Wild Wales Challenge

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It’s 5-30am on an August morning and the temperature reading in the car is saying 3˚C and the little frost symbol is displayed.  What.  The.  F*ck!?  Fast forward two hours and I’m in a car park in Bala, Wales, surrounded by middle aged men (and women) in lycra, getting ready for the Wild Wales challenge.  The temperature is now a balmy 6˚. I put arm warmers on, woollen gloves under my mitts, a gilet and a waterproof jacket.  I’m in shorts and my legs and feet are already cold.  I leave the aero shell on my helmet – not for aero purposes but for keeping-head-warm purposes, and I set off towards the start.  I’m doing maybe 10mph and the wind chill is already pushing the temperature lower.  I reach the football ground HQ with some other 500 riders, find a spot to park my bike and join the long queue snaking into the clubhouse.  It moves fast and I soon reach the front and get bleeped in.  I see a few other North Cheshire Clarion jerseys and say hello but I don’t recognise them.  Then I see Gary in the queue and say hello to him.  Riders are milling around nervously, drinking coffee, but I find my bike and decide to hit the road.

The chill hits me again as I am very quickly on my own, no cars.  The coldness is forming little droplets of condensation on the leading edges of my bike, and on the stubble hair on my legs.  It’s quickly foggy and I stop to momentarily flick my lights on.

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Almost immediately, some five miles in and with cold legs, the road enters some trees and rears up maybe 20% and I climb past other riders steeply for about a mile, then less steeply for another four miles or so.

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Others are cursing but I don’t mind.  My legs are strong and at least now I’m warm and we’ve climbed out of the fog.  The descent is fast and furious and immediately I’m cold again.

The morning is a repeat of this.  Up and warm.  Down and cold.  Up and warm, down and cold.  I reach the first control amongst an early group of riders.  Straight in and out, eating a flapjack that a helper has handed me.  Apparently later it will be chaos when 500 riders descend on it.  I don’t like large groups of riders so I’m off again quickly.

I’m enjoying the roads.  Mostly.  There are few cars but many are little more than single farm tracks, so the surfaces are broken and full of gravel.  Going up is challenging, with my back wheel intermittently losing traction, and going down I am wary of patches of gravel and mad sheep as I swoop in and out of bends.  Still, it doesn’t stop me hitting speeds of 40mph, my hands hurting applying the brakes. I’m having fun though.

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There’s another control and I buy a sandwich and a cup of coffee, the lady behind the counter slipping effortlessly from Welsh to English and back again, just to remind me where I am. The guy on the computer bleeper tells us only three riders have been through. One from Middleton CC passed me and was seriously fast, easily dropping me.  It’s warmer now although not August warm, and the sky alternates between foreboding clouds and blue skies. Riders come and go as I finish my food.

I’m off riding again and it’s still up and down, up and down.  My legs are tiring. I can feel the dull ache that signifies a good day’s riding.  The worst/best is still to come and I start to wonder whether running a 25 cassette on the back was sensible.  Should I have used my other bike or another wheel with a 28 on the back.  At least I have a compact on the front.  This is brought brutally to life when I climb towards a left turn and the road just rears up ridiculously. I’m looking at my Garmin and it’s saying 400 feet to the turn. The road gets steeper. I get slower. 300 feet. Grind. Steeper. 200 feet. Grind. 100 feet. I can see the turn but this must be more than 25%. I’m now seriously worried about what is to come.

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Blending in…

At the final control I’m overhearing riders talking in hushed tones about the final hill.  Hellfire Pass.  Bwlch-y-Groes in these parts. It’s in the book, and gets ten out of ten for difficulty. 25 cassette. Hmm. Nobody comes out and calls me stupid but the looks say it all.

I can see the climb in the distance as I approach. It reminds me of Fleet Moss. Like a big ski jump getting steeper and steeper, and I’ve done that on a 25 cassette. Apparently it’s the highest tarmac pass in Wales. How hard can it be? I’ve just come back from the Alps on a 25 cassette.

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The first part of the climb is in some trees. It’s hard, with a very sharp and steep right hand bend. I see a rider pushing and he says well done as I go past him, not much faster than he is walking.  I come out of the trees and feel the gradient ease beneath me. I don’t increase my speed as I normally would, because snaking away ahead of me is the rest of the climb, and I take a breather spinning my legs.

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I feel the steepness again and it’s relentless. Normally intuitive, I’m concentrating on pushing each pedal now.  Most hills have gradients that ebb and flow. You feel that and take respite when it comes. There is no respite here. I’m not cold now, I’m too hot. Sweat is running down my face and flies are dive-bombing me. I spray my face with water from my bottle and it helps for a while. On and on. Grind. Grind. I can hear my Garmin beeping away at me, laughing at me. It’s set to auto-pause when my speed drops below 3mph and auto-start above 3mph and it’s beeping gives away how slow I’m going. I can see what I think is the top around some turns.  I pass walkers heading down.  It’s so steep they walk slowly and carefully.  “Keep going,” I barely hear. I make the final turn and am met with yet more hill. Not the final turn? I flick my Garmin to the gradient screen. Still around a half mile to go. Surely not? A mistake? Please.

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Another false peak with a junction. This hill keeps on giving. Relentless. My Garmin says left. I have a voice in my head now. “Get off, there’s no shame. Get off.” I don’t get off.  I feel the pain in my shoulders and arms from pulling on the handlebars.  I sit in the saddle and the pain disappears from my shoulders and arms and appears in my legs. The front wheel lifts. I stand on the pedals again.

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Finally I think I can see the top. I check my Garmin and it concurs. The gradient almost imperceptibly flattens. I think I’m nearly there.

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I crest the hill and roll over to a verge. I sit for a while. My reward is the view and a melted kit-kat I still have in my pocket from the control. Bwlch-y-Groes. Hellfire Pass. Ten out of ten.

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A very fast descent and skirt around the edges of the lake and I’m back at the finish in Bala.  Job done.

Ride stats : 95.6 miles in 6hrs 19m at 15.1mph average. 9,663ft ascent, 4,230kcals used.  Average HR 132bpm.

Strava ride here

Gallery here

Alps 2014

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All photos in this gallery

Day 1 – Saturday – leg loosener into Bourg and back

17.3 miles, 1hr 9m, 1,140ft ascent, 14.9mph av speed, 565kcals, 112bpm av HR


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Day 2 – Sunday – Col d’Ornon both sides

4 course lunch in a little village for 18 euros – brilliant!

44.8 miles, 2hr 55m, 4,795ft ascent, 15.3mph av speed, 1,197kcals, 104bpm av HR


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Day 3 – Monday – La Brerarde

44 miles, 3hr 01m, 4,056ft ascent, 14.5mph av speed, 1,612kcals, 117bpm av HR


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Day 4 – Tuesday – Col du Lauteret

Weather dropped 15 degrees in a matter of hours.  Descent off the mountain in freezing rain/sleet was the coldest and most scared I’ve ever been on a bike!

50.7 miles, 3hr 36m, 4,919ft ascent, 14.1mph av speed, 1,934kcals, 118bpm av HR


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Day 5 – Wednesday – off the bike so climbed a mountain (obviously!)

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When you climb a mountain you wear the appropriate gear…

Day 6 – Thursday – Alpe d’Huez and Col de Saronne

Attempt to ride Alpe d’Huez to the Tour de France finish in under an hour – just failed – 60m 55s!

49 miles, 3hr 52m, 7,206ft ascent, 12.7mph av speed, 2,624kcals, 133bpm av HR


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Check out my very abrupt stop/evasive manoeuvre at 56:16!

Day 7 – Friday – Col du Lauteret and Galibier

Lovely day – 3rd time lucky up Galibier and well worth it – what a climb and what a view!

68.5 miles, 4hr 48m, 7,816ft ascent, 14.2mph av speed, 3,072kcals, 129bpm av HR


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Check out the cheeky ginger marmotte at the roadside at 7:40.  Also at 15:40 I got a rather big shock given where I was!

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Bury Clarion Hill Climb

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Dave Mitchell receiving prize and medal for 3rd place

I was looking forward to this hill climb to see whether I’d improved over last year.  The climb was again organised by Bury Clarion over the same 1km course up Lumb Carr Road in Holcombe near Ramsbottom, with free Co-operative fairtrade chocolate for all entrants.

Last year I blew up really quickly and made it over the line in 2 minutes and 59 seconds.  This year I lasted much longer before I blew up, and had enough left for a sprint to the finish, my time of 2:38 representing a 21s improvement over last year.  Still no match for Dave Mitchell, who came in 3rd place overall with a time of 2:21 – a great time in the conditions.

Once again, I really enjoyed it – thanks to Bury Clarion for organising.

Hilly Rides

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Battling up Mow Cop

I’ve had many conversations with fellow cyclists over the last couple of years about hills, and riding up (and down) them.  I guess they are a bit like marmite – most people either love them or hate them.  I’m not sure I love them but I’m definitely nearer the former than the latter.  I see climbs as a personal challenge, a goal to be conquered or an achievement to tick off (I’ve so far ticked off 14 from the 100 Greatest Climbs book by Simon Warren).  And I’ll be paying a visit to the French Alps in May with some mates in order to tick a few more famous ones off.  But I digress.  Hills are also great for training purposes – because if you can maintain a decent pace on a hilly ride then you’ll be surprised how much easier (and therefore quicker) a flatter ride will be.  In fact, if you are stuck for time and want to do a quickish ride but still get a lot of “bang for your buck” fitness-wise then a short route with a few stiff climbs could be just what you need.

What constitutes hilly is a subject of much debate.  Total climb is possibly one method.  Here’s a list of the top 10 rides I’ve done by total climb (as recorded by my Garmin GPS)

  1. Tan Hill 200 – 132 miles and 12,071ft
  2. Ryedale Rumble – 111 miles and 9,064ft
  3. Pistyll Packing Momma – 132 miles and 8,905ft
  4. Todmorden Loops – 72 miles and 8,900ft
  5. Goyt Peak – 69 miles and 8,530ft
  6. Northern Dales – 125 miles and 8,287ft
  7. Lejog Day 1 (Cornwall and Devon) – 111 miles and 8,259ft
  8. Season of Mists – 64 miles and 7,535ft
  9. Up and Down to West Riding – 78 miles and 7,463ft
  10. Macc Monster – 64 miles and 6,981ft

There are a few scientific methods for measuring how tough a climb is, such as the ClimbByBike-Index or the Fiets-Index, but I tend to use a very much simpler measure.  Basically, if a ride has anything over about 60ft of climbing per mile then I consider it hilly.  If it has around a 100ft of climbing per mile then I consider that to be very hilly.  Here’s a re-sorted list of the top 10 using ft climb per mile ridden as a measure

  1. Todmorden Loops – 124
  2. Goyt Peak – 124
  3. Season of Mists – 117
  4. Macc Monster – 109
  5. Up and Down to West Riding – 95.7
  6. Tan Hill 200 – 91
  7. Ryedale Rumble – 82
  8. Lejog Day 1 (Cornwall and Devon) – 74
  9. Pistyll Packing Momma – 67.5
  10. Northern Dales – 66

It’s not a perfect method by any stretch of the imagination but it’s something I’ve arrived at after riding a lot of hilly routes and events, and I can confirm that the two at the top were probably the toughest of the bunch on that list in terms of sheer climbing.

So if you are planning your training for the year, then have a go at a few hills.  I have a standard “quick” route that I use which is 32 miles and has just over 2,000ft of ascent, or a rating of about 63 – good enough for training purposes.  I also occasionally add The Rake into it for a quick burst of 25% challenge!  If you draw up a similar route for yourself and use it repeatedly to build up your hill-climbing ability then I suggest that your overall capabilities will improve, and your overall enjoyment of cycling too.

The Other Fleet Moss Randonnée

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Well bizarrely Anthony and I found ourselves at the start of the ride ready to go a whole 15 minutes early, which is unheard of.  We’d parked in a space allocated to the Blind Society, but reasoned that the chances of a blind person wanting to park there were slim to none.  We were that early we didn’t know what to do, so we had a cup of coffee and a chat to all the people we now know in the audax world, such as Peter, who tells me he is an avid reader of this blog*  Anyway, we set off at 8am and strangely for an audax we rode in a peloton for the first 40 miles or so, which meant we were averaging over 17mph at the time.  We had a good chat with Mike Wigley, the secretary of audax uk, who has some interesting plans for the future, and who gave me some good advice about 24 hour time trials.

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7007ft of ascent

Anyway after passing through Skipton and Cracoe and other places we seem to frequent a lot these days, we decided to stop for some food before we hit the big climb of Fleet Moss, which gets 9/10 in the 100 climbs book – although we were doing the easier south side apparently.  We ate in a bistro (get us) and then set off towards Fleet Moss.  Some slight routing problems overcome we hit the slopes.  We actually started climbing some 12 miles before but Fleet Moss itself is about 3 miles long with a couple of 14-15% sections.  I’d taken sun lotion with me so of course the day was cloudy, but still very warm going up.  We went up with some senior riders, two of whom went past me on the climb and I couldn’t catch them again – amazing stuff!  Anyway, at the top I waited for Anthony and then we set off down the descent.  The first bit is a 20% drop and then it flattens a bit before dropping again.  So we crested the hill and my heart sank.  There was a Land Rover in the middle of the road, and a cyclist lay covered with a blanket in front of it, with some of the other addaxes stood around.  My first thought was that he had been hit by the car but apparently he had come off trying to avoid a sheep and the kind souls in the Land Rover had stopped to help.  Our fellow audaxers had phoned for an ambulance some 20 minutes earlier so Anthony rang again.  There was a doctor in the group who suspected broken ribs (and something else I can’t spell).  Anyway, with the ambulance reminded again we set off and hit the main descent.  Normally I would fly down these but I was slightly unnerved so I stayed on the brakes.  Even so I hit 51.3mph!  On the way up we passed two ambulances with blue lights flashing, which was good news.  It turns out the air ambulance also turned out and eventually took the chap to hospital – I do hope he is okay and not in too much pain.

In Hawes we stopped for a coffee and a chat with some people having a beer – which looked very inviting apart from the slight problem of some 70+ miles to go!  We left and headed south, straight into a long grinding climb and a stiff headwind.  It was horrible, really hard work but after about 7 miles we started going downhill again, through Settle and to Great Mitton where we stopped for a massive ice cream.

We then had to climb out of the hole in the ground that is Burnley valley from Burnley which took ages and was again quite unpleasant with a headwind, until we hit Todmorden (horrible memories of the Todmorden Loops audax!) and then headed downhill into Hebden Bridge.  There was a last sting in the tail which was a climb into Halifax before we finally finished.  This being a Chris Crossland audax there was plenty of great food at the end which was very welcome because for the 2nd week running I hadn’t eaten enough and was feeling it.

Overall, another great day with great company, and a really good event.  I hope the injured chap is not injured too badly and makes a quick recovery.

Ride stats : 125 miles in 7hrs 58m at 15.7mph average.  7007ft of climbing, average HR 133bpm, 5758kcals used.  Number of times Anthony mentioned my 12-27 cassette  – about a million*

*That’s a lie

Up and Down t’ West Riding #Audax

Ade's Road Cycling BlogAnother Sunday, another brilliant audax, and the end of my training for my London to Brussels ride.

The day didn’t start well.  Anthony was late picking me up, and then we drove past the HQ following the worst sat-nav in the world, which seemed to take us on ever increasing concentric circles away from where we needed to be.  Martin and Martina were both waiting for us, tapping imaginary watches as we pulled into the car park.

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7,463ft of climbing

The route, of course, was hilly!  The first half, heading over from Denshaw towards Holmfirth, was really 4 or 5 longish drags followed by some great descents.  The halfway point was at Squires Tea Room in the Anglers Country Park, where we met members of Calder Clarion and Saddleworth Clarion, as well as a chap from Seamons RC.

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Suitably refreshed after some hot food, the return ride encompassed 6 big climbs, and they started getting a bit steeper, and building to a crescendo.  We rode past Emley TV tower and into the rain for a while.  There was an info control in Slaithwaite where Martin and I watched a canal barge going through a lock whilst Martina tried to buy the Co-op’s entire stock of flapjacks.  The climb out of Slaithwaite was pretty tough but that only led to a descent to the bottom of a hill known locally as Penny Hill.  This was really hard work.  The first quarter mile consisted of a 20-25% cobbled section that was wet and slippery.  The next quarter mile must have hit 30% before flattening to mere teens near the end.

The ride back to the HQ was a long, exposed moorland climb over Saddleworth which was okay once I got into a rhythm.

As per usual, great catering at the end from organiser Don Black and a good day had by all.

Ride Stats : 78 miles in 5hrs 48m at 13.4mph average.  7,463ft climbing, average HR 136bpm and 4,315kcals used

Tan Hill 200 Addendum

I forgot to mention that with the tremendous hills yesterday came some brilliant descents.  These were real point-the-bike-and-hold-on-for-dear-life drops, and I broke the 40mph barrier on 12 (yes twelve!) different occasions, maxing out at 51.8mph!

Also, when the total ascent went over 9999ft I discovered a bug on the Garmin 800.  It justs displays “—-” even though it correctly records the ascent.  Bizarrely, total descent displays fine over 9999ft.  So if this happens to you it’s “normal” – I have reported the bug to Garmin so we’ll see whther that gets ironed out in the next firmware update.

Tan Hill 200 Audax

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Setting off from a car park in Padiham, near Burnley, at 8 am, a small group of audaxers headed North out of Lancashire and into the Yorkshire Dales.  In the group was Martin, Anthony and I from North Cheshire Clarion, riding the Tan Hill 200 audax which is a 200km audax with 4 AAA altitude points!  That effectively meant 4000m of climbing – uncharted territory for all of us, especially over such a distance!

By 8-30am we had already conquered the Nick o’ Pendle and the hills were coming thick and fast.  We moved North through Clitheroe and Slaidburn, skirting the Bowland Forest and then heading North East into the Yorkshire Dales.  A cafe stop in Hawes at a cafe with a fierce East European waitress helped fortify us as we headed for the big climbs up to the heighest points on the ride.

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Martin at the top of a hill

The first was Buttertubs – thankfully up the “easier” southside and the views from 1700ft in the sun were fantastic.  Next up was Tan Hill, which has a steep kick at the start, a long grind, and then a sharp sting in the tail.  A quick stop at the Tan Hill pub and we were off again.  The third climb in this area was the worst – I don’t know what it is called but it was horrible.  A couple of miles long, rising 900ft, it was straight into a headwind which made it feel much, much worse.

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Anthony can't quite get the hang of the right turn signal

Gradually the hills were sapping our strength and the headwind, although slight, was not helping.  We stopped at Bolton Castle tearoom for coffee and some cake  and then a final sting in the tail at 90 miles nearly finished the guys off.  From that point onwards we were hanging in until the end.

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12,071ft of climbing

Overall the route was absolutely fantastic – well done to Andy Corless the organiser for a great day.  For the princely sum of £3 we got a great ride, great weather and a goodie-bag at the end that was easily worth way more than the entry fee.  Well done for Martin and Anthony for hanging in too – a very tough day but enjoyable nonetheless.

Ride stats : 129 miles in 9hrs 29m @ 13.6mph average.  12,071ft climbing, 6,863kcals used



First Ever Hill Climb


Ade's Road Cycling BlogTonight I rode just up the road from me to Ramsbottom to take part in Bury Clarion’s “Try it” hill climb.  There were riders from Bury Clarion, Bolton Clarion and of course, fellow North Cheshire Clarion riders – Dave, Adam, Steve and Paul cheering us on.

The course is probably just shy of a kilometre up Lumb Carr Road, and conditions were favourable – no rain and a tailwind.

Having never done a hill climb I had no idea what to expect, or what to do frankly.  Adam was riding single-speed and whilst that struck me as nuts, in a way it took away the uncertainty of what gear to start off in!

Anyway when I started I realised I was in the wrong gear and crunched through a couple accelerating rapidly.  Too rapidly.  I went off far too quickly and after about 400m or so I realised I was in trouble as I blew up big time!  Gasping for air, heart-rate at maximum and legs not really working I slowed alarmingly.  Not quite getting a second wind as I approached the finish line, I limped over, in part

Ade;s Road Cycling Bloga victim of my own over-exuberance and inexperience.

Adam did a great time of 2m 54s, I managed 2m 59s and Steve put in a good time with 3m 31s.  Dave (RoboDave!) put 40 seconds into me clocking 2m 19s.  To put that into context we’ve both clocked similar times on the Kilton TT this year.  In the space of less than a kilometre he caught two other riders and finished 3rd overall – a superb ride!

I did enjoy it though, especially the free chocolate at the end. Well done and thanks to Bury for organising it.


Hills, hills, hills…

The mind is both a wonderful thing and a terrible thing.  During last weeks Bowland Forest audax my mind had convinced me that I was struggling more on the hills, that I was not as fast and that I was more tired.  One of the advantages of being a data geek like me is that you can actually take a subjective view like that and use some data to analyse it.  So I did.  Up until the end of May last year I did 2,428 miles and 94,659ft of climbing.  Using a not-really-very-scientific-formula, that works out at around 39ft of climb per mile ridden.  The equivalent period this year sees me having done 3,146 miles and 101,729ft of climbing – or around 32ft per mile.  That would tally with me focusing more on quicker rides than hilly rides.  But there’s not much in it – certainly not enough to worry about.

But me being me I decided to do a few hills this weekend.  I warmed up on Saturday with a quick 32 miler including The Rake – which you can find on page 126 of the excellent 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs book by Simon Warren.

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Saturday - 32 miles and 2000ft of climbing

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Can you spot The Rake?

The weather was grey and overcast with wet roads but little or no rain.  The surface of The Rake is broken and difficult at the best of times but it was glistening with the wet, rainbow spectrum of spilt petrol/diesel/oil.  Picking a line was difficult, with my bike wheel spinning on occasion and I reached the top with a higher heart-rate than I expected and feeling it in my legs.  I must have been right, I thought, I’ve not done enough hills.  But on analysis of the data I found that the probable reason was that I had gone up the hill about 1mph faster than my previous two rides on this loop.  That doesn’t sound much but over a mile of climbing including 20%+ gradients it’s enough!  And overall I knocked 5 minutes off my previous best time for the ride.

Today I decided to go north again but heading over to Hebden Bridge – which if you like flat riding would be your version of cycling hell.

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There was a stiff wind this morning and the route took in a mixture of short, sharp climbs, like Widdop, and long gradual climbs, like Cragg Vale.  Something for everyone!

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Sunday - 76 miles and 6,339ft of climbing

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Anyway, my legs felt very heavy today.  My time and average speed wasn’t particularly good.  I’ve noticed some riders who struggle to maintain a pace in a group but post some fantastic averages when out on their own.  I’m the complete opposite.  I need company to motivate me to go faster – on my own I just settle for “comfortable”.

Overall though I’m pleased with the rides, and I think it shows the value of recording data so you can test your subjective thinking and get to the real story.

Ride Stats:

Saturday : 32 miles in 1hr 54m at 16.7mph average.  2,000ft of climbing, 1,591kcals and average HR of 146bpm

Sunday : 76 miles in 5hrs 24m at 14.1mph average. 6,339ft of climbing, 4,167kcals and average HR of 139bpm