The Four Rivers Audax. My first and won’t be the last

So yesterday I rode my first Audax. For those who have not heard of Audax it is a sub culture within a sub culture within a sub culture. By that I mean it seems to attract a very loyal following within people who like long distance cycling which itself is a small group within those who like to ride bikes. It is a kind of a cross between racing and touring over long distances.

A of today I am A ‘Randonneur’ (a person who has completed a recognised 200 kilometre ride).

The Four Rivers ride starts in Wem, Shropshire and heads for every hill it can find. First to the Stiperstones and then to Bwlch y Groes, then leaving Lake Bala with a 6 mile climb that I can’t find a name for (horrible springs to mind). Fortunately it was than “nearly” flat or downhill for the last 60+ km.

For most of the first leg (47km) I was hanging onto a group of about 12 which meant despite the big climb at the end of the section (where we split up with me about halfway in the spread out group). There was free cake and coffee at “The Bog Visitor Centre“. I decided to keep the stop short and so left before most of the rest of the group and in fact got to 95km before anyone overtook me. That was a chap who has done 16 Audax 200km’s since October who loves the hills. He was on a flat barred bike and I was much faster downhill and on the flat but he relentlessly chased me on every climb. He got close many times but eventually easily zoomed past me as I was struggling up the very long gradient that eventually led to the 2nd checkpoint (109km) at Lake Vrynwy (no I have no idea how to pronounce it). At the “Old Barn Cafe” there was a checkpoint (you get your “Brevet” card stamped and a special menu for us. I had a fantastic Pasta Bolognaise with local beef which was just what I needed for £5.

Again I didn’t hang around and caught a Yorkshire man on the flat stretch along the lake, once we started to climb upto Bwlch y Groes. That formed a pattern for the rest of the ride. He was much faster than me on the climbs but on flat or gently rolling terrain my aero wheels and fast tyres gave me a big advantage.

I last climbed Bwlch y Groes from the south fully loaded on my Sabbatical immediately after The Welsh Ride Thing. This route from the East was much less steep and had some downhills within it.

Heading down to Lake Bala (somewhat cautiously due to the wet roads) I had a wonderful moment when I overtook a train (the small steam train that runs alongside the lake). That was just before another checkpoint in the visitor car park at Llangower. There I met up with the Yorkshire man again and enjoyed some juice and fruit cake. He left first but in the rolling terrain to the bottom of the lake I caught and dropped in. However, once the 6 mile climb really kicked in he went past me and disappeared off into the distance.

That climb really hurt and I didn’t feel I recovered from it (as in reduced to a crawl by any adverse slope) until a chocolate brownie, scone and jam and coffee at the last checkpoint. With only 45km to go and the promise of only one small climb I felt confident that I could make it.

Again gently rolling with quite a lot of down helped a lot and just after being past by a group of about 8 pelting along I met and passed the Yorkshire man and another who had passed me on the long climb.

Fortunately, the last climb didn’t destroy me and I saw my average speed climb slowly to 21km by the time I reached the finish in 11 hours 10 mins of elapsed time without overtaking or being overtaken again. That average speed is not particularly meaningful as it includes some of the stops but not all (depending on whether I stopped the garmin or not). For the first time I chose to display average speed instead of current speed on my Garmin as Audax have a cut off speed of 15kph. I actually found that quite relaxing.

Again coffee and cake at the finish. To add icing to the cake Jane arrived to collect me just as I got to the finish.

My impressions of Audax are really positive.

  • They are very well organised. People are clearly very experienced and knowledgeable at putting on these events. Puts many others to shame.
  • Everyone was very friendly and there was no put down for me as a newcomer just a welcome.
  • I was nervous and skeptical about the route sheet as it was very alien to me. But thanks to some advice on facebook I had 4 route sheets laminated and carried the current one on my left arm held on with elastic which worked really well. I am confident that even without my garmin I could have comfortably followed this as long as I had something displaying the distance in km. It also helped keep my focus on the current and short goals rather than worrying about the whole (and I really noticed it on the long 6mile climb because there was a single route card entry of 24km which took me over the climb and down to the next checkpoint without any intermediary goals).
  • While a lower gear would have been nice the bike worked fantastically well. Again my new wheels from The Happy Cog were brilliant. The hydraulic SRAM Rival disc brakes gave supreme confidence on some very steep descents. The Schmidt SON dynamo with B&M Luxos-U front light charged my Garmin on the way round (otherwise there is no way the battery would have lasted long enough).

So this was my longest ride yet at 133.9 miles. It had over 8,700 feet of climbing. My moving average was 14mph and my overall average 12mph. I am a happy bunny 🙂

As usual I carried far too much stuff (all the warnings about being in very remote places without a reliable phone signal meant I went prepared for almost anything – my first aid kit was larger than some riders saddlebag). Too many clothes and too much food meant I could have carried at least 1kg less weight.

On the other hand I started this ride 6kg lighter than I was at the end of February and wow that did make a huge difference. Probably the difference between riding and walking up some of the climbs.

So if you have not tried an Audax I recommend it (they start from 50km and go upto 1440km).

My ride on Strava:

Elapsed Time Moving Time Distance Average Speed Max Speed Elevation Gain
11:09:18 09:33:19 133.96 14.02 38.70 8,707.35
hours hours mi. mph mph ft.
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  1. Chapeau! I will get around to an Audax one day 😛

  2. A lovely article. With your permission, I’d like to share on my FB page as I often get asked about Audax from riders who have never heard of it. Makes a nice intro.

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