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The Hell Of The North Cotswolds

I woke with a start, music blaring from my alarm and drowsily wondered why it was 5 am. Of course today was the day I was going to attempt the notorious Hell of The North, but why did it have to start so early? I gradually woke up as we drove along the M40 and wondered what it was going to be like, flat or as I suspected hilly and shuddered with the thought that it had to be called the HELL of the North for a reason. I was going with my Dad (Rob) and Brian Randall, we also hoped to meet up with Tony Bartlett and his brother in law as they were also doing it. This was the first really long ride that I had ever done, 100 kilometres off-road and I was worried about not being able to finish. I had packed enough food and drink to last me a fortnight let alone one day of cycling and felt pretty well prepared. Two and a half hours later we pulled up into a school field cum parking area after trundling down the narrow country lanes trying to find Winchcombe School, which wasn't easy but we eventually managed and began unloading our gear. For the moment the weather seemed to be on our side and it was promising to be a nice day.

I was amazed at how many cyclists were there, there were 1000 people starting on this the 21st anniversary of the Hell of the North Cotswolds and it was a huge number of bikes and people. We got kitted up and were ready to go, we signed in, got our numbers and were ready for the off. It was a massed start, all 1000 of us bunched onto the school road, a multitude of different colour jerseys and helmets, people on mountain bikes, cyclo-cross bikes and even tandems. There were two rides you could do, the full blown 100 km or the gentler 50 km ride, maybe foolishly I had convinced myself and Dad that we should do the 100 km ride. At nine o'clock we departed, we were lucky and got a quick start in the first couple of hundred riders, I was with Brian and we quickly lost sight of Dad, we came to the first hill and it was chaos, so many people were trying to climb this narrow track that people were falling over one another to get to the top and slowing the pace to walking speed, the climb suddenly opened up on to a grassy hill and Brian and I waited for Dad when I suddenly remembered that I had stupidly left my drinks in the car and thought how am I going to do this now. Fortunately for me Brian and dad both lent me some drink so I had enough to reach the half way mark, this 30 miles didn't go too badly, I decided to ride with Dad and pace myself where as Brian decided to go off with Tony and his brother in law who had caught us up after getting a bad start, stuck in the middle of the bunch. I didn't notice the countryside as I went along, I didn't dare tear my eyes from the path ahead for more than 2 seconds at a time for fear of ending up in a hedge or worse (last year the air ambulance had to airlift a man who had crashed and I didn't want this to happen to me). We tried to stick with a group in front that seemed to know where they were going and had a GPS, as we aren't the best map readers we held on like grim death until we reached the welcomed halfway stop.

I shoved some food down my throat, filled my bottle and was ready for the next leg of this "hell". The next 10 miles were among the hardest I had ever done with the constant nagging of how much further you had to go. We tried to stick with this guy in front who seemed to know the way but Dad got the distinct impression that the guy didn't like us following him. He was quite fast as well and we gradually watched him fade into the distance. I wasn't feeling good at that point, trying to chase down the group in front so we wouldn't get lost, but despite this we lost the group in front and had to stop for Dad to have a look at the map, this coupled with the amazing power of energy tablets saved me and we set off again with a group and a tandem. The miles crept by and I would keep asking Dad how many miles we had done only to find out that it was 1 mile since I had last asked him but it felt like 10 and eventually he refused to tell me again. One of the best parts of the ride was coming over the top of a long gradual climb to look down upon the town of Winchcombe and knowing we had only a few miles left, the group we were with stopped to study their map and I couldn't help but be amazed at the countryside, great rolling hillsides with clouds that seemed to sweep their tops.

At the 60 mile stage we weren't back to Winchcombe yet and in the end it turned out to be 64 miles all told, I think they added that bit on the end just to make us hurt. After a 'cold' shower we collected our certificate and even got a medal. As I was a junior I was entered into this prize draw to win a Marin bike, so fingers crossed. I was really pleased to have finished the Hell of the North but I didn't wish it could be longer, 60 miles is enough for me now... Can't wait till next year!

Matthew Zietz

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