If you’re heading out for 100km of riding, the more you know about it before hand the better you can tackle it. With that in mind we spoke to the Schwinn 100 ringmeister Michael Wilkens.
Before you old timers wander off claiming you know it all already, the main news is that the course has changed since last year (thanks to foot and mouth and assorted MOD considerations). It now starts with a very civilised road section behind the pace car, to let your legs settle into the 100k ahead. After a couple of miles the pace car will increase speed slightly as the terrain takes on a more rolling character which should let the natural pecking order of competitors or completors sort itself out, then as Michael puts it he’ll “put the hammer down, and that’s when the real race begins”.
You’ll dive off the road onto the forest trails that make up the great majority of the event. These are a mix of forestry tracks, doubletrack and singletrack sections, which vary in technicality as well as dragging over a fair few hills including the two cripplers in Crychan Forest at about the halfway mark. John and Michael have made sure that “most of it is rideable, so there’s no 3 hour carries or clambering over logs” but expect it to be testing on legs and handling in places. The advantage of the forestry over last years more exposed course is the protection from weather and wind if the Welsh climate pulls it’s usual tricks.
It’s not all cosy and covered though. The last 6 miles pull up and over the tops of the artillery range is guaranteed howitzer free, but any foul weather hanging about can be relied on to let you have it just as you feel at your lowest ebb. As they used to say, “over the top with the best of luck”.
The good news for your recovery though (but bad news for those after a grandstand sprint finish) is that positions and times will be decided 3 miles before the finish. Unfortunately foot and mouth restrictions, mean there are no off road routes into the showground, and local traffic considerations prevent them from setting up a closed road sprint finish into Builth. Still it’s a good opportunity to spin those aches out of your pins on the neutralised final leg.
So there’s the course overview, what’s the best way to tackle it?
If you’re after top placings you’ll have your own race plan and agenda already so we’ll deal with those set on completion not competition.
The first advice is not to get over excited in the first few km on road, even after the pace car is gone. If you’re starting to hurt at this point then it’s going to be miserable day, so throttle back and let the other thousand or so riders tow you along in their slipstream to conserve as much energy as possible. Once you hit the off road section things should spread out and settle down. Find yourself a group moving at a comfortable pace, someone to talk to or just ride with can take your mind off a lot of suffering later in the race. Don’t go killing yourself trying to stay with faster riders, however much your pride smarts, and if you find yourself working your way up the field don’t lead a headlong charge on the front of a group work steadily at your own pace, or find someone else to share the windbreaking workload.
There are four feeding stations at roughly 24km, 40km, 60km and 80km. If you are in any doubt about how much water or food you’ve got left then stop and pick up extra before you run out. Getting your fuelling right from the first zone could be the difference between arriving at the finish on your bike or on your knees. Don’t linger too long though as it doesn’t take long for everything to sieze up even if your sat in the sun enjoying the view.
The middle section of the ride is varied terrain with some easy and some relatively savage sections, until you get to the two major climbs in Crychan Forest. Again just tackle each one at a comfortable pace rather than burning yourself out. Don’t worry about letting others go or trying to jump onto the wheels of passing riders, there’s plenty of time for that yet. Don’t go destroying your legs for a bit of technical climbing glory either, just get off and walk and save the energy for later.
The only pace maker you need to keep an eye on is the cut off point at Dickies Corner (approximately 60km into the race). Anyone not through by 5pm will be taken out of the race for safety reasons and will be directed over a direct way straight back to the showground. Although there’ll be a big temptation to sprint for the cut off if time is short but bother. If you’re running late at this point, trying to complete the next 40km will be utter misery so do yourself (and all the marshalls and search and rescue teams) a favour and be proud you managed over 60km.
If on the other had you’re feeling frisky, start to wind the pace up after the last feed station. Chances are if you’ve saved your legs well, you’ll start reeling in the early runners at a startling speed, but save the final push to the climb onto the tops, as a few more watts of energy here will mean masses of places as people struggle to the summit.
If increasing pace is the last thing on your mind, just keep it together as best you can and drop gears early on climbs rather that trying to force them round. Your knees and back will certainly be glad if you choose to spin rather than struggle. However long it takes, you will make it eventually so don’t listen to what your body might be telling you. Concentrate on the fact that once you’re over the top it’s literally all downhill from there, and as places are clocked with 6km to go, there’s a good chance to spin the acid out of your legs before you pull on your race T-shirt at the showground.
Congratulations you’ve just ridden 100km, so forget who beat who and how fast the overall winners did it, take some pride in your achievement and walk up and congratulate some other random rider on completing it too. After all you’d be chuffed if they did it to you.
Finally stretch before you get in the car, and again after getting home, and however crap you feel the next day a quick 20 minutes round the block in a crawler gear will get you back on your feet much faster.
Best of luck, and have a good un’