After returning from our very own Farce Whitton trip on the Sunday, I was down to London by coach on the Monday at 5.45 am. Returning from London at midnight on the Wednesday, it was then an early rise to drive to Leeds on the Thursday and the family hols to Calahondas, just outside of Marbella. So after the Farce, very little in the way of exercise in the following week. Of course, I had sussed out marbellabikerental.com. It’s obligatory you know.
An immediate issue of being based in Calahondas is that there is only one road that takes you basically anywhere – the N135*. This is a dual carriageway that “you are allowed to cycle on” – but really, just don’t. So if I were to hire a bike, would I have anywhere to bike?
Come the following Monday I’m going stir crazy – I’m getting the bike for a few days and I’ll suss it out from there. Pick up the bike from the hire shop (lovely, helpful couple – if you’re in the Marbella area use them) and they flag up a couple of routes – including the N135 – no. “Are there any hills” I ask? They immediately burst out laughing. Oh yes there are indeed hills. In fact the only flat is on the N135 – no.
Trip one – Tuesday
A 5.30 alarm call and I awoke and spring up – it’s pitch dark. I get up and have breakfast (never seems right at this time – it’s the middle of the night). In truth, I’d have been better sleeping on for at least another half hour as I slowly mess around getting gear together and planning my route. Eventually, I head out in the dark, throw the bike in the car and drive towards Marbella with a rough plan of where I want to start.
I end up in a town just a couple of miles from the hire shop – which took an hour and a half to find the previous day. Today’s route will see me head to Ronda (“help me Ronda (sic), help, help me Ronda will play through my head continually as I climb the hills).
You’re always uneasy on roads that you don’t know. Looking on the map, this looks like a main A road that you would generally disregard from a major cycle unless you had no option. However, the girl in the shop said it was fine and the further you go the finer it gets. So I set off. And there’s a slight incline (3%) to begin with. This soon changes to 6% and the town is left behind and the route is beginning to look pretty good. Over the hill, the sun is beginning to think about getting up – wish I’d got on the road earlier now. So up we go with the gradient never below 3% but never above 8% for mile after mile. This is Tour de France like cycling – except my average speed is probably a touch higher than those chaps – well, I’m on a 3 day route, they do 21. After 12 mile the road flattens a little and in fact there’s then several miles descending. Truth of the matter is that I’d rather have climbed all the way to Ronda and then enjoyed turning round and freewheeling the 30 miles back to the start.
Some really stunning scenery on this run. Looking down at some golf courses from way up the hill was stunning – this is what cycling is all about. However, a major problem was beginning to happen. I’d forgotten my bib shorts with their nice padding and my backside was now being seriously irked by the saddle of the hire bike to the extent that peddling was becoming an issue. Anyway, onwards to Ronda (help, help me Ronda – you’re singing it now too aren’t you)?
A bit of a skirt round the town half looking for a bike shop. Eventually I decide it time to get back on the route. Of course I’ve deviated from the path and getting back on route is not so easy and the traffic is slow. After a bit crawling behing a couple of cars I approach a junction and come to a halt. Glancing nonchalantly to my right I am looking in the window of a cracking looking bike shop. Sister fate has played a trump card. In I go, try on some Orbrea bibs and tell the chap I’m wearing them to go. Result. They make a reasonable match to the DIFD tops as well. Result 2. And Carol will never know that I’ve just spent some considerable coinage on a new pair of bibs. Who returns from a bike ride in different clobber to what they go out in? Result 3.
Didn’t expect a massive improvement with the bibs. However, massive improvement was what I got. My ass had been in real pain and I could hardly pedal. Gone. As a man reborn I got onto those hills and headed up knowing that were were 12 miles of straight down to come. Eventually I hit the top and started the descent. However, I stopped to take a photo of the previously mentioned golf courses for young Tubs. Dragged the bike away from the road and took a snap or two. This was probably a mistake.
I finished another couple of miles of the descent and hit the only small piece of ascent before the final 5 miles of descent (which I had forgotten about approaching the route the other way). Jumped on the pedals to attack the hill and noticed the puncture that I had. Never really felt it on the way down the hill. Probably aquired taking the snap for Tubby. So it’s his fault. Cheers wee guy. Took maybe 10 minutes to leisurely fix the flat – this is 3 hrs 12 mins quicker than Ian’s current best time. However the pump on the hire bike was woeful. Trying to pump to a reasonable pressure was almost as tiring as the ride itself.
With enough air in the tyre to coast home I located the car and stopped the GPS. 65 mile in the bag, 1800 miles of ascent and average of 21 mph. Average actually said 14 mph, but that’s a mistake.
Stumbled across the bike shop, which previously took an hour and a half to locate and got a track pump to get the tyres back up to full pressure and purchased a couple of spare inner tubes, just in case. Result 4.
Headed home just about midday to reconvene the sun worshipping and avoidance of the swimming pool.
“I’m home darling”.
“Have you gone and bought new shorts after going on about how you’ve no money”?
Strike result 3 from the record books.
Day 2 to follow.
is now installed on my bike. A custom headset cap. You know you want one too. A mere $12.99 from http://kustomcaps.com/ And it makes you go up hills faster ‘cos its red. Honest.
Where I work at Lloyds Banking Group we have a dress down day each Friday in our building to collect money for charity. The allocation of the days goes fast at the start of each year but I managed to secure the last Friday before school holidays which seemed like a good option. I persuaded a couple of my colleagues, Derek and Paula to help me rattle the tins at the front door. On top of this I had also arranged a few home bakers to produce some wares to be sold in the staff canteen at morning coffee time.
In total we collected a healthy £630 over the course of the day which I have split equally between the two charities. Derek and Paula have also agreed to use their LBG Matched Giving which will double the total raised to £1260.
Thanks to my collection team of Derek and Paula as well as the bakers; Julie Cush, Paula (again), Kate Ramsay (cupcake genius), Martin Donnelly (and wife) and Turbine.
Sunday. Day 2 of the Lakes expedition. After a poor nights kip for some (snoring, oversoft mattress, loud expulsions of windy-pops) it was up and at ’em for breakfast. Various goodies had been acquired/ brought with the team, our milk safe in the fridge overnight thanks to sticky labels (OK, I maybe went a little overboard, but when I was in student residences, milk was always getting nicked). We chatted to a few other folk staying in the hostel who were doing a bit of walking and watching their friend take part in a big swim event later that morning. Breakfast done, we packed up, grabbed our gear from the drying room, spent ages trying to find John’s overshoes in everyone elses bag only for me to find them – in his bag – then we were off. The plan was to head along the “Fred” route and sort of pick up somewhere along the route were we left off to get the other hills done. More parking fun was to ensue, the swimming event and the triathalon meaning that there were people everywhere and not a space to be found. Eventually we found a layby space and decamped, the rain starting to fall as we got kitted out.
We set off along the flat route, through Ambleside to the first climb of the day – Holbeck Lane leading to Troutbeck (what great names some of these places have!). I got off to a bad start here, my front mech jamming, unable to swap from the big to the small ring. With no hope of getting up the hill in those gears, I yelled to the others to go on (no, its not another puncture), clipped one foot out, banged my foot on the mech and turned the pedal to get the chain to shift over. Result. The others were quickly vanishing, so I pushed hard to close on them as they toiled up the hill. After a short while I was back in touch, breathing hard as we all slogged up the slope, the occasional car squeezing by us as we made our way further up to the Kirkstone pass. As we climbed, dozens of cyclists (triathletes) started to stream toward us, down the hill. A few “hello’s” from John at the front were ignored (seriouz bizniz this triathllon?), only getting the occasional nod, until, to our surprise, a huge yell of “Guys!” – our very own Gio belting down the hill. We responded with our own cheers and hello’s as he vanished down the hill behind us, and kept plugging away at the hill. Soon we were passing an ambulance attending to an unfortunate triathlete on a corner, a convoy of cars behind us only able to pass us once we’d cleared the accident. We continued upwards, calling out to the steady stream of downward cyclists to watch for the accident, and after thirty or so minutes of climbing we reached the top.
The steep descent required serious braking, sharp corners, oncoming cars and the occasional walking or slow, tired cyclist to watch out for. The slope levelled off, and several miles of flattish roads were ahead, time for the train to come in to play. Sadly this was not to be, as we hit a short rise, my front tyre was looking decidely flat, so I had to stop. Pumped up (slow puncture?) and we moved on, but it wasn’t more than a few miles before I had to stop again for more air. Then again as we turned to climb to Matterdale End. And at the top (well, the first top, there was a second not far ahead). And at the bottom. At least the (pricey) tube I’d bought at the top of Whinlatter had a valve that agreed with my pump. This was getting silly, so a new tube went in. Tyre patches also applied as it was clear the tyre was seriously gubbed, gauging roughly where David had seen air coming out the tyre wall on one of the many previous stops. Patched and tubed, we moved on, this time, my tyre seeming to hold the air without issue, but planningon heading to Keswick to get me a new front tyre to be sure of no further incidents today.
We turned on to the A66, Sam taking the lead, the rest of us following, the road starting to head downhill. We spread out a little, mostly keeping to the left of the white line at the edge of the road to give the fast, overtaking traffic more space. We must have been doing around 25mph when it happened. I was at the back, and suddenly and seemingly in slow motion, I could see Sammy was in trouble – his front wheel slid from under him, tipping him over the bike, his head hitting the tarmac, and he lay there motionless as we all careened to a halt. Bryan got to him first – “don’t move him” I yelled as I got off my bike. “Sammy, you ok?”. A few moments passed. “I think so”. “Can you move?”. “Yeah”. “Help him up, slowly”. Bryan and I helped him to the kerb of the junction we were now at and sat him down. “You alright?”. “Mmm”. I’m no medic, but I’ve got a fair bit of experience of dealing with a postictal Dee, so started to apply some of the cogntive checks I’d picked up over the years. “Follow my finger with your eyes”. Left, right, up, down. All seemed well. “Can you move your fingers?”. Yup. “Toes”. Yup. “Anywhere hurting?”. “My head” (surprise). “here” (waist/ hip). “Do you feel sick?”. “No”. So, no concussion (probably?), so far, so good (ish). “What year is it?”. This seemed to pose an issue for a few moments… “2012?”. Ok. “Where are we?”. “The A66, Lake District”. “Who am I?”. “You’re Ian…. I’m feeling a bit funny now”. A quick conflab with the rest – we’re getting him an ambulance, he’s not right and needs a proper medic to check him out. Bryan got on the phone, 999, me using my wee Garmin to call our rough location, getting John to keep him talking, don’t let him fall asleep. Bryan relayed our location, the controller at the other end getting him to ask Sammy his name. He got that right, but was now getting more confused about where we were going, where we’d just been, and was getting cold. I whipped off my jacket for him as Bryan got off the phone. We didn’t have to wait long for the blaring of sirens and the flashing blues as the ambulance arrived. The paramedic took his time to check Sam’s neck, then got him to follow his finger (turning his neck) left then right, head up, chin to chest (neck working ok). “Was he unconscious?”. “Maybe, but only a second or two, can’t be sure”. “OK, seems you won’t need a brace, lets get you in the ambulance”. “where you taking him?”. “Carlisle”. Hmm. “Can you take his bike?”. “I’m not supposed to, but I’m a cyclist too, ok, wait while we get things sorted, then we’ll take it for you”. We took charge of Sam’s car key, took his Garmin for safekeeping, then passed the bike to the ambulance crew, who were quickly off, sirens and lights down the road.
Ok, now what? Back on the bikes? Keep going to Keswick John reckoned, bike shop, ditch bikes, grab a taxi back to the cars. Sound plan. The rain was tipping down, we cautiously made our way along the road, cars dangerously close at times, all of us extra aware of the drains, bulging cats-eyes and any potholes that could lie ahead. The longest four miles ever were ahead of us, the four of us moving in mostly silence, mulling over the recent events. We got there, found the bike shop from the day before, John and Bryan going in to see about a taxi. They were soon out – turns out we’re less than 30 minutes away from the cars, bike shop guy reckons we’d be as quick biking it as waiting for taxi. So a quick refuel with gel/bars and we got ready to set off back up the road. Bryan’s phone went – Sammy! Seems they’d turfed him out of A&E, his ride in the ambulance seeing him mostly recovered, the doc showing more concern over his hip than his head. Good news. Less so for the road, as we were immediately on a hill, working hard to get to the top 4 or 5 miles further on. The rest of the route we fell back into the train, taking our 0.5 mile stints at the head of the group, as we set a quick pace on the favourable roads, some shorter upward hills but a good few downward or easy flat sections allowing us to hit decent speeds all the way back to Ambleside. Ok, where’s the cars? Erm, not sure. Think its this way (stupid Garmin not playing ball with the ‘back to start’ function). An extra loop of Ambleside’s one way system and we hit the right road, a mile or so further on and we were back at the layby and the cars. Ride done. 50 miles (5 or so missing from me stopping my Garmin at the Sammy incident).
A fun drive from Ambleside to the M6 (Sammy’s in-car GPS taking us the ‘scenic route’), and we were soon at Carlisle, picked up a bored (and much better) Sam, only effected by a sore hip and a bit too much daytime TV while he waited for us, and headed home. Curry in Cambuslang rounded off an eventful weekend – not really the 170+ planned for the weekend, and missed out on a chance to try the infamous Hardnot and Wyrnose climbs, but I reckon we’re excused due to all the other hills, weather, punctures, accident, floods and er, hills.
For Want of a Nail
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
The original plan (well the current original plan which was one of many but don’t let that complicate the story) was simple. Me, Sammy and David would be meet Ian and John in Coniston at 0930 and start riding soon after. However, since it was raining (pretty hard) John decided a new jacket was required and Keswick was the place to get it, prompting a change in the start of the ride to Keswick, a place we were due pass through on our ride. Same ride, different start point……..
The background to this is the weekend just passed was supposed to be the pre-lejog, big 2 hard days in a row cycle to ensure that everyone felt what it was like to get up 2 days in a row and cycle.
Driving down, the call came in from Ian ‘John wants to buy a jacket, going to Keswick for it’, ‘Ok, we will just come there and save a bit of time and start the trip there’ we respond. Our response is paraphrased, the real response would have involved word like selfish, unprepared, **** (insert swear word here) etc….. It’s not like rain wasn’t forecast. However, at the time it seemed like an ok plan.
As we drive into Keswick we spot a bike shop and John’s car. Ian’s bike is strapped to the back unsecured, we think about taking it to teach him a lesson but think better of it. Ian’s view of security gets even stranger as he padlocks his carton of milk to the fridge in the youth hostel for fear of theft.
The rest of us troop into the shop and find John trying on various jackets, posing as if he was on a bike to ensure the sleeves are long enough, this is not a quick process but eventually a jacket is settled upon. Everyone then has to take a shot of the shops toilet and we are ready to go. Well nearly, there is a job of driving round Keswick trying to find a non paying parking spot, but eventually we end back in the centre of town at the Pay and Display. Of course no one has any change for it, but luckily you can phone a number and pay by card. Great, but seemingly the computerised system doesn’t do ‘Scottish’ and it’s off to the newsagent to buy a packet of mints to get some change. Nearly there, just the weekly discussion about how many layers to wear, which gloves to use, overshoes or not…. Given that it had been raining for 3 straight days, pretty much meant everything was going to be worn.
We eventually set off about 11:15 and immediately find out that however bad a road is in a car, it’s 10 times worse on a bike. The roads are in a terrible state, flooding everywhere and rocks and scree all over the road. We cycle gingerly, not knowing what’s around the corner. There are no land speed records getting set this weekend.
The 112 mile route we had planned to do has 9 big hills, but although we have the route mapped in Ian and Sammy’s Garmin gps no one is quite sure when the hills are coming. After about 10 miles Sammy thinks there is a hill coming and having put too many layers on, everyone is already sweating and it’s time for some to come off to help us the hill. Suitable ready, off we go. Now what we were expecting was a hill, not a wall that had slightly subsided. This hill was near vertical, the 25% signs suddenly appearing in view, the recrimination of the route owners began. ‘You didn’t say it ramped up so quiclky, ya ****’ ‘Is this one of the big ones’ ‘ How long does it go on for’ are the shouts heard. Nobody knew and quickly no one could speak as everyone used all their energy to keep moving, this hill was tough and it went on for miles. Some decided that weaving all over the road from side to side lessened the gradient, others decided that nearly falling into a ditch at the side of the road was the way to go. However, in the end everyone made it up to the top without stopping. I think it was one of those situations where had one stopped, everyone else would have quickly followed, but no one did, pride forcing everyone onwards. At the top we re-gathered and had a chat about the experience. But not for long, it was cold, jackets back on and then down. Brakes stuck on, this was not an easy descent, windy thin roads with debris everywhere, cramp in your hands as you grip too tightly. But soon we were down and back onto the flat in a group. But not for long.
Onto hill number 2, again no real idea of what to expect, the expression ‘Fail to plan, plan to fail’ comes to mind. This hill is hard but not too hard and has a nicer feel to it, it is semi enjoyable. We come to the top, stop and take in the view and then quickly get going again. This descent is better, smoother roads, wider turns and we bundle down and eventually it bottoms out. However, there are only 4 of us now. Ian is not with us. We remember him putting his jacket on but surely it doesn’t take that long. We look back up the hill to try and spot but it’s a long hill and hard to see in the rain. Eventually a lady in a car stops and tells us that Ian has a puncture. It’s a relief that we know what’s wrong but know that there could be a wait as Ian wont be in the Guinness book of records anytime soon for the fastest time to change a puncture. And then we wait, and wait, it’s getting cold and eventually the decision is taken to start going back up the hill to help. We go about half way back up and find Ian. The puncture has been changed but the valve on tube keeps coming off when getting pumped up. We get Sammy on the job, he is known as the ‘Mavic man’ after the yellow cars that follow the Tour de France to provide mechanical help. After a bit of toing and froing it is fixed and we are on our way. Not for long, we manage another couple of miles and psstt…… Ian’s tyre is down again. This is not going well. Another new inner tube, another check of the tyre, it is pumped up and off we go again, all the way back down to the bottom and ready for hill number 3.
Sammy kicks off first, followed by myself and then the other 3 are a bit slow in getting going. Sammy is setting a good pace but I am keeping him in sight, I check back a couple of times and can see John’s new yellow jacket. All present and correct. As the hill ramps up, you start to concentrate to keep going, a steady rhythm is required. My technique is counting down from 10 to 1, that’s easy, only 10 to do and then start again. I havent looked back in a while but when I do I dont see anyone but there are a few corners so they might be round one of them. I keep going. Eventually I stop just short of the top and decide to wait. Nothing. I eventually phone David and find out the bad news, Ian’s tyre is down again. So I wait and wait. Eventually, Sammy comes down from the top and we decide to roll back down to help and it’s nearly to the bottom. It is again fixed, but this is not a good sign, however there is a bike shop at the top of the hill and we will take it in there. Off we go again, my legs not enjoying the hill the second time around.
We reach the top, where the bike shop and a cafe are situated and Ian goes off to get help. John and I browse the shop and John decided to purchase another set of gloves to supplement the 3 pairs he is already carrying. ‘Super Waterproof’ or so they claim, they need to be. Sammy has replanned our route for the rest of the day, taking in most of the big hills but less of the flat in between. Ian’s tyre has been checked and been given the all clear and we decide to stop for lunch although we barely deserve it. The standard of lunch is reasonable for a forest cafe but the prices resemble a 3 star Michelin place. 2 soups, 1 baguette, 2 cakes and a drink, £20!
Lunch duly eaten, we set off once again. The descent is treacherous, water is pouring off the hills making handling tricky, stones everywhere. We make it to the bottom and guess what? Ian’s tyre is down again. This is turning into a nightmare. We try and work out what to do. One school of thought is a couple of us to go back and get the cars, but the quickest way is back over the hill we came. This is rejected due to the danger. So we decide on fixing Ian’s tyre once again and heading back to the cars a different way involving hill number 2 and hoping for the best. The trip back to car is fairly uneventfull although hill number 2 seems decidedly harder, although not for David who romps up and over in double quick time.
We make it back to Keswick at 17:32 just in time for the bike shop closing. Great! No new tyre. And only 45 miles done.
Quickly, we were locked and loaded and off to the Youth hostel. I think most of us would have preferred the luxury of a B and B and a nice comfy twin room but due to many events in the area, this was all the accomodation we could find. How bad could it be? Well in reality, not too bad at all. We had one room for the five of us, while not exactly Ritz standard was clean and tidy. The showers were hot and the setting was fantastic. Life was ok. Deoderant was sprayed on and we were ready to go out.
On the way out we chatted briefly to a hen party waiting on their lift. It turned out their lift was the hen herself who didnt drink and who would be taking 2 lots of her friends to the village for her night out. Sounds great for the hen!
The nearest town is Ambleside, a lovely spot with may fine restaurants. We decide on the ‘Jade Garden’ for rice and noodles to fuel us for the next day. It turns out to be a perfunctory by the book Chinese restaurant that wont be winning any awards anytime soon. However, the chat is good and everyone has enjoyed it so far even given the mishaps that has happened. It’s all about the journey.
We get back to the Hostel at 22:30 and Ian and David go for a drink as it too early for bed. The rest of hit the hay and dream of a better second day……TBC
The plan – 6 of team DIFD to head down to the Lakes to take on the “Fred Whitton sportive” route on Saturday, an easy 60 on the Sunday. The “Fred” is a tough 112 miles taking in 9 significant climbs, including some of the hardest in the UK with gradients of 25%. The guide to the route uses the words “painfully” and “very, very” an awful lot in front of the word “steep”. So, guess the hills were going to be tricksy… Sunday was to be a recovery day from the significant self-inflicted torture that Saturday was promising to be.
Saturday. 6.45am start. Rain. Lots of it. Mark M had dropped out (needing to get his cycle legs back after his last few weeks of focussing on his marathon training and better guessing the impact of the weather), so 5 of us were heading down in two cars, myself with Big J; Bryan, Sam and David in the other. Gio would be in the same area taking part in a triathalon on Sunday so was going to miss out on today’s fun. Did I mention the rain?
As we got closer to our target (Conniston), John was eyeing the weather from the car, noting how very, very damp the few cyclists we were passing looked and decided that a new waterproof jacket was in order. A quick phone call or two to the other car and a detour to Keswick was made, a bike shop found and John kitted out in new bright yellow Gore jacket. Some swithering over some Gore bib shorts that happened to be a close match for out team kit (decision was we’d come back for them later) and it was back to the cars to find a parking spot somewhere on the Fred route, as the morning was moving on. Seems despite the weather there were a lot of people trying to park.
A brief stop on a quiet lane was rejected as being too close to a river that looked to be already bursting its banks – didn’t want to be paddling back to the cars at the end of the day. More forays along quiet roads, passing through some serious flooding (bow waves and hissing engine from the depth of water) a call was made to just head to Keswick and face the cost of a proper car park. This had its own issues – very little change, so phone based payments attempted (succes for car 1, a jog to the shop for change for car 2 as ‘your network is not compatible with this service’) and we were parked, £7 down each. Waste of cake money…
A quick discussion on gear (long legs, 2 or 3 layers, definately waterproof jackets) and we eventually hit the road on our bikes. First stop, the flood we’d just been through (and back again), with a mix of taking the footpath (still under half a foot of water) or the road (equally flooded), picking our way through the water with care. The ‘train’ moved on, the rain coming down, the spray flying up, the road sodden – water streaming through the ironically named dry-stone walls in various spots, inches of standing water not uncommon, causing us to take to the middle of the road in an attempt to pass on through the shallowest part of the floods.
Nine miles done in half an hour (watery roads not condusive to speed) and we were at the first hill of the day – the climb to Honister Pass. A quick stop to shed our jackets (the rain had abated) and we started the climb, all in the small rings as this one of the “painfully” and “very, very” hills. Dodging to the side for a few cars/ bus we pushed upwards, Sam starting to traverse at the steepest section, David having a wobble and near dismount situation with a ditch. I pushed ahead a little to avoid the traversing (extra time on this hill? no thanks!) and reached the top, 2 mountain bikers watching us from a side path. I clipped one foot out to wait for the others right behind me, only for Sam to call “this isn’t the top, keep going” as he pedalled by me, the false peak a short respite only before more climbing to the real top a bit further on. We regrouped for the descent, as steep as the climb, so hard on the brakes as we headed down, avoiding the gravel and debris washed on to the road by the rain.
Through Buttermere and three miles or so on to Newlands, the second climb of the day. This was ‘easy’, at least compared to the last hill, again everyone climbing roughly together. A brief stop at the top to regroup, warnings to take care on the way down and we were off.
I was last to go, but punctured nearly immediately. I pulled over, the others fast vanishing ahead. I started to change the tube, tyre half off, old tube out, new tube in. A van stopped, asking if I was ok, I was – just tell the guys up ahead I’ve got a flat. Pumped it up. As I unscrewed the pump, the valve started to come out, deflating the tyre. Bah. Rescrewed the valve, pumped it up. Unscrewed the pump. Valve came out again. By this point the others had decided to come kick my ass for wasting their time, getting chilled in the rain. Dissing the pump, a gas canister inflated the tube, and we were off, making our way to Braithwaite. However, we’d barely gone on a mile or two and I’d punctured again (2). This time Sam helped me change the tube (dont want the new guy pinching another tube), pump still de-valving the tube so another gas inflate, and we were again on our way. We were soon at our third climb – Winlatter. A gentler climb this time, but we’d hardly got a few hundred metres before I had puncture number 3. Sam and Bryan were well ahead, but John and David were stopped with me. John took charge of this change, taking the tyre completely off the rim, checking it over carefully and getting me to do the same, David finding the hole in the tube to see if we could find something that was causing these punctures. Nothing. New tube, inflated. Ready to go again, as Bryan and Sam came back down to see what was taking so long. Up the hill we went, nothing too steep, but a fairly long slog. The promised lunch stop would be at the top as well as a chance to get my tyre checked over in the bike shop that was there too. We got to the top with no issues, I took my bike into the shop, the mechanic taking a look at the tyre and tube. His verdict? You’ve been unlucky, can’t see anything wrong, avoid the gravel. So purchased a couple of new tubes from the shop and off to lunch (and cake).
Ah, lunch. Baguettes, soup, coffee, water and cake. Toilet stop. A quick chat to a mountain biker who had four punctures in a day (ridiculous! no-one is that unlucky…) then back out into the rain. Down the hill we went, the wind and rain battering us as we went. As we hit the valley floor, I was again feeling too much road through my bars – flat number four! Unbelievable. Another new tube, exasperation all round and a change of plan. Time was against us (it was nearly 5pm already) so a quick try to get a lift for me and my ailing bike from a couple in a van failing (“sorry, we just live over there”), it was change the tube then a few miles along the valley floor, back over Newlands, to get to the cars. The second time up the climb seemed tougher, particularly as I was watching my front tyre, concerned it was going to go at any moment. David pushed to the front, stretching himself to hit the top first, the rest of us soon there. Me puncture free so far. Down into Braithwaite, turning back to Keswick, the train making great time, the wind now helping us and the roads relatively clear of debris and floods – the ‘best’ bit of the day, a nice fast section for a half dozen miles. Soaked, not as tired as we expected, not even half the mileage we’d planned, we were back at the cars.
We packed up, made a quick stop at the Co-op for supplies and headed off to the Youth Hostel. Hidden behind Ambleside up a serious hill, this YH used to be a mansion. We checked in (here’s your key, bike shed round the back, drying room in the basement), claimed beds in the 3 bunk-bed room, grabbed a shower (or trickle depending on shower cubicle choice) and put our wet gear in the drying room. The bikes were locked in the shed, a quick chat to a hen party (you chose to stay here? for a hen night??) and we piled into Sam’s car to head to Ambleside for a Chinese. Not the best grub, but plenty of it, a beer for David and me, water for everyone else, then back to the YH. A quiet pint (the YH had a small bar in reception) for me and David, everyone else off to bed. We finished our drinks and headed to bed too.
The morning would be bringing better weather (right…) and a second crack at the Fred to finish the hills we skipped. A sort of enjoyable day (some good hills done), nice lunch, bad luck on punctures, rotten weather, ok room, passable dinner and my first sleep on a top bunk in 25 years. Part 2 (Sunday) soon.
I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog recently so decided to throw in a few words about Sunday’s fast run from the Clubhouse. It being Fathers Day we decided to go for an early start but after some discussion agreed 8am was civilised.
The usual four (myself, J, Tubs and Gio) headed off from Gio’s at a couple of minutes past 8 when a shout goes up that Young Dave had just pulled up. A quick about turn and a five minute wait til the wee fella got himself sorted and the train of five was off.
We headed off over the well cycled roads through Kirkie and Kilsyth making good time with an average of just over 19mph due to a slight tailwind. It’s a very strange feeling not to turn up the Takmadoon Road and our nemesis climb, and instead to carry on towards Banknock.
Onwards through Denny and into Stirling where we passed the start of the Trossachs Ton Sportive. As we left Stirling on The Carse road we could see some groups from the Sportive in the distance, heads down. The DIFD Train set of after them.
We passed fewer small groups before realising one group of three had tagged on to the back of our train for the ‘free speed’ a group provides. I got chatting to one of the guys for a few miles and it turned out they were from the registration team of the Sportive so set off last and enjoy doing the route reeling in the slower cyclists all the way round!
Only when we split with the Sportive route did we realise that Young Dave had dropped off the back. We waited a few seconds for him to arrive and headed off up the Kippen Hill towards Fintry, ignoring the signs warning of closed road ahead which wasn’t a great move. I decided to try the hills staying in the big ring at the front so kept a good speed up through the village. When we arrived at the road closed signs it looked ok to proceed as there was Tarmac there just not perfect. Further up even that disappeared and we ended up on the base of the road, which wasn’t doing the wheels and tyres any good. Soon we topped out and enjoyed the decent into Fintry on the uneven surface. Stirling Council take note!
A quick stop in Fintry to take on some food and drink, we discussed the possibility of adding a few miles via Milngavie but decided to head home and enjoy being spoiled! We headed off up The Crow with Tubs and I deciding to try the climb in the big ring whilst J and Gio trying to do a high cadence easy gear climb. The decent into the Lennoxtown was a bit hairy with about a dozen sheep loose on the road making it very stop/start after the car park.
On the road over to Torrance my Garmin battery died meaning I only got 51.8 miles registered rather than the full 56 but we managed to achieve the 19mph average for the full run. A smashing route, I must say. Apologies for the lack of photos!
Garmin output : http://connect.garmin.com/activity/190026982
Solo training for me this weekend – the rest of the team had sorted out a Sunday cycle (most doing a Stirling loop of 50-60-ish miles, Mark M mistakenly signing up for the Trossachs Ton thinking we were all doing it), but I was meeting friends on Sunday, so Saturday was the day for me. The weather was up to expectations – constant drizzle/ rain and driving winds – a fine Scottish June day. I’d planned on just doing a 50-ish ride, heading to Eaglesham and Stewarton and back. So, winter gear on (waterproofs, overshoes), a few treats stuffed in my pockets and I headed off. The first few miles heading out of Glasgow started with a minor mis-hap – my bottle jumped out of its cage on a rough bit of road, though I hadn’t noticed until a car following me gave me a beep, wound the window down and let me know. I headed back to recover it, only to find it had split, spilling all its contents away. A quick stop at a newsagent to grab some lucozade and I was on my way again. However, the lucozade bottle was rattling around in the cage, not very secure. So, a quick stop at Clarkston cycle centre for a new bottle (£4, with a free tube of ‘Zero’ electrolyte tabs) was in order. Bottled up, on my way again, and the rain was coming down, the wind picking up as I made my way through Waterfoot and in to Eaglesham. Luckily for now it was a tail wind, so I forged on, slowly getting wetter as the rain worked its way through the not as waterproof as I thought gear I had on. Undettered by such nonsense as a bit of water (it wasn’t that cold) made my way up to Eaglesham moor, the hill no longer much of a challenge. The wind farm was lost in the drizzle, and had a bit of fun with my glasses steaming up on some of the short climbs. Had to stop a couple of times to de-mist before the fast descents to avoid complete loss of vision, and had a few dicey moments with some aquaplaning on the wetter sections of the road.
I was soon on the A77, hitting the cycle path running parallel to the main road, finding my brakes had lost a fair amount of their effectiveness when I came to a not very quick halt to avoid a Range Rover coming out of a junction. Tempering my speed for the next few miles while I adjusted to the extreme wet braking required, still made reasonable time to the turn to Kilmaurs. The road to this small town passed quickly, but as I turned northwards to Stewarton, discovered that the wind was now right in my face. The wind and driving rain made the next few miles hard work, my speed dropping to below 10mph on some flat sections due to the strength of the wind. Fine training I suppose, but not good for the average. I made my way beyond Stewarton, through Dunlop and on to Lugton, hoping to get a quick refuel at Pat’s Pantry, only to find it shut – no roll & sausage or cakey for me today. Bah.
On to Barrhead, passing the Balgray reservoir and a gentle climb into Newton Mearns, soggy shoes by this point, but not a big issue as the rest of the ride was mostly downhill. Racing buses down Pollockshaws road is always a fun way to end a ride, weaving by queuing cars as I went, knowing a hot shower was not far away. Finally I turned on to Clyde street for the last stretch home – in to the flat, out of the rain, out of the wet gear, most of which needed ringing out over the bath. Wettest rider ever, but strangely fun. At least it wasn’t freezing.
Not a blistering quick run (15.7mph avg), but a good workout and preparation for the inevitable fine British weather we’ll experience on the LEJOG.
Sunday 3rd June. Bryan had headed home after the previous day’s sportive, but John, Sammy and myself had met my brother Dominic in Inverness for dinner, then stayed at a B&B in Contin to allow us to take on the UKs biggest road bike climbing challenge – the Bealach Na Ba.
This ‘road’ is around 630m over a mountain, starting from sea level and hitting 20% gradients with a series of straights and hair-pin bends. On a single track road with tourists a plenty to contend with over a near 90 mile route, the day after a fairly hard 98 miles. It was going to be an interesting day.
We started with a cooked breakfast, not ideal cycling fodder, but enjoyable just the same, then loaded the car and set off for Kinlochewe. We were soon there, having driven down the hill at the start of our route, not looking too bad, but we’d soon get the feel for that part of road on the bike once out of the car. We parked up, stocked up on eats and refilled our bottles and got on the same bit of road we’d just driven in the car.
Up the hill we went, John falling off the back, so Sammy, then myself reached the top, a brief wait for John at the summit and an adjustment of his handlebars before we got on our way again. The road was mostly flat, but the wind was against us making us work hard until Achnasheen where we turned south-westwards. The wind more or less behind us, we started to make more comfortable progress towards Kirkton and Lochcarron. I fell off the back a bit, dawdling on a part of the single track road resulting in me being separated from the others by a car overtaking. We regrouped in Lochcarron itself, a toilet break and bottle fill stop before pressing on up the short hill then down into Ardarroch. I again lost touch with the others on the descent (me no likey-fast downhills), but we regrouped before the main event of the day, the Bealach. Far from being the ‘quiet road with hardly any traffic’ that the ‘best cycle climbs’ book claimed, there seemed to be a steady flow of cars and motorbikes passing us as we took our obligatory photos by the sign at the bottom of the hill.
We set off, John and Sammy putting in an impressive pace upwards, mine more reserved, with a quick stop to adjust my left shoe (I’d loosened it off to relieve my achilles) as a group of motorbikers passed me. The hill rose steadily, being a ‘reasonable’ climb for the first mile or so, but contending with cars overtaking or coming towards you down the single-track road making it a greater challenge.
The toughest part of the climb, just before the hairpins began, I passed by a fellow cyclist, on foot, pushing his bike upwards. Determined not to meet his fate, I worked the pedals hard, ignoring my twinging achilles, focussing on John and Sammy on the ‘flat’ part of road ahead (not at all flat, but compared to the incline I was on, it looked to be blessed relief). This was not made any easier by motorhomes, really too wide to be taking this route, coming down the hill towards me, not stopping at all, putting me in fear of being forced off the narrow road. As I reached the hairpins (“if you’ve got this far, you’ve made it”), ushering following cars by me on the sweeping turns, things again got tricky, cars I’d just been passed by stopping for cars coming downward, offering me little choice but to re-overtake them to avoid stopping (stop and you’ve no chance of getting going again on this kind of hill). A few more hairpins and what felt like a level piece of road (its funny how the steeper parts effect your perception) before the final incline and I made it to the top, about 45 minutes of slog done.
A few photos to be taken, I grabbed a tourist sporting a nice digital SLR to take a photo of all three of us, only to find this chap had an eye infection and could barely see the screen on my tiny compact camera. He did well regardless, the photo of the 3 of us not suffering from his lack of vision.
The chill was setting in quickly, so we set off, the promise of fish and chips in Applecross ahead of us. The descent was as treacherous as the ascent, winding down the hill, oftentimes difficult to see any oncoming traffic, and still cars and motorbikes passing in both directions. We parked up at the Applecross inn, fish & chips ordered in the packed bar, as we slowly warmed up. The food arrived quickly, chatting about the various ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ of the drivers who helped or hindered us in our recent climb of the Bealach as we ate.
All too soon we were off on the road again, the next 45 miles or so starting with around 30-odd miles along the coast road. Sounding quite promising (coast, by the sea, its going to be flat…) but it soon turned into a hellish series of rises and descents with little-to no flat sections in between, the wind forever working against you. Sammy pressed on, seemingly unaffected by the Saturday or todays exertions, whilst myself and John were feeling the miles, John in particular. Our attempts to work as a duo were barely effective, the constant switch from ascent to descent making it hard to draft at all. Eventually John gave the team order “push on yourself, I’m done”, so I set off “to catch Sammy”. Right.
A few miles later I caught up with a lady cyclist just as she crested a hill, chatting briefly with her about how hard this section was “worse than the Bealach” she reckoned. At that moment, I was in agreement. Some of the short hills here were incredibly steep, making them feel not so short as you had to work hard to keep any sort of speed on them, resorting to the lowest gears frequently. There was barely any respite to be had from trying to speed down the slopes in an attempt to take as much momentum as possible up the inevitable next hill. I left her on the next slope, slowly making my way onward. I stopped at a junction, unsure of the way, and John was soon in sight, pointing me the right direction. We climbed a few hills, me making a bit more headway on the upward sections, John catching me on the descents. On one such descent, the poor road surface, speed and a BMW saw John barely avoiding a skid into the oncoming car, both braking hard to prevent the collision. We soon hit the main road, Sammy waiting on us. I barely stopped, the midgies were out in force, homing in on me if I dared to present a stationary target.
Only “a couple more hills” lay between us and the end, so I took the first with Sammy, John falling behind. We took a few turns about, before the descent into Torridon saw Sammy leaving me well behind. I plodded on, taking a brief stop to take some photos (and some cakey-treats of course), seeing John in the distance I turned the camera to capture him toiling along the slow rise of the last miles. The ‘its downhill for the last 6 miles’ turned out to be only the last 3 miles, making each of the preceeding “80s” miles that wasn’t downhill torment. Soon the downhill arrived, rain falling in the distance, so I pushed to get back quickly hoping to avoid any downpour. I arrived at the car, Sammy sat waiting on the tailgate just as the rain began. John was soon with us, and we started to load the bikes, hearty congratulations all round for the days efforts. The rain stopped, the midges out in force, so I sought refuge in the car, as a cloud of the beasts homed in on me, the less ‘tasty’ of the group completing the loading of the bikes, the already in car midges suffering my wrath as I swatted them as they landed to try and bite any exposed skin.
Miles done – 89.4, climbed 2,103m, midgey bites 14+. Itchy.
And for those who’ve travelled the A9 to Inverness and been told of the’soldiers head’ in the rock, but never been able to see it, here is is, in all its ‘not very impressive at all’ glory:
Saturday 2nd June. Aviemore-ish for the Cairngorm Classic sportive. Some wag obviously thought that having an organised 100 mile ride in and around Aviemore could only work if they started from the ski-station car park. Which is at 632 m. On top of a mountain. We arrived in 2 cars, Bryan and Sammy in one, Big J and myself in the other.
First thing we found after parking was that being on top of a mountain in June at 8.30am is decidely chilly. We were in summer gear, not our winter layers. Still, it was bound to warm up, or so we told ourselves as we checked in and picked up our ‘dibbers’ (timer chips you wear on a lanyard round your neck). We returned to the cars, swapped to cycle shoes, blew up my front tyre (the valve flew off, most irritating, needing a new tube), swithered over long sleeves/ leggings then made our way to the start. After accosting another cyclist to take our photo, we moved to the start, dibbed our dibbers and started off for about 7 miles of downhill, the air chilling us as we zoomed down the hill. It was hard not to think at this point that you’ll be slogging back up this same hill at the end, after having cycled for 90+ miles with 5 odd hours in the saddle.
We split as we descended, Sammy vanishing in the distance, John slipping behind, though I could see Bryan just ahead of me. He stopped as the hill was coming to the end, wondering where John had got to, so I pulled over too. A big train of about 2 dozen cyclists whisked by, John yelling “come on” from within. Bryan and I shot off in pursuit, but had no chance of catching them. I think I struggled after the group longer than Bryan, but was soon in a smaller group on the road around Nethy Bridge, which was swallowed up by another, this second group had Bryan in its midst. 2/4 of our team back together as we hit a flatter part of the route. A few miles later, John appeared ahead, slogging it out solo and was absorbed into our train. 3/4. At about 20 miles we started a climb. I’d slipped toward the back of our train, and as we began the ascent the different climbing abilities of the folk to my side became problematic, 2 riders clashing, one coming off in front of me causing me to wobble into the verge to avoid falling on top of him, as he yelled his disgust at the other guy who’d swung accross and clipped his wheels. As a result of my near stop, I’d fallen off the back of the train, now a good hundred yards further up the hill. I struggled to regain the back of the pack, pushing hard to try and catch them, but working solo was hard going. I finally caught them, slotted in at the back, tired from the chase, just as we hit a steep hill. Not having any time to recover, I was soon adrift on the climb, and as the road split (50 milers left, us 100 milers to the right) I was again a good 100 yards behind on a slight incline. It was no use trying again to catch them, but I tried for a mile or two to regain the group before giving up. The next dozen or so miles I spent working my way along the route solo, hoping for a train to come by, but with no luck. The occasional fellow solo rider or duo would appear ahead of me, but few if anyone came by me.
I soon hit a feed station, and being on my own, stopped to grab a few cakes, hoping that I could pick up a group, but most other folk arriving were in ones or two’s. I set off after a minute or two, slogging on, sighting an orange top in the distance as a target. As I approached him, another rider slowly worked by me, so I tagged on his tail. He moved out immediately, looking back at me unhappily, so I backed off and let him go on. Odd fellow. Shortly after, a group of half a dozen Dunfermline CC started to overhaul me, so I asked if I could join, which they were happy to allow. Two of their group were around my level, the others either tired or less able when it came to the short climbs, so I put in my fair share at the front and we made good progress once I’d worked out their odd system (starting at the back they’d move to the front, overtaking the train on the outside before settling on the front, soon followed by the man behind). There was little chit chat, but a good atmosphere between them, and we worked together for a dozen or so miles until we hit the next feed station at around the 60 mile mark. Here the others were waiting (20 minutes it seemed), I thanked my temporary team-mates for the previous miles, and quickly grabbed a few bits of millionaire shortbread and a banana before we set off as 4/4 Team DIFD. We worked as a team up the hilly section that followed, pushing hard into the wind, on the drops to avoid as much wind as we could. We were making good time, overtaking many solo or duo riders as we went, the only event of note was my chain deciding to jump off as we piled down a hill which was soon sorted.
Just after Boat of Garten a “10 miles to go” sign signalled that we’d soon be on the final stretch (uphill all the way, joy), and the DIFD train had picked up a couple of extras. One kept with us as the route began to slope upwards, taking his turn at the front (but pushing a bit too hard) as we slogged on. As the hill began proper, I was done, my earlier efforts trying to catch trains and solo-ing so many miles taking their toll, so I told the rest to go on. I could see them working their way by a few struggling folk as I followed slowly, still overtaking a few other cyclists myself as I went, with the occasional person walking up the hill. As I crested the first rise, took a quick cakey break (been carrying all that food, may as well eat it before I finished) andgrabbed a few quick photos before zooming up the last few bits of hill (cake power!).
Overall, a hard but fun ride, 17.6mph average, around 5:35 hours to do the 98.2 miles for me (the others around 20 minutes quicker).
The Sunday outing – emails had been flowing during the week discussing a coast to coast in late June, which then turned into debate over a Lakes ride instead and ended with the decision of doing a “Fred” (named after Fred Whitton, turns out this is a 112 miles ride of 9 peaks, some hitting 15%+ – no easy feat). The end of this email exchange also sorted Sunday’s training ride, a plan to take in the Dukes pass run with an extra 50-odd mile extension via Crieff, for a 120+ run. This time there was the promise of a lunch stop.
As this was going to be a long run, and the lunch stop was going to be timed to meet non-cycling family, needed to be up at silly o’clock for Big J picking me up at 7am for the start at 7:30 from the ‘club house’ (Gio’s place). We started as a 4 man group – Bryan, Gio, John and myself, with Gio intending to join us for the first 40 miles or so. The first 20-odd miles flew along, even with the wind against us we were easily topping 18mph average as we hit Aberfoyle and the climb up the Dukes pass.
We rode up as a group, with only the last section splitting us slightly, Bryan dropping back a short distance. I barely had time to take a few snaps before he was with us, “I’m not a climber” as he pulled alongside. The descent went without incident, the only traffic a bus toiling upwards, giving us plenty of room as we streamed by.
Just after the 40 mile mark, a quick stop for farewells to Gio, as he turned toward Callander and home, the three of us continuing onwards to Strathyre. The road rolled for the next several miles, the sun growing stronger and the shadows it was casting through the trees making it hard to distinguish potholes from leaf patterns adding in the occasional clunk and jolt to the ride. John took the pace, holding us steady for a long stint, switching back to turn-about as we passed by the glassy calm of Loch Lubnaig, the shores dotted with folk enjoying the early sun. We were making good time, enjoying the excellent weather and were soon turning along the A85 at Loch Earn, passing campers and day-trippers scattered along its edge, with barely a hill to be seen. The nice level tarmac saw us to Comrie (home to a fine golf course) and it was only another 10 or so miles to Crieff and a welcome stop at Yann’s.
We sprawled on the grass or at the table and were served coke and iced water by the friendly staff while waiting for Bryan and John’s other halves, enjoying the sunshine and break from pedalling. They soon arrived, and we sat down for a fine lunch – not quite a cake stop, but just as good: onion soup with a cheese topping followed by rump of lamb with minted-peas and chips for me, others partook of mushroom soup, black pudding salad, Arbroath smokies with mains of La Potee (Toulouse sausage & ham broth), fish pie and eggs Benedict; the kids tucking in to fish gujons, lasagne and chips. The only slight downers to this fine feast were the grumpy folk at the next table over-reacting to the excited children, and having to pass on dessert from being stuffed.
Bottles refilled, we said our goodbyes to the families, and hit the road for the remaining miles. A steady climb taking us through Muthill, then down to Braco and to Dunblane before turning off to Doune. Here we made a short stop to grab some energy drinks, the chilled water in our bottles (well, mine and Bryans were iced by the folk at Yann’s, John had refilled from the tap) already warm. The temperature in the small square was hitting 33-34°C according to my Garmin, as I tapped in our target of Kippen into its GPS, getting us on our way to Thornhill and the hill beyond. We rode up the first section together, John and I pushed on a little harder on the next steep section, but by the summit we were all together again for the descent down into Fintry and the Crow Road hill.
We trundled along the flat section, John announced himself ‘done’ but as soon as the climb came into view, he forged by me. My ‘thought you were done?’ was replied to with a ‘last throw of the dice!’ as he stood on the pedals into the corner and pulled away. I stuck to my pace, sat on the saddle, feeling ok considering the 110 miles we’d now completed and just kept turning the cranks. John was still in sight, standing at every turn, but I was beginning to reel him in. Feeling a bit short of energy (the lamb and magic minted-peas wearing off!) I struggled with my pack of Zip-vit sweets, trying to pry the now sticky, half melted goodness out of the bag while maintaining my momentum. Eventually got one out, chewed it down, and returned to focussing on John’s back wheel in the near distance. After a few more minutes I was in touch, with not far to go to the summit. “Where’s Tubs?” he asked, “not sure” I replied, and we moved on together. We stopped at the top, Bryan soon appearing, and we waved him on, then followed for the ride down into Lennoxtown.
I missed my clips as I started off, the others were fast vanishing as I finally got my left shoe in, so I was playing catch up down the hill. Pushing hard, I glanced down at my Garmin, to see it reading 45mph (!) scaring myself a bit, so eased off as I passed the car park and the turn. The wind soon put paid to any speed I was carrying, and I could see John and Bryan ahead, folded over the bikes as they disappeared from my view round a bend. I caught them at the bottom, waiting for me at the turn. John lead us for the next section, but as I swapped to the front, I offered to take a longer stint, to which there was no dissent. Strangely still feeling strong, I pushed on, the others hanging on to my wheel for a change. Stopping only for lights and junctions, Bryan asking if I’d been on “the EPO”?, “nope, just feeling ok” as we completed the final miles back to Gio’s to pick up the cars. The only momentary struggle on the final short hill before home, I was well pleased to have been able to return the favour of many a ‘carry’ for the last miles of an outing! A sterling ride by us all, 127 miles done, a proper “LEJOG” distance completed in around 7 hours, average 17.6mph.
Sunday saw a return of the “team Sunday cycle”, agreed on Friday evening at the Race Night to be 8.30 starting from Big J’s place. In the end only three of us could make it, so John, Sammy and myself decided on a ‘to Largs and then see how we’re feeling’ outing. The weather was looking promising, and saw 2/3 riders in shorts from the outset. We set off at a steady pace, slipping easily along the roads in our trio-train, with only a small detour due to a closed road near Bishopton altering our route from the norm.
The first incline of the day the up-and-over to Kilmacolm I stuck to John’s wheel, to see if the last few months of training had paid off, and I could now keep up with the “Monsters”. It seems I’ve been doing something right, as we hit the top with me still close on his tail, but Sammy seemed to have dropped back. I took the opportunity to shed my leggings as the sun was making itself felt, while we waited the few moments for Sammy to reach us with a “I’m pacing myself” (this was to be a sign of his experience over mine as you’ll soon see). We forged on down into the village, then out onto the country roads to the next climb into Greenock, with a brief stop to sort a rattling bottle cage on Sammy’s bike. The three of us topped the hill together, then hit the drops for the fast run down into Greenock itself. I hit my personal best top speed on this section, 41.4 mph, so the day was looking good. The road out of Greenock climbs up the Old Largs Road, and soon has a very steep section which used to fill me with dread and required use of the Sharpova technique. But not today, I took it again closely on John’s heels, wise Sammy again taking it at his own pace. A brief halt at the top to chow down a banana, we regrouped and started on the rolling roads before the descent proper, with an increase in the normally traffic-free route due to the main road being closed nearby. This caused us a few minor slow-downs as we pulled in to passing places to allow cars to get by.
We soon made Largs, for a toilet break and a few quick photos. My appeals for a cake stop denied (! don’t these guys understand the Majorca way of cycle training? they’d be telling me next no lunch stop for a beer n cakes…), we made our way to the next big hill of the morning, the Hairy Brae. We headed up in group, me taking a few snaps at the hairpin (Majorca one-handed ascent & camera handling techniques applied) and the climb was soon over. We passed a fellow cyclist near the top, the same chap we’d seen and left behind on the Old Largs Road, his confusion as to how he’d overtook us explained by a ‘toilet stop in Largs’ as I puffed by.
Everyone was feeling fit, so the “normal” Largs loop back home direct to Lochwinnoch was to be extended – extra mileage taking the form of a loop to Dalry then Stewarton, Dunlop and Lugton. At this point, my Garmin started to misbehave as we swept downhill to Dalry, reading 5mph as we belted downhill. I pulled over to restart it in the hope this fixed things, with Sammy suggesting I kill off the cadence/speed sensor which could be askew from the various bumps and potholes of the day. A second stop after a restart and this advice was followed, so there may be some oddities in my Garmin output for the day. This was the least of my worries, as around the 50 mile mark I was starting to suffer from my ambitious climbs earlier in the day. With no cake stop to off-set my energy sapping exertions, I was beginning to struggle to keep up with Sammy and John. I began to eat everything in my pockets and feed bag, sloshing down snack bars with my lucozade, but was still having a tough time keeping the pace on the inclines. I dropped back as we approached Auchentiber, one short climb resulting in me losing touch with the others. A mile or two on they waited for me. “Its definately cake o’clock now!” I cried, but to no avail, an energy gel my only solace as we moved on towards Stewarton. I was familiar with parts of this route, having done a 45 mile loop this way a few weeks ago. As we approached Lugton, my spirits were lifted – “there’s a place that does a mean roll and sausage near here!” but sadly we turned away from the chance of some greasy sustenance on the Neilston road, instead heading the other direction, on toward Beith.
I had no choice but to soldier on, Lochwinnoch and the hill up to Carruthmuir I was back to solo-ing, the others able to sustain the pace of the day, while my lack of cake was taking its toll. I was forced to eat the last of my “goodies”, a less than appealing pineapple and toe-clippings flavour Torq bar that I’d been avoiding for weeks, in the hope its meagre calories would boost me for the last dozen miles home. S&J awaited me at the turn-off to Bridge of Weir, no cake-stop to be had, but a promise of ‘cake when we are done’. We set off together on the mostly flat, remaining section of the ride. The Houston Road of last weekend, a tail-wind paradise was this week a slog, clinging to the back of the group after my turn at the front had me crying ‘no more!’, the others graciously letting me draft them the remaining miles home. Losing touch for the last half mile, I rounded the final corner a few minutes shy of the others, but good on his word, John produced a few cakes which were quickly dispatched. Not quite the day I’d envisaged, but still a good 92 miles (86 or so for the others missing out on my cycle from Glasgow to Renfrew) on a fine sunny and dry day.
After this proper (if a bit late) cake stop, I declined Sammy’s offer of a lift home, the 6.5 miles would see me close to the 100. I set off at an easy pace, hitting home without incident, but still 1.5 miles short of the hundred. A quick loop of the Green and the Garmin pinged out the 100 mile ‘lap’, and so ended my second century cycle. A decent average too, assuming the oddities of the Garmin after Largs didn’t mess up things – 16.9mph average. No injuries, no mechanical breakdowns, just need to work out how to carry and eat cake on the move…
just a quick post to express our thanks to everyone who helped to plan, organise & run the Race Night last night, donated & collected prizes, sold races, made sandwiches, cakes and all the other loverly grub, the volunteers and helpers at St. Brides who made us so welcome, and of course all the folk who came along and were so generous with their donations to our charities. Together we raised over £3,000 on the night (we’re still counting the last few pounds coming in!), which with the donations we’ve seen already, puts us well over the half way mark of our target £10k by the end of the LEJOG. I hope everyone had a good time!
This night was such a boost, helping us towards our goal of helping those with epilepsy and brain tumours in memory of Dee. It will spur us all on in our training.
Dee would be so embarrassed at all this “fuss”, but quietly proud of what we’ve achieved so far. Thank you all so much.
Long weekend, so what better to do than a few miles on the bike?
Friday. I’d checked the weather, and unusually there was to be a NE wind on the Friday, so a trip to Castle Douglas on the bike would see me getting the wind on my back most of the way, a nice 88 mile ‘warm-up’ for the Drumlanrig Challenge (62 miler) the following day and a chance to spend a few days at my Mum’s. I set out around 10.30, as little weight in my rucksack as I could get away with, and with an easy pace in mind. First target, Eaglesham, and the moor road – a bit of a hill, but it looked to be nice tarmac and low on traffic on Google streetview, so a fair compromise. And of course, the pay off from going up hill, is the descent. When I actually arrived in Eaglesham, which was uphill all the way, found that the initial ascent to the moor road was a bit nastier than I expected, but dug in, stood up and got up without any problem, except for a bloke in a camper van messing around slowing/ speeding up then trying to park right in front of me. The road passes a nice wind farm and has a few boy racers, but the single track road has a cycle lane most of the way, so there was plenty of room for me. The descent soon began, and hitting 30+mph was easy, slightly regretting still having my winter Gatorskin tyres on, their higher resistance slowing me a bit. The B-road ended at the A77, now quiet due to the nearby M77, and downhill most of the section I was taking, allowing me to easily maintain 20+ speeds.
I turned off towards Waterside and Moscow (yup, there’s a Moscow in Ayrshire) then on to Galston, where my el cheapo B-twin bottle holder rattled loose, the metal prongs working free of their plastic mounts – no chance of a fix, so I tossed it and put the water bottle in my ruckack. Not ideal.
I coninued along the 716 until it reached the A76 and my big mistake. I’d not checked this part of the route out, and it turned out to be a very busy road, with a disproportionate amount of bad drivers towing caravans intent on wiping me out. The closest near-miss I was virtually brushing up against the guys caravan! Still, the fear of being splattered kept my average up. Just beyond Cumnock I escaped the 76 onto more bike friendly B-road, low on traffic, but big on hills.
Throw in a bit of ‘road closed’ fun (duly ignored by pedalling me, gate across the road easily climbed and bike dragged over) and poor tarmac on some of the descents (bone shaking) and I was soon at Dalmellington and decided to take a short break for some eats.
The local shop didn’t have much choice, so a chicken wrap it had to be, a Twix for a bit of a calorie boost, washed down with the juice from my bottle and then I was on my way again. The climb out of this small town lead on to the A713, a road I’ve driven in the car a few times without realising how much of it was uphill nor how bad some of the surface is for cycling. Still, there was a welcome distraction from these issues from a load of Dutch rally drivers – all in Minis, some classic, some the modern version, all zipping by me, many appearing to be lost or taking circular routes and passing by me several times. It wasn’t long before I’d passed Carsphairn and the end of any significant uphill sections, but still 20 miles or so to go. The wind wasn’t being as helpful as I hoped, not that strong, but at least it wasn’t in my face for any significant time.
I could see Loch Ken ahead, so knew I hadn’t far to go, but took a quick break to refuel and stretch my back – carrying a rucksack messes with your stance on the bike a bit, so I was getting some stiffness which I kneaded out with my knuckles. Refreshed, I carried on, noticing my average was still over 16mph, so determined to keep it there and to get to Mum’s for 5pm, dug in for the last few miles. I was soon on the familiar roads of Castle Douglas, then on to the back roads to Gelston, the end in sight and pulled up bang on 5pm. 88 miles in the bag, not feeling too worn out and looking forward to the Drumlanrig the next day.
Saturday. I’d knocked the idea of cycling to Drumlanrig on the head – 34 extra miles each way was going to push things a bit far, particularly if the sportive was going to be ‘speedy’, and I didn’t really fancy a 5am start. So, I borrowd me Ma’s car and drove it. Just as I was approaching the Castle turn off, my phone buzzed away in my pocket – the others wondering where I was. I was nearly there, so left it until I was parked. A quick phone to David established they were in the queue for their numbers, so I headed over to the tent to meet them, watching the earlier starters head off. I spotted David and Bryan, our team kit easily picked out from the crowd, just getting the numbers as I approached. A few quick hellos and we returned to cars, attached our numbers, swithered about gloves and overshoes, then moved to the start via the ‘facilities’.
We got going, turning easily down a gentle hill away from the start line with our group stringing out as we went. It wasn’t long before a few words between Bryan and myself resulted in us pushing forward to the lead cyclists of our group, as they appeared to be a bit more organised and taking advantage of slip-streaming. We tagged on the back as we started to climb upwards, and the first serious hill appeared ahead of us. Clunking down to the small chain and standing up, we were packed a bit too close for comfort and it was a nervous ascent. One unfortunate rider just ahead of me skidded his back wheel, hit a pothole coming to a dead stop, ending with him toppling sideways with a groan as he was unable to do anything to stay upright. A quick ‘are you ok?’ from David and myself (Bryan had avoided the melee by surging ahead) with a resigned ‘yeah’ (poor guy would have to walk it up due to the gradient preventing restarting) and we forged on. The top reached, the descent was as bad – potholes, gravel and narrow, twisting roadway to contend with saw me sitting on the brakes all the way down, though one rider (fearless or stupid?) zoomed by us, less concerned with the road condition than us.
We continued, climbing through Craigdarroch with Lynne (I think) from Ayr CC making our group into a four, swapping conversation and our places in the road as we went. The route became a long sweeping descent, I tucked in behind our Ayr buddy to follow her lines round the bends, guessing she’d know what she was at (she did), helping me to keep a solid pace down in to Glenhoul.
We were passing a few folk, rarely were we overtaken until a shout of ‘on your right’ from behind and a swarm of Johnstone Wheelers overhauled us – the cry to tag on the back went up and we dug in to maintain their pace, with a dozen or more other riders who had taken the same initiative.
Our average began to shoot up, the train making it easy to keep the cranks turning, but forcing extra effort after any sharp bends – the slow in, fast out of the train requiring a burn each time – or on anything but a short incline to keep up with the trains momentum. I missed the ‘bump’ behind between David and another rider, so escaped any incident of note in the train, but once we turned off the A702 and hit a proper hill, the train began to out-pace my “done 88 miles yesterday” legs and I, along with many other of the ‘carried’ riders dropped off. David seemed to waver between digging in to keep up, or holding back to wait on me, in the end choosing the latter, giving me a target to work toward as he slowed and chatted to a fellow rider as the climb levelled off. I soon caught up, and the route headed downhill, offering some respite from the recent climb. This was short lived, another hill to tackle before a longer descent and levelling off. It wasn’t long before a cake stop came into sight, and Bryan had stopped to wait on us, about 15 miles from the end. I dove in to the jam and cream scones, a few egg sandwiches and grabbed a flapjack and a banana as Bryan had spotted a group approaching to tag on to. By the time I’d got back on board, David and I were playing catch up, each time we seemed to be nearly about to make contact, a hill or junction foiled us. A final hill (or so it seemed) with 4 miles to go and the group had out-paced us, so we settled in to the climb, over taking some tired riders as we went along. A bit of 2 man train saw us pass a few more folk, before the end was in sight – a slightly mean of them uphill section to the line, where a beaming Bryan snapped us as we crossed the line, happy with his 18mph average, and we too pleased to have completed the route without too much trouble in a solid 16.4mph average.
And then on to cake! Well, sandwiches then cake. I stowed my bike, swapped my shoes, said “Hi” to Lynne (parked directly behind me, refilling her bottles) and wished her luck with the extra 38 miles she was off to complete, then met the others at the food tent. A variety of stuff was on offer, with a friendly ‘take as many as you want’ from the volunteers pulling out extra tubs of grub to replace any getting low. We chatted to the Wheelers and thanked them for the tow, and to a few other folk we’d met on the route. Cake was consumed (millionaire shortbread, marble cake, flapjacks, and various other goodies of unknown name), then we parted ways, 3 happy LEJOGers having completed a fine event, vowing to return next year.
Oh, and my plan to cycle home on Sunday? It went a bit awry – my phone was out of battery, and a solo run with no way of calling in help if anything were to happen on some of the back roads resulted in me sat on train. Not quite the memory of Largs, as this time the carriage with the bike store was full of stag party drunks, so I and a few fellow sober passengers ended up dodging their shoe slinging antics and tutting quietly to ourselves at their general misbehaviour until they had the good grace to get off the train, to the reflief of all. Made up for this non-cycle by doing a 45 miler (16.8 avg) on Monday morning, avoiding the worst of the rain to give me a nice tally of 195 miles for the long weekend.
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.
So. Last Sunday Sammy and myself did the “Wrynose or Bust” sportive starting in Lancaster and heading into the Lake District. The big chap said that he would write it up. As Diana Ross says, “I’m still waiting”.
Therefore, it’s up to me to do the work. WHich should not be an issue as I surely was ‘invited’ to do much of the work last weekend. Hence the title – in the first 90 miles, the Sam was ahead of me for about 5 of those miles. Do the math for the rest.
Anyway. A 112 mile route with 20+ mph winds forecast (gusting to 40 mph) and serious rain forecast for much of the day. Pretty daunting.
On the Saturday, we did a recce of some of the course. The weather was awesome. Surely the forecast was wrong? The recce showed some tough hills, with some steep gradients. However, Wrynose itself did not look to bad (easy said from the comfort of the car). Easy or not, there was not doubt that we were tackling the hill from the not-hard direction. The descent would be brutal with 30% gradient and twisty turns on a road that “wasn’t great” (so say the locals. Compared to a lot of what we ride up here, the roads were joyful). In truth, we were both disappointed. Wrynose is one of the climbs from the previously mentioned “100 Greatest Climbs” – but not this way round. Anyway, it ensures that we will have to return.
So Saturday involved a large pasta lunch before heading to Lancaster and our hotel. The hotel looked smashing on the website. When we got to Lancaster we went twice round the block and missed the brilliant white exterior of the hotel. On the third lap we spotted a rather less brilliant white and realised this was indeed the place. Photoshop is a wonderful application is it not? That said, the hotel was fine.
And so to dinner. A half pasta starter (same size as a full pasta just about) followed by a bowl of pasta. And to large pizza shaped garlic breads. Carbed up and then some (young Tubs aka Novak will be reading this and will be aghast about the ingestion of bread).
Up in the morning at 5 am. Not a bad sleep, with only two rude awakenings from Sammy’s turbo-charged snoring – he’s defo getting better. As the belly gets smaller, so too do the snores it seems. The lovely fruit-laden muesli filled the bellies (which were already full of the pasta that was finished about 25 minutes earlier it seemed). Showtime.
The race started at the Halton Army training camp in Lancaster. We entered the site and about 500 direction arrows directed us round to the completely obvious car park. This was the best signposted quarter mile in the history of signposted routes – which would prove ironic.
Not long after 6.30 we were on the way. I pushed on followed by Sam (‘get used to it Johnny boy’ was not something he uttered, but it would have been appropriate). We hit the first hill after a quarter of a mile and passed a few riders. The truth is that we were hoping to pick up a group to share the work load a little. However, the pace of these riders was too slow for comfort. At the top of the ride though, we noticed a chap had tagged on the back. A nice chap (Mark) and we got working together. 3 beats 2.
After a few miles, 3 riders went past at a good lick – “I know those shirts – the Glasgow Nightingales”. Sam seemed reluctant to follow them, worrying the pace was too tidy. I urged him on and of course the pace was just fine – 6 beats 3, especially when they seemed happy to take more than their share on the front.
Not long after we hooked up with the chaps, Sam was caught in discussion with one of the nightingales. The word got round. The turn at the mini-roundabout, with the poorly positioned sign (remember Halton?) now had the GPS (the good old 800 version with maps that Sam and now Ian own) was telling us that we were off course. So we turned back. And met another bunch of riders. And turned back again. And rode till we came to a junction. With no sign. And turned back again.
Yes, our 112 mile sportive was now destined to be a 120 mile sportive. However, the good thing was that we now had a good going group. The peleton was on. The nightingale boys picked anther route but we joined them after a few miles in our group, which was marshalled by a beast of a boy on a mountain bike who was knocking out a really tidy rhythm.
Now that wind. The early parts of the course were hard going, but once we got into the group you really didn’t notice the effect so much. This was a really enjoyable stage of the ride and the miles flew by. Me and one of the nightingales seemed to do a fair amount on the front. At one stage, the nightingale looked around for a bit of help. “On you go Sam”, I said. “There’s no point wasting energy” said the bold one. So again, I went on the front.
The big climb at Grizedale (I think) put paid to the large group. I was climbing really well here. Eventually, one of the nightingales came up and we chatted a bit. He was a fair one for getting up on the pedals I had noticed earlier. Because he wanted to or he had to? Answer – he wanted to. This guy was clearly class, and was holding loads back waiting for the other 2 who weren’t quite as nippy.
A fast descent, another couple of climbs and we regrouped at the first feed station (cracking chicken and stuffing sandwiches). Sam came in and we decided to wait for the nightingales. Our earlier friend Mark was skulking around, looking like he’d rather not hook up again – the hills had caught him out a bit. Waiting for the nightingales wasn’t the greatest idea as we separated from them pretty sharpish (yes, more hills). However, we would meet up with them at various other parts of the route.
On we battered, seeing some familiar faces from the earlier group. The miles ticked by, the hills rose and fell, and the wind really began to blow until eventually we were in the valley looking to the distance and Wrynose Pass – the easy way. Not today, my friend. In the valley, Sam and I worked together, taking very short bursts at the front. The road was flat here and we couldn’t get to 10 mph. And we were overtaling everyone on route. The wind was now hellish. Hopefully, the slope of the hill would prove some respite from the wind, or getting up without pushing would look to be an impossibility.
And so we go to the base of the hill – and the slope proved to be no respite. This was hell. I was up on the pedals and turning them sooo slowly. Please let me get up here without coming off. I looked round for Sam. He was still there and suffering as much as me. “One more turn, one more turn, one more turn”. I looked up and realised it was too far, too windy, too steep, too hard. If I was Ian I would be giving it full volume Sharapova grunting now. But I gave it an inner “aaarrrrggghhh!!!!” and fought on – and made it. The summit! Oh Lord in Heaven, thank you so much. This was a real sense of achievement. Next time I’m struggling, it’s going to be the go too place in the memory banks – the day I stepped into the hurt locker.
Now the descent. Absolutely daunting. The roads are narrow and the occasional car would come up the hill. It’s hard work gripping the bike so tense (I know I shouldn’t) and braking as much. However, down we go, meeting up with the lead nightingale again, for the last time (they DNF’d – don’t know why). After some remonstrations with some mad old lady in a car, trying to pass where there was absolutely no room, we ventured away from Wrynose in agroup of 5 that became 4 then 3 then me and Sam. Alone again (naturally). After a while we reached the 2nd and last food stop. Here we put on our jackets. I wasn’t going to, but decided to at the last minute – just as well. We hooked up with another chap here (the 90 mile mark) and would stay with him until the end). “At this point I asked Sam, have you enjoyed it so far”? “Yes, it’s been tough but great” he said. And till that point I would have agreed wholeheartedly.
The rain now came belting down and I took several miles trying to retrieve my thicker gloves to wear. Signs looking ominous with the cold hands. I only got one of the gloves out (the other would make an appearance at the end of the ride). Sam was now looking very strong. To the point that he took an extended turn at the front. In truth, that turn lasted about 20 miles. I was the 3rd man in the group and staying there. Although my legs felt pretty good, it was tough keeping up and my hands were feeling very strange in a “is this frost-bite” kind of way. Soon enough, I couldn’t really change gears and braking was torture. The rain just kept belting down and this was serious work. Let’s just get home now.
Eventually, we made it (although Sam missed the most obvious sign in the race, especially with a bunch of riders heading up the route). Back to the training camp, into the showers for the agony and ecstasy as the warm water got to work on the hands and the rest of the freezing body, but mainly the hands. A bit of hotpot and into the car and back up the road, convinced that Sam’s bike was going to blow off the roof – it was doing some serious wobbling). Of course, once we hit Scotland, the wind had abated and the rain gone. All just a dream perhaps?
in Retrospect? A belter of a route with 2500m of climbing. Average of 15.4 mph, which was commendable in the conditions. The conditions? What doesn’t break you can only make you stronger. It’s all good.
Final verdict. Awesome. We’ll be back – probably. Although, the Fred Whitton (Wrynose or Bust’s “Big Brother”) is definitely going in the diary next year. Next stop Etape Caledonia. Bring it on. All right Sam, you can come out now. It’s all over.
I’d checked out the weather report for the weekend, and Sunday was looking a tad windy, Saturday dry and sunny, so my plan was to get a decent ride done then rather than playing with the wind on Sunday. This also worked out better with my non-cycling activities, as I was playing catch up with folk I’d not seen in a while on Saturday night/ Sunday. I’d met Mark M for a few drinks at the Stand comedy club on Friday night, and he and his pal Mark D were up for “a few hours” on the bike on Saturday morning. The plan was set – meet at the corner of Byres Rd and Queen Margaret Drive at around 9.30 and we’d hit the road for a few hours.
Saturday morning came, and a text from Mark M that he “wasn’t going to be any use ’til midday”. I replied I’d head out anyway to meet Mark D, then got a follow up that as he was now up (turns out another friend had phoned with good news, so any chance of him getting back to sleep went out the window) so he may as well come out. I arrived at the rendezvous round about the 9.30 mark, but no sign of either Mark. No worries, it was a bit chilly, but the sun was out, so I just kicked back and watched the traffic go by, checking out the occasional passing bike and roof-down convertible (the sun is out, get that roof down!). Mark M phoned soon after, “give me 10 minutes”, but no sign/ call from Mark D. So it turned out to be a 2 man outing, and Mark unsure of a throat/ chest infection brewing, we decided on a 40-50-ish miler. We set off up Great Western Road, through Annniesland and made our way on to Dumbarton, through Renton and on to Balloch, taking it easy and chatting as we turned the cranks. As we left Balloch, we turned on to proper country roads, not the smooth tarmac of our week in Majorca, but a mix of reasonable condition surface with the occasional pothole or two to keep us on our toes.
A minor ‘bump’ of 80m or so lead in to a few miles of quiet rolling roads, for the most part allowing us to cycle side by side and keep the conversation going, occasionally switching to single file when any vehicles (or a couple of horses) came into view.
Eventually we passed through Croftamie, and a sort of proper climb began, 180m or so over the next few miles of hilly road, which Mark intended to use for some speed work – standing up on the pedals and working hard to put in a burst of effort up each rise, back on the saddle as it levelled out (or if we were lucky, a short downhill). For the most part, I worked to keep up, but on some of the longer sections, I was left behind, catching up as Mark eased off.
A solid workout, rewarded with a short break at the Carbeth Inn for a coffee/hot chocolate and the chance to get some warmth back in the fingers. We stayed long enough to finish our drinks, then got back on the bikes for a nice roll down the hill to Bearsden, nipping through the woods between Maryhill and the Switchback roads. A few short miles through some of my old running routes from when I was a West End dweller and we were at the Botanics, where we said our goodbyes and headed to our respective homes.
A solid ride, not a particularly great average, but a good mix of easy cycling and speedwork done. As it was a bit shy of my planned mileage for the weekend, I did a wee cheeky 20 on Sunday to top things up, having missed out on a Duke’s run with Gio and Bryan as I was staying overnight with friends.
Definitely ready for the Drumlanrig Tearfund Challenge sportive next weekend, though I’m planning an extra 80-ish miles either side of that to mix a visit to my Mum’s (near Castle Douglas) with the sportive.
The French Riviera, a place I first visited over 20 years ago during an Inter-railing holiday with John. After spending most of our 3 weeks in a 2 man tent in camp-sites on the edge of major cities we hit some accommodation good fortune. Luckily for us, but perhaps not for the family, Carol (John’s girlfriend now wife) was working as an au-pair in Eze, a hilltop town just along the road from Nice. The family kindly let John and I stay for a couple of days and we experienced a different side of life. Real food, not just rottisseire chicken that we have been surviving on up until that point and having a private swimming pool at our disposal. That was the life. The downside to this was of course, me becoming a goosberry. I had met Stephanie (my girfriend and future wife) earlier that year and we hadn’t spend much time apart. Before, we left for interailing Stephanie had been in Egypt for 3 weeks and apart from a brief passing moment in London as our holidays overlapped we were going to be apart for 6 weeks. So, at night I would retreat with my Sony Walkman and the mix tape Stephanie had given me but I could never get passed track 3 Spandau Ballet’s ‘Through the Barricades’…..
You might ask, what has this got to do with cycling? Well, I am back in Nice this week on a holiday and with most plans these days, there has got to be some sort of cycling interest in there. With my optimism around Lejog varying from day to day, a week of eating pizza and baguettes was never going to increase that significantly so a cycle was put into the mix to keep the fitness up. The Nice area is quite popular with professional cyclists due to the favourable climate and the access to some great mountains as Nice is at the end of the Maritime-Alpes. This was where Lance Armstrong made his winter base for a number of years and specifically tested himself on a mountain by the name of the ‘Col de Madone’. He felt this mountain gave him a good test and he was always knew where he stood in terms of fitness by how he performed there. 32 minutes was his record. This mountain also became the name of TREK manufactures who sponsor Lance Armstrong range of road bikes.
With this is mind I organised a trip and bike hire with a local company specializing in tours of the area, all booked through the internet and e-mail. http://www.cyclecotedazur.com/ The company is run by a former Commonwealth games cyclist and since I didn’t know the area it would keep me from getting lost. This would also keep Stephanie happy as my last cycle trip abroad I decided to go up a different mountain at the last minute and didnt tell anyone!
With my big ride not due until the Wednesday I thought it might be wise to get the legs moving before tempting out to the mountains. This however, proved to be probably the most brutal ride I have undertaken this year. With a bike duly rented from the local beach front store and extra seat duly attached I set out along the Promenade D’Anglais, the famous sea side walkway.
What I had not reckoned on was the gale force winds that were buffeting the coast which was making a struggle to move in my 7 speed dream machine.In the easiest gear, I was barely moving and was glad my Garmin was not attached, reporting a 5 mph average would not have done my street cred much good. A couple of miles up the coast and enough was enough, not sure the wee man was really enjoying it and I certainly wasnt and decision to turn round was taken. What a difference, without barely a turn of the pedal I was getting blown back along at a fair old pace.
On the way back we decided to hire a car a do a further recce but only ended in getting more lost in Nice’s one way system and going round in circles.
With my ride day quickly approaching, it was time to pick up my hire bike. It was a 10 minute walk from the apartment further into Nice, a new area for me, I am guessing where the professional people stay, judging by the Marks and Spencer’s express style MONOP shop and fancy coffee shops that abounded. I reached my pick up point and met who was going to be my guide for the trip, Mike. Mike who is Australian, currently over for the wedding of the owner of the tour company and spending some covering while the owner was on honeymoon. With the pleasantries out the way, my bike for the day was wheeled. A custom built ‘ Harry Hall’ carbon bike with top of the range Shimano ‘Dura Ace’ groupset, things are looking good. I hadn’t heard of this particular make but research later showed this to be a make of great repute. I then enquired about the gears on the bike, and was told it was a double set up. For those without knowledge (me included), the double means having 2 chain rings(the part where the pedals attach) with sizes of 53 and 39 (the number refers to the number of teeth) respectively, the bigger the number the harder it is to push but potentially faster. Given this was to be a hilly ride this was not the best news. What about at the back I ask? That’s a 25/12 I am told, the bigger number on the back makes it easier, 25 was not that big a number. At home I have a 50/34 on the front and a newly installed 28/12 on the back, giving me about 4 easier gears than I was getting on this ride and given I am famous for always keeping my easiest gear in reserve ‘just in case’ this was a worry. However, I smile manfully and say ‘sounds great’ and continued with the bike set up. Mike did a great job of setting me up after I advised him of some calf problems I was having and off I rode home into night. The bike felt great on the 5 minute journey and what was the point of worrying, it wouldnt do the legs any harm to work a bit harder. Although, John’s text after I told him about the bike set up was not exactly encouraging ‘ Enjoy the walk’ he said!
With my kit and food all duly laid out, I retire to bed but instead of going to sleep watch 3 episodes of ‘Sons of Anarchy’ with Stephanie, the adventures of an outlaw biker gang in California, top rated holiday entertainment. I am excited about the ride tomorrow and struggle to sleep but eventually dropped off.
With trip day finally here I was up and atom early and had my porridge and berries and was ready to go. It was 08:15 as I rolled out the door into the streets of Nice and my meeting point on the Promenade d’Anglais. Mike was there to meet me and also there was Daniel, a Columbian student studying in Nice who was going to be doing some guiding during his summer recess. A couple of photographs later and we were off.
The route today was going to be 2 major climbs. The Col de Eze (0 to 600m) back down to the sea and then the aforementioned Col de Madone (0 to 950m). We started slowly on the cycle path avoiding the traffic lights on the road proper, firstly round to the port where we join the road , less than a mile from the start and then we start climbing. I am already in the easiest gear , maybe it’s the good bike or the warm weather but it doesn’t feel too bad. The route planned takes in a road called the Grand Corniche and climbs up and along the coast. There are fantastic views as we climb and then look down on the sparkling blue water.
Mike was doing a good job on keeping a good but not blistering pace. I am known for knocking myself out early and leaving nothing for the end plus I am holiday and it’s nice to sometimes smell the roses along the way. We reach Eze and I look down on the village to try and recall where the house was I stayed but nothing is coming to mind and then we turn a corner and we can see the snow capped mountains of the Alps in the distance. Then it’s time to come down, a super long descent to the town of Menton, it’s a beautiful sweeping road and any car drivers are being patient as we speed along. Soon enough, we are in Menton and the real fun is about to begin.
We take a left turn off the main road, and immediately we begin climbing. It’s a bit different from the alpine (ski type) climbs I have done as the scenery at this point is a bit more industrial/residential. Fences abound at the side of the road and the grasses and ground are dried and rutted rather than rich from the snow run off.
The road however is definitely a different beast from the Col De Eze, I am standing more often as the turns are sharper. The distance to the summit is 10km. The town of St Agnes sits half way up hidden behind a rock and that is the immediate target. My heart rate isn’t too high, about 160 when some climbs have brought it as high as 180. The views back to sea are still fantastic though and also some of the houses that we pass. Infinity pools seem to be popular, cant see them taking off in Burnside though. We pass our first group of cyclists, only 1 road bike in there but an overtakes is an overtake so I am happy. As the we come into St Agnes we hear the sound of play time at the local school.
A brief (less than a minute) stop ensues and a quick photograph ens. The road then starts to change at this point, it gets a lot thinner and the surface is markedly poorer, also there is a lot of rock fall from the side of the road to watch for.
But the other side of the coin is that it is also slightly easier and at points I have moved out of the easiest gear. We go through a few tunnels and any car coming down give a few toots to warn you of their arrival, not that this is a busy road, it’s mainly cyclists. We reach the top and it;s definitely not the horror show I thought it might be, did I do it in 30 minutes like Lance Armstrong? Not quite, but that’s not the point. We pause for a few minutes at the top and take in the views, the sea one side, the snow capped mountains the other way. The sign denoting the top of the mountain has been stolen but you can see the posts where it stood.
Then we are off again, swooping down the hillside. The road is better this side of the mountain but you still have to be careful. It would not be wise to go off the side, there is also a few hairpin turns to undertake which takes the speed down. We soon get onto a bigger road and I indicate to Mike that my legs are feeling reasonably fresh and he can put the boot down if he wants. The next bit although downhill is not greatly so and wind is starting to freshen. We are haring along and I tend to lose a bit of momentum on the corners and need to learn to keep pedalling but it’s still a fair old pace. We have a quick coffee stop in La Turbie and then we are off again, a slight incline to get us started and then the coastal road again for a bit. The wind is definetely up and it;s feeling a wee bit like hard work but it doesnt last and then we are on some steep stuff again. We go a different route back into Nice, round the back way and I manage to hit 42 mph on a clear bit of road, then quickly we are back into civilizaion. The pace slows as we dodge through trams, one way streets and traffic lights which takes us back to the sea where we started. I thank Mike and Daniel, they have been good company and clearly good cyclists although not sure they would last the pace in Scotland. Mike still had his winter gear on and Daniel has shaved his legs!! Back at the apartment I downloaded the Garmin and looked at what I had done. Nice!
As these things go, once you have done something once, you want to do it again. So utilising the course feature of the Garmin I headed out again at 0630 the next day for a near non stop trip. This time there was no stopping on the way up the Col de Madone. Couple of hairy moments on the way back down as I locked the brakes to avoiding hitting cars slowing down in front of me but apart from that just the same great views but not the same great conversations. The Garmin output seemed a bit strange though but I had a slightly faster moving average which was good.
“Dad, I read your blog. It’s boring”.
Thanks to my dear eldest daughter, who is an avid reader – just not of my material.
Anyway, not going to get less boring as I sandwich in between the Majorca exploits of the “kneesome threesome” and the Maritime Alps of young Turbine – plenty of pictures please Tubs.
For the Sunday ride from a couple of weeks ago, Turbine suggested focusing on the upcoming Etape Caledonia. The plan was to go over the well known route of the Duke’s Pass, sticking tightly together as a foursome sharing the workload at the front equally, having no stops over the 75 mile route and obtaining an 18 mph average.
A good shout from Tubby who was feeling good in body and mind, clearly, after a couple of very promising rides in the past couple of weeks.
The upshot? Tubs was feeling it on the Duke’s Pass – a worrying sign. After a bit, he decided to sit on the back – too much too soon last week? By Kippen he was well out the back door, and a decision had to be made. Stop and wait or push on over the Crow road and homewards trying for the 18 average. Considering the group consisted on myself, Sammy and Gio the decision will be no surprise – “he knows the way home” said Sam, and on we pushed as a trio (the Majorca boys would all have waited it must be recognised).
We fair belted on and Gio was beginning to go backwards up the final little hill at Torrance – always a nice feeling to crest any hill in front of the mountain goat – big Sam was clearly invigorated and powering on. However, we waited on him and duly returned to the clubhouse with an average of 18.1 mph. Mission accomplished (almost). Tubs rolled in 10 minutes later. Today was not his day – it happens. He’ll be back bigger and stronger next time.
So. Can we break 4 hours for the 81 miles of the Etape (requiring a 20 + mph average)? Time will tell, but with the big chain gangs to be found in this route, we’ve got a chance.