A minor classic: The Hell of the North Cotswolds

Mud, sweat and gears by Brian Opsal

Ouch. I’m a little battered today after yesterday’s Hell of the North Cotswolds (the HONC). The HONC is an annual 100km off-road reliability ride and celebration of Paris-Roubaix. Starting and finishing at Winchcombe school near Cheltenham it winds its way along the rolling hills and dales of the Cotswolds. Most do it on a mountain bike. We did it on cross bikes.

The conditions were good; slightly chilly (which I like), with clear skies and a keen breeze. The ground was rock solid, the Cotswolds fallingĀ  victim to the current drought conditions, turning rutted fields into a moonscape of bone jarring riding. We made the early mistake of lazily mosying over to the start rather than making a beeline, trapping us in the middle to the back of a very full field. Given the fact that its not a race (honest), this shouldn’t matter a jot, but I’d far prefer to be able to ride at my own pace on hills (because hill climbing is like that – a monotonous, monotone, mono-speed grind). Nonetheless, its great to share the experience with 1300 like-minded souls.

After the field thinned out, we got into the groove and scored a little early season three peaks practice. Nail the downhills and dig in on the climbs. As the event wore on however, we wore down; the breeze stiffened and the ground seemed to get harder with every sharp gust. More than one mountain biker delighted in their suspension as we struggled to talk whilst being jolted over the bouncy bits (you know who you are! swines). Bizarrely I started suffering from waves of nausea, with stomach churning over in a violent ‘spin cycle’ (thankfully regular training/cyclo-cross partner Donald wasn’t treated to any Technicolor displays). The coup de grace was finally delivered on Cleeve common where killjoys had removed the HONC signage, leading to a roughly 10km extra loop for me (Donald was only a little behind me on a fast descent and conspired to go the right way ). Three years ago, IĀ  hammered around the course like a man possessed in 4hrs 50mins. This year, it was 6hrs 10. No matter. We were after a hard ride and got one. A 110km cyclo-cross ride. A bloody hard ride.

(And I loved it :) )

The Hell of the North Cotswolds tries to emulate bits of the real McCoy (Paris-Roubaix, pictured).

Thanks to Donald and Stuart for their company at the HONC. Thanks to Winchombe CC and Cheltenham C.C. for organising and thanks to Winchcombe school for providing the use of their facilities. Many, many, MANY thanks to all the kind souls who stood in the biting wind to crew the checkpoints. The next HONC will be roughly the same weekend in definitely the same place.

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