Saturday was to be our last ‘team training’ ride before the LEJOG. In the end there were four riders – Bryan, John, Sam and myself. John cycled to mine and we headed the 5 or so miles to the “Club House” to meet the others. The four of us set off to do an ‘easy pace’ 60 miles or so, but we were soon moving at a blistering pace on route to Stirling, a slight tail wind helping us reach a comfortable 20mph+ average. The miles slipped by, with us occasionally riding 2×2 to chat as we easily moved along what felt like gentle downhill roads, with barely any inclines in our way. We passed through Denny and Bannockburn, and soon arrived at Stirling. A small boy called out “look, its the Tour de France” as we whisked by – the first (and probably last) time I’ll be mistaken for a pro’ cyclist.
As we turned back from Stirling along the A811, the effort required jumped up as we were now facing into the same wind that had helped us along so far. Bending low on the bars for my stints behind the man at the front to save energy, tucking even lower when my turn at the front came along, we worked our way along the road, breaking the momentum in our changes only briefly to snap a quick ‘overtaking’ photo for John.
This turned out to be costly, as unaware of our antics, Sam powered on while the rest of us messed about, and a ‘chase’ to get back on his wheel ensued, lead by myself as the next man in the train. Just as we caught him up, his 0.5 mile stint completed, and I took over at the front, still out of breath from the pursuit. Not to worry, once my turn at the front was over, I’d have time to recover on the back of the train. Not quite, as just as I peeled off the front, we were starting the climb up the Kippen hill, so drafting was going to be of little help. Bah.
a fun 4.5 minutes going up the Kippen hill
We climbed pretty much as a group, pausing briefly at the village to regroup for the final stretch of the ascent. At the top, a quick stop turned into a slightly longer break as Bryan fixed a creaking saddle and Sam’s electronic gears needed some attention.
The ride down was taken steadily, with only a brief mile or two before the Crow Road and our second and final climb of the day. The Crow Road was at the end of my first ever outing on the bike, back in a chilly, wet November last year when I was completely new to modern cycling and could barely work the gears and worries of falling off while ‘clipped in’ were a distinct possibility. So it was apt that the last climb in my final training ride before our LEJOG would also be on that same hill. Back then, cycling up-hill at any sort of speed was a distant dream – I’d chug uphill at barely over walking pace, often thinking I’d be quicker hopping off the bike and running, as my more cycle-experienced team-mates fast vanished into the distance, seeming to glide uphill with barely any effort. Not so today. We all moved up together, Sam and John taking the lead, our speed barely dropping below 10mph except on the steepest sections. Bryan fell off a little, so as we made the top we were one man short, but the descent would be followed by a stop to regroup. My bottle bounced out of its cage at the car park, a fellow cyclist going uphill recovering it for me, as I braked hard and was working out how on earth to turn back up hill to recover it when sat in my top gear (walking was my plan). Bottle back on board I continued down to the turn-off, Bryan soon with us and the four of us got back ‘in the train’ for the last few miles home.
A slight detour at Torrance from the ‘normal’ route added an extra 4 miles. After a stint at the front, knocking back some water, I found myself off the back of the group, and struggling to regain their back wheels. My recent “these hills are easy” self confidence was vanishing as quickly as the group were into the distance. A red light ahead spurred me to catch them, but they all stopped for a quick ‘which way is it’ just before the lights, allowing me catch up, chow down a banana and let them know “I’m suddenly done in”. Not good. We got going again, my energy slowly returning, but I still struggled on some of the slight uphill sections, pushing hard to stay in-group. The downhill to the second to last junction caused a bit of a stir, Sam in the lead coming to a near stop before shooting out, leaving the rest of us unclipped waiting for the traffic. As we’d just been coming downhill, I was in a high gear, so stood up and pushed hard up the first section of the last short hill before home, zipping ahead of Bryan and John, who not liking this ‘attack’ returned the favour as I hit ‘lactic acid’ threshold, sitting down as they zoomed by me before they too slowed up near the top. I rolled after them, catching up on the roundabout as we turned in to stop at the “Club House”, comparing averages as we hopped off our bikes and loaded them onto the cars. 18.5 mph. That was an ‘easy’ training ride? There’ll be none of that crazy speeding on the LEJOG.
Saturday 14th. Probably the last proper team training outing before the big day on the 27th. Start point was to be Callander. Big J and Sam were going to ride an extra 30 odd miles from John’s place, but Bryan had offered to give Mark and myself a lift to the start point. Turns out the drive over took a lot longer than anticipated, and the 12:30 start slipped about an hour. We got parked up, grabbed a quick bite and set off. I immediately regretted going single layer-short sleeve, as although the sun was sort of out, it was chilly on the bike. However, once the train got going at a solid pace I soon warmed up and we were making good time along the road. A minor collision with some on-road debris resulted in a possible puncture for Sam, so a brief stop to check it out was called. Re-inflating the tyre seemed to sort it out so we restarted.
The weather soon turned, and drizzle was upon us as we hit a slow climb out of Lochearnhead. The drizzle turned to rain, so a stop for jackets-on for yours truly was made (yeah, I still can’t put on a jacket in the saddle). The hill continued, the rain relenting as we reached the top, but Sam’s back tyre had deflated on the way up, so needed a new tube. We pulled over in a lay-by and he changed the tube. The rain had stopped, and the midges were out, thousands of ’em. I’m usually a prime target for these little beasties, and this time it was no different, swarming round me as I held Sam’s bike for him as he hurriedly worked the new tube onto his wheel. However, the sheer number of the wee beasties resulted in everyone getting chewed at, as we swatted and splatted them as best we could. Tube changed, back on bikes, escape the beasties down the hill!
On through Killin and to Glenlochay, with a brief stop at Big J’s in-law’s cottage for a quick photo session and chat about the hill to come – the road is a bit ‘rough’ and there are gates in the deer fence on the hill that need opened and closed to get through. There’s also a bit where you need to get off the bike… not liking the sound of that. We were soon at the foot of the hill, having already picked our way through some very pot-holed and gravel covered sections of road. The first gate lay ahead of us, Bryan in the lead opening it for us, but we all had to dismount to get by the cattle grid, Big J’s hope of just cycling through was not happening. Clipping-in on the slope was a challenge, and avoiding the numerous holes, rocks and gravel strewn over what was left of the tarmac was not making this climb any easier. Mark and Sam took to the front, I was in the middle followed up by Bryan and John, all of us picking our way carefully through the mess that was once a road, while working hard to get up the hill. Another gate and cattle grid lay between us and the top, this time we were able to slip through the ‘kissing gate’ at the side. Again, clipping in not easy on these kind of slopes, but everyone eventually got to the 500m high summit.
The downward section was not the normal relaxing descent, the road equally pitted and scattered with obstacles as the ascent. At the bottom we regrouped, Big J rolling to a stop, having picked up a front puncture somewhere on the last section of the descent.
Wheel off, tyre quickly checked for thorns, new tube in, inflated with the gas, when BANG! the tube exploded. Mark and John started to put in a second tube, taking their time to avoid another issue. However, there was something up – the tube was starting to bulge out the wall of the tyre. An inch-long gash in the sidewall was responsible. Not looking good, but Sam produced his tyre patches and the tyre was fixed up, inflated as best we could without bursting the patch and we set off, John cautious at first to be sure the tyre was going to hold.
The road rolled on, the mostly downward section offering a welcome respite from the recent climb, but this was a short-lived 10 mile section before the long climb up the road of Ben Lawers. Five miles or so of steady uphill was before us, but not as harsh as the previous climb.
We were soon cycling alongside the lochan at the summit, the flat soon becoming a steep descent, picking up speed as we headed down toward the A827 and the return section to Killin. The final short climb back up to the ‘midge’ spot and it was mostly flat or downhill all the way ‘home’, Bryan taking the front to ‘get some exercise’ for several miles, with the last 3 miles seeing a burst of speed to finish the day.
The final fun of they day – getting 5 men and 5 bicycles into one car. This involved various wheels being taken off and held on knees, but they were all squashed in somehow for the trip back to Glasgow, where a curry (plus unexpected karaoke) awaited us in Cambuslang.
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.
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).
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…
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.
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.
Friday. Sunny + windy. Our last day. David slightly overdid the sauce last night, so solo breakfast for me. Pottered around the apartment for a few hours giving him chance to get some extra kip, then went out for a short ride around town and to nearby Alcanada (11 miles round trip) on my own to return for lunch, David assuring me he’d be ready to roll after some grub.
Food down the hatch and we headed off to Petra as a known 25-ish miles away, planning to loop back on the same sort of route as Tuesday, but skipping the hill to the monastery giving us roughly 50 miles. First stage to Petra went without incident, almost caught the back of a large group, but they turned off not much further on.
Made good time to Petra, stopped in the square for coffee/ coke/fanta and cakes, and a bonus – free orange segments. More points to this cafe over Tuesdays effort, service was quicker too.
We headed off to Sineu, straight into the wind, so heads down and turn about on the front until we turned northwards, escaping the worst of the wind for a downhill stretch into Lubi, picking up some easy fast miles, continuing on to Sa Pobla. Got a bit confused as to the route at this point, so just told my Garmin to take us home, which it duly did, but it decided the best route was via Pollenca. Not ideal, as we were getting close to 6pm and had to have the rental bikes back by 7. Some fast miles, and a decent back road from Pollenca to Aldudia and we got home around 6.30, David sticking in his top gear for the last 30 miles as ‘its good training’. A quick jog up to the flat to get our trainers and the paperwork for the bikes then a mad dash to the rental place to hand the bikes in. Free socks for handing back our inner tubes intact, we headed home, a fine week of cycling and a solid intention of coming back next year, just maybe not to stay at the Bellevue.
57 miles, 16.7mph average, not bad for weeklong tired legs.
Wednesday. Cloudy, but warm. We slept in. None of us were paying attention to the time, until Mark (or was it David?) realised it was 10.28, breakfast stops at 10.30, so it was a mad scramble down to the buffet breakfast hoping we could grab some calories before they put everything away. We just made it in time to grab a plate or two of grub and a few drinks of juice, rather than our more usual grazing leisurely over whatever fare grabbed our fancy.
By the time we’d got our act together, we didn’t get on the road until nearly midday. Ah well, the big 100 was probably not on, so we decided to do the Orient, a smallish climb of around 600m, about 30 miles or so south-west of us. We headed out along the “marsh road”, so named for the long marsh grasses growing along it, to Sa Pobla, wind in our face, so turn-about in the train to share the effort. From Sa Pobla we wound our way south, hitting a main road for a few miles before turning off on to a smaller ‘bike’ road – primarily used by tourist cyclists, but with the occasional car or van passing us by. A few miles along, the sun was breaking through, so we stopped for a quick photo opportunity, then pressed on to Santa Maria del Carni, almost all the journey on the cycle road.
We stopped for a quick bite in a roadside cafe, then headed out of town towards Bunyola, and up the Orient climb itself. The three of us climbed steadily, with two other cyclists in sight ahead of us.
As the slope eased off, we upped our pace before a sharp left and the climb continued. Mark started to pull ahead, soon overhauling the two riders in front, David and myself were also steadily reeling them in, and took the first then the second rider shortly after, passing a quick hello as we went by. We hit the summit a short while later, surprised that we’d completed the climb already. A short stop for a few photos, then we were on our way downhill.
My left knee pain decided to make an unwelcome return, stiffening up on the downward section, but with 40+ miles to go, no choice but to ride on. We were soon on the flat, then hit a small climb to the actual village of Orient, then into a long descent bypassing Alaro and in to Lloseta. A minor mess up at a junction resulted in David toppling over, whacking his knee, giving us two injured riders. We forged on making good time regardless passing through Selva, Moscari and Buger, before returning to La Puebla and taking the marsh road home. This time we had the wind with us, and our train motored along at 20mph+ all the way back home. Not quite the big 100 planned, but a solid 70 miler, averaging 15.1 mph.
Tuesday. Sunshine. This is more like the weather we were expecting – blue skies, a slight breeze and the mercury rising to a nice 21 degrees (not that they use mercury any more, but you know what I mean). The Plan was to do an easy 50-ish, saving our energy for a big ride on Wednesday for Mark’s last day. We headed out of Alcudia, target Petra, a village to the south.
We turned off the main road and got a good session of taking turns at the head of the group, switching smoothly and rolling along at a decent pace, 18-20mph or thereabouts, not being too badly dented by the occasional rise in the road (not proper hills so I am told) or the wind.
We arrived at a square in Petra filled with cyclists sat around eating and drinking, so felt obliged to partake as well. Chips, cakes, coffee and juice were taken on board, and several photos of the hundreds of bikes and cyclists snapped.
We headed out of Petra, wanting to arrive at the next village on our route, Sineu. A slight mis-turn found us taking a climb up to a monastery at the top of a fairly decent climb, hairpins and blind corners (the usual for round these parts). We hit the top as a group, parked up and took in the view – you could pretty much see the whole north of the island, probably the whole place if you took the time to climb the tower itself.
We weren’t up for that, so headed down, returned to Petra and took another road out, back on route to where we wanted to go.
Sort of. We knew we wanted to take a right somewhere along the road we were now on, I was in the lead, Mark called a right, and we turned up an ok looking road. Not far along, we realised this road wasn’t going anywhere except to a quarry. Every Majorca cycling holiday should take in a quarry, highlight of the week.
We turned around, back to the ‘main road’ and followed it, eventually hitting Sineu (not much to see except the railway) and exited it toward Llubl. We arrived in Llubl, and stopped at a cafe for a quick drink, but no-one seemed to be about to serve us, so we pushed on. We tagged on the back of a group of 9 or so folk seeming to be going our way, so our pace increased a notch until we got to La Puebla where we took a different route. We found ourselves on a busier road to Pollenca, taking turn about at the front on a mix of ups and downs, the wind against us for most of it.
We stopped off for a welcome beer in Pollenca itself, enjoying the sunshine and a bit of chat with some cyclists at the next table. We then headed home, a similar route to our first days outing, and similarly got a bit lost missing a turn or two at the round-a-bouts but eventually getting it right and arriving home in one piece. Our 50 miles turned out to be 65.97 miles, but a decent pace of 16.2mph average.
Here’s hoping the weather holds for the rest of the week.
day 2. Monday. Raining again. Went for breakfast late on, hoping the rain would stop. No luck. Some more hardy team cyclists, rain gear on, passed us on a nearby road as we retreated indoors to plan what to do. Blogged day 1, taking ages to upload the pictures due to shoddy internet connetion. The weather was clearing, but still raining on and off, not looking good. Lunched on site too, and as we returned back to the apartment, all agreed we had to do something on the bike, so a 40-ish miler to Cap Formentor, the NE tip of the island was suggested – a shortish ride to a hill (surprise) followed by some more up and downs to the lighthouse at the end of the road.
We set off, what rain-gear we had on, to find the temperature was picking up a bit and the rain was holding off, so shedding a few layers we moved on through Alcudia and on to Port de Pollenca on easy flat roads, covering about 9 miles or so before the climb up Formentor with ease. The climb itself was straightforward enough, with us passing and being passed by a handful of other cyclists with a Hola! or Hi, the occasional car dodging by us too. Mark was worried about his knee, so hit the hill with gusto to get it working and judge the likelyhood of it holding out the full trip.
We hit the top for a short break and regroup, a couple of photos and quick swig of water then headed down the slope at speed, slowing for the inevitable hairpin bends. We were soon on the flat, but Mark’s knee was not holding up as well as he would like, and having done this route before decided to call it a day and head home, to save making his knee any worse for the rest of the week. David and I headed on.
The road surface was not up to the quality of what we’d seen so far, more like some of the worse B-roads from back home, but we carried on regardless, taking each bump as it came. The road undulated on for another few miles, before hitting a tunnel through the hill. The tunnel gave us a new problem, as although it was straight, it was long enough to cause us a bit of an issue with seeing where we were going in the gloom. Sunglasses off for David and we tried to keep to the right side of the road, ditches either side threatening to unseat us, but we made it through without any incident. The rest of the 5 miles or so to the end of the road passed without incident, though some of the steeper parts didn’t bode well for the return journey.
We soon arrived at the last short climb to the lighthouse, left the bikes to take a few photos and take in the view. Photos taken, we grabbed a drink and a muffin in the cafe, checked the time and reckoned we’d easily make it back along the road with daylight to spare.
However, we got moving swiftly as the sky was turning a bit grey and looking none too pleasant. We headed down the short hill from the lighthouse, up a brief climb and for the next few miles battled the wind and poor road surface as we headed homeward on a mix of up and downward slopes.
Just as we approached the tunnel, hail started to hit us, so when we cleared the tunnel, we stopped short under an overhang to wait it out, with 2 other cyclists having taken the same decision. It soon cleared, so they headed out, followed by us, the road now mostly downhill, back to a relatively flat, slightly downward sloping section of the route. We made good time, passing our hail hiding buddies on the flat, soon leaving the poor road behind and beginning the climb back up to Formentor. We set a steady pace up the hill, granny ring (the smallest of our 3 cogs) coming in to play early in the ascent, taking it easy all the way to the summit. At one point we thought the 2 hail-hiders were making an effort to catch us, but we lost them following a short burst along a flatter part of the climb. We stopped at the top for a quick gel and water break, then headed down the hill.
This downward section we mostly free-wheeled, aware of the cross-wind at certain sections, only occasionally putting in a bit of effort to keep the speed up on flatter parts of the descent. The last section we sort of broke the speed limit, our 30+mph to the last round-a-bout above the 50kph speed on the signs. No police around, so no worries.
The homeward stint was only blighted by a bit of GPS mis-directing, taking us through Port de Polenca, trying to take us down one-way streets or non-existant paths. Using a bit of parellel road following, we were soon back on track, and hitting a solid 22mph along the flat heading to Alcudia along the coast road. The Garmin again tried to direct us along a busy main road, which we ignored and took our route from the previous day, but it soon recalculated and took us back home along our preferred road. Minutes later we were back home, just shy of 42 miles, a hilly average of 14.1mph. Not a bad result considering day 1’s torturous climbs.
day 1. Sunday. Not very sunny…
Up and at em early-ish for a buffet breakfast to load up on calories and carbs, then back to our room to change and get on the bikes. We could hear thunder in the distance, and see flashes of lightning. This wasn’t looking so good. Before long the rain was hammering down as we watched from the balcony. Not ideal cycling weather, so we waited, watching the F1 on the tiniest TV in the world. The weather broke, the rain stopped and with the sun trying to get out we set off. We’d preloaded the Garmin with a sort of route of where we wanted to go as a “just in case” but hit the bike hire shop for a map, and while we were there, a rain jacket for David. A bit of round the houses to find the best road to where we wanted to get to and eventually we started to get the miles behind us. We were soon on quiet country roads, passing farms and orange groves, heading towards our first climb at Lluc. As we hit the town on Inca, the heavens opened, we got a soaking as we pedalled furiusly to find a cafe to hide from the rain. We soon found one, and drenched we had coffees and coke, while we tried to dry out hoping the rain would stop.
Our wait was rewarded some time later, the rain easing off, nearly stopped, so we hit the road again in a light drizzle, got a bit lost trying to get by the railway lines, but got on the right road as the rain stopped completely. This was more like it. The incline at Lluc was upon us, 3 miles or so of hairpin turns taking us up around 500m to the summit. We set a solid pace, around 9mph or so, each of us getting a steady rhythm, Mark leading us up with the occasional burst to get the worst of the corners out of the way. We determined not to stop til the summit, and we did so, arriving at the garage/ cafe at the top satisfied with our effort. We parked the bikes with the dozens of others, and grabbed some pizza and more coffee/ hot chocolate.
The sun was out, and with Sa Calobra around 5 miles ahead, we decided to give this monster hill a shot. The ‘mostly downhill’ route to the descent included a fair amount of climbing, nothing major, but enough to require small rings and slow speeds. We stopped at a small view point part way to the hill, where we could see the hill below us and the valley stretching for miles in either direction. I nervously posed with the others (a huge drop behind us with only a tiny wall at the edge), while we got a few passing tourists to take our pictures.
Back on the bikes and we moved on to the last climb before the 5 mile descent of Sa Calobra itself. I took the back, not particularly confident in my hire bike or myself as we were hitting 20-30mph on the straights, dropping down to a crawl for the twisty hairpins.
We were soon at at the base of the hill, for some more quick photos and a refuel in the cafe of strange pies and giant chocolate brandy cake.
The ascent – no other way back – was before us, a time check (6.15) and we were now a little worried about getting home before dark. We set a steady pace of 6-7mph and again determined no stopping. The climb was on, hairpin after hairpin, the occasional car passing us carefully, legs slowly turning the cranks and each corner passed us.
I grabbed a quick couple of photos on the move then passed my little Canon over to Mark for some more on bike shots. We made the last few turns and the top of the climb came into view, the biggest climb on the island done. On we went, but the climb was taking its toll, and injuries were thrown into the mix, making the of the end of daylight all the more real.
Fortunately everyone was able to push through, and after a few more miles of rolling ups and downs, we were rewarded with a long descent to Pollenca. We filtered through the narrow streets, wishing we could stop off for a beer or two in the local cafes and bars, but on we pressed, out on to the main route to Alcudia. We were setting a blistering pace, racing to get as far as possible before night fell. I’d donned my flourescent jacket, and switched my rear helmet light on, so took the back of our trio, as we made town in the dark. Some swithering about the actual way from town to the apartment, then we hit a half recognised road and my Garmin now seemed to be making sensible route decisions so we followed it and were home, tired but
happy to have completed the climbs and a total distance of 83 miles done, David’s best to date.
Sunday. Easter Weekend and I’d an invitation to go see friends in Edinburgh, so a perfect chance to give my new toy, a Garmin Edge 800, a solid test. Not really sure of the best way to go, so I’d plotted a route on bikeroutetoaster and exported it to the Edge. The course was mostly bits of A-road trying to follow the M8 fairly closely, to keep it reasonably short and hopefully avoid too much traffic, guessing most folk would be on the M8 itself. The unit lived up to my expectations, giving decent warnings of upcoming turns, round-a-bouts and anything else requiring a change in direction. The first section of my route out of Glasgow gave it a bit of workout, as a section of the London Road is closed to traffic, causing the Edge to bleep away as I took the diversion and went “off course”. It set about recalculating a way to get back on track, so not so different to car sat nav, but with all the extras of a bike computer (cadence, HR monitor, speed etc).
The rest of the route went as planned, the only mishap when I stopped atop a hill around Shotts to take a photo, stopped the Edge and forgot to restart it until I’d been zooming downhill for about 4 miles, messing up my stats. Oh well. This roughly marked the halfway point, and it was pretty much all easy downhill from then on – this is what cycling should be all about – down/ flat sections and easily hitting 20mph+. Just over 2 hours and a nice average of 19.1 mph, with the bonus of no real near-death experiences with cars on the A-roads. I arrived at M&Ts in time for a late morning bacon roll and soon had a beer in my hand followed by a fine afternoon of great company and great food. Yum.
Monday. I’d already loaded the return route on the Edge (using TCX converter to reverse the route from bikeroutetoaster) and set off sans-hangover (good call on some sensible drinking) after thanking my hosts for a great previous day/ night. The Edge immediately tried to take me ‘the wrong way’ as I reckoned the route I take by car would actually be quicker than the route I’d plotted previously. I ignored its beeping and carried on, soon to rejoin the plotted route. The return leg was not such a joy, as the weather had turned for the worse, a bit colder, wetter and the westerly wind making things not the best for cycling. Got to practice using the small chain ring, battling head winds and the first 20 miles of uphill giving me more than enough climbing training. I counted off the miles to Shotts and the relief of the downward section. The constant drizzle somewhat sapped the fun out of the downhills, but focussed on getting my average speed back up to 15mph to take my mind off how wet I was getting. I was soon on familiar roads, so switched the Edge’s screen to show the ‘stats’ instead of the map, and was pleasantly surprised to learn that the unit would automatically switch to the navigation screen at turns/ junctions then back to the stats again. Handy feature, will stick to using this method in future trips. I was soon home again, managed to get the 15mph average, so happy enough with that bearing in mind the conditions.