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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.