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.
When it comes to writing blog posts Ian is straight out of the blocks. For the rest of us, not quite so good. So here is the training entry for the Sunday that Ian was going to be doing until he was alerted to the condition of his tights – ripped.
Me, Sam, Tubs and David and the route was as the previous week. Tubby was upset at the blog title – “Rolling with the Big Beasts”, so he came buzzing ready to give it some welly. He also took the sheen off David’s new shiny bike with a new trimmed down steed himself.
The whole Duke’s Pass ride is a beauty on many levels. It splits into comfortable, manageable sections.
Section 1 – Rolling to Aberfoyle. Come July, 7 of us will be looking to sit tight together and share the burden of riding 100 + miles every day for 9 days. Keeping it together and learning to conserve energy in the pack is a must. The first 18 miles to Aberfoyle from Strathblane easily allow everyone to sit together, rolling at a nice pace and taking turns at the front. This was only David’s second time riding amongst a group and I’m sure he appreciated this mainly flat, pacey section.
Section 2 – The Duke’s Pass. A lovely hill enjoyed by all. Why? Is it the generally fine road surface (a bit gnarly at the bottom but
really smooth further up)? The welcoming flat sections after having to push? The nice scenery? The general absence of cars? Probably all of the above. Tubs, Sam and David pushed on up the hill and I came up behind them. I passed and Sam came along with me most of the way to the top. The big fellow remembers last year when he tried to stick with “the G Train” (Gio) up here and died a thousand deaths come the finale (don’t mention the fact that Tubs crested the Crow road before him that day – prickly). Not long before David and Tubs joined us at the top.
Section 3 – Rolling up and down all the way to Callendar. Again some great, quiet roads along lochs Achray and Venachar and before you know it we’re in Callendar. All the team looking good and feeling fine. (We really could have done with Ian along – he usually has some kind of issue, be it falling off or puncturing or having a bonk, which makes for more interesting copy).
Section 4 – Callendar to Kippen has a bit of incline. David’s feeling it a touch and falls back a little. After a quick regroup at Thornhill we push on for the last few miles before the next challenge of the Kippen hill. It’s a straightforward 2 and 2 here. Me and Sam push up followed by David and Tubs. Big Sam looking good – as usual he mentions baked beans. Apparently, he’s carrying 20 cans of baked beans on his back that I’m not – I should try it some day. Perhaps instead of me bringing the beans along, he could try and leave them at home for a change? Whatever – Sam and his beans make it the top and in good shape. There’s a bit of breeze getting up now and it’s getting cold so we push on to Fintry and wait there. Tubs rolls up and David a little bit later. All set for section 5.
Section 5 – The Crow Road. The wind is beginning to whip up now. Waiting at Fintry a couple of riders go by – targets. They get a good lead on us and it might be a push to catch them on the Crow, but I’ll certainly be giving it a go, by George. At the bottom of the Crow, Tubs isn’t even interested in pushing on and Sammy shouts “too rich for me” at the first steep incline on the bend. I’m on my own with the two riders ahead. I give the legs a good squeeze (feeling much more energised that last week when the Crow was a real toughy) and pass one then the other with plenty to go. Really windy now and a heavy fog up the top of the hill. The average speed coming down the hill is a good 10 mph slower than last week. All because of the wind.
Section 6 – Lennoxtown to Strathblane. The last 5 which can be lovely or a bit torturous depending on your form. It again ends up with me, Tubs and Sam with a couple of targets to pass. Sam goes past me on the front, but I take over again on a little uphill section. He assumes that I have gone to the front to look the bees knees as we pass the ladies in front – not so. Just using a bit of spare energy for the incline to help my fellow riders.
And so to a frenetic last mile as Sam powers on down the hill trying to show a little dominance. However, Tubs and myself are wise to his game and it ends with the 3 of us pelting along almost side by side down to the final roundabout just by the Kirkhouse Inn. David rolls up soon after, and another team 60 miler is in the bag. Now for the cake stop (lacking the elegance of Ian’s Saturday stop). Some of Julie’s (Mrs Sammy’s) mighty fine carrot cake and the always wonderful For Goodness Shakes. Bring on the next run.