Monday, 14 June 2010

Richmond Cyclosportive... all by myself.

Another early start Saturday 29th May saw me heading east over the Pennines for a change and up to Richmond in Yorkshire, this time with most of my family in tow (less my eldest daughter who is old enough to find an excuse not to come!). I had entered the 5 Dales Cyclosportive a few months ago, looking for something different to do on the Bank Holiday weekend (I usually do Hutton Roof Crags) since we were back home visiting anyway. There was me thinking I would be nicely recovered and feeling fit from the Fred Whitton Challenge at the beginning of the month, the reality being that I got caught a cold a few days after doing that which developed into sinusitis after trying to train through it so I had only been out on the bike about 3 times since.

The forecast had been for heavy gusts and rain spreading during the afternoon but it didn't look too bad on arriving (late) in Richmond. I wanted to set of as soon as the start opened but roadworks on the A1 and various other bits of me faffing about meant I only set off about 9:30 when it seemed virtually everyone else were already on their way. The 10+% hill out of Richmond made for a nice warm-up then came what seemed like miles of quiet lanes heading out towards the first climb of 'The Stang'. Being so close to Catterick Garrison there was quite a military feel to things with many different warning signs such as those in the villages of speed limits for MoD vehicles and big red triangles with silhouettes of tanks in them.

I caught some stragglers here who seemed to be taking it easy and a few groups passed me who I couldn't stay with, the scenery gradually changing to open moorland. There were more cyclists about thankfully on the climb of the Stang, quite a steep drag up onto the moor and there were more than a few who had got off to walk. I remember reaching some switchbacks through the trees that were pretty steep but just after those we were on a lovely sweeping road across the tops, this gradually dropped off and I got some good speed up heading down before turning right for the climb up Tan Hill.

I got chatting to a local here who had caught me; he had lost the group he was in due to stopping to take his jacket off and it was good to pass some time with someone else it was becoming a lonely ride but he slowly pulled away though, I couldn't stay with him on the steeper bits. I noticed a nice lady sat by the side of the road taking pictures, I was quite enjoying myself on this section; the bad weather hadn't arrived and the views across the moors were lovely. I was surprised to see the Tan Hill Inn, the local I was chatting too earlier had said that the first feed stop in Keld was before Tan Hill so I was pleased to have done 2 rather than one of the main climbs.

Turning left here though things rapidly went downhill, though not just in a good way. The wind, which we had so far been sheltered from by the hills was now fully head-on and gave me a taste of things to come later on though it was still a nice descent down to the first feed at Keld. One poor young lad was looking for first aid here for a gash on his knee and was struggling to find anyone who could treat him. The food was great: sausage rolls, jelly babies, flapjacks, jaffa cake bars, cereal bars, I was stuffing my face. One bloke commented on the value saying they did an event last week which cost 30 quid and got no food!

The first route split is here for those doing the 50 and I was a bit disheartened to be the only one of the large group of people at that time to be heading right to do the longer ones so it was back to lonely old me for the ride over Birkdale Common. At least the wind was no longer in my face. This was another really nice, quiet section of the ride with great views and virtually empty roads where over the top I was a little surprised to find we were entering Cumbria.

The descent from there into Nateby was fantastic and thinking back was the best part of the ride for me, apart from one point where 3 sheep appeared out of nowhere and darted across the road in front of me; I must have been doing 40mph+ and did a huge sideways skid as I slammed the brakes on, it's a good job the roads were still dry at that point or I think I would have been off.
Turning left through Nateby meant facing that awful wind head-on again plus the dark clouds were gathering now threatening rain. All the way from there to the second feed at Hawes was a real struggle where I spent a surprising amount of time on the smallest front ring - I was riding a triple! I was desperate for some respite from the wind but none came, even those that caught and passed me I couldn't stay with it was torture. I saw a few 'travellers' heading the other way in their traditional horse-drawn caravans that Yorkshire always seems full of May Bank Holiday and I found myself wishing for one going my way so I could get a tow!

Turning left onto the main A-road into Hawes it had started raining which didn't make for a good ride into the second feed, what with the fast traffic as well. I had told the wife I would get there around 12, it was now about 1:15 and she didn't seem too pleased to see me. My youngest was asleep in her pram and the boys were off getting their lunch at the chippy round the corner. I stuffed my face again while complaining about the headwind, I could see the wife's eyes pleading with me to take the 80 mile option here when she said: "You're not doing the full route now are you?". The organisers had also put a note in saying if you reach Hawes after 2pm *please* do the 80 mile and not the 100. It was only half one though and there were the odd one or two still setting off on the 100. She didn't complain though bless her when I climbed back on and headed off up towards the next climb of Fleet Moss.

This is the first of the two hardest climbs that are only done on the 100 and I was expecting something steep after reading reports online so took my time on the lower section, holding almost bottom gear all the way up. I passed a couple of riders at about half way up and they turned out to be the last riders I would see until the finish. You can see almost all the climb up through the valley which helps with pacing but this also meant you could see how much it kicks up near the top. I had to stop for a breather part way up (what I thought was) the last bit and there was a little sting in the tail as you think you have reached the top where there is a last little kick to the summit.

There were a few walkers here, one of whom said: "Well done!" as I passed then quickly: "Almost half way up!". To which I thanked him and also said that wasn't funny, trouble is since we were virtually in the mist and I had never been up there before I almost took him seriously!

Up there it was windy, wet and cold but at least it was mostly downhill along some great descents through Wharfedale heading for the last stop in Kettlewell. It was a shame the weather was so bad because the scenery was wonderful I just couldn't bring myself to enjoy it; I was already beginning to wish it was over. Riding alongside the river past the houses and farms towards Buckden the rain got heavier and it seemed to take an age to do the 4 miles or so from Buckden to Kettlewell; the air was blue as I entered the village, I hit a pothole just past the school and swore out loud I hope nobody was around.

I almost missed the last checkpoint outside the Blue Bell Inn since the lady and her son, along with the guy from St.John's Ambulance were wisely sheltering in the pub doorway. I was pleased to see there was food and drink as well since the course notes said it would just be a dib station. They were curious as to how many people were still out but all I could tell them was the time I left Hawes and that I had passed 2 people on the way. I needed the loo so went into the pub (The Blue Bell Inn) and really, really did not want to leave; the warmth, the smell of the wood burning fire and the real ale were such a strong pull it was one of the biggest struggles of the day to walk back outside into that weather for the last 25 or so miles back to Richmond.

The climb out of Kettlewell got some warmth back anyway it kicks up straight away, I didn't even know there was a road that goes this way. I like Kettlewell, it being where the Great Wherside fell race is held late autumn which is a cracking short race and from this road you could see the campsite the race is held from and the lower slopes of that hill. After a really steep bit you drop back down where you can see the road snaking up the next hill in the distance and it looks very steep. This was definitely the sharpest climb of the day; I resorted to zig-zags across the road to try and get up and stopped for a breather as well at one point just before the s-bend where it was so steep the road surface was falling apart similar to the way it does on hardknott pass, thankfully there was no traffic so I was able to do whatever I needed to do to get up. After that horror there was still quite a gradient and for some reason I kept expecting it to kick up again but I must have been remembering something wrong since after a few more smaller inclines it flattened out.

The weather had lightened a little and what had been helping was the wind was almost behind me here but it wasn't long before the rain came again during the long, lonely descent through Coverdale. I had been soaked through since well before Kettlewell and had even forgotten about looking for the route arrows. From here it's just back through Leyburn and onto Richmond but I still didn't know how long I had left, I saw a sign that said it was 6 miles to Leyburn and with me thinking at that point it was 6 miles to Richmond from Leyburn I perked up a bit thinking it wasn't far to go. Every incline was slowing me down now and I needed to get the rest of my food and drink down me so I stopped near what looked like the edge of a racecourse on what google maps tells me is Cotescue Bank. It didn't do me good stopping like that for too long I was so cold my teeth were chattering as I set off and I got worried about punctures; if I had to stop for any length of time I would struggle.

My heart sank as I reached Leyburn and saw a sign saying Richmond was another 12 miles, twice as far as I had been thinking but there was nothing else to do but get my head down and push through the rain. This last stretch down the main A-road into Richmond was not good; the traffic was fast moving, the rain was heavy and I wanted so much to be somewhere warm and dry. After an eternity I saw a yellow sign saying '1Km to go' and I pushed up the pace but I couldn't even hold that for long; I started to wonder whether that sign was for some other event since it seemed like another 2 miles before I saw another sign saying '200m to go'. I also saw our car heading the other way, the family got fed up of waiting and decided to come see if they could find me!

Thankfully just on arrival into Richmond there was a welcome sight of a small gazebo with a lovely lady waiting to dib my card. Lisa parked up just up the road but I rode past her wanting to ride the last bit to the school, she said: 'Don't bother there's nobody left!', I had to give my dibber in though anyway. I almost forgot the way back!

Arriving at the school I said hello to two blokes stood under a white gazebo who just glared back at me without smiling, 'Nice welcome' I thought but maybe they were as cold and wet as I felt! I gave my dibber in and got a printout with my time: 8hr04min which was a bit disappointing but what with the weather, the feed stops and having ridden virtually every mile by myself I can't complain.

I was drenched, I had to get changed then picked up some hot food which again was included in the entry fee, a bargain for twelve quid! Just a shame the weather wasn't right on the day but what can you expect for England in May? They also gave the time bands out wrong; according to the website I should have got 'bronze' but got a 'merit' instead, not that it makes any difference!

Bank holiday Monday I went for a run round Winter Hill, alone since I was unsuccessful in persuading Mark to drag himself out! It was a good run and I felt ok considering I hadn't really ran more than once or twice since April, my intention being to test my legs before deciding what to do about the following weekend. I really wanted to do Duddon having never done it before but with spending so little time running in the hills this year I was not very confident. I was still undecided by Friday but I had almost made my mind up to do Pen-y-Ghent instead, more due to Duddon being yet another long day out for me than any worries about getting round. I had spent all week alone at work while the family were staying up North for half-term and yet another day spent with me doing something for myself wasn't really fair.

Pen-Y-Ghent Fell Race

So it was we found ourselves in Horton-in-Ribblesdale for the first time in a few years on the gala field eating cakes before the race! It was quite warm in the sun but there was a nice breeze blowing. I honestly didn't know what to expect from the race; with all the cycling I have done this year my climbing has really improved but at the expense of leg speed due to doing almost no decent running to speak of so I just started mid-pack as usual and settled in to a steady pace through the village to see what would happen. I obviously started way too close to the front since I spent most of the climb being steadily passed (this always happens!) so I'm not sure whether it was the mental effect of this or the heat that ground me down but I just felt so slow, all the way round. The wind was behind us on the way up so there wasn't much to cool us down and I was really hot on reaching the 'steps' up the back. Over the top though the breeze was in my face which was good but I just couldn't get any speed up on the descent, I quite like this run down and still passed a few but felt like my legs just wouldn't keep up with what I wanted them to do.

I found myself following a couple of the runners in front towards the gate before Whitber Hill however to me it felt like we had gone too far right, I was sure I hadn't been this far out before. It seemed like I had been out ages (I hadn't brought my watch) as I crested the hill and the flagged section to the finish started, it's still a bit of a run back from there though where again I felt so slow. Down the stony track where you can see the finish field then out onto the road for that painful tarmac run-in. I finished in about 1h14m which is about 6mins slower than my best for this route.

I wasn't sure whether I had a good or bad race. It certainly didn't feel too great while out and I was a bit disappointed with my time but at least I was back running and I got round even though I have hardly run at all this year.

I was relieved not to have entered Duddon though it would have been a huge struggle judging by the way I felt at the finish. Proves to me though that all the cycling has at least kept some of the fitness at the expense of the speed. I'm not sure what my plans are now, I'm doing Ben Nevis again this year and Mark is entered too so I might just concentrate on that. It's a shame I couldn't get some points in the Lakeland classics like last year (not doing Ennerdale this year, it's a champs race plus I'm not quick enough) but what can I expect with my knee playing up earlier this year!

(Thanks to Dave and Eileen Woodhead for taking the pictures on the fell - )