Taking the Johnstone express. All aboard.
Saturday saw the introduction of Ian and David to the sportive world. John and then Mark were meant to join us but were unable to do so for various reasons. A sportive (French) is an organised event where a marked/ signed route has been put in place and cyclists are timed round the course. There are normally different distances of routes (commonly 100 miles and 100km) put in place to suit differing levels of ability. Also, food stops are normally provided, and this is part of the fun for some but for others the thought of stopping would send them into a cold sweat.
For Ian and David, this was a placeholder in the diary as a mid term aim before LeJog. For me and originally John it was to be a tune up for the Etape Caledonia (a closed road sportive in Pitlochry with 5000 others) the following week.
This particular sportive was the ‘Drumlanrig Challenge’, so named as it started/ ended at Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfries and Country. This is a beautifully maintained castle set within a country park with adventure playground, forest walks and mountain biking trails. I was so taken with place after last year’s event that I came down the next day with the family for a picnic.
The sportive had been organized by the Dumfries section of a charity called Tearfund who ‘work globally to end poverty and injustice, and to restore dignity and hope in some of the world’s poorest communities’. One of the reasons for wanting to do this sportive again was the superb organization and friendliness of the volunteers helping out. With the entry form I had sent a note about why we taking part in the event and about our LeJog expedition and received a very nice reply back when we were given our entry acceptance. Some of the big sportives can seem very corporate but this one you genuinely feel that they care more than just about your donation. The other reason I wanted to return you will see evidence of at the end.
Ian in his wisdom had decided to cycle down and stay with his mother who lived relatively nearby (90 miles from Glasgow) on the Friday. I had suggested I would give him a lift down and he could cycle back, but he was adamant and who could blame him, the extra miles would do him good in the long run. For me, my offer of a lift was part selfish to ensure his legs were fresh for the sportive.
For David and I, the journey began early on Saturday morning. I picked David up shortly after 7am from Uddingston and hit the motorway. Google maps duly printed out and an estimated journey time of 1hr 20min. The motorway was quiet for a holiday weekend and we took it easy with 2 bikes on top of the car not exactly helping the aerodynamics. Google maps had us turning off at junction 13 which I thought was a junction earlier from the last time I was here but we took it any way and headed towards Leadhills. There was not a cloud in the sky and since the temperature outside was nearing zero there was a remarkable clarity of light as we travelled through the hills. As we went down past Wanlockhead and the extremely long hill that featured in one of today’s sportive routes, David recalled having camped down this way before. He also recalled having invented a new Olympic sport which was like skiing without skis down the scree off the side of the hill. There also had been a name attached to this sport which I cant quite recall at the moment. But then earlier than expected, we had arrived, met with the sight of the castle in the distance up the long drive way.
We were efficiently directed towards a space in the grass car park, there was already plenty of cars there and a nice atmosphere starting to build. It was cold, but the sun was shining and all the signs were good for the day ahead. First job to was to register and get the numbers for the front of the bike. On the way we phoned Ian, no answer. He had threatened to cycle from his mum’s (30 miles) and that was possibly why he was not answering but at that point we were in the dark. Numbers duly received, we spot Ian driving in and wander back to the car to get kitted out and get the bikes ready.
Just before 9 we joined the queue of riders to be let loose on the road. To avoid disruption out on the road, you are normally let out in groups of approx. 15 a time. We took time out for a quick photocall and then after a few instructions on road conditions(a bit like the roll call from Hill Street Blues ‘ Be careful out there’) we were off.
We set out last in our group, and initially kept rolling with the same people we started with. It was a chance to get the legs warmed up and get a feel for group riding. After a couple of miles, we decided to start moving up, it has been a while since I had seen the guys but it looked like the Majorca trip had worked wonders. We upped the pace and joined another group further up, things were going well. Soon enough though, we had a short, really steep hill. It was terribly potholed and very thin. There were bodies everywhere, some riders were still riding two abreast, not giving much room for maneuver. On a hill like this you really want to go at your own pace, and I had to jink through a couple of riders to break free and I pushed on up to the top of the hill and waited on David and Ian. They had got stuck behind a couple of guys and also watched the as a rider got a backwheel stuck in a pothole and had fallen over.
We then headed down a equally steep and potholed hill, it was a very dangerous descent and I went down not exactly slow but not exactly fast, however I was still passed by someone I thought was going dangerously fast. Maybe he was a local..
Soon enough, we were back together and had picked up a rider from Ayr Cycling Club, she was down herself and was in training for a time trial the following week. We continued as a group for a while, passing others and not being passed, it was going well. At some points, I pushed my heart rate up and went ahead, testing myself to see what the legs would take and then drawing back together. Then quickly we were getting swarmed by yellow jerseys, I indicated to Ian and David that it would be a good idea to get on the back of this group and let them do the work. We duly joined the group and so it seemed did a few others, there was at least 40 riders together. The yellow jerseys belonged to the Johnstone Wheelers and they seemed to have the group in control, moving their riders around at the front to take the wind and giving instructions to the group of the dangers ahead. Within a tightly bunched group, you cant see the what’s ahead and rely upon shouts or hand signals. We were flying along, upper twenties mph but with about half the effort, one of the reasons why you do these events. David and Ian were loving it and so was I, sometimes you had to push to keep on the back if you let your mind wander but it was worth it. The other side of this coin was the danger in riding in close proximity to others. As were cruising along, I heard the sound of bikes colliding and shouting, and looked round to see David wavering from side to side. I dont know how many sits up he has been doing because it took a lot of core stability to pull it back from the brink and not go over. Apologies given from the guy behind and we kept on rolling.
We soon then hit a big long hill and the group starting to string out, I pushed on hard to keep up with the Johnstone Wheelers, I knew it’s what I would need to do in the following event to get a good time. In my concerted effort I had lost touch with David and Ian but I had decided to stay with the Wheelers for a further bit and give myself a test. I rolled along for another few miles and then stopped at the last feed station to wait for David and Ian. I indulged in a bit of fruit loaf while I waited and chatted with the volunteers and it was difficult not overindulge, given the quality of baked goods on show. However, there was still around 16 miles to go and I didn’t want to be weighed down. The cakes could wait.
David and Ian arrived shortly after and for Ian it was like being given a free pass to Greggs (the nations favourite baker) and he worked the table like a pro, sampling everything and anything. David and I eventually pulled him out and reminded him that they also did food at the end of the race. After a quick chat with the guys I decided to push home alone, I needed to dig deep to see what I had, and off I went. I passed a few more cyclist and the average was sitting at 18.2 mph and I wanted to keep it above 18mph. After failing to do so in a group ride a few weeks previous, I was looking for redemption. I was feeling good and then I hit a hill that I had forgotten about 18.2, 18.1, 18.0, 17.9, 17.8. The average goes down a lot quicker than it goes up. Hill over, the fun began. 3 miles to find 0.2mph. I tried to watch the road, keeping the body still, not wasting energy, pushing hard, ‘breath and push’ ‘ breath and push’. I hit 18.0 average and am on the road back to the end, I can relax now. Not really, there is a hill ahead, my speed drops to 16, is that going to blow the average, I push again, legs sore. The finish line comes into view, I hit the line, slam on the brakes and stop the clock. An 18mph average achieved.
I sit down at the side of the road, still high with the adrenaline. David and Ian then appear and I catch them coming over the line, all smiles.
We roll back through the castle grounds to the cars and stand and chat about the day. It’s been a great success and everybody has enjoyed it. Recovery drinks taken, we wander over to the food tent, firstly stopping to chat to the Johnstone Wheelers and thank them for their effort. We joke with them about not taking a short of the front because we dont know their system but they are not daft but not exactly worried either. They are soon off to Italy for a sportive in the Dolomites and it sounds a little bit hard. Gran Fondo Nove Colli – translated 9 hills.
We hit the food tent, first the sandwiches, tuna, ham, cheese, cheese and pickle, cheese and jam. I go tuna and then ham, one eye on the cake stand. The second reason that I wanted to come back to this sportive, many sportives promise home baking but few deliver like this. It was time our efforts were rewarded. First the tablet, then the caramel shortbread and to finish some chocolate shortbread combo. Volunteers thanked, it was back to the cars and off home.
David and I hit the road, leisurely wandering back up and shooting the breeze. A nice end to a good day.