I parked the car and sent off without a warm-up, rolling over the tiny rises south of Franklin, enjoying the brisk zero degree day and noting the liklihood of a tailwind home. Once warmed up, it became apparent that the organisers' promise of a fast course was no idle talk. The 10km mark rolled by far more quickly than I expected and, feeling good, I cranked the pace up a notch.
My goal from the start was to get around the 37km in under about an hour and 30 minutes - nothing too flash, just a gentle Sunday ride. The split times from the Winter Challenge website put a mid-field placing around the 1hr15 minute mark, and I wasn't really thinking of setting a brilliant time on my first outing. I've been spending some time in the gym in the last few weeks to try to build some strength in my fiendishly weak upper body, so I wasn't feeling overly rested either.
Two moderate hills didn't provide too much of a problem about halfway in, then the course turns for home. An hour into the ride, with 27km down, I rolled past the Kermandie pub. That's very quick for me. Suddenly it all seemed somewhat more achievable. As I sped up the river, past reasonably familiar landmarks, Franklin seemed only minutes away. But 12, or 15 or 20?
Now there's a nasty little rise just short of the Franklin - it's got a winery or something on it and it somehow knocks me for six every time. I was waiting for it and as I wearied I wondered where it had got to as somehow Franklin never seemed to appear. Winery Hill didn't disappoint, providing a last test of legs and lungs before, I coasted into Franklin in 1hr25min. It wasn't a not a cracking time, but not bad for an 80% effort. There's room for improvement there - plenty of room. I've not lately fancied myself as much of a racer, but suddenly I'm looking forward to the big day with more anticipation than fear.
2496km so far this year.