Just a couple of weeks ago I shared with you my intentions of riding in the inaugural Barbados Cycling Festival Sportive on Sunday 10th September. At that point it was looking highly unlikely that I would be able to take part as it was proving difficult to find a bike on the island to hire and bringing my own bike would be costly. In the end though, the rental company I was in contact with – Bike Caribbean – managed to sort me out an entry level road bike for the day so I promptly packed my cycling kit ready to take on the 63km of the Silver Course.
I arrived in Barbados in the late afternoon of Friday 8th so by the time I got out of the airport, had some (decent) food and got home I was ready for bed. I managed to get in touch with Bike Caribbean on Saturday afternoon and arranged for Randy to pop over so we could check my cleats fit and get the bike set up ready for the 6am set off time the next morning.
Waking up at 4am Barbados time was a breeze for me as it was 9am London time. A twenty minute drive down to the Esplanade on Bay Street in the islands capital of Bridgetown and I was at the start line. It was an easy process to sign in (we preregistered), collect our timing chips and wait for start time as just over 100 riders were taking part in the event.
At the start line with beautiful views of Browns Beach on our right, and the sun rising quickly I managed to position myself at the front ready to see what this ride had in store for me. In my mind, Barbados was flat; but driving around the island the day before I realised that it has plenty of rolling hills with the steep ones mostly being short and sharp so it wasn’t too much of a shock when we crossed the start line and hit our first few smaller inclines.
I tracked my pace and distance using the Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR as I didn’t want to travel with my Garmin (it’d be one more valuable thing to have to look after) and the Spartan Trainer also doubles as a waterproof watch. I have a full review coming shortly of this watch which was only released at the start of September so keep an eye out for that.
After cycling the Peak District, the kms seemed to tick by steadily. It was my first time using the Spartan Trainer though so I wasn’t sure how accurate it was. However, both the Gold and Silver Courses followed the same route for the first 36km so that was my main marker.
The course was marked out by yellow (and then white) arrows spray painted on the roads and to be honest, these were confusing at times which made me take wrong turns on at least three occasions.
For most of the major junctions though there were either marshals in place or the police kindly stopped the traffic for me as we passed through. The police escort was probably one of the best bits about the event; we certainly don’t get that in the UK!
With the majority of riders doing the Gold Course, there were not that many of us on the Silver Course so I spent the majority of the ride pretty much on my own. Every now and again I would catch up to those in front of me or pass somebody but not often. T
he route took us from Bridgetown, via Oistins along the south of the island. I managed to miss the marked sprint section before the airport (prizes were available) and I probably wouldn’t have bothered anyway as it was too early in the route for me to use up too much energy.
After we passed the airport we took a “scenic” route to Ruby which is where my Dad lives and where I was staying. The course took me directly to my Dads shop before bearing left so I had to stop to say hello and good morning to him, get a hug and some encouragement!
After this we hit some “country” and I can’t explain to you how liberating it felt to be on two wheels in such beautiful surroundings. I stuck to my usual strategy of taking on SiS energy gels / soreen mini banana loaves every 45 minutes along with as much water as I could fathom.
My dehydration headache hit me pretty much from the start line but I think that’s down to my race prep the day before where I started drinking from 11am through to 6pm before heading home to eat and sleep by 9pm. There were three water stations on our route which were stocked with water, Powerade and bananas.
I took water from the first two stations along with a banana from station one and I managed with what I had. Luckily the headache subsided after a while even as the sun got hotter and hotter during the morning.
Passing through Ruby meant that we were now headed north and fast approaching half way. I managed to catch up with some riders I’d been chatting to on the start line as we climbed some hills. They informed me that there was only one big hill to go and the majority of the hard work would be done.
And they were right; Coach Hill was my ride nemesis! I managed to cycle up the first part but when I got to the second and saw that it seemed to be never ending along with other riders getting off their bikes to walk I decided I would do the same.
After walking the steepest part and also catching my breath, I again followed those in front of me and got back on to finish it on the bike. And that was also the last time I saw those riders on the course after I passed them. It was shortly after this climb that the two routes split and I just prayed I did not end up on the longer route!
We were blessed with a fair bit of downhill after Coach Hill and although I’m not a fan of downhill on roads that I do not know I managed to let go after a police lady rode by (on a motorcycle) and told me to get moving!
The road at this point was wide and quiet, and allowed me to see far enough ahead to be comfortable not holding onto the brakes. I was so grateful every time we took a turning away from a hill but one particular part of the downhill was so bumpy I was worried for the pressure going through my wrists!
Before I knew it we had crossed the island again and were back on the west coast covering the 10km between 40-50km in around 21 minutes; my fastest 10km for the whole ride. At this point I tried to pick up the pace but it was difficult when we hit the town centre and the route was unclear to me as we navigated a one way system with no marshals or police that I could spot.
At one point I literally threw my arm up in confusion and a member of the public shouted telling me to go straight ahead. Thank you to that guy cos without him I dunno where I would’ve ended up! It was a sharp left turn back onto Bay Street for the finishing straight up the Esplanade and in true sportive form I mustered up my last bit of energy for a sprint finish, which saw me pass a lady on that straight and come in as third lady home on the Silver Course!
I’m just gonna bask in that for a moment before I explain that there probably weren’t more than 5/6 women on my route anyway, but all the same, I’m proud of doing so well under conditions that I am not used to riding in. Once the course was complete, we picked up our medals along with a goody bag, t-shirt and food / drink voucher.
My next stop was for some ice cold water before signing up for a complimentary massage which honestly was the perfect end to the mornings ride before hitting up the carb-fest provided for us in the proportion of 50% savoury and 50% sweet!
While we waited for the final riders to come in (they arrived just before midday) I took the opportunity to go on the beach to cool down my legs in the sea and take a few photos.
They then had a presentation for the winners of the Gold Course along with the winners of the sprint section and KOM / QOM for an epic hill climb – Cherry Tree Hill – on the Gold Course.
The female winner of the Gold Course also won the female sprint section and QOM so I’m kinda glad I didn’t even notice the sprint section and saved my energy.
Think I’ll have to come back in 2018… I might even consider the 100km of the Gold Route. Who knows! …this was my first ever cycling event outside of the UK and I couldn’t be happier to have gotten to do it at home in Barbados! …but now, my holiday officially starts…
So who is coming with me next year for the 2018 Barbados Cycling Festival?!