www.dadswell.co.uk  Mostly cycling records, mostly on three wheels

                                            Almost another Almost                             Ralph Dadswell, July 1996         Back to Rides in 1996

The first half of the 1996 season had had some ups and downs, but by the end of June I had managed a couple of reasonably fast rides on my tricycle.  Schedules were in for a number of record attempts, and I was watching out for suitable conditions.

During the last week of June, I noticed that some windy days were expected for the final weekend.  By Thursday night, I had decided to make an attempt on the Cardiff to London tricycle record on Sunday the 30th.  The record was held by Dave Pitt, a rival for most of the last decade.  The time was 6 hours 48 minutes 35 seconds, for approximately 150 miles.

So, on Sunday at 9am we left home, bound for Cardiff.  My backup team consisted of Audrey Hughes and my brother Tim.  By 11am we were at the motorway services east of Newport.  I'm sure that training manuals wouldn't recommend a cooked breakfast as the best possible meal before a 150 mile ride, but unfortunately the menu was rather restricted.  When we were leaving, we were entertained to hear some other English visitors trying to work out where Chepstow was.  As M4 traffic is now routed across the Second Severn Crossing, they had been confused not to find their destination at the Welsh side of the bridge.  As we left, they were considering the possibility that Chepstow was in fact in England after all!

Onward to Cardiff, and (after a small unplanned detour through Splott) to the National Museum of Wales.

(Audrey prepares to release me at the Cardiff start point)

The wind was certainly present, and in a favourable direction.  At 1pm precisely, I was despatched toward London, and began weaving my way out of the city.  When Rumney Hill was dealt with, I could start thinking about getting my speed over 20 mph.  The average required was, after all, over 22.  At my checkpoint near Newport, I was only just holding my schedule. 

I had been uncertain as to how to schedule the ride.  The first half featured the more difficult terrain, and the section from the Severn to Chippenham was quite twisty.  The second half (from the summit of Marlborough Hill) was quite straightforward, but I wouldn't be as fresh.  I was also aware that favourable weather might easily be on the wane in the last couple of hours.  Eventually, I decided to go for the simple option of presuming a level speed throughout, and see how things shaped up. 

After diving through Newport and being waved across the bridge I was pleased to be away from towns for a while.  Conditions were quite good as I zoomed past the Groes Wen and onwards to Crick.  I had a feeling that Pauline Strong would be waiting somewhere on the rather unpleasant hill leading to Chepstow.  She was there indeed, and gave me the terrific news that three cars had broken down ahead, and there was a tail-back of about a mile.

I made my way past, and was one minute adrift of my schedule as I whizzed down towards the Severn Bridge.  I crossed to England without mishap, but the plan for Tim to ride the spare machine over the bridge behind me was cancelled - because he was still waiting in the queue two miles back!

The course becomes quite fiddly for the next 20 miles, and the climb just after Tockington is little short of excruciating.  I was now 2 minutes down on schedule, and looking for inspiration.

I managed to control the deficit for a while, but I was making heavy weather of the ride as I passed Yate, and the climb onto the Cotswolds beckoned.  I climbed past Old Sodbury, and near to the summit I got a shout from club-mate Keith Burfoot.  He told me that the traffic lights ahead had been on red for a while, so they would be bound to turn green when I got there.  I didn't share his optimism, but he must have had a remote-control in his pocket.  As if by magic, they changed exactly on cue, and I hauled myself across, relieved to be near the top.

Fortunately, I managed a few fast miles, and could hardly believe that I was only a minute down at the Acton Turville check.

I lumbered along past Castle Combe racetrack, and made a fast approach to Chippenham.  I was exactly level with schedule when I picked my way through onto the A4.

Leaving Chippenham behind me, I was touching 30mph as I passed Andy and Lydia Cook.  They both offered encouraging shouts as I disappeared towards Calne. 

I hate the next few miles.  In each of my three attempts on the London to Bath & back record, I had a torrid time riding to Calne.  And this occasion was no exception, despite my only having a mere 60 miles on the clock.  It was bottom gear and 10 mph as I cursed my way up through Derry Woods.  Then it was 35 mph down the other side.  And then back to 10 mph before eventually hitting the outskirts of Calne.

I was not surprised to be 2 minutes down in the town centre, and could only look forward to the lengthy ascent at Cherhill.

Most of the next four miles are quite scenic, with the special attraction of a White Horse resplendent on the downs to the south.  The miles are also uphill and very exposed.  At the top, Tim shouted that I had a good tail-wind.  I guess it was true, but as we agreed afterwards, if the conditions hadn't been favourable there, then they would probably have never been any good.

Anyhow, I did what I could over the next 10 miles, and was quite surprised to have moved back to just a one minute deficit by Marlborough.

Marlborough is almost exactly halfway between Cardiff and London, and I had taken 3 hours 25 minutes.  I had 3 hours 23 minutes remaining, and the terrain is definitely flatter and straighter for the second half.  You could almost be optimistic.

However, you don't get a chance to think such ridiculous thoughts, as you're far too busy negotiating the tough and twisting climb out of the town.

Once at the top, THEN you can start to feel happy. 

I made the most of the flat straight section as far as Froxfield, and managed to keep a modest speed for the remainder of the section to Hungerford.  Despite the effect of Marlborough hill, I had actually pulled back to be level with my schedule, and so, drunk with excitement, I pushed on to Newbury.

As Mick Fountain gave me an encouraging shout, I noticed that I had moved to an unprecedented 2 minute advantage over schedule.  Barely able to contain myself, I wrestled with the dozens of obstacles of the next miles, before finally leaving Thatcham and joining familiar racing roads.

100 miles passed near Woolhampton, and I had taken 4 hours 24 minutes.  Not staggering, but definitely faster than I needed, so I had to be satisfied.  Of course, with another third of the ride to go, nothing was certain.  My next check was at Pangbourne Lane, and I was pleased to have reached 4 minutes up.

This rate of progress would have been most welcome over the last 50 miles, but it's never that simple.

Taking full advantage of Bus Lanes, I avoided most of Reading's hold-ups, and was relieved to have maintained the 4 minute cushion as I left the town.

Onto very familiar territory now, and I was still holding the 4 minutes past Maidenhead and through the mess and hassle that is Slough.

As London approached, I was becoming quite concerned about whether I was far enough ahead of the schedule (and hence the record) to allow for even one decent traffic jam.  However, with just 15 miles to go, it's too late to do anything except keep going.

I had my last drink handed up at Heathrow, and I confidently expected to lose the following car from that point onwards.

Ken Rogers was placed at the Traveller's Rest (now renamed Hounslow-McDonalds roundabout) and he reminded me that I was still 4 minutes up.

Despite plenty of minor obstacles, there were no significant delays for the rest of the ride.  Some parts, such as the Hammersmith Flyover were really quick, although the section underneath the M4 was not really enjoyable at all.

Before I knew it, I was at the Natural History Museum.  The only important point in the closing stages was to make the left turn into Exhibition Road.  I knew exactly what I had to do, but for some reason, I became convinced that the roadsign didn't say "Exhibition Road".  So I continued straight ahead, and then suddenly I realised what I had done, and braked sharply.  As I performed the "turn on a sixpence" manoeuvre in the middle of the junction, I was staggered to see that my car was still with me.  I would guess that this is unprecedented for a daytime finish along the A4.  The downside of this is, of course, that my stupid error had been witnessed!

But still, we were nearly there.  As I entered Hyde Park, I had 7 minutes to go, and less than 2 miles.  At this point, I allowed myself the luxury of knowing that the record was within my grasp.  Unless something unforeseen happened.

As I approached the final run along the Northern edge of the park, I remembered that that section was often closed to traffic.  It was closed as I approached.  I knew that I had to go along that stretch, but I couldn't be sure that I could get out at the end.  As I rode along that last half mile, I had visions of finding myself effectively imprisoned in a cage, some 100 yards from the finish, but with no way of getting there.  I expected to find a pedestrian exit, but then discover it was too narrow for the tricycle.  I could see myself in a futile struggle with a locked gate, with the sound of Dave Pitt's laughter in my ears.

Luckily I was just being silly.  The exit was open after all.  It was almost an anti-climax to ride around the roundabout and stop just east of the stone marking the site of the Tyburn Tree.

George Hunton gave me the good news that he'd timed me in at 6 hours 45 minutes 59 seconds.  Wow, what a relief.  I really didn't fancy doing that one again.

The blokes who were cleaning car windscreens needed a bit of convincing that I'd ridden in from Cardiff that afternoon, but other than that, London seemed fairly unconcerned about the earthshattering event that had happened in front of its eyes.

(At the finish, George Hunton faces the camera)

(At the finish, Keith Robins faces the camera)

And so we set off for home, with mixed feelings.  On the one hand, it's great to have another record.  On the other, I had only gone 0.6% faster than the previous record. 

In the end, though, I can remember Dave Pitt saying (maybe in slightly different circumstances) that "one second is enough", so why should I even start to feel that I should have done better than 2 minutes 36 seconds? 

Roll on Number 17!

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