After starting cycling when Team Sky formed the chance to “Ride with Wiggo” in a sportive was too much to turn down – at the time I signed up Brad was on track to go well in the Tour so the added incentive was that I could be riding with the current holder of the yellow jersey was to good to turn down. The route started in East Lancashire, headed North towards the Yorkshire Dales before heading to Lancaster then down to the Trough of Bowland and back to base. The organisers had 4 feedstops on route and also had set up 3 King of the Mountains timed climbs for a bit of competition.
Having watched Brad’s achievements over the summer meant that I was genuinely excited to have paid out the slightly pricey £40 to ride with him. However as the day got closer I took more interest in the route and the excitement turned to worry, as I had opted for the 100 mile route with around 11,000 feet of climbing, gulp! Given I have only done two previous rides none of which have included such brutal climbing the worry was well placed, one of our club members was training for a 7 day LEJOG solo and unsupported (in other words is very fit) and he follows the route back in July as a training ride and told me that it was very tough. Worry was starting to turn to mild panic.
I set off with a club mate and before long a group of 12 riders formed holding a strong pace, this worried me as the last thing I wanted was to blow up half way round due to early exertions. However knowing riding in a pack was an efficient way of getting round I kept tucked into the group and chatted with Mark from our club. After 5 miles we hit the rolling hills (a feature of the ride as a whole) the first descent put pay to my group riding, as has been previously blogged, I was unwilling to “go for it” especially with a bunch of riders I didn’t know.
Before long the first timed climb came, a long drag up Waddington Fell (this was the side I descended on when I did last year’s Lewis Balyckyi ride). It was a tough drag but my legs were feeling ok and I was spurred on by the fact I was overtaking riders. A brisk descent up to the lovely village of Slaidburn, a quick stop to grab some gels (all that was available) and with a target of beating 8 hours I was back on the bike. More gentle climbing before I reached the view of the day, a huge valley with the road slowly snaking up the right hand side for at least 5km, the scenery was beautiful and the sun was shining, I should of taken a picture but all I wanted to do was ride it. It was a long drag but I was inspired by the view, I even mentioned it to a fellow rider I passed whose response was he was just concentrating on climbing and hadn’t noticed the view (given what was to come I felt sorry for him).
After a real solid effort keeping my speed high, and feeling pretty good, I eventually made it to the second feedstop at Bray. Here I refilled bottles with sickly sweet Gatorade, grabbed a few more gels and a protein bar which I wolfed down. All of a sudden I heard shouts of “he’s here” and I turned to see Brad pulling in to re-fuel, he headed through the crowds straight at me – completely star struck I just stood there staring as he re-filled his bottles less than 2 feet from me (again no picture from me!). Then the scrum happened with well wishers and pic hunters surrounding Brad. Despite reports of how prickly Brad can be, especially with certain members of the media, here he was with friends and like minded cyclists and he joked and seemed relaxed. I had signed up to ride with him so decided to leave and then be passed at some point on the road rather than next to a barrel of energy drink.
From Bray I headed to the Trough of Bowland – the road consistently rolled up and down and I was starting to feel my legs. I hit the Jubilee Tower climb, at which point I knew this was going to be a long tough ride. Trying to get in to some sort of rhythm and struggling was obviously a cue for Wiggo himself to serenely pass me, he said hello aimed at few of us and disappeared up the road. So that was me riding with Brad – the next 50 miles were all about me. Before long the second KOM climb came and after struggling up the long drag I made a good descent to Chipping (via a nasty climb I have never found in all my rides around the Trough of Bowland). Third feedstop was disappointing, more sticky Gatorade (after a 5 minute queue) but as the shorter distance had now merged with us all the gels and protein bars had gone. There was the option to buy cake and a hot cup of tea/coffee but given the cost of the sportive I thought this was taking a bit of a liberty. To ensure my mood was well and truly crushed two things then happened, first was that the heavens opened and despite it being warm and muggy I slipped the waterproof on. Straight out of Chipping we hit a hill I am reliably informed is called Jeffrey Hill, the opening climb was tough but then it got worse. All I could see was dismounted riders walking up the hill, there was no way I was walking and a I very slowly wrestled my bike up the brutal gradient, given I had to force my front wheel on to the ground on three separate occasions my guess is that gradient was over 20%. At the top I was hurting and sweating, despite the rain I got rid of the waterproof as I didn’t want to feel like a boil in the bag cyclist.
More rolling hills took us to Whalley, the loneliness and fatigue was starting to play a big part now, and I know of a nasty 25% hill out of Whalley that I had convinced myself that the sadists that had designed this route were going to take us up. I gulped a gel down in anticipation and prepared for the worst. Luckily my fears were unfounded and my mood immediately lifted, through the centre of Whalley dodging through the first traffic for about 2 hours we turned and hit a long drag to the final feedstop. As my mood lifted so did my performance and I felt great, I found a good rhythm and as I got to Pendleton was looking forward to the last section of the ride. Chatting to one guy he told me we had 18 miles to go, with one KOM to go a finish within an hour or so was well within my sights. Oh how misplaced that statement now feels.
Nick O’Pendle was the next climb and still feeling good I attacked it with gusto jumping out of the saddle (see left) to ensure I put my all into it over taking a number of riders, of all the climbs it was my best performance (285th out of 631 riders doing the 100 mile route) – 15 miles to go, my legs were feeling jaded but the last push was well within my capability.
Boom! The next 15 miles were hellish, Brad in his speech at the end commented how tough the last 20km was. At first I thought he was being kind however David Harmon, who was also taking part, started his Vuelta commentary by noting how tough the ride was and how the last 20km were brutal. I had eaten and drunk enough but the lack of long rides and the previous 85 rolling miles hit me like a brick wall. The combination of short sharp climbs and rolling roads sapped everything from my legs, we then had a drag up over Barley Fell which took the remaining energy from me. At the top I decided a quick comfort break was needed, clipped out of my left pedal and then fell over on my right. Fatigue was becoming a serious issue. The final few miles continued with the theme of hard riding, with many riders around me commenting on how ridiculous this was getting, and I admit to openly swearing to anyone near me that this better be the last ******* hill! Despite not seeing a sign for Barnoldswick I we were guided over a road by one of the many marshals and with barriers both sides I had made it – a quick sprint past another rider and I had done it. The toughest ride of my life. To top it all I broke my 8 hour target including stops and actually managed a time of 7hr 24min excluding my stops, I was chuffed to bits but can only think “what if” had I not hit the wall after the Nick O’Pendle.
Overall reflections on the sportive. Well the Brad factor certainly helped give it an X-factor, and it is great to be able to say I have “ridden” with a legend. The sportive as a whole was well signed and the marshals were at all the right places and the event was well organised. Given the cost I was disappointed by the feed stops, mainly just gels and given one had run out shows poor planning. For such a long route then sustenance is vital and given other sportives have upped their game here then it is one area that could do with a look for next year. The route was hard, very hard but so rewarding. it’s been a week since I rode it and despite the pain and fatigue it was so worth it.