A few weeks ago the weather forecast had convinced me to take my summer bike on the Red Rose 200 (as well as wearing shorts and summer layers), which had proved to be a big mistake as I finished wet and near hypothermic. The weather for Sunday suggested it would rain from mid-afternoon so despite the big climbs to come, I opted for the heavy winter bike with 700×28 tyres, and winter clothing. At 8am it was overcast and cold as organiser Andy waived us off – but thanks to my clothing choice I was toasty warm. Neil from the club rode with me as we made our way to the front, nipping up the A59 before turning off and into the Lancashire countryside, through Sawley, Wigglesworth, Rathmell and through Settle. We were making strong progress, the wind aiding us. At the back of my mind was the nagging feeling that we’d have to come back into it, a thought made worse by the fact that as time ticked on, the wind grew stronger.
The route from Settle took us north through Horton-in-Ribblesdale until we turned onto Blea Moor Road, in view of one of the many viaducts on the iconic Settle to Carlisle railway. We climbed up towards Hawes but then turned left over Newby Head, descending sharply by the side of another viaduct and following the River Dee. This picturesque ride by the river was rudely interrupted as we turned right to climb the Coal Road past Dent Station. This brute of a climb is about 2 miles long, with an average gradient of 9.7% rising over a thousand feet, but peaking early on at 22%. I was regretting bringing the heavy bike but as I settled into my rhythm I made my way up comfortably enough. When I later checked on Strava I found I’d PB’d on this climb against last year, when I was on a 3kg lighter bike with 700×23 tyres, which pleasingly suggests I’m significantly fitter.
The first control was in Kirkby Stephen, so we just stopped briefly to get receipts before heading back south towards the café in Thwaite. In the way was a big climb over Lamps Moss, followed by a blast down before stopping for food. A bacon sandwich and we were off and straight into the Buttertubs Pass climb. The road rears up in front of you, steadies somewhat and then viciously kicks up into a couple of switchbacks, then drops down giving some relief before a final sting in the tail. At the 25% sign before the first switchback I missed a gear and lost precious momentum correcting it. As I went round the second corner the headwind nearly sent me backwards and the next half mile or so were simply horrendous. Even when I reached the peak and the road drifted downwards, it was hard to continue forward momentum without pedalling until eventually the increasing slope and gravity won the battle. I’d lost sight of Neil at this point and wouldn’t see him for the remainder of the ride.
The descent took me into Hawes and by now I knew what would be in store on Fleet Moss. The rain had started and the wind was picking up. The long “phoney war” climb out of Hawes was painful enough with the wind – something I would typically do in the big ring had me seeking solace in my new friend the 34 chainring. There was nothing to do but put my head down, dig deep and continue turning squares towards the inevitable pain. Those who have done Fleet Moss will now that it increases in gradient the nearer to the top you get, and perhaps in my head only, the wind seemed to increase too. My heartrate was ticking ever closer to maximum and the yards seemed to only be creeping by – you may say inching by. Finally, I reached the top where it levels, but it took a good hundred yards or so before I recovered enough to change gear.
The descent down into Kettlewell gave me some recovery time, and the rain was properly falling now, so by the time I arrived in Litton at the next control I was thoroughly soaked, and a little bit miserable. Retracing my steps for 5 miles or so from the control I was surprised not to see Neil or any other riders – but I was too cold and wet to wait. In theory it was only a short 7 mile hop over to Malham and the next warm café stop – but it was probably the worst 7 miles of the whole ride. Firstly, there was a climb from Arncliffe that was again into the wind and reared up some 25% in parts. Even after creeping up that the power of the wind on the exposed moors at the top meant it was still single-figure speeds moving forward. The 7 mile stretch took me a full 45 minutes and it was a hard slog – simply soul destroying. For the first time in a long time I actually hadn’t enjoyed much of this ride since the halfway point.
I tried to dry out a bit in the café at Malham, had something to eat and drink, and then concentrated on knocking off the 21 miles remaining – breaking it down into 1 mile chunks! Turned out I was second finisher at the end, in the same time I did the ride last year in somewhat different conditions. It’s a great route but really, really unforgiving when the weather is against you.
Ride Stats : 126miles in 8hrs 44m at 14.4mph average. 9,334ft of ascent. 7,349kcals energy used, average HR 142bpm