Barry’s Bristol Ball Buster, run by LVIS, is a real staple in the area. And there’s a reason why this 200km beast is so incredibly popular.
Distance: 200km ish
Where? Bristol, England
Event Size: 150 (plus two other events)
Barry’s famous Bristol Ball Buster, an annual event held by the Las Vegas Institute of Sport (LVIS), is a real favourite of mine. The 2016 edition marked my third ball busting and, despite the name, it never gets old.
Somehow, even 2015’s horrific Audax managed to bring a smile to my face, despite the 50mph gusts and soul-soaking rain. There is, after all, something gratifying about being one of the 50 to finish a ride (of 150ish entrants). Many hadn’t even made it to the start line.
Having said that, our party was somewhat thankful that Barry’s Bristol Ball Buster 2016 would feature weather on par with the 2014 edition. That is, little to no rain, spells of beautiful sun and only a smattering of wind.
To the North
So, it was with little trepidation and palpable excitement that we rolled on from Long Ashton Village Hall, through the spectacular Ashton Court – watched by a host of fallow deer – and out of Bristol via the flatlands around Easter Compton and beyond.
“…it’s difficult to experience trepidation at the beginning of the Ball Buster, so impressive is the first cake stop…”
To be honest, it’s difficult to experience trepidation at the beginning of the Ball Buster, so impressive is the first cake stop after only 30 miles. Staffed and stocked by the local WI, no man (or woman) is left wanting.
Every cake you can think of is in attendance; carrot cake, fruit cakes, scones, chocolate cake, Victoria sponge, and even pavlova. The real bonus, however? Each slice is £1 a pop. It’s a shame the coffee on offer is basic instant stuff, but it’s difficult to complain too much.
As ever, things started getting a smidge more difficult after the first cafe stop. But this isn’t a particularly hilly ride, so don’t panic. Touching on the west side of the Cotswolds, we climbed up to the first control – an homage to the late, great Ronnie Corbett.
Then it was time to turn our attention south, through the pretty village of Chipping Sodbury and just avoiding the less pretty Yate. Sorry Yate. And we would continue in this direction all the way to Glastonbury. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
“…stick with riders who actually know where they’re going. Or, you know, bring a map.”
First, we had to tackle the Mendips – up the brutal Harptree Hill (I somehow managed a PB) and around a few of the back roads not usually touched upon, finally descending past Wooky Hole. We may have got lost a couple of times. Don’t focus on that. Do what we didn’t and stick with riders who actually know where they’re going. Or, you know, bring a map.
Happily, after the slight stresses of the Mendips it was time to forge ahead for a couple of hours on the Somerset levels, which was still underwater this time two years ago. Glastonbury beckoned.
75 miles, or so, into the ride we approached the Glastonbury stop (there had been a second one at Doynton Village Hall), for yet more cake and, this time, pasta. Much needed pasta, I might add.
Once you hit this distance, things start getting a little more difficult. You’ve already been cycling for a decent amount of time, but you’re only about half way. It can be a little mental and physically demanding. But on we went.
After Glastonbury, it kind of feels like you’re on one long back leg. And I suppose that’s an apt description. But after several flat and then rolling miles back up to Loxton and the foot of the Mendips, you realise that there’s actually another leg yet to come.
A century deep, the climb back over the Mendips wasn’t exactly fun, featuring several of the steepest inclines of the day. But taking them relatively easy, we weren’t too spent upon reaching the apex.
“A century deep, the climb back over the Mendips wasn’t exactly fun…”
Now the fun begins proper. After a hard and fast descent to Sandford, the subsequent miles are as flat as the Somerset levels. That lack of ascent, combined with the imminent finish makes more fresher legs. Even if it’s a lie.
Congresbury goes by in a flash, but it isn’t back to Bristol quite yet. First, it’s time to head a smidge west, taking in Clevedon (just about), touching upon Portishead before smashing it up Portbury Lane, the final incline of the day. This is your opportunity to batter it past that last guy that overtook you – he’s more tired than you think.
That it’s, just a gentle roll through Failand, and then a short but incredibly sharp descent back to the village hall. Done.
But the day isn’t over yet. Despite being an Audax, Barry’s Bristol Ball Buster is an incredibly well organised ride. Every cake stop is well stocked, as are the start and finish lines. Look to your right as you stroll through the entrance to the village hall and you’ll see a friendly face offering you a big bowl of chilli, sandwiches and all the cake you can eat. And this time? It’s free of charge.
The LVIS Ball Buster is an excellent ride. The route is fantastic, with barely a low point to be found. The food on offer is generous, cheap and generally delicious. The company is friendly in the main part (apart from that one douchebag smashing it round an Audax on his 50mm carbon rims). It comes highly recommended.