It's now the half way point in the year and after a couple of good road races early in the season I've now taken a step back to prepare for the 112 mile ride that comes with being part of an Iron-distance triathlon relay team at Hever in a few weeks time. Gone are the short sharp sessions that punctuated the early season replaced with much longer and steadier rides in the hope of reminding my body what a long distance ride is. I've been riding some pretty long routes over the last week on social rides with the longest being 116 miles but until this weekend I hadn't really ridden at 'race pace' on any of them. So when I decided to ride around the White Rose Classic sportive with some friends I knew there was the opportunity to test myself against the clock. The group of friends themselves were aiming for a gold time on the longest route option available which is 112 miles with 10,000ft of climbing through the Yorkshire Dales. The gold time being 7 hours 15 minutes or an average of around 16mph taking into account stops.
My aim for the day given the last minute decision to ride was to simply pace the others around the route as far as possible in order to get them the time they wanted. This would allow me to be on the front for a lot of the day which would be good given in the triathlon i'm not allowed to draft (who even makes these rules!).
So at 7:30am we set off from Ilkley along the first flat 10 miles at a reasonable pace of around 20mph with about 25 people on my wheel. I knew immediately that the group would split on the first hard climb of the day, Norwood Edge. This Top 100 climb covers 600ft in a mile. Immediately splitting the group. Unlike normal where I would nail the climb as hard as possible I simply kept my heart rate low. It makes more sense on a long ride to go steady up the climb, pedal down the hill and go harder on the flat in my mind.
Over the top and into the headwind that would stay with us for another 50 miles we formed a fast group of five (Richard, Emil, Simon and Ian). The stretch after Norwood is tough with a constant drag all the way to Grassington so we started a pace-line and taking turns to keep the group together. Again, prime opportunity to do more work on the front here and see how things go. The first stop was a 30 miles for a quick convenience break where the first feed stop was on the route. I can't comment on the feed stations from this year as I didn't use any of them but in previous years they've been really well stocked with all sorts of sweet and savoury. Today though I'd be on race fuel only which consisted of four SiS energy bars and five gels, one of which was a caffeine gel for the final miles.
After the stop is the second massive climb of the day, Fleet Moss, climbing 800ft in 1.7 miles. Here everyone climbed at their own pace and I found myself pulling away over the top to the point where I was 2 minutes ahead at the next stop. Not the best domestique skills but it's downhill for five miles so I wasn't needed. A couple of the guys made a stop this time before we pushed on out of Hawes towards Garsdale. Again into a tough headwind that started to pull on the legs of some of the group. Pacing the group along to Garsdale was possibly the hardest part of the day.
We turned out of the headwind into climb number three, Garsdale Head which is 730ft in 1.7 miles which was made even harder by the low lying cloud dropping the temperature to under 10c all of a sudden. This climb is about 60 miles in so we were over half way by now and due a tailwind at any moment. Having taken a look back as I crested the climb I realised I had once again pulled away. The group were aware at some point I would be pressing on and this seemed like the ideal opportunity leaving three of them together and me solo on the road.
Another long drag ensued up to Ribblesdale viaduct where the pace dropped as low as 10mph. I considered dropping back to work with the group but I couldn't do that in the triathlon so no chance I'd do it now. After a few miles a left turn lead into the promised tailwind and the real fun could begin. 27mph along the sweeping country roads towards Settle passing rides along the way but never hanging around for some free draft. It really wasn't long before the final climb of the day from Settle which is 700ft in 2 miles and where all the routes converge into one long line of suffering cyclists. The tailwind certainly took the edge off this climb but given the tired legs it's always tough.
The next 20 miles are Yorkshire flat, which basically means quite lumpy but nothing that stands out on Strava as particularly tough going. Ticking over the 100 mile marker is always a great relief and you can count down to the finish at this point, or at least I did. At 110 miles you hit the hardest climb of the day, Langbar. On paper it's easier than most of the other climbs I've mentioned at 500ft in 1.2 miles but given you have so many miles in the legs already it really is a sadist that decided it should be added to the route. Heavy legs and a tired mind mean this climb seems to last forever as you pick your way around the riders who's legs quit before yours.
Over the top and roll back to Ilkley for a time of 6 hours 27 minutes on the clock. That's an average of 18mph for a route with 10,000ft of climbing so I was more than happy with that as a result and feel pretty confident that on a flatter course (8,000ft) I might be able to crack that 20mph for the triathlon.
The White Rose Classic is organised and run by Ilkley Cycling Club. You can keep an eye out for entry opening here: http://www.ilkleycyclingclub.org.uk/white-rose-classic-2015-2
I was a bit late getting entry so donated my fee to a charity of the club's choice which the ride was supporting. Big kudos to the volunteers that run these events every year.