’t run correctly until on the start line. I gave it some mechanical work that sort of worked. Ultimately though it led to Hannah retiring after an hour’s worth of riding because the three easiest gears just refused to run properly.
Starting the Mad Summer Hare
We were riding different routes and I’d found some of the guys from the Gorilla Café rides that I do and we’d set off. It was the usual mass start sportive fare, trying to extricate the fast guys from the slower guys. I hopped onto the back of a quick group and thought that the other two guys were with me. It took about 10-15 minutes and fair amount of coasting to find them again.
We ended up having a puncture in the group, Luke’s back tyre went flat so we had to pull over and repair. This got done relatively quickly considering what was to come. Almost immediately my rear wheel was feeling spongey. We pressed on at a good speed as it was a slow puncture, before then deciding to pull over and do a proper repair.
The old tube was whipped out and a new one put in. It turned out however that the valve didn’t stick out enough for the CO2 pump or the hand pump. Despite best efforts and some alternative efforts at doing it, we had no luck and 30 minutes had gone. There was nothing for it, I was going to have to ride the next 9 miles on a flat back tyre to the feed stop where there was a mechanic.
The flat tube made an absolute racket. At times sounding like the whoomp-whoomp of a steam train. Shockingly however, the three of us found ourselves overtaking people, which cannot have been good for those people’s self-esteem. We must have gone around close to twenty other riders in this stretch. We also had a horse to negotiate which felt a bit awkward whilst making such a noise. There was only the one little moment where the back wheel snapped out as I powered out of a corner, but all in all no dramas.
We found the mechanic who had a long valve tube to hand, which was quickly put on, pumped up and finally we were on our way again properly. We had the fun of a soaking wet feed stop and the cold cutting through when getting going again. The rest of the ride was equally as soggy with lots of drizzle.
The Mad Summer Hare climbs
We made it onto roads that I know and began the first of the major climbs of the day, Snowshill. Luke and I ended up having a little race rather than pacing ourselves. On the steeper parts, he would get a gap, on the flatter parts I would reign him back in. Ultimately, I won because I pulled his seatpost back in the last 100 metres, old school racing techniques at play!
We waited for Steve at the top before riding round to have the fun of descending Stanway. Always a favourite descent for its easy gradient and winding corners, we smashed it down. This went fine until I spotted some oil on a corner right as I was about to turn in. I ended up straightening up, hitting the brakes and getting very close to going onto the other side of the road. Definitely a wobbly moment!
We looped round to Saintbury, this time Luke was off and gone. Always within sight but well ahead. This wasn’t a day for any speedy setting of PBs but some simple rolling and conquering of climbs. We ended up coming down the Willersey descent which is very very steep, very narrow and has a very sharp right hander in it for good measure. Can imagine those who didn’t know it having a brown shorts moment on that day in the damp.
We were forced up Dover’s Hill very quickly, but not before a quick feed stop in Willersey itself. I always find Dover’s hard and was reduced to the full-on zig zag on its steepest parts as the legs were starting to hurt. I passed people manfully struggling up it in a straight line, my way was definitely easier! Again, Luke was well ahead but still within sight at the top.
We did the Ilmington loop quite sedately, the climb out of the back of Mickleton was tough and so was Campden Pitch itself. Luckily once over the top it meant lots of descending. I managed to hit my top speed of 46mph by being brave going down Baker’s Hill (one of the few PRs that way).
The final stretch of the Mad Summer Hare
We overtook a big group going up Binton Hill and some more at Temple Grafton but most of the rest of the way we were struggling along as threesome. For some reason, my knee started to be excruciating just after Great Alne to the point where I was wondering if I’d be able to complete the last 10 miles. A mile or two later however it disappeared as quickly and it had come on, very weird.
We made it to the finish, with a downhill whoosh down the tree lined drive to exchange our rider number for a burger and a medal. Hannah was there to greet us, now in people clothes (she had the house key so she’d been home and got changed) and we celebrated with a beer each or three.