I visited Yorkshire recently, we’d booked a cheap weekend away at a pub The Black Bull in High Bentham. I checked the British Cycling Events website and by chance found a sportive on the same weekend. The event was organised by The Open Wheel I looked at their website and the event route looked great, taking in at least 50 miles of Le Tour stage 1 with a French themed feed station offering moules marinières, strong coffee and even a small glass of wine halfway. The route was 94 miles and listed as mostly flat. I sent an email off to the organiser asking for a copy of the route map, I was quite nervous by this mostly flat terminology, quite flat for who, a local who’s used to riding monster hills. I received a map with 5500ft of climbing, so this equals mostly flat does it, I’d argue it equals a lot of climbing. However I’d made a commitment this year to make friends with hills. I wanted to enjoy the challenge of climbing, stop fearing hills, I wanted to embrace them as they are a big part of cycling so this event was going to be part of my commitment. I stopped worrying about it and booked myself in.
On the day we arrived in Yorkshire it was beautiful, the sun was shining and it was a barmy 24 degrees in June. We checked in to the pub which turned out to be lovely, the landlord and landlady were very welcoming. There wasn’t a lot to see in High Bentham so on the advice of one of the locals we took a drive up on the Dales. Savannah loved it up here. She’d been sat in the car for most of the day so she was finally free to run around. The views were simply breathtaking, you could see the Three Peaks of Yorkshire. a famous walk that people do in 24hrs.
We also took a drive to the town of Clapham, this is where our ride would start the following day. Clapham turned out to be a gorgeous little village with a really nice pub and hotel The New Inn so we stayed for dinner. They served delicious, local, home made food and it was really well presented. The children’s portions were gigantic and Savannah did her very best to finish the steak pie, she loved it. I didn’t get to visit this cafe as it was closed, it’s also in Clapham but I get the impression they like cyclists.
The weather forecast for Saturday, the day of the Yorkshire 101: Grand Reserve Special Edition was not looking good. Heavy rain, thunderstorms and even lightening but I wasn’t going to let this deter me. I actually had other things on my mind, those hills. Kidstones Bank was on the route, the King of the Mountain (KOM) for Le Tour Stage 1. I’d stupidly read some reviews of it and it sounded horrible, one of the corners maxes out at 20% and kicks and hurts.
The next morning the pub did a great job of preparing us breakfast, a huge bowl of steaming hot porridge filled up with jam and sliced bananas. They also served up an OK capuccino too so I was all set to go. So far there was no sign of rain but the bunting in the village was flapping in the wind, it was definitely very wild out there. On arrival at Clapham Village Hall where the ride started I was a little disappointed to see so few riders congregated. On this occasion, not knowing the area, riding a sportive gave me the chance to take in the best the area has to offer without getting lost but I love riding sportives and don’t mind paying money for them because I enjoy meeting other riders, I like riding events where there’s large numbers of cyclists. I have a competitive spirit, I am driven by a challenge and I like seeing someone ahead of me and trying to chase them down, keeping them in my line of sight, it motivates me. The weather forecast most definitely kept a few people in their beds today.
We collected our numbers and timing chips, got ourselves ready, packed our pockets full of energy gels and bars and said goodbye to my Mum, Dad and Savannah and set off on our journey. My current favourite energy food to fill up my pockets with is the PowerBar Ride energy bar. I buy them in a box from Wiggle as it works out a bit cheaper. I usually start off eating one of these after 40 minutes or if I’m going out for an early morning ride, before work, straight out of bed I’ll eat one of these instead of having a bowl of a porridge. They’re really fast acting and they taste great, both flavours. They’re not very good on warm days though, they do melt but there was no concern for that in Yorkshire.
The ride had no sooner started and we found ourselves climbing with strong force winds blowing in our faces but so far no sign of rain. The climb out of Austwick was a good leg burner but I couldn’t help notice how beautiful everywhere was and this is when it struck me how awesome it was going to be that Le Tour is coming to Yorkshire. England as a nation is currently nursing a World Cup hangover, England are going home, the players are apologising and trying to avoid further humiliation with a promise to try and beat a meaningless match against Costa Rica. The nation is desperate to feel proud of their country. Well as a rode around this route and took in stunning villages, dry stone wall lined roads I just couldn’t stop thinking about how proud I’m going to feel watching Le Tour in Yorkshire. Everywhere we rode through, you could feel the energy, the excitement, campsites were ready, the bunting was up, the flags were out and yellow painted bikes were displayed in front of every pub. Furthermore we’re good at cycling and we sometimes win.
Then the heavens opened but Yorkshire still looked amazing. I remember checking, imagining what I could see around me was on the TV and it still looked epic. Climbing Kidstones Bank with torrential rain smacking me in the face motivated me to keep going, not to stop. When that 20% gradient corner kicked in and hurt like crazy the rain was coming down so hard but I just kept turning my pedals. I could see another cyclist ahead of me so I used him as my guide, as long as I could keep him in my sight I’d be OK, I’d make it to the top. And to the top I went, I felt the most insane sense of relief and satisfaction when I got there. I’m just a few weeks off 40 and I’ve just ridden up Le Tour’s stage 1 KOM and I lead a group of riders up and no one overtook me. We were rewarded with a descent after this with a beautiful road surface, because Le Tour is coming I think the roads have been repaired so we flew down.
On a sportive ride I usually wouldn’t stop at the feed station, I’d usually just eat my own gels and bars and carry on through going for a good time instead but I was completely soaked and in need of a hot drink. My Mum, Dad and Savannah had been following us around the course so far. It’s so lovely when they drive past because Savannah’s face lights up when she sees me on my bike. I hope this is a positive message to her, I want to inspire her to live a fit and healthy life. Once stopped at the feed station I swapped clothes, I had a complete change of jersey, jacket and shorts in my Dad’s car so I thought I’d start fresh for the 2nd half. There wasn’t much point but it felt good for a few minutes and at least I was warm and dry while I stopped. We actually stopped for around an hour, we had a good feed, drank loads of coffee and chatted to the other riders that had made it through. I also spoke to the organiser and asked about the landscape to come. He mentioned a hill in Cowgill and said it was twice as bad as Kidstones Bank, sounds brilliant.
We set off from the feed station, this time saying goodbye to my Mum, Dad and Savannah. One of the other riders had suffered a terminal, technical problem and my Dad had offered to drive him back to the start, to his own car because the broom wagon was a long way off. The rain had stopped for a while as we headed out but it didn’t take long for it to come back. It was the heaviest type of rain, giant rain drops fell and we were soaked again in an instant.
There were a number of rides happening that day, all offering the thrill of riding along the route of Le Tour so we had to be sharp looking for the right directional arrows as some were very similar. We met up with some riders doing another event and one guy from East Finchley where I used to live. He fancied himself as a really strong rider but said Yorkshire was kicking his butt, he said nothing can prepare you for this. I thought I was doing OK, I was going a bit slower than normal and the hills were really hard but I was loving it and really enjoying it despite the weather.
We carried on riding up and down for the whole day and then we rode past a sign saying Cowgill. There was a constant climb after this, it was tough but nothing terrible. We fooled ourselves in to believing that we’d become accustomed to the hills and we could handle them and maybe we’d ridden the horrible beast the organiser had spoken of. Then we turned a corner and were faced with the steepest hill I think I’ve ever seen, at least on a bike anyway. There were a number of riders already at the bottom and I rode past all of them thinking this was the hill. Then it turned and kicked and went up again, and again, and it just kept kicking and hurting. We had 77 miles in our legs at this point and we were soaked through to our skin. I can only compare this climb in my mind to climbing a wall, I had to zig zag sections of it and I’ve never done this on my bike before. I was determined not to get off, walking was going to be harder and slower and I would’ve been so disappointed if I didn’t complete the whole ride on my bike. Luckily I’d read another blog just days before and they suggested zig zagging as a way to climb really steep hills. It’s obviously dangerous on roads where you’re likely to encounter cars but I’m not even sure a normal road car would get up this ridiculous thing. I did a lot of breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth to try and keep the oxygen flowing and I just gritted my teeth (whilst trying to breath) and got myself through it. The gradient maxed out at 20% and the climb was 1.6miles long, it was epic. I had to put the pain in my legs to the back of my mind and just keep telling myself over and over that if you get off and walk it’s going to hurt a lot more.
As far as climbing went I thought that was it having studied the route profile, it looked like it was all downhill from now. We did get to ride an amazing 18km downhill section after this and knowing that was coming was definitely a motivator whilst I was climbing Cowgill. However with 88 miles in my legs I turned a corner and was faced with not 1 but 3 really tough climbs. I was absolutely exhausted at this point, I’d be out for over 6 hours. I was soaked through and I’d had enough and I did swear very loudly which possibly assisted me getting over those last 3 hills.
I finally arrived back at the village hall and it was very quiet. Mum, Dad and Savannah were waiting along with the organisers. Only 11 other riders had made it back so far and 3 of them hadn’t done the full ride, they’d turned around and gone back because the weather was so bad. The organiser was very complimentary, I’d done a quick time and ridden well to make it back. It turns out I was the 8th fastest rider on the day overall and the quickest lady. My official time was 07:18:25 but if you exclude my feed stop Strava clocked my riding time at 06:21:33 with an average speed of 14.4mph. I usually ride at 16/17mph locally so given the weather and the hills I was very happy.
If any one tells you they’re broken hearted about the world cup just remind them Le Tour is coming to Yorkshire and it’s going to be awesome, the world will be watching, we should all be really proud and we might even win something.
Vive Le Tour!