M3 Sportive

The M3 Sportive was to be a 100km trip along the M3 road before it opened. Most likely being a very fast, very fun day working in pace lines. And things looked up right from the start with the amazingly quick turn around from applying on-line to getting the welcome back. Things really started looking up upon reading the welcome pack. A neutralised start, the usual broom wagon, and the first food stop at 7km! Yes, this was shaping up to be good event.

Along came the morning and with numbers of 1000 cyclists, then 1200 cyclists being floated, we determined heading a little early to the number collection point was in order. Don’t want to miss the start while queuing for the number. As it turned out there was no queue, and with 6 or 7 people doing the sign on, we had our packs and were out in less than five minutes. After sitting around being quite bored, we headed on down to the start area. And this is where it started to go downhill. Instead of being let in on the ramp at the start, we have to continue on up the road for 2km, go over a bridge, and return 2km back to the start. Annoying to say the least. Over the next hour of waiting, we started to notice a worrying pattern of cyclists arriving. Quite a few came along with tri bars and there were even 2 or 3 in full time trial gear, helmet and all. Events normally have rules against this kind of thing for a VERY good reason. The number of people with head phones in was also a little shocking.

The event progressed with the usual speeches and golf clapping (cyclists with gloves can’t really clap) before the timer started and we began slowing rolling through the toll plaza. However within a few seconds of going through, it became obvious that a neutralised start this was not. Gaps were already forming and I began sprinting to try bridge between groups. This was the order of the day for the first 5km when I started trying to make it through to the front group. Some guy decided sitting on my wheel was the best choice of action and after another 5km of not taking a turn, and me not being able to pull in the 20-30 seconds the group ahead had, I sat up, looked behind and waiting on the next group to roll up.

This group remaining slightly organised with a bit of a pace line going. You can’t expect too much from groups like this and it is always nice when things work smoothly. However this group was not working smoothly. Two guys were intent on shouting orders at everyone while not following them themselves. After a few km of this I got sick of it and decided to up the pace, burn off some of the stragglers and let whoever came through to come through. Instead, once I hit the front and upped the pace, one of the shouters began shouting at everyone who tried to come through to stop and get back in line, ended my attempt after a km or two.

With that attempt over, it was back in the pace line to conserve some energy and get to the 50km food stop and decide from there. However Mr Shouter seemed to have other plans. He didn’t stop shouting orders at people to pull in quicker, not let gaps form, and not go so fast on the front. This resulted in people getting to the front and then braking off all things. For those of you who have never ridden in a fast pace line, braking it the last thing you want to do. Slowing down can usually be handled by slowing pedalling down for a little bit, or if you need more, simply standing up and letting the wind do the trick. However with the guys getting to the front and braking, the group started to feel like an accordion, really destroying the mood.

And then it happened…

The Crash

For some unknown reason, someone near the front of the group slammed on the brakes, and I do mean slammed. We went from 35km/h to a near dead stop in a matter of metres. In my case, my wheel made contact with the quick reason of the bike in front. My Mavic Cosmic Carbones held up, possibly a little too well and the spoke held locking my wheel. This sent me over the handle bars some how onto the ground. I remember the sudden braking and trying to move out to the left to avoid things, the sound of spokes ponging, and then lying on my back trying to get up. Apparently my first words were “I took that on my head”.

We did all stand up and start getting ready to move again. At this point the damage to the bikes became noticeable. On my bike, the bar tap on the left side of stripped, a chunk from the bars, marks on the shifters with them bent around the bar. A slice mark on the right of the fork with two spokes on the wheel damaged. Some plastic was gone from the quick release too. However some work with a multi tool and a knife, and it was able to be ridden again. Not so for the guy in front. His wheel lost 8 spokes and the wheel wasn’t turning. But as was said, any crash you can walk away from it a good crash. And this kind of thing is part and parcel of cycling. What was annoying was that the group had just started to fragment, so another km or so and it’d probably have settled down.

I don’t blame the event or event organisers for the crash. How could you. What I do take issue with is what happened over the next two hours. It was 15 minutes before the first Marshall was seen – who didn’t even bother to stop. Next one did stop but said he’d call someone at the next stop. Another 20 minutes and a van rolls up but say can’t help, broom wagon is on the way. 15 more minutes another van, again unable to help, but broom wagon definitely behind. 1 hour 10 minutes after the crash, we started walking back. It was 5km down the road at the stop when we meet some more Marshall’s. These hadn’t seen a broom wagon and the organisers were arguing with them that they needed one. He did end up getting a lift with one of the Marshall’s in their personal car which was nice of them. While we were cycling back, we passed a few other broom wagon candidates who were walking and obviously had bitten off more than they could chew.

To top all that off, the food was crap. It consisted of water and some elevens bars. The end did had some sandwiches but no one was going near them as no one could tell what was in them. Oh and some biscuits but not great ones.

And this is why I held off writing this for two weeks. I wanted to somewhat calm down about the event. Sure if we’d have gone through without crashing, we’d never have known about the lack of a broom wagon. We’d have cycled more than we walked, and it’d probably just have been confined to an event that had some bad organising food wise and contained some idiot cyclists. Note to anyone ever organising an event, tri bars or anything similar to them should be BANNED. They are not safe.

Funnily too I heard that people on the other distance cycles also have some issues. For the 50km (55km?), someone had moved the sign saying it was the turn point letting a few of them continue on past it. We met a few of them while we were walking back. The 15km also had to stop at their turn point before heading back. And the pace actually slowed them down, a bit too much from what was said.

The lessons

The end of the day, some lessons were learned, so not all is lost. For one, I’ll probably not be taking part in one-off events ever again. The organisers really don’t have an incentive to do anything but cut corners. I did weight up saying I’d never go into the first round of an event but going on other experiences such as the Tour of Meath last year, I probably will. For reference the ToM was the first run and had some issues with the placement of the last food/water stop. It was about 10km further than it should of been. None of the Marshall’s close to it had been told either. However everyone we spoke to after, including the guys at it we very apologetic about it, and were very quick to explain that the mobile water truck had to be used to help with a crash that had happened earlier. Since we weren’t in the main group, I really can’t say anything bad about that. It was more than made up by the friendly nature of everyone there and the huge amount of food. Never had I eaten so well at an event!

The other lesson learnt it that next time I attempt to break up a group, say it to someone before attempting it. Two or possibly three people is enough to pick up the pace, create a few seconds gap, and basically burn off those who were struggling to begin with. While I would have been one of those burnt off last year (Edit: who am I kidding, I’d have been out the back long before this point), it is necessary to do this every now and then.

The conclusion

Almost a complete waste of a day. Really. It was a huge amount of money spent on an event that was badly organised. Yes it was for charity, but that does not excuse some of the things that went on. When your own Marshall’s are arguing with you, you know you have some issues.

Start to finish time of 3 hours 51 minutes on a distances of 51km cycled.

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