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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Sunday. No ‘team’ ride on the table, so was planning on a solo effort until Mark M texted to ask if I wanted to join him and Mark D on a Sunday outing. Turned out it was to be a ‘biggie’, 80 miler to Dunoon, with the option of getting the train home or forging on for a 100+ miler. Sounded like a good challenge to me, 9.30 am kick-off, so why not give it a shot? Got round to Mark M’s a bit early, so a few minutes wait while he stocked up on sarnies and other goodies before we headed along to meet Mark D to head to Anniesland and beyond. The wind was up, though tolerable, was having an impact on our pace, knocked down to just shy of 17mph by the time we hit Helensburgh (last time we were in the mid 18s). On to Faslane and a small 100m climb past Garelochhead before passing along Loch Long on our way to Arrochar.
We stopped for a brief drink (coffee/ hot chocolate) and scone (jam + cream) at the Village Inn, about 40 miles done, and a big hill just around the corner, known locally as the “rest and be thankful”. I’d heard of this, but don’t remember ever travelling up it, in a car or otherwise, so not sure what to expect.
Our pace dropped as we took on this climb, the Marks allowing me to keep pace, slackening off if I dropped off the back to allow me to regain contact. After 20 minutes or so of this slog, we reached the top, and were rewarded with a 3-4 mile downhill section ending in Ardno and St. Catherines. Just shy of 60 miles and around 4 hours of cycling, my left knee decided it had had enough, and thought it should let me know by inflicting some pain on me. Not enough to stop me carrying on, but harsh enough that I knew about it with each turn of the crank. Drugs required. A garage stop allowed me to grab a 50p pot of paracetamol and Mark M to refill his bottle and we were on our way, with me no longer taking any turns at the front to nurse my knee on the remaining dozen miles to the ferry at Dunoon. Our pace was soon helped by a 12 strong group of club riders, we tagged on the back as they passed us, gaining the tow for the remaining half dozen or so miles to the ferry. Mark D joined the group proper, taking his turn at the front, myself and Mark M stayed at the back, with him pointing out to me how the change-overs at the lead worked so ‘next time’ I’d be able to put in my turn at the front. The hardest part of this group section for me was the corners, I’m still not quick enough on bends so the concertina in on the slowdown into the corner then the follow through on to the straight catching me out on several occasions, causing me to put in a burst of speed each time to regain the back of the train. Still, a welcome help to get us to the ferry terminal just as the ferry arrived.
A quick jaunt on the ferry, chatting to some of the other riders and we were docking in Gourock. A couple more paracetamol for my whining knee, and I took the decision to carry on rather than taking the train home. Whats another 30 miles when you’ve just done 80? That, and I was determined to get a 100 miler in the bag. Through Greenock and up a 200m climb for an easy descent on the back roads to Bridge of Weir, the GPS watch counting ever towards the 100 miles. We were making excellent time, the wind at our backs most of the way, when Mark M hit a rogue pothole, blowing out his back tube. A short delay while this was fixed, his odd (to me) rims causing problems engaging the gas inflators, resolved by my more traditional hand-pump, then we were back on our way.
The 100 for me hit just at Linwood, my first ever ‘century ride’ done in 6 hours 40-ish. Well chuffed with that, as we began the start-stop riding into Paisley and the final 10 miles into Glasgow. The group split at Govan road, me heading east (I was late for dinner with Mr & Mrs M), the Marks west for a well-earned post-ride pint.
111.57 miles, 16.7mph average and a guessed-at-by-the-watch 7,777 calories burned. More cakes for me!
Sunday’s training run – the Duke’s, Kippen and Crow Road hills – a tough 60 miler, and now a favourite route of the team was on the table. Gio, John and myself were the riders, with the rest out for various reasons. We set off, the roads drying out and the clouds clearing away, looking to give us a decent day for the ride. Section one (stealing Big J’s breakdown of the route), a nice section of rolling road to Aberfoyle, allowed me to get some good practice at group riding, taking turns at the front and resulting in a nice average speed of 18.7mph. I found myself falling off the back a bit if I took a swig of juice after my turn at the front, must work on the process of pedalling and drinking, but easily regained the group at this early stage of the ride.
We soon had our first hill ahead of us, at the ~16 miles mark, the Duke’s pass (section 2). A brief stop to refuel, and I set off ahead of the others, knowing they’d soon overhaul me. Determined to take this hill without falling below 6mph (speedy!), started steadily, trying to avoid dropping into my lowest gear, standing on the pedals at the steeper parts of the climb. The hardest parts of the hill still are still challenging, but at this point, have lost their full thigh-burner status as my ability to cycle and understanding of the gears have improved. Result – 7.95mph. Not brilliant, but pleased that I easily topped my 6mph target.
Section 3, rolling roads again and more group riding. Odd incident on the road (all the fun happens when I’m in the group it seems), as at one point we’re hot on the tail of an elderly driver in an A6 and we’re having to brake to avoid running in to them! Much confusion and merriment from us, but eventually the driver works out the pedal on the right makes you go quicker and we’re left behind, no longer sucking in their fumes. This section saw us averaging around 18.8mph. Consistent stuff. We were soon hitting the 40 mile mark, the second hill of the morning at Kippen, and as usual, the others leave me on the first rise of the climb. I settled in to my own rhythm, enjoying the scenery and having mixed feelings towards the sunshine (nice for view, not so much for sweatyness). Its not long before two ‘pro’ cyclists zip by me, not muttering a word in response to my greeting as they tear up the hill, I guess saving their breath for whatever private competition they are in. Not much further on, another cyclist, sharing the previous pair’s team colours breezes by me, this time with a hearty hello. As I crest the final rise he’s not far off, so I clunk up the gears in a (futile) attempt to catch him – another short hill puts paid to my chase but shortly after I do catch them, as they’ve all stopped to regroup with another handful of their buddies. Average up the hill – 8.3mph. Not so bad. I press on, as John and Gio are not to be seen (no stopping at the top this time) and enjoy the downhill section solo. Well, up to the point some (hmm, family audience), so lets say “bad driver” in a Range Rover thinks driving up my backside and beeping me when there’s bags of room on the other side of the road to overtake (no other traffic for miles) is the correct etiquette. Must look that up in the Highway Code as I must have skipped that part.
We regroup around Fintry, John and Gio wanting to hammer on to the Crow (aka section 5). I’m happy to let them go, and chow down on a Torq bar (ginger and pineapple flavour – who came up with that one?) and a gel before heading along solo to the 3 mile climb before me. I settle in to a I’m-pretty-knackered-don’t-care-how-fast-this-is pace (turns out to be 7.6mph average) as I’m hitting the limit of my current fitness and ability. As I climb slowly, a handul of riders come down the hill (oh how I detest their ability to freewheel at this point in the day) with a cheery nod, wave or ‘hello’ to which I attempt a similar greeting, its success dependent on how steep the hill is at that point. As I reach the ‘house’ on the hill, the weather decides that it would make my cycle oh so much more fun if it were to hail. How nice, tiny ice particles pinging off my face just to cheer me along. The hail stops as I crest the hill, and I clunk the gears into a more suitable ratio for the downhill section. More hail. The faster I go, the more it hurts, so I ease off the pedals until it subsides moments later. Top speed on the downhill, 33mph. Could have been quicker, but I’m shattered and don’t have the energy or confidence to risk much faster.
We regroup at the bottom (section 6), John and Gio keen to be off and maintain their 17+mph average. I agree to hang on to the back for as long as I can, but am doubtful that I’ll keep up for any length of time. My doubts are soon confirmed as we’ve barely gone a few hundred yards before I lose touch on a round-a-bout and the legs are just not interested in pushing the pedals to get back to the duo ahead, hunting down some fellow cyclist they’ve spotted. The wind picks up, as I check my watch which is showing around 3 hours 45, with 4 miles to go. I forge on, trying to work out what pace I need to maintain to get this done in sub-4 hours, but am foiled by the wind and my complete lack of energy. The last 3 miles offer little respite from the wind, my average drops to just over 11mph but I get back in one piece – a slight niggle in my left knee, but otherwise unscathed. 60 miles done, overall average of 14.9mph. 15mph and sub-4 hours next time…
Emails sent mid-week trying to decide on a full group run had lead to a split of folk for Saturday and others for Sunday, so in the spirit of getting more bike miles in, I’d planned on doing both. So Saturday was to be Mark M, Mark C and myself, but Mark C had to pull out, leaving the two us. A rough plan of “40 ish miles” was made, with Mark calculating routes that would allow me to ‘escape’ if my knee injury resurfaced. We met at the BBC building, and headed towards the Paisley road to hit some countryside. We’d barely gone a mile before I showed my inexperience and messed up my stopping by forgetting I was clipped in and toppling over – at least I’ve learnt to fall left (saves the derailleurs from getting bashed) and realised that landing on my gluteus maximus is the best way to go. We soon got on our way, and approached the first hill of the day, a 200m or so ascent around the Glenliffer braes. Up we went in the pouring rain, the wind blowing, Mark sticking with me most of the time to offer advice and encouragement (and a bit of wind protection), but occasionally zipping ahead to get some challange and anaerobic workout for himself. Beyond the ‘summit’ the elements still against us, we picked up the pace a little, and I got some practice at ‘tailing’ Mark as much as I could, but the cross winds and wet conditions were not the best. The view lost in the mist and rain (I’m sure it would be very picturesque if only it could have been seen), I managed a few good stints of sticking to his wheel, but improvement is still required.
Mark was having a problem with his drive train, the chain making an occasional nasty clunk in a worrying fashion and not wanting to switch between the rings at the front, but we forged on to Howwod and then on to Lochwinnoch. Here we hit the second climb of the day, a more gentle incline of around 140m. The roadside ‘watch your speed sign’ picked our speed up as we passed, my regular 6mph climbing pace lit up as I slogged by, Mark flashing up a 12 mph burst. We soon reached the top and were rewarded with a long run down into Bridge of Weir, topping 30mph and making good time, with a fun, slam on the brakes corner to add to the mix. I was after a food break (still can’t eat and ride, need to practice that), so we escaped the rain in a small cafe for coffee/hot chocolate and cake.
Refueled, we headed back out, the chill from our damp gear soon gone with a fine pace being set, while playing with the traffic on a busier A-road heading into Paisley. Some stop-start riding while negotiating round-a-bouts and dodging cars – one who decided it was fair game to turn left right in front of me, missed it by inches. The final few miles went without incident, except for a mountain biker who had the audacity to overtake us at the lights, causing Mark to fly off, dragging me behind to ensure we regained our road-bike honour. We split a few miles further along, our homeward routes diverging, but a good 46 miles in the bag, and a decent (considering the weather) 14.2mph moving pace .
My plan for a 2 cycle-outing weekend didn’t come to pass, as Sunday I bailed, feeling worn out, having a slight head cold/ sore throat starting (excuse #145b) so decided to take a rest day rather than push my luck on the main group’s planned 60 miler.