Thursday 30 August 2012

Gospel Pass 200 (Cheltenham)

This week saw me complete the Cheltenham Gospel Pass 200 audax. This was a hilly (2.75 AAA points) audax that started and finished in Cheltenham and reached the Gospel Pass at about the half-way point. I followed the route in an anti-clockwise direction.

Found free parking at a retail park in Cheltenham and chose to start my adventure here. Purchased a Kit-Kat from local Sainsbury’s store to use receipt as first proof of passage and then I was off! Started off with mild weather and nice fast roads. Passed through Coombe Hill without noticing any real ascent at all. So smooth and zoomy were these roads that other cyclists were out and about including a time trialing cyclist who whizzed past me. Before long I had crossed over the River Severn and was then following quiet country lanes that passed through Redmarley. I think Redmarley was so called because the mud was red in colour – there were lots of dirty muddy red coloured puddles that had to be navigated through before reaching Brooms Green. Prior to reaching Much Marcle, the heavens opened. The rain beat hard. No worries, I layered up with waterproof shell and continued on my way. Up until now the route had been speedy but now little ascents were starting to slow me down. Almost as soon as I had crossed the River Wye, I had reached the first control point at Hoarwithy and had cycled the first 50k of this audax. Finding a control proof in Hoarwithy was a difficult task – the pub was closed and the Post Office was only open on a Friday for 2 hours. I took a photo for my control proof. After munching on my Kit-Kat and removing waterproof shell (as the rain had passed and the sun was shining real bright) I set off again.
The next stage took me from Hoarwithy to Hay-on-Wye. I have cycled to Hay-on-Wye a few times recently, and as on other occasions, followed a long stretch (easy to navigate) of the B4348. I turned off at Peterchurch and followed very quiet lanes through Dorstone and then reached Hay-on-Wye, the Town of Books. Was very easy to find a book here but proved more difficult to find a shop that sold cold drinks. A regular café that I have used on numerous audax events was closed! I found a fudge shop and purchased a sesame seed bar (delicious) for control proof. After much wandering finally found a shop that sold cold drinks. After guzzling much liquid, I set off once again.
The stage to Llanthony was amazing and by far the best stage. Pretty but hilly. Climbing started almost straight away as I cycled the Forest Road heading for Capel-y-Ffin. This road crossed the Gospel Pass! Before crossing the Pass however, at the foot of the climb, I heard a pssst! Grr, was convinced I had punctured and when I inspected front tyre thought I saw bubbles. I waited a few minutes and tyre had not deflated. I wonder if I’d ran over a snail or something?! With no valid reason to stop, I started to climb. And climb. And climb a little more. Wow, I was crossing the Gospel Pass. This Pass was awesome – very high up with amazing views of green land and hills, valleys, sheep and these very weird miniature horse things! 
For a moment I thought I was hallucinating, but no, these really were miniature horses! With a name like ‘gospel’ and such amazing views it was impossible to not think about God and his awesome creation. And thanks to God for equipping me with the senses I have. Amazing! 
After the slog up the Gospel Pass came the descent to Llanthony. Whoosh! A super-fast and long descent. Not flat out fast, the rain from previous few days was caught in puddles and occasional debris covered the roads. Little effort required to reach Llanthony, but greater effort required to find control. The ½ Moon Pub was closed and the other available control (Abbey bar) was hidden from view. I cycled straight past control and after a few k’s I hailed a cyclist heading towards me and asked if I was near Abbey bar. I wasn’t – I had cycled past it. This cyclist kindly led me back to where the Abbey bar was (opposite ½ Moon Pub) but I struggled to follow as he was cycling so fast (showing off I reckon!). Finally reached control and wow, how pretty it was. It was, as name suggests, an abbey. Well the ruins of an abbey anyway and the bar was in what looked like a cellar, but ‘abbey shaped’ if that makes sense?! (I will re-visit and take photo’s one time – I’d love to take my wife here). I purchased beans and egg on toast here (needed proof of passage) but strangely didn’t feel like eating. Maybe the effort to climb Gospel Pass had messed me up?! I ate the toast and egg and gave the beans a miss. A cold coke and I was off once again.

Am struggling to remember next stage in detail but hilly it was. Like the previous control, I passed through this one (Grosmont) without realising. When I knew I was past control I back tracked and found a little sign ‘Grosmont’ – I took picture of same for control proof. This control was actually an information control, but I couldn’t find the pub to name it! I continued in the beating sun passing through and stopping at the control in Monmouth. Monmouth was real pretty but was nearly missed. The route sheet led across the Monnow Bridge which looked closed (building work taking place) but I fought my way through all the same. Large choice of controls at Monmouth and was initially hard to make a decision. I spotted a Café Nero and made this my choice control. SJ likes the café and at times will buy me a cake from here, so this was the obvious choice. A wise choice indeed – I was able to bring my bike inside and the tea and praline biscuits were delicious!

Left Monmouth and the sun was continuing to shine bright. This stage was only 22k long and was easy to navigate essentially passing the Forest of Dean and signs for Gloucester before finally reaching Cinderford. I stopped at a gas station for control purposes and downed a nourishment drink and 2 small pork pies. I ate very little (for me) on this audax.
The final stage led from Cinderford. This was a lovely stage and reminded me of the start. Fast roads were followed (lovely descent) and the heavens opened again! The rain beat down real hard this time and the skies blackened. I stopped in a bus shelter to layer up and turn lights on. Despite the roads being flooded, I continued to zoom along at quite a pace and reached Cheltenham, the arrivee, about 11.5 hours after first leaving it! What an awesome ride!

Weekly totals: Cycled 126 miles.

Sunday 26 August 2012

Of Florence and Queenie

This was a quiet week on the cycling front. A rest week, yeah that sounds better! Had plans of completing a 200k but tiredness, poor weather and paralysis of will put pay to that.
Three short rides were completed in the week. The first and last ride was with Florence my single speed machine.  I took Queenie, my rather old scrappy mountain bike out for my second ride.

Hooked up with Ron for the first ride of the week. We started by following the Deer Route but didn't turn off at about the half-way point. Instead we cycled back in a zig-zag fashion passing through Alcester, Coughton and Sambourne. Nice.

My second ride was great too. I cycled through 'Naughty Fields' and up to The bread crumb Trail. Had been an age since I took Queenie out. Her performance was poor, the chain kept slipping between sprockets. Was still good to get out and passing through the Bread crumb Trail is always fun. Finished this route by passing through Kinwarton then taking Sambourne lane, turning off-road down to Coughton Ford and reaching home via Sambourne.

My last cycle was a lap of the TTT 20 Route. Felt like an age since I had last completed this route. Whizzed around in an average time.

Weekly totals: Cycled 62 miles.

Friday 17 August 2012

Two Battles Permanent (August 2012)

This week saw me conquer the 2 Battles Permanent, a 200k audax event. I had entered this battle before as a solo rider (July 2011) and successfully fought till the end. This time around I recruited a few additional 'mouseketeers', namely Aid, Chris Hodge and Ron. Aid and Chris were easy recruits and this was both their second 200k event. Aid had completed the Banbury Cross 200 with me last week and Chris and I fought in the Willy Warmer 200 audax last year (Jan 2011). Ron was initially reluctant, despite completing many 200k events. Ron soon came around when I called him a 'fair weather cyclist'. Ha! Was a good move getting Ron on board - he had satellite navigation (a new Garmin 800). Despite the fact that my own navigational skills had improved, the group had a lack of faith concerning my route finding. The map below was taken from Ron's Garmin after completion of ride.
This audax had a funny start, in that the start wasn't the start. We parked in the Pretty Pigs car park and then had to cycle just under a K to the start control (Tesco's in Tamworth). Then we re-traced our path and cycled straight past the car park again and headed on our way. Quite a bizarre start to an audax event. Pleasant lanes were cycled during this early stage which were quite undulating in manner. The weather was mostly fine, certainly warm. Just before we reached the Bosworth battlefield site it started to rain and we layered up.
Before too long we stopped and removed layers because the rain had held off and it was still very warm. Half way through the first stage another battle could have been fought - the route led through a deep ford. We all decided to play 'chicken' and took the bridge across. About a further 20k took us to the first control in Wistow and on our arrival some bright shiny happy flowers popped up as if to say 'hello'.
We all tucked into a Wistow big breakfast at this first control. The food was nice, but it wasn't really 'big'. Aid and I had a 'big' breakfast during our Banbury Cross audax last week. Chris was convinced that an old man on a neighbouring table was drunk. This old man told us that we were going to cycle the highest hills in the Midlands.
Stage 2 took us from Wistow to Upper Stow. It was during this stage that we passed the 2nd battle site, namely 'Naseby'. And it sure was a battle getting to Naseby! From the start we had been facing a head wind and by now the rain was beating down hard.
So hard was the rain that it hurt as it beat against our lips. Thunder and lightning were round about too. Further battles had to be fought. Some cows were blocking our route. Ron punctured. A steam roller could have flattened us ...
Despite the torrential rain, wet feet, aches and the like, we cycled on in good spirits. All these battles had an impact on us and at the 100k mark we were behind our anticipated time. One more battle, a fight with a water elemental, was fought before we reached control.
The control was a local village stores in Guilsborough. I stocked up on water supplies here and munched on a bar of chocolate too. Was only another 20k until we reached Upper Stow.
The control in Upper Stow was the Barn Cafe at The Old Dairy Farm. This control was awesome. Not only did they provide wonderful food (double chocolate cheesecake and ice cream for me), they provided good service too. A heater was bought out so we could warm up and dry clothes. One of the staff took the picture below too.
Stage 3 took us from Upper Stow to Wellsbourne. The route continued with it's undulating fashion and the rain continued to hammer down with brief periods of respite. Lots of country lanes were followed which was nice. At one point I had a further battle with a puncture. The offending thorn was found and removed. Within minutes a new tube was fitted and we sped along nicely to a Shell Service Station, our next control.

Have used the Shell Service Station a number of times on different audax routes now. Despite essentially just being a 'gas station', it provided a place to rest, get fed and toilet. Bargain! More food was guzzled down here (sausage roll and pork pie for me) and then we continued on the final leg.

The final leg was roughly 62k from Wellsbourne back to the start in Amington. By now the rain had passed and the sun was brightening things up. No need for waterproof layers now. The roads were a little less undulating and I felt as though we were travelling along at a faster pace. The sun set during this stage which was a little shock to us all. We had expected to finish before it got dark - silly us! No worries, we had taken precautions. Each of us had a rear light! Sadly, we didn't all finish with rear lights! Chris's light bounced off his saddle bag and was no more. Most of us had front lights - Aid was the chap without. We took turns cycling in front and behind Aid to provide a suitable light source for him. If I remember correctly, Chris's front light failed before the finish too. We had successfully navigated through and past Beausale, Honiley, Balsall Common, Berkswell and Maxstoke before the next battle. The next battle was between Ron and his bike - the bike won and Ron fell off! Luckily Ron wasn't hurt at all, and I'm still no sure what really happened (probably cleat stuck). The final push took us back to the start, which wasn't really the start - the Pretty Pigs car park. Aid and Ron packed here, so never really completed event (ha!). Chris and I cycled along for about 1 further k to the ATM machine at the official start point (Tesco's) to get our final proof of passage. I stopped at the pub next door too to purchase a bag of nuts for us all and provide a receipt for Ron's proof of passage. Chris and I then cycled back to Aid and Ron. Woo hoo, we had all completed the 2 Battles Permanent!

During this event we cycled 212k (132 miles) in just under 13 hours.

Sunday 12 August 2012

A Rough Diamond (300k audax)

Saturday saw me complete another 300k audax. This audax was named 'A Rough Diamond' and was a Black Sheep Event. This was the fourth running of this event (but the first time I had participated) and as the name suggests, the route was roughly diamond shaped. The route is presented below.
The event did not score any AAA (or 'hilly') points but contained a few lumps none-the-less. A chart demonstrating the 'lumps' is presented below.
The event started in Tewkesbury. About 40 cyclists met at the start point and the event organiser 'Mark Rigby', was to complete this audax too. We set off, after eating some banana's, at 6 a.m. I had already eaten some Weetabix and felt suitably fuelled up. It was warm at this silly hour but the sun was struggling to shine bright as there was a thick haze all around. Up until the first information control, we cycled as a large peleton. I knew a number of faces from previous audax adventures, though there was a number of new faces here too. Bikey Mikey (a well known audax figure) was cycling this event, I had seen him just 2 weeks back on the '3Coasts 600'. Amongst the new faces was this chap from Canada. Mr Canada was quite alarmed to see a rabbit run across the road, and then commented in Canada that they have to look out for moose, elk and bears! Lovely country lanes were followed to information control and continued through Pershore, Wadborough and continued to Worcester.

Worcester proved interesting, I didn't expect the route to pass through here. Better yet, the route went over the 'space bridge' that SJ and I (sometimes Cody too) used to run for SJ's marathon training. My thoughts were with SJ the whole time I was in Worcester. SJ used to live in Worcester and we had so many great dates here and, I digress ... Bikey Mikey became peleton leader in Worcester and took us through lots of cycle only places that I'm sure were not on our route sheet instructions. After passing through a number of alleys and the like we were back on the road and headed towards Martley. From Martley followed a long section that led to Tenbury Wells. This long section was quite hilly - not a major steep hill but a long up-hill stretch all the same. Followed by some super swift descents! Before too long I had reached the first 'proper' control - Burford Garden Centre.

I wanted my staple audax diet at this control - beans on toast, but there wasn't any! I settled for scrambled eggs on toast (and I ate some fruit loaf earlier when we were stopped at a railway crossing). This was washed down with a cup of tea. Mark Rigby (aka Mr BlackSheep) came in after me and looked a bit worse for wear. This was to be Mark's 10th SR series and am pleased to inform he has become an Ultra SR!

Left Burford control with a chap called Paul. Paul was a great guy and I cycled with him for remainder of event. Paul had cycled this route before as a solo effort, raising money for a child with cancer. Monies raised by Paul were put to good effect and the child had the treatments necessary. The weather was hotting up during this stage and the route was very pretty. Fantastic scenery, was good to marvel at God's creation. We passed through Shobdon, Lyonshall and Eardisley and then I recognised where we were - on route to Hay. Another chap 'Eddie', a young medic had joined us on this section and said he was going to cycle to Cardiff immediately after event. Once in Hay we passed over a toll bridge (having to pay 10p), Eddie paying my fare.
Very pretty bridge crossed over a beautiful river and we continued on our way to Llanigon, Talgarth and eventually Talybont-on-Usk. The control we stopped at was the White Hart pub. I had stopped here on a previous audax and remember trying to dry gloves and socks on the open fire as the heavens had opened big time. The weather now was superb, a truly awesome summer day. Camel burgers were on the menu but opted for a chili con carne dish with rice and poppadom instead. Spicy but tasty and washed down with a coke. After fuelling up, Paul, Eddie and I were off.
Eddie had stopped almost straight away and said he was going to fix a puncture. He admitted he was struggling earlier (gone out too fast) and this didn't surprise me as he was carrying a type of ruck sack. Eddie didn't want us to stop, so on we went. We never saw Eddie again - I wonder if he packed and went to Cardiff from here rather than finishing event? This stage was 100k long and was initially quite difficult. We cycled to Abergavenny and being in Wales, hills were expected. We had a long slow climb up to this lines of trees in the distance. We passed through this tree line, the trees provided a nice cool shadow from the sun and then whoosh - we were going down-hill! A super descent that just licked the miles away. After licking away 40 or so K, we decided to stop (100k without a break in hot weather was just too much). We stopped at a local Spa store where I purchased 2 bottles of Drench and much chocolate. I took this opportunity to apply more sun-block too, which SJ had gotten me.
Then we were off once more and headed to Chepstow then passed over one of my favourite bridges - the Severn Bridge (or Old Severn Bridge). Have cycled over this bridge many times during LEJOG and audax events. Paul informed that this bridge doesn't actually pass over the Severn and said it passed over the River Wye.
Once over the bridge we followed lovely lanes that passed through Littleton and Kington and led to a place called Hill. I was expecting a hill in Hill, but there was no real ascent. Neither did we find any ham in Ham. Spotted a few berks in Berkely however! Reached the control, a cafe, and it was closed. No bother, we went to the pub opposite. I forget the name of the pub, but they served me a lovely bowl of soup within no time. Delicious!
Two other cyclists joined us for the final leg - Nigel and some other guy whose name I never got. This section involved a bit of cross country as we had to navigate a stretch of towpath up until Splatt Bridge (what an awesome name). Back on the road and we were down to three, 'other guy' was missing. We followed yet more lovely roads that passed through Frampton-on-Severn and then we had to navigate more towpath again. These towpaths made for a rough ride but were safely navigated up until the towpath closure. This closure was unexpected and now we had to rely on Paul's local knowledge. As if by magic, Mr Other Guy popped up (he had taken diversions to avoid towpath). Mr Other Guy provided the lead we needed to get back on track and we followed him until we saw signs for Tewkesbury. Once on the A38, Nigel appeared to kick into action and sped along at quite a pace. I was grateful for this long, speedy pull. After a while, I took to the front and with renewed motivation myself sped along at quite a pace, pulling Nigel and Paul. Am not sure what happened to Mr Other guy. We reached the arrivee in good time (less than 15 hours) and it was still light! What a fantastic ride and a great day out. The arrivee was Mark Rigby's abode and his wife, Mrs BlackSheep provided us with tea, toast and beans. Perfect ending to a great day!

Cycled a total of 202.02 k (187 miles), at an average speed of 24.2 kph (15 mph) and a maximum speed of 64.2 kph (39.9 mph).

Weekly totals: Cycled 313 miles.

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Banbury Cross 200 (Cheltenham)

'Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,
To see a fine lady upon a white horse;
Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
And she shall have music wherever she goes.'

Started this week with an epic adventure with Aid, my cousin. We completed the Cheltenham Banbury Cross 200 audax. As the name suggests, this was a 200k cycling event (perm audax) that passed through Cheltenham and headed to Banbury Cross.

Aid and I started our adventure on a side street in Broadway – this saved us £6 on parking fees. As I readied my bike, I was in for a little bother. The headset was loose and my front wheel appeared to have a slight buckle. The loose headset was annoying (despite being easily fixed) – it was brand new and had just been fitted by Speeds Cycles in Bromsgrove. The wheel only had a slight buckle but the rim would keep catching against the brake block as the wheel spun. Oh well, on with the adventure. We headed to the High Street so I could purchase some banana’s and get a start control proof. And then we were off! It was a lovely morning and passage through Winchcombe was very pleasant. The official (or suggested) start was the next control. However, starting in Broadway was good on 2 counts. Firstly, Broadway was nearer to my home and secondly, we got 1 of the hills out of the way early on. This first hill was Cleeve Hill which I have cycled many times now. This was a first for Aid. Despite not being a major hill, it is still enough to make one feel ‘out of puff’ by the time they reach the summit. Reach the summit we did and then we were blessed with a super-fast descent down into Cheltenham.
Stopped to buy 2 Fudge bars in Cheltenham because Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge and this was a suitable control proof. Luckily we only skirted through Cheltenham and quickly we were heading out of it. Headed out but we were heading up. The second big ascent was during this stage and took us up Lilleybrook Hill. Again not a big, big hill, but enough to get the heart and lactic acid going. Nice long stretches of country road were cycled here and took us through Cirencester and up to Latton. The instructions (destructions?) went a bit wonky here and we just couldn’t find the tarmac bridleway to Cricklade. No bother, a real short stretch of carriage way was negotiated and took us swiftly to the control.
Cricklade was a lovely control. We stopped and topped up with water from Tesco for control proof purposes. A quick bite (fruit loaf) and we were off again, knowing that the next stop would be our lunch stop. The weather was still lovely at this point and as we made our way, we passed the airfield at Fairford. Am sure it was here that a plane disaster took place a few years back. More lovely country lanes were cycled and took us nicely into Witney, our food control. This was a good stop. Aid had beaten his previous furthest cycle trip by 1k – he had now cycled 101k! We celebrated by having a mega all-day breakfast in a local café.
This breakfast was huge and mine consisted of 2 tomato’s, egg, black pudding, 2 bacon, 3 sausage, toast and a big cake. Washed this down with a pot of tea and felt my weight had doubled. A look at my watch and found time was slipping by – then I realised why…. We ‘clocked’ the Witney time thief!
With heavy bellies we left Witney and headed to the next control. This was really turning out to be a lovely ride on good roads. After passing through Bladon one particular road passed over a river, canal and rail line which was interesting. Reached Bicester and purchased Lucozade to wash down the meal from the previous control!
Not long after leaving the Bicester control it started to rain. It wasn’t heavy, but wet none the less. We stopped to layer up and continued our journey passing through Aynho and Adderbury. Before too long, we could see Banbury Cross in the distance. Banbury Cross was very pretty and wasn’t really a cross (though a tiny cross was on top), it was more like a tall pillar. We spotted the fair lady but she wasn’t on a white horse – she was on a grey one?! More interestingly, there was a wee frog under the horse’s front hoof. We faffed around here for a short while – I had lost my glasses (again) but found them before leaving. Aid purchased some Neurofen here (I took the receipt) and we both popped a couple before we set sail on the final leg.
For the most part of the route it had been relatively flat (mostly descending) and fast roads (with the exception of the 2 hills at the first 2 stages). Things were a little different during this stage – it was way more ‘lumpy’ or undulating if you prefer. The roads really were roller-coaster like. Short climbs followed by ring-twitching descents. One particular roller-coaster type road stretched for over 20k and was awesome to cycle. Aid’s bike suffered with a bit of speed wobble during the descents. As I was cycling said road I suddenly heard Adrian scream ‘wa-hoo’ (and witnessed passer-by’s look of shock) – Aid had reached another target and had now cycled a 100 miles! As we continued our way we passed through Chipping Camden before reaching signs for Broadway, our finish point. Reached a junction and Broadway was signposted as 5 miles away to the left but the route sheet stated to continue straight over. Left looked hilly, so we went straight over. Good choice! – we were awarded with another amazing descent, a 1:8 descent! Once at the bottom of this hill, we really felt like we were in Cotswold country, what with all the sand-stone buildings and all. The final stretch took us past a shop called H J Taylor’s which always reminds me of my nan (she wasn’t a Taylor, but she was a H J and had a daughter, my mom, who is a Taylor). A last push and we reached the High Street in Broadway. We stopped at a local pub for purposes of celebration and control proof. Aid had cycled 202k (125 miles) for the first time ever and successfully completed his first audax. This was a first for me too – the first time I had completed the Cheltenham Banbury Cross 200 audax! What an awesome ride, probably won’t be the last!

Sunday 5 August 2012

A bun in the oven!

After last weeks disappointment and rotten reports, I have some very good news to report. SJ had a scan on Tuesday and it revealed that we have a lively, growing bun in her oven! We are, God willing, going to become parents. The scan revealed that SJ was 12 weeks and 4 days pregnant. I hope to blog more good news on 8 February 2013 ;).
Training this week kicked off with a lap around my TTT 20 route. I guess my legs were still recovering from last weeks audax - I had a relatively slow time. Weather was ok but some of the roads had been re-surfaced with that nasty loose gravel stuff.

I cycled the TTT 20 route again on Friday. This time I was used a different bike - 'Cayo' my road bike, recently repaired. Cayo had gotten pretty mashed up last week, following a DNF'd audax. The bike shop fitted her with new brakes (front and rear), head set, front mech, chain, rear tube, large chain ring, cable and cassette and straightened rims which were seriously dented. This cost about £300 and was serviced at Speed's Cycles in Bromsgrove. In addition to that, I fitted a new front tyre. Cayo's tyres keep changing colour - I guess she's chameleon like. Anyways, had hoped to reach a new personal best on this cycle but this wasn't to be. I was cycling at a very fast pace for about 15 miles and then, darn, the rear tyre had gone flat. Grr. I inflated tube with gas and sped off again hoping to get back before tyre was completely flat again. I got home pretty speedy and at completion of cycle was just 1 minute off my personal best. Why I have suffered  with so many flats remains a mystery to me.
Didn't cycle anymore in the week. Looked at my rear tyre and believe I found the offending 'thing' that caused puncture. The tyre looked pretty mashed up where this offending thing was too. Have now replaced the tube and tyre. The damaged tyre was a Michelin Pro Race 3 which I used to rate but am now having less faith in. These Pro Race 3's saw me complete the PBP and have lasted just one season but have punctured many times. The new tyre I have used was taken from Florence's (original) front wheel - it is a Continental Race tyre. This tyre has a wire bead so isn't a favourite tyre of mine, but as long as it stays inflated I'll be happy enough. I previously dissed Continental Ultra Gator Skin tyres but might give said tyre a second chance (and possibly carry a foldable version with me).

Weekly totals: Cycled 40 miles. (Have cycled 2,269 miles this year to date).

Happy New Year 2022

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