Last weekend I rode my first sportive, Gran Fondo Eddy Merkx. The sportive had a small event village to show off demo bikes and products. This also allowed me to sign in the day before the event and get familiar to start area. I chose the 100 km route rather than 100 miles, it being my first sportive, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
I arrived about 30 Min’s early so I could change and make some final tweaks to the bike. A quick glance around the gravel car park and I could see everything from top of the range Cervelo’s to classic De Rosa’s, the excitement started to build.
I headed over to the start to get into the queue. Whilst we waited for our turn to start, I couldn’t help but overhear small parts of conversations between friends. Which covered such topics as how many ‘dumps’ they had prior to heading over and mocking about cassette ratio’s. A few minutes later it was time to start but not before a quick introduction to our route.
The first 15 miles were pretty fast, at this point the group was still pretty large and everyone was flying through the small villages along the way to Bridport. From here on out the groups started to break apart and I find myself switching places with the same couple of riders, taking it in turns at the front, travelling along the magnificent Jurassic Coast.
The coastal road ended with a 17% descent from Abbotsbury, which must be the longest descent I have ever ridden. This lovely treat was short lived when the road started to rise again for a long steady climb with a 24% incline at the very end of the climb. Most riders managed to safely dismount their bike to have a short break followed by a long walk. About halfway up the climb, someone had painted the road with “Allez, Eddy!”, which I soon found out after the ride is the name of a film in production this year about Eddy’s life.
About 6-7 miles later I arrived at the first feed station, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I thought I might need money to purchase the food/drink at this station but much to my delight that was all covered in the entry fee I forgot I paid many months before the event. I grabbed some more water, a couple of ZipVit goodies and a banana then made my way back onto the road. I knew from this point that I would be leaving a different way to some riders, me being on the 100 km route, I now had a different colour sign to follow. After a slight bit of confusion I flagged down the sign and set off.
I was now alone following the signs, keeping an eye for any other riders. I didn’t see anyone for at least 25 Min’s. A couple of riders from one of the event’s sponsors went past shortly before I caught a group of 4 riders. After a few seconds I realised that I was cycling with Eddy Merckx, I spotted his rider number, custom bike and fully EM kitted riders around him. I had to stay with the group for a while just to take it all in, it is quite a surreal feeling riding alongside someone who has won the Tour de France five times, won all the monuments of cycling at least twice, with 19 monument victories in all, won the Giro d’Italia five times and the Vuelta a España once, won the world championship once as an amateur and three times as a professional, and broke the world hour record.
For the majority of the last 50 km I was on my own and I discovered some power that I didn’t know I had which I also probably should of saved for later. I averaged a pretty decent speed for about an hour, allowing me to catch another rider who started earlier. Due to being out on my own for a while, I started a conversation with him and we were talking about riding with Eddy, other event’s that he had entered during his life. He was around the same age as Eddy and was thrilled to have been given the chance to ride with one of his heroes. As we reached Beaminster, there were quite a few hills and I rode on at my own pace for the last 10 miles, catching up a few more riders, this time from the 100 mile route who were finding the final hills a bit more painful than me.
One of the final climbs was quite steep and appeared to go on forever, at this point in the day the heat was really reaching its peak and it made it quite painful to complete but to this point I had not stopped apart from the feed station and I was determined to stay on the bike. After a bit of swearing and a lot of sweating I reached the top and instantly felt good again. The final couple of miles were very familiar and I knew the area, so decided to give it all I had to the entrance of Cricket St Thomas were I could coast down the hill to the event village and finish.
At the finish I was presented with a bag full of some nice ZipVit products and more importantly at this point, a voucher for food and drink. I grabbed some pasta, a bottle of water and headed over to the car for a well deserved sit down. I had one final walk around the village, looked at my time/position and headed back to home.
It was a fantastic experience to have cycled alongside a cycling legend and to have been part of the first Euro style Gran Fondo event to be held in the UK. The route was fantastic with some phenomenal scenery, next years event is already being organised, I recommend it to anyone.
More to come about next years event on their website here.