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Rides

ICC 2 Day Race

Not every race can go as well as my last. Today was a great example of just how different every race can be and why they're so unpredictable. This weekends race was the Ilkley two day race with four stages. The first day being a 1.5 mile TT and a 55 mile road race, then day two being a 5.5 mile TTT and 33 mile road race. The day started fairly well with the sunshine breaking out from the start of the day, meaning that at least it would be a dry race. The wind didn't seem too bad at race HQ but we were in a valley so it's a little bit deceptive. I was racing alongside teammates David and Richard from AlbaRosa CC and also some familiar faces from FTR in Julian, Jamie and Nick. Looking at the start list showed me that there were a lot of second category riders in the field and some strong ones at that. This meant the weekend would likely be pretty tough.

Having arrived at HQ and set my bike up I was kindly leant some 50mm deep section wheels for the TT by my teammate David which gave me a bit of a moral boost. Okay, so in a TT over 1.5 miles they might not have the greatest impact but it's still nice to feel like you're a bit more prepared. Being a club that's alphabetically one of the first on the timesheet we would be away quite early in the day ; a bonus for recovery but not for sussing out the rest of the field.

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How much can you say about a 1.5 mile TT? In all honestly not very much. I arrived at the start line and was last from my team to leave. You get a count down from 30 seconds when the man grabs your bike and holds you steady so you can prepare to go. That's probably the longest 30 seconds in the world. 5,4,3,2,1 and we're off. The TT starts by going up hill for a couple of hundred yards before downhill for much of the rest of the ride, ending in one final long drag to the finish. I managed a 3 minutes 14 seconds (28mph) on the clock which was good enough for a mid-field position so I was happy enough with that. David managed to sneak a top ten finish so that was some early points for him to spur on the team.

TT over we head back to HQ where we would spend the next two hours eating cake, planning for the road race and generally having a good catch up. The temperature was rising and it looked like the afternoon would be scorching. The afternoon came around fairly quickly and after a quick race briefing we got back on the bikes for the 6 mile neutralised ride to the start. During the neutralised ride there was plenty of chatter amongst riders of putting the hammer down to reduce the bunch from the off so I paid attention to this in hope I could maybe hang on.

New shoe day!

The race started in a furious nature as the strongest riders looked to drop as many people as possible as quickly as they could. After the initial downhill section we were on the long back straight of Pennypot where today the cross-headwind would just prove too much for most people including me. I saw the peleton splitting into three distinct groups so I thought I had better move up the bunch and try to wheel surf into a safe position. Unfortunately in doing so I used more energy than I thought so slipped back into the third bunch presuming the race would come back together.

The race never did come back together and from that point onwards it became more of a TT than race for me as I began to try and battle back towards the front. Obviously one man taking on what felt like the world was never going to happen and I soon found myself in no-mans land. However just as in my last race I found myself with Julian from FTR and we began to work together for much of lap two to try and remain in the race in some capacity. This time though Julian was too strong in the headwind for me.

Pre-race dinner last night.

Two more laps passed by of effectively TT riding before I suddenly saw team mate David in the distance stood by the road side. It turns out he had been subject to two punctures up the road and now a third leaving him stranded. This is where the weekend ends for me. I decided that rather than struggle on I would give the stronger rider of the two of us my wheel to carry on and hopefully finish the race so that they could start day 2. There was no neutral service nearby so this was the most sensible option for the team.

Wheel change done and David up the road again I settled down and waited for a lift back to HQ. That's my race weekend over but it meant that the stronger of us could start the next day. It was also great to hear that our other teammate Richard was still riding in one of the latter groups on the road and had made the time cut for tomorrow so David has some support on the road.

It's a tough start to the weekend but a learning curve all the same and something I hope to build on in the future. As usually thanks are to Science in Sport and Madison Clothing for keeping me on the road. I'll spend the rest of the weekend cheering on the team and taking a steady recovery ride now.

Further thanks are once again to Ilkley CC for putting on the event and making this weekend possible!

Onto the next one!

A ride with Ed Clancy and 9Bar

Ed Clancy and Greg Whyte don't really need any introduction. One of them is a four time world champion and two time gold medalist and the other an ex-Olympian and celebrity fitness trainer that famously made Davina McCall cry during a Comic Relief challenge. So it's fair to say that when their sponsor 9Bar nutrition invited me to ride with both Ed and Greg for the day I instantly said yes and then started to worry about whether I would be able to keep up for the day, given the ride would take place in the hills of the Peak District.

9barsz

Thankfully, 9Bar assured me that the ride would be nice and steady with plenty of opportunity to quiz both sportsmen, and with a question and answer over lunch. On the day I arrived in Hope with plenty of time and whilst signing on made sure to collect plenty of 9Bars for the ride, just in case things suddenly turned pro on the road. Whilst we all signed on, Ed and Greg mingled with the other riders, introducing themselves ahead of the ride.

Once we were all signed on, Ed gave us a briefing on ride ahead; 25 miles, 4000ft of climbing and lunch half way. In true pro style Ed had written the route on a sheet of paper stuffed in his pocket so we were certain we would get lost. Greg opted for a slightly more physical introduction and in true personal trainer style took us through a brief warm up in the car park.

Muscles ready, we set off down the valley into the glorious later summer sunshine, forming a tight group behind Ed as he led the way. At this point we started to take it in turns to rotate past Ed and Greg and have a chat with them both. When I pulled alongside Ed we started chatting about the season so far and catching up about the riders we both knew from around Yorkshire already. Having seen Ed at the hilltop finish on Hartside in the Tour of Britain recently I also took the opportunity to poke fun at Ed's hatred of hills and also ask him about how he recovers from such intense races. In true Ed style, he told me about how on rest days he just sits at home on the Xbox playing Grand Theft Auto because he dislikes recovery rides. All of this was said whilst Ed pulled a wheelie up the next hill on the route just to prove he can ride uphill after all.

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As expected, Ed's scrap of paper soon got us lost and no wheelie could solve that, so he stopped to consult the local farmer on the best way to the pub. Deep Yorkshire accent translated and we were back underway and rolling along to the pub.

Before long we had arrived in Bakewell and settled into the local pub for a two course lunch and question and answer session with Greg and Ed. The riders had definitely been deep in thought on the road as questions came flowing to both men, Ed receiving questions on his power outputs, training regimes and life on the track. He gave some very insightful replies to all of his questions and a very honest take on his love of cycling- it turns out that he can push approximately 1,200 watts and actually spends more time in the gym that on the bike as you need the explosive power to be able to cope on the track. Although it turns out Ed can't quite leg press as much as Chris Hoy and can 'only' push about 250kg normally...

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Greg then took his turn to answer questions about training celebrities and fuelling your training. We were all told how important it was to keep fuelled during rides to stop so it was just as well we'd all eat our 9Bars and demolished our two course meals for the return journey. Greg also told us a story about when he trained David Walliams to swim the Thames, and how he had been forced to stay in the freezing water for an hour after David finished so David was on the camera; that's pretty dedicated training!

Once lunch was over we all ambled back outside to contemplate the return ride full of food; hopefully it would be flatter to get home. Whilst we prepared to head home some of us took the opportunity to take a photo with Ed and Greg so in typical 21st century style I thought i'd grab a cheesy selfie instead!

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After checking the now crumpled piece of paper, Ed began to lead us back to Hope along the valley and towards the famous Monsal Hill which is home to one of the most famous hill climb races in the country. Thankfully Ed assured us that we would be going down this hill instead of up it leading a lot of people to breathe a sigh of relief given their slightly full stomachs. Unfortunately Ed forgot to tell us all that we would instead be going up a 25% climb at the other side of the valley and so without warning we were confronted with pretty tough section of road where Ed again took the opportunity to shirk the claims about his climbing and wheelie to the top.

Climbing done for the day, we were able to talk again and Ed decided to tell us all about his retirement plans which consisted of opening a cattery on a countryside farm. According to Ed's it's the perfect retirement plan because cats just need stroking and that makes people happy anyway. So when Ed's JLT Condor team suddenly become 'JLT Cat-dor' we all know what's happened.

9bars

The day ended with a two mile descent back into the village and this gave Ed and Greg the opportunity to show everyone a masterclass in descending as they swept from the hairpin turns with ease and breezed down the road. Once we all caught up again we had arrived in the village and Ed took the opportunity to thank all the riders for coming for the day and take a few more photos.

At this point a few people went for another very quick loop with Ed but unfortunately I had to ride back to Sheffield so grabbed a few more 9Bar from the van to fuel me home. At the end of the day I had ridden 65 miles and 5000ft so was pretty thankful for the fuel to get me home. Thanks 9Bar for the opportunity to ride with Ed and Greg!

Inspiration - The Yorkshire Dales

As most people that follow me on Twitter will know I ride a considerable number of miles each week in a combination of training, active recovery and socialising. Covering over 300 miles each week could quite easily become monotonous and boring if the roads you're riding on lack the views or twists and turns needed to make each ride unique. I live in Yorkshire, the training ground of many of the UK's top triathletes and cyclists, and home to the Tour of Yorkshire three day stage race following the legacy of the year the Tour De France visited our region. Yorkshire is great in so many ways, and with such a vast expanse of area you are never short of new roads to train on or the perfect route to recover. I live in Leeds and whichever way you ride you're able to get some vastly varied routes. To the north you will find the Yorkshire Dales, to the south you find the urban roads of Huddersfield, to the west the sharp and steep climbs of Haworth and finally to the east you find the flatlands of the York Vale.

R6

I find have such a great choice of locations helps to make training so much easier as no matter where you go there will always be something different. Typically I will head north if I want a good training session as the Dales give a great rolling landscape in which you can really test your legs and lungs but also admire the surroundings without feeling too guilty about having a quick rest. However, if I want a nice social ride with my other half or with my club I prefer to go east into the Vale so that we can actually chat and ride as a group on the flat rolling roads without splitting up as a group on any hills. The west and the south are less visited by me but great for the seriously tough days out when I want to throw myself at hill after hill.

R2

So many people keeping asking where it is that I ride owing to the photos I take, so I thought I would share one of my favourite routes for people to try next time they're up north.

The first is an 80 mile ride from Ilkley, home of the Cow and Calf and takes in both the Dales and the Vale. Starting in Ilkley the route winds it's way along the country lanes beside the A65 that are popular with nearly every cyclist in Leeds over the weekend that's guaranteed to give you a wave as you pass, dropping you into the market town of Otley; from here you take another quiet road up to the Official Top 100 Climb - Norwood Edge. This climb is steep,straight and tree lined at the bottom but once past the half way point opens up and snakes through the open expanses of the moors for some truly awesome views of the valley. Once at the top and with your breath back you descend down to a reservoir for some perfect photo opportunities.

R1

Once you climb up from the reservoir you climb into the stone wall enclosed roads of the Dales once more and sticking with the country lanes head for Pateley Bridge. This is where my favourite part of the route starts - an epic five miles of descent to Laverton and a fast flowing flat section to Ripon. This is a road to savour and really opens up the option to unleash the legs. The descent is on smooth tarmac with the view down the road as far as the eye can see and views all the way across to White Horse Bank. Another perfect photo opportunity, or even a picnic stop.

I though prefer to take my stop in Ripon at the Sun Parlour Cafe next to the spa baths and gardens. Bacon sandwiches, cakes and coffee can all be found here and the mini-golf makes for some great lunchtime laughs and "cross-training".

R4

Cafe stop over, the route takes a very different route home across the flat roads towards Boroughbridge before snaking west back towards Leeds. This is where things get quite interesting. There is a little road called Limekiln Lane that starts as a beautiful new tarmac road but suddenly turns into a sort of single track style lane. This seems impractical on a road bike but in all reality is perfectly good fun and safe for the bike as it only lasts 100 metres at most before the precious tarmac starts again - impromptu cyclo-cross skills lesson. However this isn't the last of it as for added adventure you then have to carry your bike over a wooden stile to reach the next stretch of real road. To the hardcore cyclist this would make them cry because the wheel might get muddy, but it's well worth the fun.

Muddy wheel making over, you join the main road and circle around the edge of Harrogate taking in one last little short climb before descending all the way down to Otley and retracing your steps from the morning.

R3

The route has a little bit of everything, and at the weekend my five unsuspecting friends were subject to the route themselves and loved it. If you feel the desire to visit Yorkshire definitely get in touch so I can find you an awesome road but for now here are some details on the epic little loop:

Route: https://www.strava.com/routes/3102440

Cafe: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g209973-d5891993-Reviews-Sun_Parlour_Cafe_in_Ripon-Ripon_North_Yorkshire_England.html

 

 

The Dunwich Dynamo

It’s now been a little over a month since I drove to London to take a part in the even more popular Dunwich Dynamo night ride a 200km (120 mile) ride from London Fields in Hackney to the sleepy east coast village of Dunwich. The ‘Dun Run’ as it’s affectionately known is an unofficial, unorganised ride that takes place each July on the weekend closest to the full moon and attracts every possible kind of cyclist – I saw tandems, Brompton’s, racing bikes, elliptical bikes and possibly even one Boris bike, although it gets harder and harder to tell the darker the night becomes. My knowledge of the Dun Run was non-existent until my friend Nick got in touch to ask if I wanted to go down and ride through the night on a slightly mystical adventure. In true craziness I agreed I would ride the 200km to the beach. The only problem with this was that it left us on the east coast and needing to get back to London. There were buses back to the city but I decided that we would ride back too and make it one of the longest rides I’ve ever done – all for fun.

I’ve never started a ride in the dark before but have ridden overnight so wasn’t entirely sure on the best option in terms of planning the preceding day. Luckily my other half Sarah was also going to London the same weekend to run a relay in Windsor so we decided to drive down on the Friday evening to stay with Sarah’s running friend Steph who made us very welcome for the weekend. As all the runners were getting up early on Saturday morning for Park Run we quickly turned in for the night. I decided I would get up with everyone else on the Saturday and head into London for lunch and a walk with an old friend which meant I wouldn’t be going back to sleep until at least Sunday lunchtime. This was possibly my biggest mistake for such a long ride as I’d find out later on.

DD2

After a day of dining, walking and generally chilling out I went to collect my bike and prepare for the 8pm start in Hackney. I decided to opt for most of my usual long distance comforts – gels, energy bars, warm clothes including arm warmers for the middle of the night, and then about £25 to enable me to buy any essentials en-route. The biggest thing to remember for the ride were lights – lights that would let me see throughout the night for at least six hours of darkness. Once everything was attached to me or the bike I was ready to go. It was at this point I realised it was 7pm and I felt a little bit tired from the day’s activities so far.

The trip from Putney to Hackney was uneventful but my arrival to London Fields was quite the opposite – a sea of lycra clad cyclists lay in front of me as I arrived at the pub where the ride starts. So many different kinds of rider all excited for the night ahead. I thrust myself into the sea of lycra and set about finding Nick ready to start the night ahead. Once found we started to gather a small group that would stay together for the night ahead.

DD3

We left London fields just after 8pm well aware that there were about 600 cyclists already up the road to light our route through the night. The first 15 miles are mainly spent trying to escape London and whilst not the most exciting miles of the ride allowed everyone to say hello and have a good chat to get spirits high before the night ahead. As we wound our way out of London and into the countryside we watched the sunset behind us lighting up the sky in a vast array of deep red and orange. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect with clear skies, a full moon and temperatures never dipping below 17 degrees Celsius.

DD4

Once we were into the countryside we settled down, switched on the lights and began to set a nice steady tempo for the night ahead. We must have a different meaning for the word tempo as we suddenly looked behind to find we were towing about 100 riders behind us. It’s always a nice feeling to be in such a big group with no real rush. The problem with no rushing however, was the sudden wave of tiredness that washed over us just after 10:30pm when we suddenly realised we were going to be up for a very long time. Thankfully no need to worry as the first pub of the evening we came across was open to sell coffee to all the riders. The pubs and shops along the route stay open all night to fuel the riders for the one night of the year.

After a stop we set off into the dark and silent country lanes that lay ahead, following the twisting, snaking line of red lights that stretched into the very distance of the road ahead. The county lanes lit by the dappling moonlight casting shadows across the road. There was always a feint murmur of chatter and whirring wheels in the groups we passed on the road. This is a ride to savour not to smash.

DD7

Around 1am, maybe a little bit later we arrived over half way through the route at a fire station which was holding an overnight BBQ for the Dun Run – the ample opportunity to grab a burger for a good cause. The only downside to this was the massive queue for food as everyone had the same idea. That burger tasted ace though and was worth the rest. Food stop over we set off around 2am and passed a closing nightclub with everyone staggering home – a reminder of our night still to come.

2am onwards is a bit of a blur in all honesty until the sun came up and gave the most beautiful sunrise possible. The ride has stretched out significantly at this point and we were on the road in our own solo group admiring the countryside and sunrise simultaneously whilst checking the Garmin to realise there wasn’t much further to go. The aim of the ride is to reach Dunwich before sunrise but that doesn’t matter at all. We arrived on the beach around 5:30am, an hour after sunrise.

DD6

The beach is a spectacle itself – hundreds of tired and drowsy cyclists sat on the beach wolfing down coffee and breakfasts from the one and only café by the beach that opens to feed the hungry cyclists. Obligatory photo stop over, we headed into the café to grab our breakfast then admire the beauty of the morning. Stopping in the warmth of the café hit us hard. We were seriously tired, and all a little bit too drowsy to start the ride home now. Oh well, more coffee it was to be. I took the decision to take a 10 minute power nap at this point to help perk me up a little. Surprising how much 10 minutes of sleep can save you.

DD5

That’s the Dun Run done. Now for the return trip, this time home via Ipswich to drop Nick home. There were three of us on the ride home. Me, Nick and Eric. The sun was shining high in the sky and we set off home in great spirits soon setting a pace around 18mph and in a bee-line for Nick’s house. Around 10am we arrived and realised we were a little bit hungry and rather dehydrated by the warmth of the morning sun so stopped for 30 minutes to refuel. When we stepped into the house it was sunny but when we stepped outside there was a sudden monsoon. Damn. Pride over sense we didn’t head straight to the train station but hopped back on the bikes and set off in the pouring rain towards London.

At this point we still had 100 miles to ride and were absolutely drenched to the bone. When you’re wet and riding you use energy faster as you try to keep warm and ride so I was eating like a Trojan to keep my body going whilst setting a tough tempo to get back as fast as possible. This was another 100 mile blur in the day where me and Eric took it in turns to set the pace as we fought our way back to London.

By early afternoon the weather had thankfully brightened up and Eric had guided us back inside the M25 with his local knowledge and along to a 1 mile off road section of road on our road bikes. Despite what most people tell you it turns out your road bike can handle fire track well and once we’d climbed up the gravel section we were greeted by a view of London from high up on a hillside. This could only mean it was downhill back to London. So down and down we rode back towards the towers of London, eventually arriving around 2pm.

DD1

Eric kindly passed on his knowledge of London to allow me to find my car, and Sarah who was now bored whilst camping in my car awaiting my return. 10 miles of sleepy riding and finally I was back. Bike into the car, inhale all the food and drive out of London for a nap before the longer drive home.

It’s hard to convey just how much fun the Dun Run really is. Riding through the night following the lights, making new friends and seeing the sunrise at 4am. I thoroughly recommend the ride though. It’s worth noting that you don’t have to ride home; there is a bus service each year with bike transport to get you home leaving around 9am on the Sunday morning back to London.

Distance: 250 miles (120 miles of Dun Run)

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/339670288 (Click on the fly-by – it’s cool!)

 

Coast to Coast in a Day

Following months of preparation 30 of my friends and club mates jumped on a bus to Seascale ahead of the Coast to Coast sportive - a 150 mile, 14,000ft of climbing sportive across northern England covering the Lakes, Yorkshire Moors and Yorkshire Dales all in one day. The chatter on the bus was mainly around the time everyone wanted to achieve and the tough climbs of the day. We arrived in Seascale early Friday evening and signed ourselves into the event and collected our timing chips. No turning back now. Once signed on we headed out to try and find food and carb load for the day ahead. There are not very many places to eat in Seascale but the local church group put on a fantastic spread of pasta and cake for just £5 to raise money for the local parish. The food was amazing and really hit the spot and I was thoroughly recommend eating here if you do the event.

C2C Food

Fully fuelled we took the eight mile ride to the Wasdale hostel for the evening. Accommodation is plenty in Seascale but quickly fills up with over 1000 riders in the event so we had to travel a little further out than normal. The hostel were expecting bikes and kindly dedicated a room to storage and provided early morning breakfasts for those leaving at 5am. The view over Wasdale was immense.

C2C Wasdale

When Saturday morning finally arrived the youth hostel was buzzing with cyclists at 4am preparing for the day ahead, checking their kit, packing their gels and making sure the spare tubes were all tucked away incase of the dreaded puncture. There wasn't much chatter so early in the morning as everyone was still slightly groggy but there was certainly an air of anticipation for the day ahead - would we make it up the heavily talked about Hardknott climb just 12 miles into the ride?

The Wasdale YHA is 8 miles from the start in Seascale and the perfect opportunity to warm up the legs before starting the ride, although carrying our bags back up the start line was a frightening prospect. Luckily three very kind cyclists with their car offered to take our bags to the start line leaving us the opportunity to take a more leisurely ride to the start line and say hello the the local Bambi en-route.

C2C Start

Upon arrival at Seascale Open Cycling volunteers happily pack your bag and ship it away to Whitby leaving you free to roll down to the beach and begin the day ahead. I was in a group with five other friends and together we lined up on the promenade and 'dibbed' our timing chips on the start line. Without a moment more hesitate we rolled up and off the beach and onto the coastal road ahead.

The first 12 miles of the ride are simple and follow a gently rolling road along the coast before carving into the lakeland valleys. It is at the end of this 12 miles that the first challenge of the day begins - the infamously gruelling Hardknott Pass; a 1.6 mile climb with two 33% switchbacks that are guaranteed to warm the legs for the day ahead. We approached the climb steadily and holding back as much as we could for the latter half of the climb. Once all riders were successfully over the top we took a moment to glance at the stunning views around us before descending into the valley below and into the second climb of the day, Wrynose Pass. Thankfully Wrynose is slightly easier but certainly no less tiring just 14 miles into the ride and with an average gradient of 8.1% over just 1.1 miles. 2,500ft climbed in 15 miles - ouch!

C2C hardknott

So with the first two climbs successfully ticked off we began the ride to the ferry. This section of the route is fantastically planned. A selection of quiet winding roads that lead down to the ferry crossing and really let you increase your average speed. We picked up some of our early bird starters here and as one big group swooped along the road with a tailwind behind us. Once you arrive at the ferry you dib your timing chip to stop the clock and board the ferry across the lake. Out of the other side the timing starts again and it's all uphill to the first feed station in Kendal.

30 miles down and the first food stop is a welcome sight. We choose not to stop for food but a quick refill of the water bottles given the searing heat of the day. Timing chip 'dibbed' and back on the road for the next tough climb out of Kendal. The next 20 miles of the ride after this climb take the valley floor through the Northern Dales towards Hawes and present some spectacular views to help you forget the pain of the day so far. This section is again fast flowing and in no time at all we were in Hawes at the second food station. A fabulous spread as always but once again as men on mission we grabbed some snacks, filled our bottles and set back out on the long road ahead.

60 miles down and feeling fresh the third 'section' of the day was fantastic and despite any major climbs was my favourite section of the day. Leaving the valley floor there are two steep but short climbs out of Wensleydale and onto the tank road to Catterick. The road is long and straight and with a westerly wind all day meant the group was steaming along at nearly 30mph watching the miles simple disappear without too much effort. In no time at all we were in Tunstall at the third feed station of the day and in a style true to the day so far we stocked up on Jelly Babies and bottled water then back onto the road.

C2C Flat

This is where the fun, or pain depending on how much of a masochist you are, starts again. A reasonably flat section to start with takes you to the foot of the North Yorkshire Moors in Osmotherley there are the first hints that there is more climbing to come as the road steadily rises for a few miles before dropping you back off the edge and onto the main road. This is the opportune time to make up some time and TT along the long stretch of road ahead. My friend Andy took this as the opportunity to begin a 30mph TTT and rip my legs off. Thankfully only a few miles after this is the final feed station. This food stop can only be described as heaven.

When you're 120 miles into a ride that you started so early in the morning it's easy to feel far too tired to carry on and so finding a feed station full of pork pie goodness can only be awesome if even Suzie Richards recommends them! Two pork pies later I was certainly feeling a lot perkier and ready for the final 30 miles.

30 miles of hell. That is the only way to describe the final 30 miles of the ride. 3000ft of climbing in 30 miles is enough to make even the hardiest rider want to cry. Down to to just three riders by this point we decided to take this section steady and spin up the climbs before making up the time on the descent. I might have accidentally soloed away up most of the climbs at this point in true Ward style but decided it was slightly unfair to leave my mates behind given the 60 mile tow I had just received so hung back slightly so that we could all ride together to the final climb of the day. Final climb of the day....

The organisers must have planned the final climb of the day after several pints of beer and with a love of pain because a 33% climb after 140 miles is one of the single most painful yet beautifully balanced challenged i've ever faced on a sportive. It turns out you can't do these climbs sat in the saddle so after managing to lift myself from the seat I hauled myself to the top of the final climb.

10 miles to go. The section is the perfect end to what has to the most scenic of sportives. A rolling ten mile section of country roads where after every little rise you're searching for a peek of the North Sea as it taunts you, hidden behind the trees or the small rises ahead. Only with five miles to go do you finally glimpse the deep blue hue of the sea below. The adrenaline kicks in at this point as suddenly there is just a few miles to go and it's all downhill.

C2C finish

Down the hill, around the roundabout, left, right, left and onto the sea front. The crowd is just up the road at the finish cheering you on as you fight for the best time by dibbing in first. We dived into the finish line flailing our arms to get the timing chip finished. We celebrated the evening in true sports style with a beer and Whitby fish and chips in hand before retiring to the YHA Whitby hostel for some hard earned sleep.

Total time - 9 hours 21 minutes. Gold time. Beer time. Bed Time.

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/334115799

C2C Whitby

 

Riding In Tandem

Riding a road bike can be difficult enough sometimes on the twisty, damp roads of Yorkshire so when we got the call that we were invited to have a go on a Tandem it was fair to say me and Sarah felt a little apprehensive about the idea of the two of us riding one bike together. We haven’t ridden together on our own bikes very much before either. It was fair to say we headed to JD Tandem with two thoughts in mind. Firstly, would we actually survive the day and not accidentally kill each other and secondly, could we satisfy our Strava addiction and grab some gold cups together on a ride.

 Orbit 1

When we arrived at JD Tandem with our nervous faces and helmets in hands we were warmly welcomed by the owners John and Ruth and colleague Jamie who are all big enthusiasts of tandems. After some quick introductions we were told to choose a tandem that we wanted to test. Again we looked slightly nervous given there were at least fifty different tandems in the room; it’s like choosing your first ever road bike all over again. Thankfully with a little guidance from Jamie we ‘chose’ one of the own-brand Orbit Tandems with a more relaxed position to test ride first. How hard can it be?

The answer is pretty hard to start with but things quickly fall into place. We were taken outside and given a tutorial on how to ride the bike by Jamie and it very quickly became clear that as the pilot on the front of the bike I was very much responsible for keeping poor Sarah the stoker upright on the back before we had even set off. Tandems work with the stoker, or rear rider clipping into the tandem first and then presenting the pedal to tell the pilot they are ready go. Sarah was ready to go but sadly I wasn’t and the next ten minutes followed with me wobbling around the car park trying to steer the bike whilst Sarah clung on for dear life begging me to pedal. Not a great start but at least we were still alive. As punishment Jamie took me around the car park on the back and showed me just how scary it is being wobbled around.

 Orbit 3

Eventually after much patience and guidance from Jamie we were unleashed onto the main roads around the Yorkshire Dales to hone our newly developed skills and trust in one another. It’s so important to talk to each other and anyone going past would have thought we were crazy shouting “Pedal” and “James stop shaking” at each other but before long we felt like we’d mastered the tandem and were happily pootling along down the back roads avoiding sheep and buses but still telling Sarah to keep pedalling. I’m assured she was but I’m still not sure.

Confident we were now master tandem riders we picked up one of the Orbit Lightening tandems – a lean, mean racing machine in our eyes that could power it’s riders into Strava bling. Once we had the hang of things it was certainly slick out on the road and we could finally stop shouting at each other and settle into a rhythm, even having enough confidence to attack one of the QOM’s at over 28mph and our fear had turned into some great fun on the road.

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Riding a tandem was never something I had considered to be so much fun but they are great once you get the hang of riding one and do leave you with the urge to go back and ride one again. It was a great way for me and Sarah to be able to ride together even though on our own bikes we are very different in terms of speed and power on the road and gave us something funny to talk about later that day when discussing who was to blame for not pedalling or making us wobble.

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Tandem can often be seen as something for someone slightly older but I disagree. I had great fun riding a tandem with Sarah and I’m told we’re already saving up for one in the future. We were invited to review Orbit Tandem but any views expressed are my own. It’s also worth adding that whilst I write this JD Cycles currently have a team out on the road trying to break the Tandem Lands End to John O’Groats Record.

180 Miles of Madness

When I get an idea in my head it's hard to put it to one side and save it for the perfect day. Instead I feel obliged to fulfil my crazy minded ideas and must immediately embark on whatever cycling related adventure I dream up. The latest crazy idea I had dreamed up was to ride to Whitby for fish and chips on what can only be described as the least direct route with a 180 mile loop and14,000ft of climbing needed to get my chips and get home safely. This would also form the first true training test for the Transcontinental race this summer. Saturday came around all too fast and after a sixty hour working week I was less than excited about a 5am start but nevertheless I still managed to beat the alarm and throw on my lycra in the pitch black without waking up my other half Sarah, who had chosen to ride our club's Saturday Social at the more dreamy hour of 9am. This all went well apart from the accidental use of a sock as an arm-warmer.

So with a gallon of coffee and a small mountain of oats inside me I set off into the dark and began to steadily pedal through the miles. When it's dark it's very easy to get lost in your own thoughts throughout the boredom of the darkness and so it is important to occupy the mind with other things. Thankfully however, the sun rise came relatively quickly and gave way to a stunning morning but with a rather brisk temperature of minus three degrees.

The first forty miles flew by in a breeze and I knew it wouldn't be long before I entered the hills so I stopped for some breakfast - a banana and some flapjack. It was here that I pulled out my phone and realised that @totallyfuelled had set a competition about on my ride with the goal being to guess my average speed. I knew in my mind what I wanted to achieve but either way it made me push that tiny bit harder than I would have otherwise done.

sc4 Once I was back on the bike it wasn't long before the first major climb crept upon me. This was the Top 100 Climbs No.54 - Boltby Bank; a one mile climb at an average of 13% gradient. Normally this would be challenging enough but as luck would have it the sun had not yet risen enough to melt the ice on the road. As a result it was a battle to stay upright, move forwards and not fall off - a mission which I accomplished minus a few heart stopping moments.

One big climb done it and was back to the food as I tucked into brunch. Nutrition for such a distance is tremendously important and without the right food for your body you very quickly find yourself 'bonking' which is running out of energy. Thankfully I'd packed plenty of gels and energy drink to see me along the route. Food stop over and the miles began to fly by again as I rode deeper into the North Yorkshire Moors. Here I had my only mechanical of the day when my mudguard decided to break free and bounce away. Never mind, it was a sunny day anyway!

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Soon I found myself on the second climb of day and 70 miles into the ride. Blakey Ridge is fearsome, climbing near 1000ft in under two miles and it was here that I honestly nearly gave in. I got to the top with my legs screaming, feeling breathless and a little bit wobbly but knowing the train wasn't too far away. It was hard not to just head for the station at this point but I remembered the average speed challenge and carried on.

The miles to Whitby were a blur of beautiful views and sweeping roads that made my body feel better and lifted my spirits so much that I decided not to stop for fish and chips, but to carry on along the coast to Scarborough. If I thought things were tough before, the worst was yet to come.

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Turning back inland I faced a gentle 20mph breeze in my face for the next 80 miles of the ride. The only hope of keeping going was to accept I would have to drop a gear and go slower. So I did just that and began to work my way home. The headwind certainly took it's toll on me and before long I was beginning to fade mentally. Would I make it back? Can I go this slow? I hate going slow, and hate the wind so began to doubt myself and pushed harder to make up the lost time only to end up spitting out blood and coughing profusely. Stupid or brave I carried on.

Eventually darkness fell and still in a headwind I was really struggling to see why I was still riding. It's tough on the mind more than the legs to ride that far and the only reason I had to carry on was knowing Sarah had cooked and it always tastes amazing.

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As irony would have it though my Garmin died on the 180th mile and as we all know, if it's not on Strava it didn't happen. So I rolled rather wearily into the station to catch my ride home and end the day.

If i've learnt anything it's that you need to eat a lot over that distance and that it's harder to focus the mind than it is to focus the legs. Things get tough if you think they are tough and positive thinking makes the miles fly and the day easier to manage.

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/258037994

The Cyclo-Cross Challenge

Sitting around on an evening after a long day at work and a week off the bike is never going to end well, especially when you switch on your laptop and begin to look for a good cycling challenge to conquer. So when I sat down and started to search for mountain bike centres it was never going to end well. Less than an hour later the seed for my cycling challenge had been firmly sown. The plan would be to head to Dalby Forest mountain bike centre with my cyclo-cross bike and attempt to ride the red route - a technically challenging single track course for suspension mountain bikes an certainly not a rigid road bike with knobbly tyres!

So with a plan in place I organised with my other half Sarah to head over to Dalby Forest on Sunday and conquer the challenge, trying hard to forget i'd already ridden 100 miles the day before. Sarah of course, gave me that look of "you're nuts" but we both knew it was too late to change my mind now.

Sunday came around all too fast and the alarm didn't quite go off on time and as a result we had to rush to Dalby and commence the ride with one hour less time than originally planned. This really put the pressure on and increased the challenge. After putting my bike together and fuelling for the ride I rolled out of the car-park towards the switchback climb leading up to the red route.

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I was slightly hesitant when I reached the start of the route, wondering if I was about to make a pretty big mistake. It was too late to consider mistakes now and as I rolled onto the route I swallowed the nerves and began to pedal.

The first section felt relatively easy, rolling along the undulating single track through the forest that flow along the hillside. Occasionally I would hit a particularly rocky section of track making it really difficult to keep the bike en-route as I was shaken around, having to use my body to absorb every bump. I was the suspension and it hurt.

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Five miles down and feeling slightly muscle sore I stopped for a quick refuel before sprinting into the climb that followed. One great advantage of the cross bike is that it gives you the ability to climb much faster than anybody around you on a mountain bike, helping me to rapidly move along the course. By now my muscles were really sore and the pounding vibrations from the rocky surface were unrelenting.

Ten miles in and still going strong I reached Dixon's Hollow and encountered a sign I really didn't want to see - "Black Route". Looking around in vain to see the red escape route I could find nothing, so with a heavy heart I pushed forwards. I was glad I did - I flew down the berms that followed and along a fast, technical couple of corners and sighed in relief realising it hadn't been as bad as I had feared.

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However, what came next was by far the most frightening part of the ride. I was completely oblivious that I hadn't yet tackled all the difficult black section that was on my route suddenly found myself staring over the edge of a cliff that twisted and snaked it's way down the hillside over the slippery, wet rocks. My heart dropped and my hands were numb. The constant shaking of the rocky surface meant my hands were tired making it difficult to pull the brakes.

I had been warned about this section but thought I had managed to detour away from it. Without anytime to think I was thrown into the descent. I hesitated too much and slipped off the bike for the first time, quickly dismounting and carrying over a small section before remounting. I refused to be beaten by this section of the course and despite my hands still not working I began to descend, keeping my body as stable as possible. Left. Right. Left. Right.

Before long I was at the bottom and thank god. At the bottom a bunch of real mountain bikers looked at me in shock as I sprinted away. Now I knew the hardest part of the ride was out of the way I could relax and enjoy the rest ride, swooping around the single tracks, through the alpine spruce, and along the isolated tracks, free in my own thoughts.

As always though, it wasn't to last, and I sudden realised I had run out of food and was starting to get the dreaded 'Bonk' when you run out of energy. So instead of being sensible I pushed harder, wary of the lack of time, and conscious I needed to eat as soon as possible. Thankfully I wasn't too far from the finish and hit a nice farm track that rolled gently downhill, easing the amount of work I had to do.

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As the speed picked up and I saw the final mile in sight, I picked myself up into a sprint and began to really fly towards the finish. I forgot the trail ended on the children's Gruffalo walk though and suddenly found myself staring into the eyes of the Gruffalo himself. I pedalled harder to escape the Gruffalo and found myself back in no time with a scone and coffee waiting for me on arrival.

Distance: 19 Miles

Speed: 9.5mph

Time: 1 Hour 59 Minutes

 

A Day in the Dales - A Century Ride

I wrote last week about how difficult it can be to get out and ride when you're busy at work, so I decided to find a new way to get the miles in on the bike and get that all important Transcontinental training under way. Therefore I decided to set out on a 100 mile ride into the heart of the North Yorkshire Dales and test some new roads i'd seen but never ridden on before with a friend of mine Dovy. Check out the route here. I decided we would ride at 8am to make sure there was still plenty of time left in the day for other activities but waking up that early after a long week at work was pretty tough, especially when it was below freezing outside making for less than inviting conditions. However, with a little nudge I pulled on my many, many layer of lycra and munched down my breakfast before hitting the road.

The route was a great mixture of fast rolling roads, dry stone walls and quiet countryside with some stunning early morning views, taking in some well know destinations including Bolton Abbey, Pen-Y-Ghent and the Settle-Carlisle railway along the way.

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Thankfully we were blessed with some early morning sunshine as we flew along the valley bottom on our way into the Dales, pushing a solid tempo to stay warm, with each misty breathe of air reminding us just how cold it was on the road.

We passed Bolton Abbey and the 20 mile mark in just over an hour and decided to keep the tempo high. In no time at all we arrived at the new stretch of road that would take us up and over Halton Gill towards Pen-Y-Ghent. This was a beautiful stretch of road about ten miles long with a long, category four climb sandwiched in the middle. I couldn't resist the challenge of setting a good time and maybe even going for a Strava KOM, so set into a rhythm and charged up the climb as fast as I could; I didn't get overall KOM, but the 2015 version is good enough for me.

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Of course, what goes up must come down, and very soon the road snaked away towards settle, nestled in the shadow of the Pen-Y-Ghent. The shadow cast by the mountain had resulted in the formation of a thick bank of freezing fog - so freezing in-fact that my jersey developed frost and began to turn white.

Thankfully, the fog didn't last too long and before long we were blasting along the A59 in the morning sun towards Skipton. Somehow we forgot we were on a century ride so pushed the pace to a rather ridiculous 26mph, taking satisfaction in watching the miles disappear. Sadly though this burst of speed didn't last too long when suddenly we a realised our legs were a little tired and still have 30 miles to go.

Did we back off? No chance. We kept pushing and pushing, refusing to let our average drop below the 18.5mph we had so dearly clung onto so far! In no time at all we were back in Burnsall with very tired legs but still in great spirits. So with 80 miles down and feeling quite thirsty, we pulled in for a quick water bottle refill before setting off to chase down the remaining miles.

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I would love to tell you all the last few miles were a blast, but in reality they were very tough and just five miles outside Leeds we came to the foot of the Chevin; a two mile long, category four climb. It was here that my legs really let me know that they were tired, screaming at me to stop, begging me to end the pain I was putting them through and pretty much refusing to turn the pedals. My heart rate was well above 190bpm and I was fading rapidly, but I managed to block out then pain and push over the top, nibbling on some Soreen to get some energy back.

The final five miles were hell as I battled with my legs to keep turning but thankfully we made it back and the whole ride was over in just 5 hours and 30 mins at an average of 18.4mph. The roads were fantastic and I'll certainly visit them again, but I have only one question for myself - Can I do that every day for a week for Transcontinental? Only time will tell...

Work Life Balance

It's currently the end of January, and most typical cyclists will be tapping out the base miles and beginning to fine tune for the season ahead, but sadly I am not one of them. As I work in finance January and February are always the busiest time of year and make for long hours each day that make it difficult to get out and train. I've been working 12 hours a day recently which is pretty draining, but I've managed to just about squeeze in the 170 miles a week I've targeted during the opening two months of the year. (null)

One of the best ways to get the winter miles in around work would be to cycle commute to work each day which makes for some fairly easy miles that help top up the weekly total. However, I am unfortunately too far away from home to be able to ride to work at the moment.

So instead I force myself to ride on an evening after work around 8pm in the evening and aim to get 20 - 30 miles in twice a week with some intervals throw in. Doing this is difficult, especially in recent weather with the temperature below zero making it bitterly cold when out and quite often leading to a cold, or this week a sore throat. Not only that but it extends an already long day by two hours making me more fatigued and tired on the  bike. Every mile helps though!

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The best option I currently have is to ride on a weekend, getting in as many miles as possible whilst fighting the urge to sleep and make up from a weeks sleep deprivation. The best thing to do is therefore some long, steady miles that mean i'm building the base miles I so vitally need for the Transcontinental Race. The brilliant bit about the weekend is that we currently have the reliability rides on a Sunday which are great incentive to get out for a ride as they're part of a group. Riding as a group is at the very least motivational and keeps me going despite still being tired.

So whilst i'm still clinging on to my 170 mile a week goal, it's not having the desired affect and makes riding a pretty glum experience.

Sadly, despite so much time saving technology we all still struggle to find enough time around work to exercise so I'm still quite lucky with what I manage, but equally it's essential to set some time aside to ride each week too. It won't last forever, but for now, training is slow and the Transcontinental feels a million miles away!

 

Reliability Ride or Race?

It's still the middle of winter, and the temperature is barely above zero degrees, but a group of twenty riders all sit together in the hazy morning light at 7:30am waiting to set off in search of the seasons first 'Reliability Ride'. So what exactly are they? The reliability rides are historically a pre-season training ride designed to enhance a riders fitness, and test the reliability of their bike in the days when cycling equipment was less reliable and the roads not quite as smooth.

Today however, things have changed and with bikes being built to a much better standard and the introduction of Strava and GPS, it's much less of a challenge of reliability, but much more focused on the training and a pre-season test of how strong you are compared to the riders around you. That has lead to the reliability ride becoming more a reliability race, with riders vying for position on the road in bunches of well over a hundred cyclists aiming to be the first person home that day.

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Personally, I see it as quite enthralling and a great day in the saddle with a solid training session under the belt; today's ride being a fantastic 70 miles in total at 19.5mph with some great disciplined riding at the front of the peleton. However, from further back there is often the news of crashes as riders come to close or corner too fast and these fast training rides can soon become season ending if tackled the wrong way and with over a hundred people on the road it can be a bit of a squeeze, some cars will inevitably get held up and occasionally there will be crashes.

However it's too easy to say these rides are dangerous, and I don't think they are if you ride them in the mindset of a training ride - that is what they are after all! Bringing so many riders together gives a great opportunity to have some banter, make some new friends, test yourself against the local clubs, and most of all reap the benefits of a solid training ride whilst having some fun and element of competition helps to keep things fun on the road.

Overall we had a great day out around Yorkshire and by the end of the ride everyone felt suitably tired and feeling as though they had been on a solid training ride ,with everyone I know getting home safely. 

There are still six more reliability rides around Yorkshire this year so maybe I'll see some of you on the road soon! You can find a breakdown of the upcoming rides here.

 

Winter Training - Outdoors or In?

Lets be honest, the weather hasn't been great over the last couple of weeks, and up here in Yorkshire we've had endless days of ice and snow making training difficult for even the most accomplished rider so I thought I see what I could do to make sure I still got the training in. Now, I can already hear the screams and shouts of "Get on the turbo!", and although they're a fantastic training aid for bad weather, and can be great for structuring your training, I always prefer to get outside unless it's truly impossible.

So, despite the less than favourable conditions i've still managed 330 miles in the past two weeks, all of which were outside in the depths of winter, and none of it was particularly dangerous, and all of which ended without disaster.

The majority of my training has taken place on the main roads around Yorkshire where the gritting wagons have made sure the roads are ice free. Training on the main roads might not be very exciting, but it's certainly a safe option, but with extra caution to avoid the sides of the road. I'd recommend trying to ride with people on these rides, to stave off the boredom and also incase of an accident or mishap. Having someone to help with that puncture on a frosty day could be a life saver! Most of my training is with my club, AlbaRosa CC.

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Another great option, which won't work for everyone, is to get out on the mountain bike, or the cyclocross bike and tackle some of the rough stuff. It's safer than sliding around on black ice and generally great fun away from the road. The other great thing about any form of off-road riding is that it's still a solid workout and can feel more draining than riding on the road. This weekend past was the perfect opportunity for such a ride; with a thick covering of snow and even the main roads too icy, I hit the local trails for some cyclocross fun, mixing in some hard training with a bit of fun!

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That's just personal preference of course and the turbo is great for those that can't get outdoors! My other half is big fan of The Sufferfest videos which provide some rather immense pain, misery and agony whilst giving you a well structured session guaranteed to leave you feeling great.