It was a lovely morning to start proceedings with the mist lifting off the tarmac. Mike saw us off with a “you might as well start then” and we rode out. A chap who I’d already picked out as probably quite quick was off the front straight away and I didn’t even try to follow. So I was second from the front and was focused on maintaining a very steady effort both going up and coming down. Before long my focus turned to taking photos as the landscape began to change; the route snaked through the industrial North before the moors came in to sight, blacked out against the morning sun, bringing Tolkien’s misty mountains to mind.
I was caught by the group behind at the foot of the climb from Saddleworth, and we rode up, and up, and up. A Very quick scribble on our brevet cards* from a lady in the lay by and it was on to the top, all the while enjoying the views, before a long fast descent off the other side. Carrying on through rolling Yorkshire terrain and some soulless A roads, before it got way too hot to be wearing leg warmers. Yo-yoing with some riders, Jasmijn, who is going for the end to end challenge, Steve, who I would be riding with later, and another strong rider whose name I didn’t catch. Coconut water stop at Tesco in Askern.
As we rode East, the world flattened out, and the road got blocked by a herd of cows. I had a quite surreal moment chatting (down) to a chap in an HPV* before the info control at Blacktoft, where I had my first meeting with Phil, another rider I would spend much of the weekend with. Then the road turned to gravel (I love gravel) and the second I began to wonder how far up the road Steve (still ‘the guy in Rapha’ at that point) was, I turned the corner to find him having done what I’d done – withdrawing from Jasmijn’s relentless pace. Group riding to the Green Dragon where a very nice vicar stamped our cards (before he had to go off to preside over a wedding). Delayed water bottle refill and the others had already left so I rode solo over the Humber bridge.
However it was only when I’d got to the far side of it that I found the gate was locked. After wasting 5 minutes wondering if I would have to cycle all the way back to pass on the other side, a helpful chap on a walking tour lifted my bike over the gate and I squeezed round the side. Not so lucky for the poor HPV rider who had to turn round and do it all over again on the west side, no chance of lifting that thing over!
After that it got quite windy, not as flat as I had been expecting and not all that fun. Passed Phil having a sandwich, and at some point Steve. I then got caught by them and was very grateful of the company. We rode as a group on to Gainsborough. Chips and wedges and lemonade and coffee and off we went again.
And so began the best part of 200km of flat. Flat, flat, flat. Thank goodness for our group working very well together, silent except for the odd exchange on taking a turn on the front. Tesco control at Wragby, McDonald’s control at Boston (grim) and into the sunset. A lot of standing as you get kind of sucked into the saddle when it’s like that and things start to hurt.
Lincolnshire over, Welcome to Leicestershire, along with ups downs and rain that 10 minutes either side would have seen us stay dry. 350km and the Corby Glen village hall control at 9:15pm, we were too early to sleep so we decided to push on through the night (something I’d been planning to do anyway). Soup, fruit salad, bread and jam at this point food is not pleasant but you’ve just got to force it down. On with the cold weather clothing and into the night.
A long 60km (50km without a stop is about my current limit after 300km) section that got increasingly familiar as we got closer to Castle Donington, the village I grew up in. There’s something strangely rewarding about cycling through your local area at 1am after 400kms! Donington services were the last chance to sleep before committing to a night with none, and Steve decided it was here he’d get his head down, flat out on a bench in the food court within two minutes of arriving. So it was just Phil and I and we ride on to a 24 hour garage I had thankfully earmarked beforehand, as 70kms between the controls at that stage would have been too far. A quick lemonade and onto the lumpy, cold, tired approach to Stone.
It’s amazing what some proper sugar and a coffee does, even at 6am after 24 hours at it.
By Wem we had slowed, and as the weather held out, and we’d already ridden 500km it was nice to just ride our bikes in the sun. A Staffordshire oatcake, beans and hash browns before the control and a can of coke (big mistake, very acidic) at Prees Heath. A biker in leathers acknowledged my brevet card and wished me luck, a strange coming together of leathers and lycra in the café there.
This was it now, a roll into the finish and a quick stop at Tesco with 35km to go. The ride into Poynton had lots of weekend cyclists out, lots of people waving (to Phil who lives there) and some very welcome familiar roads from the previous morning’s ride to the start. The final control, a can of Beavertown Gamma Ray (cheers Phil, next one’s on me!) and we’re finished. An hour later Steve arrives, riding strongly after his hour and a half at the services.
All in all, very happy with how I felt throughout. Digestion seems to be a problem I’ll have to get used to, but there was no flagging like the last 100km of London Wales London. I was able to ride 200km further than I have done before, and whilst my legs did tire towards the end, I didn’t have the same feeling of turning them but producing no power. The goal of riding it without sleep was manageable, and now it’s time for some rest, and to begin preparations for Mille Pennines next month.
Brevet Card – the card stamped at each control to show proof of passage. DO NOT LOSE.
HPV – Human Powered Vehicle. See the pod picture below.