Four days after my epic battle up Mont Ventoux, my cycling sister, Kitty Pemberton-Platt (who had just returned from combating the Majorcan hills) and I set off together on a women’s cycling retreat hosted by a Dorset company called On The Rivet.
We wheeled our bikes into Waterloo station for a quick coffee before we boarded a train to Crewkerne. As we waited for the platform number to ping up on the board, we questioned how our knackered legs would fare in undulating Dorset. Aside from being Londoners who on the whole have it quite easy incline wise (unless you actively go hill-hunting in the North or out Surrey way) we had also both just climbed mountains and were absolutely shattered.
We would soon learn that On The Rivet would be the best medicine for our fatigued limbs.
On arriving in Dorset, we were met at the station by On The Rivet’s James, who was to be our much needed support on the training rides over the weekend. After about 20 minutes we pulled up at Crepe Farmhouse in Bridport, a little village and hometown of OTR founders, Jim Styrin and Deborah Shilling. Our bikes were whisked away to be checked over and we were led through the doors of this traditional and luxuriously renovated Dorset farmhouse to be greeted by our hosts, Jim and Debs. We also met the group of women we would be training with for the weekend, all friends, like Kitty and I, who had first bonded over a mutual love of cycling.
Background to On The Rivet
On The Rivet, created by British Cycling coach Jim and experienced event planner and brilliant cook, Debs, is the UK’s first cycling fitness retreat. Kitty and I were joining a specific women’s retreat that focused on our performance as cyclists and also gave us a chance to meet other women who share an interest for the sport. Rather than a militant boot-camp, the cycling training you do during the day is rewarded with a little taste of luxury in a peaceful Dorset setting. The other ladies were mainly from London and nearly all with young children. This was an opportunity for them to have some time for themselves and improve their fitness whilst also enjoying good company, food and the peace and quiet of the Dorset countryside.
I think sometimes in cycling, it’s easy to go back to the routes that you know and that you feel safe with. Going to On The Rivet totally took that comfort zone away and gave us something new. Jim, Henry and Heidi who lead our group out over the weekend showed us that we could tackle things that we didn’t know we were capable of. This included a lot of hills, one with a 20% gradient on which apparently Eddie Merck stopped to have a wee half way up. Jim sold it to us as a ‘cheeky’ climb and whilst going up I did question why I had to choose cycling as my hobby and not something a little less painful. But, when we made it to the top, Kitty and I gave each other knowing nod that translated to “hell yeah”.
It was so great to see our group grow in confidence and skill after just a few days of dedicated cycling practice. Comments like “I can’t get up that” and “I’m not sure I’ll be able to do all that distance” that were commonly overheard on the first day were replaced with pats on the back, big, beaming smiles and a tight peloton snaking through the countryside like a high-speed train.
I think as women, certainly me included, our default position is to start off by doubting what we can achieve. Dedicated cycling coaching from pros like Jim who know when to give you a little push can really help change that perspective. I love cycling with my guy mates but I must admit that spending time in this group of women meant I received more specific training and actually had time to let the work sink in rather than always rushing to keep up.
Kitty had another method of tackling hills by playing Kanye West on loud speaker. As she rightly said, we need to channel Kanye’s sense of self-importance when attempting to climb multiple feet. You wouldn’t hear Kanye admitting he wasn’t sure if he’d make it up there – he’d instead invite you to film it and if he had any breath left, would probably start preaching. The Kanye effect did the job even if we did get some weird looks as 14 women on road bikes wiggled up a hill to “Black Skinhead” with gritty looks of determination on our faces.
Whilst we had three days of miles and hills, it didn’t go unrewarded and this was every bit as much of a luxury retreat as it was an opportunity to improve our cycling fitness. The attention to detail was the part that struck me most. Firstly, on Friday evening, the day before our biggest day of mileage, local cycling mechanic Darren Matthews from Poundbury CycleSport came and worked on every single one of our bikes and gave each a report on what he had tweaked. He uncovered that I had climbed Mont Ventoux with one gear short and also told me that one of my spokes was bent out of shape after I crashed into an electricity pylon about a month ago. I had absolutely no idea. One change he did to all our bikes was to shorten the brake levers that were all rigged to man-hand size. I’ve always complained about my hands not being able to get round the brakes and no one had suggested that change to me. So, thanks Darren! I was much more comfortable on the descents after that, especially as I have been working to restore my confidence after my downhill crash.
In terms of accommodation, our rooms were so comfortable with soft mattresses and the silence of the countryside which was well needed after the cacophony of living on a main road in London. Debs and local food company Bagget and Hayes prepared us such magnificent meals each night that certainly replaced all the calories we had spent going up hills. Debs also had a particularly accute G&T radar and always seemed to know when you needed one! We spent our early evenings unwinding in the hot tub and sauna and were even treated to a well-needed massage to iron out the kinks.
I really enjoyed spending time with the entire team from On The Rivet and the personal and dedicated hospitality they gave us both in the saddle and whilst relaxing in front of the fire at the end of the day. It was also a great opportunity to explore somewhere new with Kitty who I absolutely love cycling with and to meet such a brilliant and interesting group of women.
We left Dorset feeling refreshed and in high spirits, knowing that we had learned something and restored ourselves (until we got to London and the trains were cancelled and had to cycle home balancing massive bags and in normal shoes teetering on top of our tiny pedals).
I would really recommend checking out some of the retreat dates that On The Rivet have planned for next year, whether you are a group of women or a mixed group of friends looking for a relaxing and rewarding few days of cycling and luxury!