Just over two weeks ago, UDS history was made as all current scholars, mentors and directors descended upon the Cotswolds to meet face-to-face for the very first time. Making the weekend even more special, we were ecstatic to have all 3 scholars debut their new Stayer Cycles fresh from the workshop at Cloud 9...
At 0900 on Saturday 15th April 2023, in a quiet carpark outside of Cirencester WH Smith, the Ultra Distance Scholarship met for the first time. COVID and an abundance of other boring logistics has meant that we have conducted much of our business online or in small groups for the past 3 years. What a delight it was to finally find out how tall everyone was in person! We were met by all 2023 scholars, Tabs, Jade and Seun, mentors Vera and Tamzin, and founder Taylor. We were also joined for the first time by the newest director of the UDS - Aston Byfield. A veteran of the Pan Celtic Race 2022 and a certifiable big business person we are delighted to welcome him into the fold.
A quick speech from UDS founder Taylor Doyle and we were off... in completely the wrong direction. Once we finally exited the carpark (and removed Taylor from the position of chief navigator) we began a gentle climb out into the Cotswold hills. To give our scholars a genuine taste of what's to come in the UDS event of 2023, the Pan Celtic Ultra Series, we decided to retrace the pedals of the Pan Celtic Cotswold Gathering from 2022. A shout out to route creator Tony Clare, who clearly knows how to put together a good time! The first few rolling hills passed by with much laughter and chat, and then our scholars got to put their shiny new Shimano groupsets to the test for the very first time on some steep country lanes. Sooner than expected our first stop of the day was reached in Burford, where we piled up our bikes in the courtyard and treated ourselves to some well earned snacks and coffee.
Setting off again, the sun slowly struggled out from behind the clouds and we noisily rolled through some obscenely picturesque English villages. The rivers of the Cotswolds were so clear as to be a novelty amongst the group, with many of us hailing from London or other big cities where the water is as questionable as it is murky.
We were extremely fortunate to have Michael Drummond AKA @drummondphoto volunteer to photograph our weekend, and many scenic spots were scouted, secured and put to work. Our scholars were able to flex their secret modelling skills and show off their UDS kit comprising of Albion clothing, Shimano shoes, and helmets from Lazer. The Albion bib tights and Long Sleeve Jersey were selected unanimously among the scholars for the trip, and with the brisk spring temperatures they were a perfect choice. You might be able to spot Tab's wearing some Cotswold mud too, a slippery corner and a fast descent led to some earthy decoration and an unscheduled close up of a convenient grassy verge.
Heading towards Stow-on-the-Wold we were excited to link up with Coach Alison Wood who emerged victorious from a spat with the notorious British Public Transport System to join us at our lunch stop. The founder and head coach of Veloqi CC, Alison has been an integral part of the UDS from the beginning. The weekend was a brilliant opportunity for this years scholars to get to know her a little better and for her to do a little in-person coaching.
As the day drew to a close a sudden shout and a whizz of colour in the opposite direction announced the arrival of our final team member. Mentor Anisa Aubin has been with the UDS for 2 years now and has been working with Tabs, providing much needed knowledge and insight into the world of being an ultra distance athlete. Observing the dynamics between the scholars and their mentors in person was unexpectedly amusing - Tabs and Anisa seemed quietly respectful of one another, myself (Tamzin) and Jade bonded over a love of eating and chatting continuously , whereas Vera and Seun bickered and bantered the whole distance like siblings, providing entertainment for the whole group. Once Seun departed shortly after lunch, things certainly got a lot quieter!
We soon arrived at YHA Stratford Upon Avon, our home for the night. After bedding our bikes down into a slightly dodgy looking shed, our scholars figured out how to deftly unclip and detach their new Tailfin racks before vanishing into the hostel for well earned showers. We were delighted to find that the hostel was able to accommodate our numerous dietary requirements and quickly replenished many lost calories in the form of pizzas, burgers and other healthy foodstuffs. We celebrated Tabs for completing his third Fasted 500, an impressive achievement especially given he had only picked up his new bike the day before! He also completed the 115km route with over 1000m of climbing while fasting for Ramadan, awing us with his mental fortitude and determination.
The next day dawned and minus Anisa (who left at 5am to go rowing?) and Tabs we began the journey back to Cirencester. The return route was significantly more challenging, with lots of steep sustained climbs. Our last remaining scholar Jade impressed us all with her steady, unwavering approach to riding, as well as frequently wowing us with her snack collection. Jade is also determined to learn everything she can about her new bike and we're certain that in no time at all, she'll be a better mechanic than most of us! By her own admission, her new bike has a lot of technology she hasn't encountered before, such as hydraulic disc brakes and tubeless tyres. Given that she was able to self install her K-Lite Dynamo set up mere hours before the gathering we have no doubts she's going to be a fast learner!
The day passed quickly with most of us keen to get home before the light ran out. We took a brief cafe break in Winchcombe and when we emerged a light drizzle had begun. Spirits were far from dampened however, and we pedalled on back into the hills for one final round of lung busting climbs.
Too soon it was over. We cruised into Cirencester market square and shared many many hugs under the large parish church. Goodbyes exchanged, it was time for everyone to go their separate ways, with happy memories of what is hopefully the first of many UDS gatherings!
What's happening next?
We will be doing a panel talk at Brother in the Wild Dorset on the 20/21 May. Training continues for our lovely scholars and Jade is ramping up her off road efforts in anticipation of the Pennine Rally. Seun will also soon be taking on another Pan Celtic adjacent event - The Gravel Rally! We are also planning an even BIGGER summer gathering! More info on that soon.