Hello again, and apologies for the large gap since the last post…
Its been a mad few weeks (what’s new huh?), and since I checked in with you last I’ve done the 100k TdY sportive in Sheffield (fantastic ride), finally got to the Lakes to ride the awesome Fred Whitton Challenge two weeks ago, and since then it’s been all hands on deck at Big Bear Bikes due to staff holidays and training courses. Finally things are slowly returning to normal there and I have been lucky enough to secure 3 days off this week instead of the usual 2.
Where to start?
Let’s go with Fred as it’s been such a HUGE event on my ride calendar for what’s seemed like years! It didn’t disappoint and totally lived up to it’s reputation as THE toughest Sportive in the UK.We were blessed with the most incredible weather and the scenery was breathtaking as you would expect riding in such a beautiful part of the Country.
A 4am alarm was extreme … in my book, but necessary because Mr P had inadvertently booked our lovely B&B a 45 minute drive from Grasmere, and we’d been warned to arrive before 6am to avoid the mile long traffic jam of 2000 cyclists all arriving at once to get a 6.30 start! As it happened it was nowhere near that bad, and we were there in good time to fuel up, wrap up and find the loos. Full of nervous anticipation we left the Sportsfield in Grasmere to cheers of encouragement from marshalls and well wishers.
The first climb up Kirkstone Pass was pretty chilly… The stiff Northerly was much stronger than forecast and we faced it all the way up Kirkstone and Troutsdale. We took it easy though and I was amazed to see people getting off to walk so early in the day.. really? ‘Long day mate’ I thought to myself… But not too smugly as I was already starting to dread the mighty Hardknott which didn’t actually appear for another 90 miles… long day indeed.
The sun finally broke through the cloud as we reached Keswick and rode along Borrowdale to the next Pass at Newlands. A doddle as far as I was concerned, the only issue being the log jam of slowing, weaving cyclists, and anticipating their moves before attempting to overtake. My action plan to avert being stopped in my tracks is to let people know I’m coming through ( in no uncertain terms.. ) and pray the path will open in time to sail through. It worked all the way around, to the disbelief of some cyclists as I screamed through refusing to give up on all but the steepest of them all at the very end. I’m not being rude… just assertive! Self preservation and all that, you see the problem I have is that I’m rubbish at getting clipped back in on a gradient anything over about 7%. I just slip and slide off my pedals and usually end up in a heap in the gutter… not pretty! (Any advice here would be much appreciated) So you see, I have additional motivation to keep moving up steep climbs; if I stop, it’s a very long walk to the top!
After Newlands came Honister, and again suddenly we were faced with a road block of cyclists. More ducking and diving and cursing through gritted teeth, but after the first bit, not as bad as I’d feared, I started to relax and look forward to the first feed station, I was getting peckish 50 miles in. It was packed with sandwiches, fruit, energy bars, cakes and flapjacks. I chose the questionable combination of 1 tuna, 1 egg and a banana to finish with and the next couple of hours I was reminded of it!
By now it was quite warm and we’d stripped off leg and arm warmers, and I’d even removed my base layer. Ofcourse all this had to vie for space in jersey pockets full of food, leaving me looking more like a camel than a lean mean cyclist… does my bum look big in this? Errr.. YES! The pink jacket was on and off all the time as it was still pretty cold on descents.
Next stop Whinlatter.. an awesome climb; it had a very Alpine or Pyrenean feel about it and the smell of Pine and freshly sawn timber was divine. Crowd support here was fabulous due to being so accessible by car and the plentiful car parks. There were kids handing out sweeties and people ringing cowbells and banging pots and pans, it still gives me goose bumps now just thinking about it.
We were getting closer to the Big one, and another feed station at 83 miles gave us time to fuel up, stretch, relax and gather some courage for the last 29 miles, most likely the hardest physical challenge I have ever pushed my poor body through. Mr P was being amazingly positive considering he’d not done half the training I had… ‘Just think of it as a Tuesday night shop ride’… yeah right!
We probably lingered here a little too long, and a conversation with one of the volunteers didn’t exactly put me at ease; ‘You’ll be fine’, she said (How many times had I heard THAT the previous week?!), ‘just commit to getting off BEFORE the hairpins or you’ll fall off’ …. Okaaaay!!
I don’t remember much about the approach to Hardknott, other than the view of the coastline and nuclear plant at Seascale which for some reason I hadn’t expected to see. Then suddenly there it was, the Daddy of them all, the toughest climb in the Country and 94 miles in I was about to attempt it.
My legs turned to jelly and needless to say, the road ahead that was empty when we stopped to take the photo, was suddenly full of weaving, walking and weary cyclists. The road up Hardknott is very narrow, rutted and uneven, it was SUCH a relief to pass the ‘Road Closed’ to traffic sign at the bottom… I must have said something because the marshall there gleefully added ‘not closed to you lot!’
So it began, like the bottom of Chimney Bank but steeper and for longer.. just about everyone had dismounted by the first hairpin as I continued to growl upwards and over the cattle grid, around two visciously steep hairpins to the top of the first section where it eased off just enough to prevent my knee caps from popping.. I’d managed it seated, fearing that if I got out of the saddle the front wheel would lift off the tarmac and flip right over my head.. yep, that steep!
There’s a relatively ‘easy’ section in the middle, the pleasure of which is ruined by the view of the next section which rises up over near vertical hairpins to the summit. As I approached the first one which some poor guy had just failed to negotiate I decided not to push my luck. I remembered what the Lady had said at the feed station and unclipped, my leg muscles were starting to tighten and it wasn’t worth the risk of keeling over. I abandoned ship and pushed my bike ( even that was difficult) until I got to a place I could get back on and spinning upwards again. Only a few people passed me cycling, a couple I’d passed earlier on the bottom section, and my very own Mr P before he decided enough was enough at the second hairpin.. Chapeau partner.
Hardknott Pass; an absolute Brute (and many other things besides I shall not teint this blog with..) Done!!
Just one more climb to do after a wonderful but treacherous decent. Steep and winding, although not quite as bad as Honister… that was bar gripping and the fear was the other way around; that your rear wheel would suddenly flip right over your head…Think I was just about sitting on my saddle bag down there!
Wrynose Pass last but not least, my legs were getting very tight and starting to twinge. I’ve had a lot of problems with adductor cramp on rides containing over 9000ft of climbing. We had already climbed just over 11,000ft at this point.. I had a bad feeling this might be the one.. desperately trying to relax, mind over matter, the first cramp started about half way up before the steeper section at the top, I pedalled through it and it eased off a bit but as soon as the gradient increased, I had to dismount. Very disappointed, I know I could have got up there otherwise. But my experience last year of the Barousse Bales Sportive final climb up the Col d’Azet told me not to be stubborn and get off now whilst I could still walk, there was still another 15 miles or so to ride after all.
We’d done it.. well not quite, just a few more miles to go but the worst was over, no more killer climbs just a nice rolling relaxed ride back to Grasmere. My cramping adductors continued to threaten all the way back on anything other than flat terrain, but didn’t seize up again thank goodness and we even picked up the pace towards the end trying to break 10 hours. Actual moving time was 8 hours 50 but we’d stopped for food, clothing changes and nature for the rest of it.
Adrenaline and pure relief also provided the last bit of energy required to roll in over the finish line, jubilant, tearful, exhausted and relieved. What a fantastic experience.
Apologies once more for the missing link to the Magnificent 7. I have tried and better tried. It will appear at some point, but for now I am pretty busy with another venture which is raising money to help promote Cycling Tours of Yorkshire. Please bear with me.
Thankyou for reading and I hope you’ll take inspiration from this that anything IS possible, all you need is grit, determination, some common sense and a love for what you’re doing ❤️
I’ll be back…