The Rapha Prestige is not a race. It’s a highly exclusive sportive style event put on by the swankiest cycling brand in the world and somehow I had blagged us a place on the start line!
The rules are simple. The course is tough. Team’s of 4 must start, ride and finish together.
After being sent the GPX file and details of the 110 mile route just 48hrs before the start I spent all of 5 minutes checking over it and opted to leave it as it was. The route was a loop starting and ending at the bike friendly Mud Dock in the UK’s cycle capital, Bristol. It had 3 ordered checkpoints, a few band ‘shortcut’ roads and a couple of mandatory climbs up Old Bristol Hill and the stunning Cheddar Gorge. We had the option to adjust the route, but as it looked like the guys at Rapha had done a cracking job plotting just my sort of ride through the deepest and darkest country lanes it felt wrong to shorten it. Although we later found out others had no such concerns, managed to knock off up to 15 miles by ‘improving’ their route!
As we had to apply for the ride as a team we were unable to change team members after being accepted. This caused a slight concern when Jesse, a yank, managed to mix the dates up and had to pull out at the last moment. Kirill, an Estonian, was quick to replace him and spent the days leading up to the event watching reruns of Friends in a bid to get the accent dialed.
However, his attempts to keep a low profile failed somewhat on the start line due to being the only participant ballsy/mad enough to be riding fixed.
This is not a race we kept telling ourselves as we set off in the morning calm of a city still sleeping. However, it didn’t feel that way as we crisscrossed other teams attempting to escape the suburbs in search of open countryside of the Mendip Hills.
There were teams from all over the country taking part and by the time we headed down towards checkpoint one at the Rapha Archive Store in Kilver Court, a small peloton had formed.
Not used to riding in such a large and fast group down narrow and unfamiliar roads I sat off the back slightly and watched Kirill whip skidding it about mid pack, who needs discs…?
Old Bristol Hill was the first real test of the day with its steep grade winding its way to the top of the Mendip’s.
The end of the climbing for a bit was signaled by the much hyped gravel section.
It was relatively short and slightly downhill, but despite the heat one lake of a puddle remained taking up the entier dirt track hedge to hedge.
This was the first real ride for Arunas’s new gravel bike, The Light Blue’s Robinson, and he bombed the trail as though he was on his Fat Bike. No issues there then! I on the other hand was holding fast to my 30 year old Peugeot, as much to hold it together as to stay rubber side down. The thing with fashion and trends is nothing is new and despite the lack of disc’s these 80’s road frames can fit some fat old tyres in them, making them way more capable than you might imagine when things get loose.
Checkpoint two was a mobile cafe marooned on the beach at Uphill, just below Weston-Super-Mare.
Still in off-road mode Arunas was the only rider to cycle the sand and was rewarded with coffee, ice lollies, bananas and more, plus the all important brevet stamp!
As we looped back inland I could feel my legs start to show the telltale signs of cramp. Despite stretching them out on the bike, drinking more and chomping down a few bananas there was not much I could seem to do other than delay the inevitable. The last thing you need at this point is to take on the UK’s number one climb, according to the book 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs, Cheddar Gorge, having your mate riding fixed drop the hammer and head off on a roadie hunt (the score was at least 7 by the top, check his insta for the video) or enter into a full gas sprint for the line at checkpoint 3 with another member of your own team (way to go Jez) lol.
The majority of the climbing was now over, but there was still plenty still to contend with. The cramp set in big time at this point and I hadn’t experienced anything like it for years, with every muscle in my legs contracting so hard I could feel the muscle bruising themselves. This lead to a forced team stretching session on the side of the road while I knocked a few more bottles of electrolyte’s back.
If you have any tips for avoiding cramp please do drop them in the comments below.
Back on the road our pace was well down from the morning, but the k’s kept on ticking by all the same. Before we knew it we were circling the airport and got our photo evidence for the virtual checkpoint 4.
The last climb through Ashton Court and over the iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge had us smashing in the last of his food as we ended the day how it had begun, racing other teams around the city in an excited and slightly chaotic attempt to find our way back to the start.
However deserving we might have felt as we enjoyed a cold drink overlooking the river as the sky filled with hot air balloons we couldn’t consider it anything more than a very well planned, supported and enjoyable blast in the country.
The trouble was our mate Minda had just ridden 2,422 miles and climbing 123,765ft on route to completing the Transcontinental Race the day before, crossing Europe in just 14 days! Way to show us how a real ‘epic’ ride is done 🙂
Huge thanks to Rapha for inviting us to take part and all the hard work behind the scenes to help make it such an awesome event. Also, a big hats off to the Mud Dock for putting on a breakfast feast and much-needed dinner, compleat with a few vegan options.
Click here for Strava ride data
See what Rapha had to say about the ride over on their blog.
Full Rapha photo gallary of the event is live over on Flickr.