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Saturday, 7 August 2010

Going downhill.....fast(ish)

There was no time to stop on the time trial to take photographs, so here's a photo-panorama created from 5 photos taken between bends 9 and 8 on a subsequent ascent of Alpe D'Huez) of which more later)

Hopefully this gives some idea of what this climb is like overall, but there really is no substitute for being there.

The descent starts immediately you crest the small hill in Vieil Huez, and freewheel out of town, on a lane dedicated entirely to bikes. Cars have to take a one way system and emerge lower down. Despite the fact that I descended on the hoods all the way down, the stretch to the first bend still saw 60+kmh despite braking often and early. My descending is still hesitant, and although I remembered the 'advice' and reading about how to handle the hairpins, it wasn't until lower down the mountain that I started to feel remotely confident. There is a big difference between Etape descending, and descending on open roads where you have to share with cars coming up.

The first thing you notice going down is that even between the hairpins, this road is far from straight. Even kinks in the road can throw you over the centre line when reaching speeds of over 70kmh. My record on this descent, despite deliberately being careful, was 71.6kmh between bends 17 and 18. In fact, the gradient steepens about 100 metres before 18, and I almost overcooked it both times I descended this mountain. not really advisable on a hairpin bend with only a 2 foot wall separating the road from 500 feet of fresh air.

Secondly, it becomes painfully obvious that a climb that can take 85 minutes to get up, is over in just 19 minutes going the other way. This was a source of constant surprise all week, particularly as our campsite was in the bottom of the valley, and all rides started off going pretty much uphill.

Friday, 6 August 2010

30 years in the waiting

"La Montee Mythique." That's how Alpe D'Huez is billed around Bourg D'Oisans, "the mythical climb". Whether a stage that has featured in Le Tour on less than 30 occasions can be called 'mythical' may be debatable, but once you're onto the mountain the burden of your own expectations weighs heavy upon your shoulders. It feels even heavier given that the first four hairpins are the steepest section, and the granny gear has been in operation since the first 200 metres of the climb.

In my first teenage exposure to the Tour de France on, I believe, a weekly catch-up 30 minute slot on Saturday afternoon (I recall not whether it was Grandstand or World of Sport) I was astonished, not only by the speed with which riders ascended these monstrous mountains, but also by the fervour of the gathered supporters and the epic nature of the landscape. Standing out amongst these was the tangle of tarmac spaghetti up L'Alpe D'Huez with its 21 numbered hairpins. And it always seemed to be won by Dutchmen, Joop Zoetemelk in 1976, and Hennie Kuiper the following 2 years. It's still referred to in some circles as 'the dutch mountain' and rumoured that the local population in the summer months is 60% dutch. I can't vouch for the numbers, but I suspect there may be some truth in them.

To add to the mystique, each of the 21 'virages' has a plate containing the bend number, current altitude, and the name of past winners up the Alpe. Even the very first bend piles on the expectation. There it is, the name of the first Alpe D'Huez winner (earlier than I had known) Fausto Coppi in 1952. Of course, when the tour had been up the mountain more than 21 times, they had to start doubling up from the bottom, so Mr Coppi is joined by the name of the 2001 winner, one Lance Armstrong. These are still the only Alpe D'Huez winners to claim the yellow jersey whilst winning on the Alpe, and keep it all the way to Paris. Their names peer out from behind the branches partly covering the plaque on the first bend as if to say "What have you got, then?" No pressure.

20, 19 and 18 come quickly, Mayo, Armstrong (again) and Schleck joining the Dutch on these bends. After a sharp kick to 17, La Garde is reached at 16 and a turn off to a truly stunning road, the D211a to Les Balcons D'Auris, but more of that later. From 16 to 13 the gradient slackens slightly, but kicks up again to the tight bend at 12. Legs already tired are now starting to feel worryingly empty, but at least the early morning rain has subsided and sunshine is threatened.

For the first time after 12, glimpses of the road both higher and lower can be seen, and the valley floor and Bourg D'Oisans can be seen, ever smaller. Rushing water punctuates the silent suffering, though the falls are often heard and seldom seen, save for the river of water running headlong downhill in the gutter to your right. Barriers lean outward, little to support them from disappearing down the mountain. And then the church at Huez appears, and the ravines and rocks are replaced by gentler slopes and meadows. The apartments of Alpe D'Huez tower above, perched on the very edge of the top of the slope. Can we really still have to go up there?

7 becomes 6, "Gianni Bugno" on both corners. Griffephotos are taking pictures of human suffering at 5, and still the gradient continues. This mountain is unusual. Over its 13km of climb, there is not one bit of downhill, save for the last few metres in Vieil Huez itself. The left hand bend at 4 disappears and after a brief drag, so does most of the gradient. Changing UP for the first time since the bottom, confusion reigns as cyclists are 'advised' to turn right. We are not, we are to follow the 'classic tour de france' ascent. 3 and 2 pass as Marco Pantani appears for the first time on the corners. More photographers assault any remaining dignity at bend 2.

From Bend 1, the road to Alpe D'Huez climbs dead straight into the town. No sprint can be mustered, the cycle computer is playing up and time and distance are by now unreliable. Suddenly, there is no more uphill. Stand on the pedals, 'sprint' and be directed right to the 'finish'. Only after returning the chip do I notice the finish banner, the timing car, and the already successful participants. I am up the Alpe in 1:24:55, ahead of my target time, fragile physically and already in bits mentally. Apparently grown men regularly burst into floods of tears at this point. I didn't.....................but it was close, real close.

Monday, 26 July 2010

LeJoG - The Aftermath

As we were leaving the hostel, about two dozen keen young things both male and female were decamping for John O'Groats, and a 12 day ride to Lands End. I hadn't the heart to tell them that the tailwind we had would be a headwind for them, though I guess that by the end of the first three days, they would have known.

Gale force winds blew from the South and South West, and torrential rain hit Scotland over the next few days. My parents-in-law did a week long trip round the North Coast, and were treated to just 3 hours of sunshine.

Despite the meticulous planning, and this event needs such an up-front commitment, the best laid plans are still subject to the vagaries of the British weather, particularly in the more northerly climes. We got lucky. Without such luck, I cannot say whether we would have finished, though I suspect we would have made it, but in far worse condition.

Even 4 weeks after the event, two of the five points of the Human-Bicycle-Interface have not recovered, my hands are still numb. As the main point of contact becomes worse, increasing pressure is put on the hands and feet to be able to continue, leaving those suffering too by the end.

Would I do it again? Yes, but not in the sub-5 day timetable, I would want to repeat over 14 days, to take the time to enjoy and photograph the diversity of the British Countryside, and to visit some of the fascinating places and people en-route, to converse with fellow riders, to take the time to enjoy the feed stops, and to relax each evening in the knowledge of a ride well ridden.

Sub 5 is a test. A test I am glad to say I rose to. In the end, the legs were great, they gave me no trouble and got stronger each day (perhaps excluding Day 3). The biggest problem on such a ride is keeping going when your body has had enough, particularly late at night. I read in a marathon/triathlon publication "Being Fit is Easy. It's being Hard that's hard". Never a truer word was spoken. Most failures on something like LeJoG will happen in people's minds long before their bodies let them down. We were much too stubborn for that.

So have I had enough of cycling yet? Hell no, we're off to the French Alps tomorrow for a 'family holiday' and given that our bikes are part of the family, they're coming too. There's the little matter of the Alpe D'Huez Time Trial on Thursday. Watch out for that Twitter feed!

LeJoG Day 5 - Proof



If proof were needed, the photgraphs below show us at the finish. Contrast these with the day 0 photos to get some idea of what this ride will do to you. We haven't really aged 10 years in just 6 day, honest!

Victorious!
















But
totally
shattered










Definitely
elderly












The last
of the
good
weather!









Sunday, 25 July 2010

LeJoG Day 5 - The Race Against The Race Against Time

There are few things better than a comfy bed at 2:30 a.m., and few things worse when you have to get out of it 6 hours later. Nevertheless, we made it up and out, sparing the breakfast diners the aroma of long distance cyclist, instead stopping in the shadow of the Kessock Bridge for roadside Bacon Butties and Tattie Scones. Overnight Ray had been visited by the puncture fairy, but with that and my chain deshipping on a climb the previous night, these were the only true mechanicals we suffered on the whole ride.

Suitably carbed-up, we headed over the bridge and onto Black Isle. Up and up the cycle path dragged until we rejoined the A9 at Tore. At the top of the next climb, a huge Red Kite wheeled overhead, waiting to feast upon the remains of fallen cyclist. I reckon it was big enough to carry Ray off whole. Our avian appreciation was interrupted by a rhythmic beeping from behind, and a support van emblazoned with "Caution Cyclists" came past. They stopped a bit further on, decamped hurriedly, and offered us any support we required. At this point, we declined politely and carried on.

Down the hill, over the Firth and approaching the A9 roundabout, it was all we could do to avoid being blown across the road. We could see the trees on the shore being bent well over by the wind, and as we turned at the roundabout it was as if someone was just giving us a mighty push. The impromptu food stop near Alness (8km further on) was reached at an average of 29kmh in little effort. Once going again,the 30kmh speed was maintained along the coast road, until 'the plastic bag' appeared. I could see a carrier bag (from a well known supermarket) making good progress in the 20+mph winds, and kept an eye as I overtook it. As the road edged upwards, I took advantage of the following wind, and wound up the effort, fairly flying up the gradient. I looked over my shoulder at the top to give Ray a grin.........but there was no Ray. I pulled over and waited. No Ray. I waited more. Still no Ray until, finally, a small figure going balls-out rounded the corner and came flying up the drag. "Did you see that plastic bag?" he exclaimed. "The bloody thing blew across the road and wrapped itself into my rear mech and cassette!"

Once we got going again, the support van reappeared, and this time we stopped and took them up on their kind offer of water and cake. It turns out that they were the Bishop Simeon Fund Race Against Time, who had set off from Lands End on the previous Saturday on a 6.5 day timetable. All their riders were wearing the same kit, and they had taken the A38 through Somerset & Gloucestershire. We had, it seemed, caught up with the 'opposition' we had been told about on the first two days. And very nice people they were too. It wasn't just them and us on the road either, LeJoGers were out in force, strung along the A9 at varying intervals.

Just before our next stop at Durnoch, a solidly built rider shot past with a shout of "Keep going, we're nearly there". Closer inspection of his bike revealed a solitary water bottle, and a saddlebag the size of a mouse's scrotum. Clearly they had the benefit of being supported. His first mate shot past in hot pursuit and the third rider, with whom Ray had been talking, ground past telling me "You're bloody barmy!" Apparently, they were on a two week, supported LeJoG. A bit different to our own, 'nearly there' meant Helmsdale, they weren't even going all the way to John O'Groats that night. By the time we arrived in Helmsdale it was 14:40 and we were only an hour and a half down on time. Nonetheless, the sun was much hotter than we expected at those latitudes, and a 45 minute rest was taken. This was, in part, due to the fact that I knew what was coming.

The climb out of Helmsdale is a belter, almost 7km of varying gradient, all uphill. In another ride, I must find the opportunity to descend this excellent piece of new tarmac. After this climb, there is a bimble along the top of the hills and then a terrifying plummet into Berriedale Braes. This is one where the gradient exceeds my bottle, and I was on the brakes much of the way down, still managing to top 60kmh. What goes down at 17% also goes up at the same gradient, and with a 7kg Carradice and over 1300km in the legs is a real test. A test I passed, crawling up in the granny gear to rejoin Ray near the Llama farm at the top. Llamas in Scotland, whatever next? Latheronwheel and Latheron are both in possession of further hills but after that the climbing petered out towards Wick, where we arrived at 18:20, some 17 miles behind our original timetable.

The sun was still blisteringly hot even at this point of the day. I use the term 'blisteringly' since a look at my front tyre revealed an ominous bulge in the tyrewall, and a rock hard tyre. Evidently the sun was warming them thoroughly because I hadn't taken a pump near them in the last 1400km. I hadn't the energy to replace the tyre with the spare I carry for such emergencies, instead just letting some air out and continuing carefully.

North of Wick, there isn't much, and the last 17 miles were largely quiet and isolated. The support van rocketed past up the final climb before JoG, indicating we weren't far in front of the Race Against Time riders. Cresting the top, further land could be seen, when all we expected was sea. As we reached the true hilltop, this could be seen to be Stroma and the rest of the Orkneys, which I hadn't realised were so close to the mainland. We freewheeled the last 3 km down into John O'Groats, arriving at 19:59, just before the souvenir shop closed, thus providing us with proof of finishing.

The Race Against Time guys came over and congratulated us, though I fear I was not as welcoming or attentive of their congratulation as I should have been. By this point, my brain was already shutting down, having decided we had finished. And so we had. Whilst at Garstang, I had phoned my brother-in-law and he had agreed to pick us up and drive us to our overnight stop in Thurso, thus obviating the need for a 30km ride after the 'finish'. Whilst the scenery is stunning, I think that to have to have cycled it in those circumstances would have been purgatory. Some 20 minutes after we finished, the RAT guys arrived, line abreast, to take their well deserved applause, ours included.

Once in Thurso, at the welcoming, if basic, Sandra's Backpackers Hostel, we quickly showered, changed and went out in search of beer and whisky. This was found in a local Hotel, who surprised us by calling last orders half way through the second pint. We were shocked to see that it was nearly 11p.m. despite the fact it was still light outside. A well-hot Kung Po Chicken followed before the last of energy left us. Ray informs me that I set a new record in his experience. 30 seconds between upright and conversational to horizontal and snoring. Result. We were both fast asleep for 9 hours. Perhaps we might have been just a bit tired?

Day 5 - 202km with 2308 metres of climb in 13 hours and 5 minutes.

Overall Stats -
1415km ridden
18024 metres of climbing
67 hours on the bike (moving average 21.2kmh)
25 hours holed up in Hotels
15 hours feeding our faces and hiding from the sun.
2 hours waiting for traffic lights and at junctions
1 shredded Human-Bicycle-Interface

Final elapsed time 4 days, 13 hours and 47 minutes.

LeJoG Day 4 - Lumps and Bumps

Peering out of the hotel window, two things were immediately apparent. Firstly that we would have a tailwind again, second that it was monsoon season in Edinburgh. We got kitted up for adverse weather, and escaped the hotel at 9:00, getting properly on the road twenty minutes later after the obligatory garage sandwich breakfast.

It has to be said that the first few miles through the outskirts of Edinburgh were remarkable for two reasons. The traffic was better behaved than I expected, and the road surfaces were the worst we would encounter all week. GPS again performed admirably, finding the cyclepath to take us traffic-free most of the way out of the city toward the Forth Bridges at South Queensferry. And very impressive they are too! The rail bridge is HUGE. You just don't get an impression of its true size from TV or photos.

Regrettably, we weren't impressed for long as we had to concentrate over South Queensferry's Paris-Roubaix style rain soaked cobbles. Once these were safely negotiated, we crossed the Forth and ground our way up into Inverkeithing in increasing rain. At the top of the hill we passed a bike shop where Ray recognised the name above the door. "Sandy Wallace's. I think they have one of Graham Obree's jerseys on the wall". We went to look. He was wrong, no Graham Obree jersey, but they did have:
1. Robert Millars 1984 KOTM PolkaDot
2. A Tom Boonen Green Jersey
3. An Eddy Merckx TdF jersey
4. Nicole Cooke's World Champion Jersey
all signed and mounted on the wall.
Our stop was all too short and, touched by greatness, we ground off into the greyness that only a true Scottish morning can provide.

Cowdenbeath was hilly, Kinross and Loch Leven pleasant and the eventual descent into Glen Farg an absolute ripper. We reached Bridge of Earn in need of food, and found the first of the day's two bakery stops. I'm now developing withdrawal symptoms from Bridies, a pastry, pasty-type concoction that is just what the tired cyclist needs. Keeping the stop short, we passed through Perth, past Scone and the Meikleour Beech Hedge to Blairgowrie, for the first official stop 97km into the day. By now it was 2:50, we were still 3 hours late, with mountains in front and a distinct sense of discomfort beneath.

The first section of the next leg was almost universally uphill as we headed up and over Glen Shee then downhill for Braemar. I was left by Ray on the climb, telling him to meet me at the top. When I got there, there was no Ray. On the basis that is was howling with wind, and really cold, I judged he'd carried on but, 4km down the climb there was still no sign of him. His phone went unanswered, and I eventually resorted to stopping one of the rare cars on this road, who confirmed he was further down. Reunited, we rolled into Braemar at 18:05 having made up over half an hour on the hilly section.

Cue fabulous Scottish hospitality. Once the lady in charge of the Hungry Highlander learned what we were up to, no protestations of ours would shift her view. We were having a full fish supper, and on the house! "We have the best fish in Scotland" said she. I'm no fish eater, but I finished mine, and if it wasn't the best in Scotland, then the best must be very good indeed. 45 minutes later, to the days first rays of sunshine, we were on our way again, heading towards the Cairngorm Snow Roads. The locals were mighty amused by this, giving us knowing smiles.

And did they ever know. When we turned for Tomintoul in Balmoral, the climbing began. And kept going. I made it up the first 20% ramp, and the hill that followed. As we crested the very top of this hill we were joined by two motorbikes on the descent who sat behind us as we descended, topping 48mph on the way down. Both riders popped their visors at the bottom and gave us a big thumbs up for leaving the brakes alone as much as possible. It was largely possible due to the improved road surface. I wonder if the fact that it was part of the (Crown owned) Glenlivet estate had anything to do with that?

Passing Corgarff Castle standing alone and isolated on the moor, we arrived at Cock Bridge to be presented with a wall of tarmac known as the Lecht. Seeing the 20% sign and the road snaking upward out of sight, I had a sense of humour failure and got off to walk. I did eventually remount, and we got to the top in time to enjoy the descent in the almost-daylight. Even after the Lecht, the climbing seemed never ending, and it was 21:45 before we arrived in Grantown on Spey, having clawed back another 54 minutes. At this point we found out that the Travelodge was overbooked, and we had been bumped into another Inverness Hotel which we then had to find in the wee small hours.

Given the propensity for the pride of Grantown's youth to be out on the street on a Thursday night, we didn't hang about long and were soon 'enjoying' the pitch black descents towards Nairn and Inverness. Midnight came, so did the customary energy failure. This was probably the worst I felt all ride. No energy and no chance of eating, the stomach wouldn't allow it. Still, at 1:40 we arrived in Inverness, but had no idea where the road we were looking for was. Then, the moment of genius. It was 1:30 on Friday morning. The clubs (if there were any) would be chucking out soon. There were bound to be taxis. There were, and a kind gentleman pointed us on our way.

We found our Hotel, the Beaufort on Culduthel Street shortly after, and were met by a gentleman who had stayed up especially to welcome us. The service we got here was brilliant. Bikes were safely stored out of the way, and we were shown up to our 3 star room. Excellent. A pity we weren't in a better state to enjoy it. One more day. 202km to go. If the suffering Human-Bicycle-Interface could take it, we were going to make it.

Day 4 - 280km with 4,325 metres of climbing in 16 hours and 50 minutes. Average speed from Lands End 21.6kmh.

LeJog Day 3 - Of being overtaken

Knowing that Day 3 was likely to be much tougher than Day 2, we were out of the hotel by 7:15 and off into an area described by other LeJoGers as 'extensively urban'. In truth it wasn't as built up as I expected, and we made reasonably good time in the early morning traffic.

Orrel passed, as did Charnock Richard and passing through Eccleston, I saw the T-Shirt Slogan of the Week "My other body is a temple". How true. Shortly after this we were the subject of great merriment as we were overtaken by a couple of frantically pedalling schoolboys, and formed up a motley peloton with the rest of their mates. We could have retaken when the hill ran out, but didn't want to spoil their day, particularly as they soon turned off toward another day of education at my expense.

With Travelodges not providing breakfast, rumbling stomachs brought us to a halt at 8:50 in Earnshaw Bridge where a splendid bakery breakfast was consumed. Unfortunately, also consumed was the willingness of our legs to pedal and the next section proved very difficult. I suspect now that this was the onset of Day3-itis, a pernicious ailment which causes cyclists to feel their worst on day 3 of a multi-day ride, usually before the training effect kicks in on Day 4.

This was not helped by the next section going through Preston. Whilst we negotiated the one way system, using the bus lanes sometimes marked as cycleways, and sometimes not (often within 50 yards) fairly easily, I swear we hit EVERY red light out of town on the A6. There are a LOT of traffic lights on the A6 out of Preston and 5km took almost half an hour. Once out of town we kicked on quite nicely and made Garstang at 10:30, though this was almost 3 hours down on what we had planned. Sainsburys butties and orange juice obliged, and by now Ray was coming to understand the power of freshly squeezed OJ, and refuelled we set off for Kendal on the last flattish stage of the day.

The traffic on this stage was quieter, especially since we had deliberately steered closer to the sea and we made decent time, though the heat was again making itself felt. One more set of road works, another de-routing one-way system, and we eventually rolled into Morrisons at Kendal at 13:48 (now over 3 hours behind) and collapsed into the shade at the side of the shop. How hot was it? Well, I had bought a Cadburys Whole Nut Bar at Garstang in case of Bonk-style emergency and put it into the top of the (black) Carradice. When I got it out at Kendal it was doing a more than passable impersonation of an energy gel (with lumpy nuts in) and was totally liquid. I can confirm that liquid chocolate is great!

After 45 minutes at Kendal, there was no avoiding Shap Summit any longer, and we set off on the 15km drag to the top. Surprisingly we were there in just over an hour, and the next 27km to Penrith was knocked off in just 75 minutes. A brief stop at the temporary Morrisons in Penrith (apparent the real one burnt down) and we were off on the undulating road to Carlisle, rolling into the railway station there at 18:10, still 3 hours behind. It was at this point that we again realised the folly of railway stations as a source of proofs of passage. There is no problem getting receipts, but there is invariably a train going somewhere near home. In this case, directly to Tamworth in just 25 minutes time. We could be home and in bed by midnight, or carry on with the days remaining 142km into the wee small hours of the next morning. Soooooo tempting!

Some 15 minutes before the train was due to depart, we were back on the A7 heading north. The tailwind was back and we made good time to Longtown, the last town of any size before Scotland. At 19:24, some 61 hours and 12 minutes from Lands End, we entered our third and final country. Shortly after this the hollow rumble of a disc wheel could be heard approaching from behind and a time-trialler in GB kit shot past, pursued minutes later by a Sky-emblazoned second rider. Had we been on the downhill, with the weight of both myself and the Carradice behind me, I reckon I might have given them a run for their money. As it was, we were going uphill, so all we saw of them was the approaching blur once they had reached their turn point. We did find out later, that the riders both 'deserved ' their respective kits, so I no longer feel too bad.

Once in Scotland, villages and towns become much further apart, and you have to plan controls carefully, hence we stopped in Langholm for a receipt, in case we couldn't find anything at Eskdalemuir. This was the same route at this point as last years LEL, but we'd come further, and there was no gale force tailwind this year. Nonetheless, my time over most of the next section was faster than last year. The benefit, I think, just of using the faster bike. As expected, Eskdalemuir was shut, even the Samye Ling Tibetan Centre (no, really!) was quiet, though we did find someone to sign and validate the route card. By now dusk was falling and lights were needed.

As we set off, it became apparent that last year's LEL, whilst incredibly windy, had saved its riders from a worse fate than the weather. As we rode toward Ettrick, the ubiquitous Scottish Midge was out in force. The ride uphill on the moorland was not too bad, but the descent between the trees next to the river was awful. They didn't so much land on us, as hit us and stick at the 45kmh speed we were constantly descending. Before the bottom we both had to stop, clean spectacles and towel down. I don't think I've ever felt quite so riffy in my life.

This section was long, and seemingly never ending in the dark and uninhabited bit of the Borders. Peebles finally came, but was dead quiet, and the road to Edinburgh never seemed to get there. Nonetheless, we did eventually arrive, in drizzly rain, at 2:20 on the Thursday morning, about 2 and a half hours behind schedule. At this point the two midge-magnets were badly in need of the showers. Unsurprisingly, we were both unconscious by 3 a.m.

Day 3 - 322km with 3861 metres of climbing in 19 hours and 5 minutes. Average moving overall speed since Lands End still 21.8kmh

Probably the worst day in terms of feeling tired.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

LeJoG Day 2 - 2 people, 4 wheels, of course we're a vehicle!

The intention in planning our first two days was to average 300km a day, and to put in the biggest stint on day 1 so that Day 2 was less of a challenge and a bit of recuperation. I'm not sure we were totally successful.

As I tweeted at the time "there comes a point on a multi-day ride, that there is an inevitable trade-off between miles on the road and sleep". On the morning of Day 2, sleep won.

Following the post 4 a.m. collapse into bed, we deliberately set the alarm for an 8:30 get up rather than for our intended 7:30 departure, and I will admit that it got snoozed a couple of times even at that. Resting pulse rate on waking was a worrying 90+ compared to a normal level of about 54, further evidence of the previous days heat excesses. Ray was suffering similarly, so there was a tacit agreement that this would not be a day of pushing it.

Once we finally surfaced onto the road at 9:30, this was proven by a very slow start over the Severn Bridge into Wales, where we discovered a very strong southerly wind. The first 8km took 25 minutes as we were leaden legged, and even at that point we then stopped for 20 minutes to answer the furnaces need for fuel. After a day of sweet stuff the day before, I knew exactly what I needed, and Tesco's obliged with Ham & Mustard sandwiches, something vaguely meat-like wrapped in pastry, and a half litre of orange juice, nature's own sports drink.

Back into the traffic, we left Chepstow at 10:20 and were soon tanking along the road to Lydney with a full-on following wind.

I had changed the route for this section at the last minute, and it worked very well, adding a couple of kilometres to go through the middle of the Forest of Dean from Lydney rather than climbing over using the hills from the Spring Sportive. With this benefit, we pushed on well up the gentle climbs, and gained time all the way to Ross-on-Wye, arriving there just 90 minutes later than intended. We even managed to restrict ourselves to our intended 45 minutes break despite having to hide from the sun under the columns of the Market Hall. A few people came over and took interest in what we were doing, including one who had seen "a bunch of cyclists all in the same kit on the A38 near Gloucester." The 'opposition' were still around, and we seemed to be gaining on them.

It was again getting hot, evidenced by the disappearance of an entire bidon of water in the first 10km after stopping. This was in a very laney section trying to avoid the A49, which can be busy between Ross and Hereford. Unfortunately, it also included a lot more climbing than I had bargained for, especially up to Brockhampton where we were rewarded by the days stunning view. I cannot claim credit for this library photo, I was too busy looking for my lungs to be interested in the camera.

Once down from the escarpment, we crossed though sleepy Herefordshire villages, emerging onto the A49 just before Leominster. We had planned to keep off this road where possible, but a combination of better surfaces and a following wind kept us out of the towns, and on the edge of the main road. We did bundle onto the B road as far as Ludlow, where our stop at Leominster proved to have lost 15 minutes of our previous advantage.

The A49 was the only serious option after Ludlow where it was the only road not offering stupid amounts of climbing. Thankfully, whilst busy, it didn't have stupid amounts of traffic either. Another mid-section stop in Church Stretton in the shadow of the Long Mynd took up more unplanned time, but the heat was again a problem, and the first of several ice creams was consumed.

Church Stretton to Shrewsbury is a gentle net downhill and was a cracking time trial, keeping at an average 27km to the outskirts of Shrewsbury. Ray caused the first real assessment of our achievements at this point with the "Me Mum wouldn't believe I could cycle from Lands End to Shrewsbury in a day and a half" comment. I'm not sure I believed it either.
Time made up to Shrewsbury, can be quickly lost. No amount of map planning can ready you for a one-way system. They never go where you expect, and even with GPS (non-direction finding) you can be foxed. Cue walking along pavements where you can't cycle on the road. Whilst we only lost 10 minutes, it seemed like an age.

Wem came and went, Whitchurch finally arrived. We rolled into the Tesco's car park at 20:53, still 1:45 down on plan. Lights went on, and we set off quickly on the 64km to Haydock, almost all of it spent on the A49. Eminently forgettable.

Once night falls, I always slow, and we still found ourselves just 10km short of our hotel as 23:30 arrived and, with it, the Midnight Bonk thirty minutes early. Food was needed quickly, but at that time of night, what chance?

The lights of a Burger King Drive Through pierced the night. What chance getting served? Maccies will NOT serve cyclists at the drive-thru "for insurance reasons". We convinced the night staff that anything with 2 occupants and 4 wheels must be a vehicle, and 2 Angus meals were procured. Revived, we rolled into the Hotel at 00:32, exactly the 2 hours down that we had left in the morning. How's that for planning?

Day 2: 250km in an elapsed 15 hours, only an average of 16.7 overall but holding our 21.7 moving average. 'Only' 2411 metres of climbing. Slackers!

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

LeJoG Day 1 - The Longest Day (Part 2) Into the Night

I never did like trains, well, not the diesel ones anyway. So, within half an hour, we were back on the road, heading properly Northwards for the first time. Within 3 kilometres the batteries went on the GPS, so we had to stop for a quick change. Why couldn't they have gone whilst we were sitting recuperating some 10 minutes earlier? Worst still, we were parked by the river, and Ray quickly augmented his collection of flies which seemed to congregate every time he stopped.

The one really noticeable thing was that this section, although not pan-flat, was significantly less hilly, and within an hour we were a further 20km up the road in Cullompton. We tried hard not to dwell on the fact that this was a point my wife had reached in about 90 minutes when driving home on the Sunday, whereas we'd already been on the bikes for nearly 14 hours.

Dropping into Wellington we made an unplanned stop for yet more food just as the Co-op was trying to close, and were asked if we had "anything to do with that group of guys all dressed the same cycling up the A38 this morning". Obviously if we did, we'd be very lost, but it did sound as if we weren't alone in our task. On to Bridgewater, and our scheduled stop, arriving at 22:20, more than half an hour ahead of schedule now that the heat had gone. But the dark had closed in, which brought its own challenges to our intended speed.

At this point we were scheduled to ride a distance more on the A38, a road who's busyness worried me. I needn't have been concerned, it was virtually deserted at that time of night, and we made good time up to nearly midnight, at which point we started hitting hills again as we found the end of the Mendips in our way. The first grind upwards separated me from Ray as he rode off upward at his own pace, my only target being his diminishing rear light. The climb was over quickly, far more quickly than I expected. This is never a good sign, proving ultimately that this first climb was not the real one past Bristol Airport.

We did climb that one, eventually, and the descent was great, but by now I was suffering the first of quite a few sense of humour failures as my customary post-midnight-bonk (that doesn't sound right does it?) set in. Energy drained away, so did speed, and in the end we had to take a 10 minute Mars Bar stop prior to Keynsham before I could continue. Thankfully it was not far off and after getting a cashpoint receipt to prove we had been there, we pushed on the last 28km to the Severn Bridge Travelodge.

The A4 was thankfully as quiet as the A38 had been, and the GPS steered us effectively through the suburbs of Bristol. The day was not, however, through with us. As we reached Aztec West, the first spots of rain appeared. A scant 10km from the end, the rain started properly. Weight carrying constraints and the promise of good weather had me only carrying a lightweight showerproof, and by this point I was too tired to even be bothered putting it on. The storm passed quickly, but left the roads well puddled. 30 minutes later, the two soggy cyclists arrived at destination and were promptly shown to the haven of dryness, warmth and quiet of our room.

Of course the day was still not over. Showers, washing out kit (big mistake) and general faffing took at least 30 minutes, but by 4 a.m. after a 22+ hour day, and 8 minutes ahead of our expected arrival time, we crashed out. Sleep did not come immediately, adrenaline and hugely elevated heart rates following the heat excesses saw to that, but within 20 minutes I was out for the count.

From Lands End
Day 1 - 366km in 21 hours and 13 minutes including 5119 metres of climbing.

I read somewhere that "if you can get out of Devon, you can finish LeJog". By now we weren't sure that was true, but we knew what they meant!

Friday, 16 July 2010

LeJog Day 1 - The Longest Day (Part One)

No matter how early you go to bed, 5 a.m. is still early. Nevertheless, we got out of the Hostel by 5:30, and with the GPS bleeping the way were headed for the Start. At this point the promised sunshine was absent, a sea mist shrouding everything in clammy wetness. 8.5km (not even counted in the days total at this point) took a gentle half hour, and we wound through Sennen to Lands End ready for a 6 a.m. start.
Look at him! He has no idea what's coming......








First Problem. To get an audax ride validated, you need proof of start time and location. Lands End is effectively shut at 6 a.m. on a Monday morning. Even the Car Park Ticket Machine refused to play ball. We wasted a little time on pictures and general faffing, and were about to leave when our solution arrived.






Him neither......






Entry Mr Jeremy Cartwright, resident of Sennen Cove, resplendent in foul weather gear, and out for his morning constitutional. He had a chat, signed our cards, agreed to verify our being there and, at 6:12, we were on our way. Thank you , sir!

Initial enthusiasm stormed us back to Penzance on traffickless main roads, past Penzance railway station where the days 'real trains' were getting up heads of steam. On to Marazion and St Michael's Mount in perfect early morning light. By now, however, you can already see the big problem with a sub-5 day trip. There is no time to stop for virtually anything, especially photos.

By the time 2 hours had passed, we were passing Stithians Reservoir at the highest point of the first section, and already 44km in despite the lumpiness. Throughout the ride, we were to average just about 21.5kmh moving, despite the terrain, well in excess of our expected rate of progress. Unfortunately, we also underestimated the necessity for rest stops, which would become longer and more frequent the hotter it got.

Rattling down unfeasibly narrow lanes (thankfully wholly without cars) we arrived at King Harry Ferry, 60km down, at 8:58. Bang on time for getting straight onto the ferry, and 15 minutes up on time despite being 12 minutes late from Lands End. One brief chain ferry crossing later, and we were hauling ourselves up away from the water and onto one of the hardest route sections of the entire journey.

We already knew about the 1755 metres of climbing on the road to Launceston, but we didn't make it easy for ourselves. There's only one thing worse than riding up a 16% hill, and that's riding up the WRONG 16% hill and having to come down and start again. Still, whats a gratuitous 150 feet extra climbing between friends? That was, thankfully, the only navigational faux pas of day one.

But Day One was now getting very, very hot. Monday was close to being the hottest day of the year in Cornwall, and at its height we were out on top of the moors with nowhere to hide. By the time we reached East Taphouse after 112km, it was all we could do to collapse into the shade of a tiny garage shop to hide from the sun and cool off. Refilling the bidons was a regular job, and even I, who drinks far too little while riding, quaffed 11 750cl bottles that day, plus extras at each and every stop. It really was that hot, and potential heat exhaustion weather.

Launceston arrived at 14:28 a whole minute ahead of schedule, our early gains having been wiped out by struggling in the heat. By now, though, we had done the worst of the climbing, with 'only' 1000 metres to do in the 68km to Exeter. Whilst the first stretch to Okehampton undulated, and lost us more ground, by the time we had replenished yet more empty bidons at the top of the town, some cloud cover had arrived, and the net downhill on the old A30 to Exeter beckoned.

I recall little of this section except overtaking a tractor and baler on a downhill stretch, and then having to cane it to stay ahead as the road inched upwards again. At least that 10km went quickly. Over the last sharp climb into Exeter and the GPS easily delivered us, knackered, to Exeter St David's Railway Station for another proof of passage. 20 minutes early over the 202km to this point we were pleased but very tired.

Worse still, inside there was a train back to Tamworth at 9p.m. If we were to get on it we would be back in our own beds before midnight. Tempting. Very tempting.

LeJoG Day 0 - Down and Out

Throughout the original planning process, we always intended to start our End-to-End on the Sunday, but a combination of trains and accommodation meant that this was not to be.

Thus Sunday 27th June saw an early start, heading down the M5 for Cornwall, hopefully ahead of all the traffic. With the England vs Germany World Cup game scheduled for the afternoon, we were hoping that the relief drivers would have a quiet motorway for the return journey.

I recall from many years ago, that Cornish holidays were fraught affairs requiring a 3:00 a.m. start to avoid the old A30 hold ups. No longer is this the case, the nice new (mostly) dual-carriageway whisking motorists into deepest Kernow in a fraction of the time. So much so that we were being dropped off in Penzance shortly after 11 a.m.


Note the sign in the background. I haven't decided whether we are 'children' or 'elderly'.



Whilst we headed off to St Just to find our YHA dwelling, my wife and father in law turned and headed back. A very gentle hour and twenty minutes later and we had found the YHA, and ground our way into St Just on the weeks first search for food.

Holing up in the Wellington Inn, local bitter was sampled whilst watching an inglorious exit out of the World Cup. At least this took the pressure off the final day, we no longer had to rush to Thurso to catch the quarter finals. By the time the match was over, the car was back at home, having enjoyed a vacant motorway network whilst the footie was on.

Returning over the hill to the Youth Hostel, it was confirmed that the 1 stone Carradice DID have an effect on Mr Trek's handling characteristics. It handled like a lump of concrete! This was going to take some getting used to.

Our room at the YHA was solely filled with cyclists, all doing End-to-End in different timeframes. This would be the last time we saw any of them. Alarms were set for 5 a.m. and an early night enjoyed.

Day 0 - 18.6km Average Speed not much

Saturday, 26 June 2010

As ready as I'm getting

Amazingly, I have managed to get everything I don't want in my pockets into the Carradice. Obviously, in the first stop in the middle of the night, it will all come spilling out, and the trick will be to get it all back in again.

Nevertheless, the bag still weighs just over a stone, even though I have chucked out just about all I dare. It will make the hills more testing, but the descents should get more interesting.

Time to chill out now, but so you know where I'm going, we've split the journey into distinct legs, each with a rest or checkpoint at the end, and an expected time of arrival.

1. Lands End 0km, 06:00 Monday
2. King Harry Ferry 60km, 09:45 Monday
3. Launceston 137km, 14:29 Monday
4. Exeter 205km, 18:47 Monday
5. Bridgewater 272km, 22:56 Monday
6. Keynsham 333km, 02:24 Tuesday
7. Severn Bridge Travelodge 361km, 04:10 Tuesday (hope they still let us in!)
8. Ross on Wye 408km, 10:28 Tuesday
9. Ludlow 469km, 14:30 Tuesday
10. Whitchurch 547km, 19:08 Tuesday
11. Haydock Travelodge 611km, 22:30 Tuesday
12. Garstang 667km, 07:44 Wednesday
13. Kendal 719km, 10:37 Wednesday
14. Carlisle 791km, 15:04 Wednesday
15. Eskdalemuir 844km, 18:41 Wednesday
16. Edinburgh Travelodge 933km, 23:52 Wednesday
17. Blairgowrie 1030km, 11:52 Thursday
18. Braemar 1084km, 15:43 Thursday
19. Grantown on Spey 1154km, 20:56 Thursday
20. Inverness Travelodge 1213km, 00:08 Friday
21. Dornoch 1281km, 10:22 Friday
22. Helmsdale 1329km, 13:09 Friday
23. John O'Groats 1415km, 18:23 Friday, and then.....
24. Thurso 1446km, damn quick before the footie starts!

Since no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy, I'm sure it won't work out that way, but at least it seems that the wind may not be northerly next week, so we won't have to battle against that as well.

Good luck all you Etappers out there, see you on the other side.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Its all in the preparation

or at least, I wish it was.

The riding is all done prior to LeJoG, and the organising is well advanced, but I'm still far from ready.

Sundays Clockwise Cotswold Outing was a cracking last Audax to prepare, especially the practice for riding into a headwind over the last 25km. It also marked Mrs H's 5th 100km ride of the year, though worryingly we were both more tired than we felt we should have been afterwards.

I have twinging hamstrings and aching knees, but shall remain in denial and convince myself that these are pre-big-ride nerves showing up.

GPS is programmed, twitter feed is up (see right) and drop bags for JoG have been dispatched. Now all I have to do is:

1. Get my kit together
2. Realise it weighs far too much
3. Decide which half to throw out
4. Repeat 1-3
5. End up with the real essentials that can be carried in a Carradice under the saddle.
6. Get to Cornwall

Hopefully, the patience of my wife and father-in-law will not be tested by the drive back from Cornwall, which should coincide with the England-Germany game on Sunday. Here's hoping for a quiet motorway.

Schedule is being worked on now and will be posted shortly.

Why can't Monday be further away?

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

The Tramway 100

Over the past 4 years, this has become one of my favourite rides. I only missed it last year because of doing a 600 that weekend, and recalling the weather, that may not have been the most sensible decision I have ever made.

Mrs H, who has discovered that "100k rides are addictive" was insistent on taking part, and who was I to argue? This would, though, be the most climbing she has ever done, though the time limit was 'relaxed' to only require an overall average of 12.5kmh.

Starting from the Tramway Museum in Crich we found ourselves thrown back about 50+ years, signing-in in the 30's tearoom in the museum itself. Weather was already promising good things, suntan lotion was liberally applied. Given that the organisers never promote the total amount of climbing (2000+ metres) this event is always well attended, so by 9 o'clock we were setting off in a group of 140-some riders. Most of these soon zipped off into the distance, leaving us in the peace and quiet of the Peak District, largely on our own. The first leg via Owler Bar to Hathersage is the least taxing of the ride and we arrived at the control only about 30 minutes down on the rampaging hordes. The view from the Gritstone Edge over Hathersage to Castleton is stunning. One day I may actually stop and get a picture. The drop into Hathersage is an absolute blast, and 40mph was once again threatened by both of us.

But what goes down, must also go up, and after the control there is a long drag up past the gliding club at Abney. I recall 3 years ago that my bolt was well-and-truly shot by this point. Mrs H has far more sense, and was pacing herself. No stopping was done, no feet put down. Through Tideswell and down and up Millersdale we saw only fleeting views of other riders as they passed, keeping to 'our own pace'. 40 was again threatened (and briefly exceeded) on the descent to Glutton Bridge from Brierlow Bar, prior to the climb up towards Longnor through a narrow traffic-lighted section. I suspected that walking might be done here. Once more, I was wrong.

A shortish stop at Hollinsclough refuelled us for the remainder of the ride, and we set off through Longnor for my perennial nemesis Crowdecote. Walking here was inevitable, after all I have attempted this hill 4 times and only succeeded twice. Wrong again. We ground up it, close together, at about 5kmh, but got all the way up non-stop.

The main road was an exercise in 'how close can you overtake the cyclist' but after the Winster turn we cranked up the gears down Via Gellia, covering the 10km in 15 minutes with Linda sucking my wheel all the way, grinning mightily. The usual sting in the tail through Holloway removed most grins (1 in 7 at the end of a 100km audax is a little cruel) but sheer bloody-mindedness meant no getting off now.

In the end, we finished in 6:54, two minutes inside the time that would have been the 15kmh cutoff. Result.

I'm mightily impressed with Mrs H. She rode the whole thing, no getting off at all. She gets her pacing absolutely right, rarely blowing up on the hills, and is an object lesson to me in terms of not going off too fast. We now have another Audax in 2 weeks.

At this rate, I'm going to be getting my legs ripped off by the end of 2012. Best get training and dieting then.

Oh, and its now less than 3 weeks to LeJoG. Coming, ready or not!

Monday, 31 May 2010

Ahead of the game

Since the start of the year, I've been chasing the 'miles clock' above, never quite catching up to it.

No longer, after the last two weeks, I'm now ahead of target and figuring on staying there.

I've not been riding regularly, not in terms of 4-5 times a week, just packing in a midweek 'Tour de Mercredi' and a couple of weekend audaxes, but its been enough (and all I can fit into non-cycling real life right now).

Following a couple of Etapes of the 'Tour de Mercredi' we had our first "real wet one" last week. Lets see how many turn up this time round. And then there were 2 very different audaxes. Different in many ways.

The Hoarwithy 100 (May 23rd)
Starting from Apperley near Tewkwsbury, this was a new one or me, and for Mrs H in her 4th Audax this year. She now proclaims that "100's are addictive" and will, all things in our favour, be attempting the Crich Tramway 100 this coming weekend.

Despite many potholed lanes, copious amounts of wet tar and loose chippings, and the hottest day of the year, this was a belter. Long views over Gloucestershire, cracking climbs up into the Forest of Dean (the ONLY way into the Forest of Dean is 'up') and the cider orchards of Worcestershire on the return rendered this ride a pleasure. The pasta lunch made it even better. Mrs H even robbed me of the MPH award for the day, descending at 40.5mph into the Forest, yelling "that was fun" over her shoulder at the bottom. Methinks she's becoming used to these events.

Marcle Ridge was lumpy, but the views superb, and we finally trolled into Apperley 20 minues inside the time limit, remarking that thankfully Piz Buin had done its job, and sunburn had been averted. If only all other riders were that lucky.

The West and Midlands 400 (29th May)
More firsts. I'd never done a 400 before, Ray never more than 300. Sodden roads and leaden skies greeted 7 hardy souls (plus organiser) at the start. A variety of wet weather gear was in view, 5 x Rainlegs, 1 x longs, 1 x full foul weather gear, and Ray. He's going to have to get some proper kit!

First leg to Newent was wet, but this was the last time on the ride we were to see concerted rain. A short stop at a well-stocked coffee shop saw us leave in the first group of 5 riders. By Gloucester, the fat bloke pace on the front had reduced this to 4, and we split briefly with a difference of routing opinion in the City Centre. Reuniting on the road out of town, 4 became 3 as time-trial mode was engaged to put the A38 behind us and we went out onto the Severn Plain round Epney and Sharpness.

Wooton-under-Edge was next as a control, but first we had to climb over the 'edge' which it is under, a brutal climb away from the M5 flyover, rewarded with a good swoop into the town. 3 remained, but the 4th rider arrived as we were leaving en-route for Chippenham.

On this leg, the puncture fairy visited. Only once, and at that only 200m prior to the end of the section. If I only ever get punctures AT controls, in the daylight, I'll be happy. Better that than at 2 a.m. in the pitch black, pouring rain and middle of nowhere. On then to Membury services by the M4 and through the Pewsey version of the Vale of the White Horse, and the Marlborough downs. On this section, it became apparent that the organiser had a sense of the sadistic. An info control was strategically placed to ensure that you climbed over the Ridgeway to visit it, a trend to be repeated later. In fading light we arrived at Membury 225km in at 22:10 some 11 hours 40 after our Droitwich start.

After checking in home, Jason decided upon needing substantial food, and Clive and Ray became the two at the front. We left for Cirencester in the hope of reducing headwinds as night took hold. This section ultimately passes through the Cotswold Water Park, and at that time of night, roads were deserted. Lord knows what the few cars must have thought of us. Cirencester came at an average of 20kmh for the leg, and we rested for almost an hour, being met by Jason who arrived as we were leaving.

Skirting the edge of the Cotswolds, we headed for Avening along a road navigable only by GPS. I'm sure I could never find it again. Nailsworth noted another organiser 'moment' with an info at the top of the hill beyond Forest Green Rovers' ground, an evil climb after 300km. Worse was the fact that the subsequent descent could not be fully enjoyed in the quarter light of the brightening morning.

So we left Stonehouse bound for Winchcombe, into the brightening day and over the Cotswold escarpment. At this point, after 315km, even the traffic calming looked like Alpe d'Huez, and the Slad valley was just purgatory. Nonetheless, after a 10 minute Mars Bar stop at the top of Corndean Lane when I was fully bonked, we made the final control at 8:10, only 37km left.

Leaving at 8:30 we set ourselves the target of completing in under a day, but found the undulations much harder than they would normally be. Despite fatigue, we returned at 10:05 on Sunday morning for 23:35 elapsed. I'll settle for that.

During much of the day, Ray was trailing a bit, feeling rough, and being wind-blown. I guess that there's no experience like experience, and that having been there before made it easier for me. We're still on for LeJog, though, and its less than 4 weeks away.

Today I have DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness) and it has to be felt to be believed. I could have got back onto the bike today........................................but I wouldn't have liked it much.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

And so to the Etape du Dales

2010 is the third consecutive year I have ridden this Sportive, and it still ranks among the hardest rides I've ever done. Granted, I've not done the Fred Whitton (yet), and I know that will be right up there, but my top three currently are:

The North Cornwall Tor
Tour of the Black Mountains
Etape du Dales

Notice that the 2008 Etape du Tour doesn't make my top three. These three sportives really are that hard.

2008, in training for the Etape du Tour, I 'left it all on the road' in fairly benign conditions and did a 8:30:13. Last year, in awful wind and rain, on a heavier bike, I embarrassed myself with a 10:59:57. My target for this year was back to 9 hours, a fairly tall order given that I'm currently about 8 kilos heavier than 2008.

Still, I had my times from 2008 as a crib sheet, so off I went. Grey and windy, the first rolling section didn't seem to roll well at all and by the time I reached the first proper pitch of Fleets Moss an hour had passed. 2 minutes down already. As my breath deserted me a voice said "Hello again" and Karen Popplewell breezed past (or as close to breezing as you can come on a 16% pitch). I had sufficient breath for a wheezed "Hello, Goodbye" and she was as gone into the distance as Brett had already done ten minutes before. By the top of Fleets Moss, the deficit had grown to 5 minutes, and the potential 50mph plummet was looming.

As I hit the steepest slope, brain instructed hands to loose the brakes. Hands refused. Steadfastly. I finally sort of released them and got up onto the hoods some 400 metres lower down, not exceeding 40mph. I found out later that Brett had a much more 'interesting' time. He overtook a guy in Mammoth Cycles kit who'd parked next to us at the start. This guy was doing 50, Brett left him for dead but had no speedo to know exactly how fast. He didn't want to know. Suddenly, all hell broke loose, and his bike tried to violently throw him off. He finally came to a halt many yards further on, and the other guy stopped to make sure he was OK, having been shocked by Bretts near death experience. Perhaps next time he's cleaning his bike the numpty will do the front quick release up properly? Either that or set a record for the fastest speed ever set on a unicycle.

By Hawes, I was re-settled and oblivious to Bretts experience, and still only 5 minutes down. A grab and go at the control gained a little time before Buttertubs lost me some more. An ambulance showing it's blues 'n' twos was coming the other way carrying a cargo of cyclist. Hopefully OK. By the bottom of the Buttertubs descent, the deficit was 10 minutes but the marshall proclaimed "Tailwind and Sunshine. Life is perfect" and indeed it was. By the turn for Low Row, deficit was 1 minute, a mark maintained up the climb which was the scene of last years first walk.

At the ford, I was still only a minute down, but this was somewhat spoiled by falling off in the ford. Apparently this happens to someone every year. This year it was me. The front wheel went away, and I fell off in instalments, at least getting a foot loose to avoid the water. Straight back on, and on to Arkengarthdale, making the turn to Tan Hill just 2 minutes behind 2008.

And that's where the good news ends. The next 32km to the turn in Nateby were into the wind and brutal. By the time I reached Nateby, I was 55 minutes down and outside 9 hour pace. At least I managed to descend the whole of Lamps Moss (on the hoods) without bottling so badly I had to stop to recompose myself (and that's a first).

By now the little voice in the back of my mind was telling me that I was useless, and should give up at the Moorcock Inn if I was close to the cutoff. I even asked, but I was 90 minutes inside it. Best to carry on then. On to the infamous Coal Road, it's 1 in 4 ascent, and similar descent where I exited over the handlebars on the 2008 White Rose Classic. I don't really like this hill. Consequently, I found myself pushing round the first bend. I will admit I didn't really even try. My bad. The view over to Sedbergh and the Lakeland Fells beyond was superb, and the descent tolerable, especially given that the worst bits have been resurfaced since last year. I lived through it and gelled up along the next bit of road ready for Newby Head.

It didn't disappoint, and I found myself walking again under the viaduct, but only very briefly. The next stretch to Stainforth was a blast. Cranking up the power with the wind slightly helping and absolutely flying along. I hit my fastest time of the day on this section, without it containing a major descent. Arriving in Stainforth, I was 55 minutes behind 2008, and any hope of a 9 hour finish effectively gone. Nevertheless, there was reason for an exercise in 'how close can I get'.

I was briefly unseated again by the severity of the Silverdale climb, but mostly stayed on, successfully avoiding the kamikaze sheep on the drop to Halton Gill. Turning right and over the bridge, the wind was slightly helping so time-trial mode was selected for the mainly downhill 11 miles to the finish. These were completed in 26 minutes, for a final time of 9:12:55.

I'll admit to being satisfied with that, especially given the complaining my legs were doing after the Skeggy ride the week before. It was good to briefly catch up with Karen at the finish, but I'm still mystified how she can possibly get a "Sportive Pass Out" on her wedding anniversary. Chapeau!

As if the day hadn't been eventful enough, the chip shop in Pateley Bridge was shut so we had to drive on, and I experienced a full-on energy bonk on the A1(M) on the way home. Not good!

Demon Descenders

Now, I thought I'd take some beating, but some people are just lunatics.

Le Tour de Mercredi is already in full swing for 2010, with half a dozen 'Etapes' already in the bag. This weekly ride started last year as a result of a small local charity ride attended by many people from the office. At the end of that ride, people were proclaiming that they would love to do it more often, so the Tour de Mecredi was born, leaving the office each Wednesday evening, and heading out into the Warwickshire countryside around Stratford on Avon. We started at 5, we now number 9 when fully attended.

Having got people into the mood with a couple of 25 mile outings, last Wednesday was the biggest to date, with an 'extra spicy' detour for the utter nutters up Conduit Hill out of Chipping Camden. And so we arrived at the top of Fish Hill outside Broadway for a game of "chase the fat bloke" to the bottom.

I dutifully led off, bottling the approach to the second corner and allowing Brett past. This helped me in terms of encouraging me to stay off the brakes, and as we rounded the last left hander, I hit my terminal velocity of 45.5mph on the straight before the long right hander half way down. All this time I could hear another bike on my right, poised to leap into the bend as I braked early (always do). Expecting it to be Joe, a very keen Sportive rider, so I was surprised to see Simon come flashing past on his sit-up-and-beg mountain bike (with road tyres). Now, this gentleman is a very sensible, totally unflappable 40+ tax accountant. Imagine my surprise when he braked so late into the corner I thought he would go over the hedge. Valentino Rossi has nothing on the two wheel shimmy he achieved into the bend. The smell of burning rubber brake blocks was unbelievable.

As the bend widened, I hit the gas and re-passed, arriving just behind Brett at the bottom. Simon squealed to a halt seconds later with the rest of the group, which rapidly degenerated into testosterone/adrenaline fuelled laughter. Simon pointed out his front brakes for all to see. Or not. He'd braked so hard he'd broken them off and descended the rest of the hill on rear brake alone. All there was at the front was an empty brake arm on one side, and a non-functional brake on the other. Without a speedo, we can only guess what speed he hit. My guess is about 50mph.

Being so upright, he looked very stable. Could this be the secret for the Etape du Dales, where the descents scare me to death?

It's Soooooooo Bracing!


That's what the Victorians said, at least. I'm guessing that they were too polite to say what they really felt about the place.

By 'bracing' what they mean is "there's a howling wind blowing off the freezing cold North Sea". Thus it was on 8th May for my second riding of the "Everybody Rides to Skeggy" Audax. This 302km ride starts in Alfreton and is, it seems, universally windy. Last year, however, the wind was from the West and behind us for the first 100 miles, this year was the reverse.

I often wondered which was worse on a ride, having the wind against early or late. I think I now know that having the wind behind early on is best, you get ahead of expectations, and have time in hand when the going gets tough. The other way, you are already knackered when you turn to cycle with the wind, and are too tired to exploit it.

Last year's attempt was one of the first on the 'tourer', a none-too-light Kinesis Racelight with rack & panniers, this year I was determined to be faster, so I took the Trek. I know the sight of a carbon fibre Trek with a Carradice Longflap Saddlebag is a little incongruous, but 'needs must'.

Setting off early from Alfreton, one thing was immediately apparent. It may have been May, but it felt like November. I had layers of Winter gear on, but was still cold. And stayed that way for most of the day. When it stopped raining, the wind was just evil. At least I don't have the problems that Ray does. At 9 stone wringing wet (we were) the slightest puff of wind sent him all over the place, I'm more of an 'immovable object' (and it feels like it uphill). Timberland Fen near Woodhall Spa was a very good example. Maximum effort, hunched over the bars, 11 mph.

Worst of all are the controls. Each an oasis of warmth, once warm you have to put cold, wet kit back on and go back outside. Ugh! By Skegness, we didn't even stop that long at the control, and kept the wet kit on. Shortly before Sutton-on-Sea we had our last downpour and, on the seafront, turned West for Home. After 100 miles of headwind, the silence was deafening. 11mph flat out became an effortless 20, and windchill reduced to the level that layers came off.

Horncastle and Lincoln came quickly, but legs were sapped by now and the last section to Alfreton seemed interminable. We arrived, once again in the dark, at 22:19 for a total time of 16:19 for the 302km (187 miles). Surprisingly, we were numbers 24 and 25 back, there still being 41 out on the road. In the 15 minutes we were recovering only 2 more arrived, and we saw no others on our journey back to the M1. It turns out that many finished around or after midnight. Perhaps we didn't do so badly after all. The first finisher was 90 minutes down on his 2009 time, I was only 42 minutes slower. Sometimes what seems a bad day at the office may actually be a good one.

302km, 187 miles in 16:19 with over 2 hours of stops.
Average speed 21.1kmh

I'll settle for that, but the legs are destroyed. No worries, only the Etape du Dales to come.

Friday, 7 May 2010

What's in a name?

It seems there are many naming conventions for Audax rides. There's the factual (Two Battles, which visits Bosworth & Naseby), the cryptic (Towering Trees, which goes through the National Forest to Alton Towers), the 'bordering on the rude' (The Faccombe Haul comes to mind) and then the outright untrue (The Dean Bluebell Doddle).


Perhaps not outright untrue, it was in the Forest of Dean, but the bluebells were delayed by the late Winter and it wasn't a doddle!


With 1250 metres of climbing in 58km it's billed as the hilliest 50 in the calendar, and we believe it. Right from the off there was a draggy uphill, followed by undulations to St Briavel's. This is a lovely place with an interesting castle around its quiet side streets, but we were in no mood for stopping, only averaging 15kmh to this point due to the hills. A screaming descent followed with glimpses of the days few bluebells, before one of the climbs featured in the following day's Forest of Dean Sportive. Nevertheless, it got done, and we arrived at the Symonds Yat Control still in possession of our legs. Views were, as promised, spectacular.
Of course, being so high must lead to a descent, and this was a good one, 25%, narrow & winding, as riders on the Sportive would have appreciated as they were going to come the opposite way. Dodgy squeezes past cars were negotiated, and we rode out, briefly, onto the valley bottom.
Only too soon, we were climbing past Worcestershire Spa towards Drybrook on a road with 4 chevrons. Linda achieved three, and then had to stop to reinstall her lungs. Starting again, the top was achieved, and we tootled off over the undulating lanes, by now on our own.
Shortly after, just before Drybrook, the unthinkable happened, and walking was done. Mind you, the instructions advised it to best view the scenery behind, so we were just following instructions. This was the physical high point of the ride, and more good descents followed, getting us back to the start in just under 4 hours of ride time.
By Monday, legs were complaining and bodies very heavy (mine's always very heavy) so the climbing took its toll. As a comparison, the coming weekend's ride to Skeggy only has 350 metres more climb than the Doddle, but that's a 300km event not a 50!