Given I was going to be spending a fair amount of time among the 'weirdos of the black top' I thought it best I had someone who had some experience (albeit limit, but still significantly more than me) of riding in such events.
Step forward Al, already a partner of Wentwood and just crazy enough to give up half a day to not only spend it in my company but also that of several hundred MAMILs and their expensive accessories.
Al had appeared keen to join me and we had, in true Al / Ian style, spent the week running up to the event talking down fitness, talking up our game and generally not taking the whole thing very seriously.
It's fair to say that our arrival time saw us on the keen side of things and we had about 90 minutes to kill before our distance group could set off. We managed to fill this time admirably lounging in the early summer sun sipping free coffee and laughing (possibly a little too loudly) and all the fat blokes in full team kit pushing £8k road missiles whilst searching out the cake stand.
I had already owned up to some road riding (a 40 miler two weeks before) just to see how my legs would hold out and received numerous acerbic comments from Al who admitted his own preparation for the event was to pump the tyres up on a road bike which had sat unridden for 18 months and then spend 200yds of a 300yd test ride trying to clip into to his road pedals. Like I said, we weren't taking it too seriously.
If my training admission had caused Al amusement, pulling my brilliant white roadie shoes out of my kit box resulted in the piss taking being taken to a whole new level, I soon earned the nickname Liberace, and, looking around feeling a little embarrassed I could see that our MTBers attitude was decidedly unwelcome at a roadie convention.
Heading to the start, we faffed with GPS units and enjoyed the last few minutes of quiet before the exertions of the coming hours, our approach may be light hearted to most things, but riding is a serious business and we weren't about to show ourselves up. The inevitable safety briefing and careful explanation over how 'Arrows' worked and we were off, across the road from the stunning Chepstow race course and the rest of the bunch we were with pulled in to repair a puncture. We may take the piss but at least we were mechanically sorted.
I found myself out front and we pulled quickly away from the start point, miles being given up by the twisting road which hugs the River Wye. As was the case with Wentwood, Al reminded me that we need to go slow to go fast, pace ourselves right and we'll fly by the early racers in the latter stages.
10 miles in and we were at the scene of an accident, a rider lying face down and covered in blood, the obvious loser after a disagreement with a car, a large crowd had already formed and we decided to push on, too many cooks and all that. It was a sobering reminder, as a biker normally concerned with missing trees I needed to be thinking of other road users to.. especially the sunday drivers who wouldn't want to waste 20 seconds so a cyclist could pass safely.
Approaching the turn which would see us hit the first real climb of the day, a group of riders including Rob Lee (link to his blog on the right hand panel) caught and passed us, we'd been a two man convoy for some time so upped the pace and joined their chaingang, whilst they took turns in the front, we slunk around at the back, enjoying the tow and feigning ignorance to the rules of the road.
Turning onto the climb, it's fair to say I let my competitive side have the reins, I know the climb and was probably showing off a little, but I kicked down a few gears and went for it. A long couple of miles later saw me cresting the hill, I was sat up and spinning when Al pulled alongside.. I admitted to possibly making a tactical error and Al once again started banging on about heart rate zones and eating plans and saving his 'mighty thighs' for an assault on the 'monster hill at 80k'. I then made a second tactical error, with Al flexing his legs I pointed out the triple chainset sitting on my bike, it's fair to say that gave Al ammunition for the remaining 70 kilometers.
Remember that group that had a puncture? well, now it was our turn, Al's rear tyre had gone (possibly aided by him bunny hopping off every available pavement) and, pulling in to the roadside, I had to admit that the rather sexy carbon mini-pump I normally had attached to the bike was sitting in the kit box back at Al's car. Al used his one time only CO2 cannister without issue and we were soon on our way again. Me kicking myself for my terrible memory and Al sweating slightly as we had 40 miles to go and no means of tyre inflation should the need arise.
I have to admit, as days in the saddle go, this was right up there, I've primarily been an MTBer for the past 10 or so years, but during my late teens and early twenties I spent a lot of time riding road bikes, I've always enjoyed the speed and ability to pass miles under the wheels with such little effort.
As the day progressed I found myself falling in love with road riding again. Whilst Al was killing me on the on the climbs, I found a lost bravery and pushed hard on the descents, reeling in riders and leaving my brakes alone well past the point other riders were sitting up for corners.
Back in Wales and we were approaching the monster at 80k, not a crap B movie from the 50's but a very real and very big bump in the course profile. I admit that upon hearing Al exclaim he couldn't even see the top of it on his Garmin, I was quietly (very, very quietly) grateful that I had a triple, I wouldn't have admitted it to Al as he'd have probably ensured I wasn't in the car when he left the car-park and headed for home at the end of the day.
Proudly informing me that his energy bar of choice was used by none other than Sir Bradly Wiggins, I asked how it felt to take a warm and soft Brad in the mouth, I may be getting my arsed kicked, but I was sure as hell not going to let Al have it all his own way, the resulting laugh caused about £2's worth of Wiggins endorsed half chewed energy to be ejected all over his handlebars.
At the bottom of the hill Al suffered cramp, we stopped and whilst Al stretched his legs I downed another Gel shot.
The hill didn't disappoint, whilst my good mate powered on ahead, I ground out the distance, I didn't humiliate myself, but I wouldn't have wanted it to be much longer. As was the case at Wentwood, the last few miles saw Al go from strength to strength and our last regroup was short lived as yet another hill separated us.
Whilst Al spent the last 10 racing a couple of lads half his age (and winning) I got my head down. Back at the start finish area with just over 4 hours on the clock, I was presented with my finishers medal and we sat drinking yet more expensive energy products whilst planning our next road adventure.
It's going to be an imperial century and I can't wait...