First 12 Hour Time Trial

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And we’re off!

I’d been worried about this for a quite a while and when the alarm went off at 3-15am and we drove towards Prees Heath in the dark, the pouring rain and swirling wind did nothing to ease my concerns.  By the time the sun had come up the rain had stopped but the wind remained, and would do so for the entire day.  More on that later.

Clubmates Pauline and Jeanette were also doing their first 12 hours with support from John and Paul.  Both kindly offered to provide me with some support on the Anfield loop as Liz and Kate would be stuck at Prees island, an offer gratefully received.

The route had three sections.  Three times round a 20 mile circuit between Prees and Espley, the only part I was familiar with.  Then up to six times round a 17.5 mile circuit from Espley (the Anfield loop) and then back to Prees and as many times round the 12.5 miles finishing loop as time allowed.  The link below shows the route I took

https://www.relive.cc/view/684279680

I’d prepared a whole set of instructions for Liz and Kate about what I’d need at each stop.  On the first 3 loops I was okay because I’d be back every 20 miles.  I’d then be on my own for 125 miles or so with the limited supplies I’d given John.  Fairly early into the ride the plans went out of the window because my needs were changing as the rode wore on.  Next time I do one of these I’ll have a much better idea of what to do.

The first three loops were okay – the wind was pretty tough coming back – but energy levels were high.  I changed my helmet after the third one because the first one was steaming up and hurting my neck a bit. Then it was off to the Anfield Loop.  I was worried about this bit because forums were talking about the “Peplow Pave” – a very rough section of road.  The worst bit however was the first stretch from Espley which was slightly uphill into a fierce head/crosswind.  I stupidly took a bottle from John on the move on this section and nearly ended up in the road due to the wind – suffice it to say I stopped the next time!  The Peplow bit was bad but not really worse than Cheshire courses – it was just the cumulative effect of it.  As I was travelling reasonably quickly I was treated to the full six laps.  After three hours my neck and shoulders were quite sore.  After five or so hours my knee was hurting.  Undercarriage, forearms and wrist were also starting to protest.  The only way to get through this sort of thing is to break it down into smaller and smaller chunks, so I’d worked out the bits of the course were I got some respite and counted the laps down to those sections.  I was spending more and more time off the aero bars and on the drops because it was more comfortable, which cost me speed.  Interestingly, from a fitness point of view, I never felt troubled, and probably could have gone faster were I not in pain.  Finally, I was directed back to Prees for the finishing circuit.  I stopped for a re-application of chamois cream (Elite Ozone Endurance – the best chamois cream I’ve used bar none) and for some deep heat on my neck and shoulders.

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Still smiling 190 miles in…

The finish circuit consisted of a short stint up the A41 before turning off down the backroads through Tilstock and down to Quina Brook.  This first bit of country road was horrible.  The surface-dressed road and headwind made it purgatory.  It was more aero-efficient to go into a tuck on this section but the surface and the nature of the road just made it agony.  There were some sections after this that were really nice and quite quick and then we turned left and back towards Prees, up a short incline.  By the end this incline felt a bit like an Alp but at least there was a 30mph+ downhill on the other side!  Back at Prees a crowd of supporters had gathered and it was fantastic to receive support as we went past – it’s a real boost before the horrible bit of the finish circuit!  After 10 hours I had a bit of a surge which lasted for half an hour – then I was just surviving – especially when it started chucking it down for the last hour or so.

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You can see my pace get slower and slower…

In fact I probably could have got a few more miles in but I was cold and in pain so I timed my ride to end at the timing point nearest the car park!  My official distance was 263.64 miles and I came eighth.  Thank you to Liz and Kate for their support, and to John and Paul.  And congratulations to Pauline and Jeanette for also finishing their first 12’s.  And a massive thanks to all the organisers, volunteers and marshalls – an incredibly well run event.

I told Liz she could slap me if I ever said I’d do another but I reckon on a good day (i.e. less wind) I could seriously beat that distance.  Here’s the lessons I’ve learned

  • I spent over 10 minutes stopped.  Doesn’t seem a lot but that’s 3 to 4 miles.  I think I could reduce that
  • I’d reduced my tyre pressures to provide a bit more comfort – probably should have reduced them further
  • My whole nutrition approach would change – I overestimated what I’d need
  • A bit more mobile support team would have made life a lot easier
  • A bit more training in aero position to help the neck and shoulders and using my more comfortable TT helmet from the start
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This is what 264 miles does to you…

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June – you can tell it’s summer cos the rain is warmer…

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Ah summer.  We had a few days of that this month.  At least the rain was warmer though.

The first race of the month was the club 10 championship on the 1st.  As is often the case it didn’t go to plan as I got held up by an Eddie Stobart lorry who I am convinced did it on purpose, causing me to limp in well down the field.  However, we race on public roads so them’s the breaks, and the winning time was a cracking one that would have taken some beating, so I wasn’t too disappointed.  23:29, 6th from 32

On the first Saturday of the month I rode the Stretford Wheelers 25 on J2/9.  This was a hot day – probably the first day of the year racing in such temperatures.  I don’t carry a bottle on 25’s and it doesn’t usually matter but this time I was serioulsy overheating and dehydrating.  My power was down, barely above the previous week’s 50, and at the end I thought I’d done terribly, as it got worse and worse.  As it was it must have affected others more than me because my time was much better relative to the people I’m normally in and around.  55:28, 5th from 67 (£25, 1st 40-49)

Midweek I rode the club 10 and didn’t get held up this time. 22:26, 1st from 34

The next day I was up at stupid o’clock to get down to Tilstock to ride Chester RC’s 25 on D25/8E.  I like this course but not so much the early starts!  However it was a lot cooler and I rode much more evenly paced race.  In the end I was both delighted and gutted in equal measures to take 2nd place, not far off my first win.  55:02, 2nd from 54 (£50, 2nd and 2nd veteran on standard)

Saturday the 11th was a day of rain, rain and more rain, and the Janus RC 25.  The road was flooded in several places and it was no fun when my feet (and expensive power pedals) were going underwater riding through the floods!  Twemlow Lane, the subject of a very recent surface dressing, was flooded in at least 3 places – yet another reason to add to the list why surface dressing shouldn’t be considered an effective or viable road resurfacing method.  This time I fared worse in relation to my peers, being affected more than they were.  56:27, 5th from 77 (£20, 3rd veteran)

The midweek club 25 championships were postponed due to roadworks so my next race was the M&DTTA 50 mile championships.  Having got soaked on Saturday I did likewise in my recovery ride on Sunday, so ended up with a cold all week, and feeling a bit sorry for myself by the time of the 50.  The weather was near perfect and despite how I felt I managed another 50M power PB, but everyone else just basically went faster!  01:54:16, 10th from 91 (£15, 5th veteran on standard)

The following week, after what felt like a month of general malaise, I actually felt good again when I was training and good again at the mid-week 10.  22:06, 1st from 26

Although I’ve ridden A25/11 and the 100 mile course on the A50 from Etwall, as well as the 50 mile course from Blythe Bridge (the other way round – J5/12), I’d not ridden A50/6 before so I’d identified it as an A race as it’s a fast course.  That meant lots of very fast riders from all over the country so I only just scraped in with my PB of 01:53:00.  The weather forecast was pretty variable before the event but there would be a headwind out and a tailwind back.  The question would be whether I got a soaking too – an hour beforehand there was a hailstorm so it didn’t bode well!

I’d set out the splits I needed to hit my target based on my knowledge of the course and how fast I could push it.  They were first 10 miles in 22:30, second in 24:00 (up the “concrete mountain”), back down in 20:00, single carriageway section in 23:00 and last 10 miles in 20:30.  That would give me a target of 01:50:00, but of course it didn’t take into account the wind direction.  I resolved to ride the first 20 miles into the wind at 25 mile power – roughly about 290W.  I was 7 seconds over on my first 10 miles – so far so good.  Then the headwind really hit me as I started the drag up the hill.  It took me 25:22 to do the next 10 miles – so far so bad!  I was able to get a bit of a breather on the next 10 and still spin out on 53-11 at nearly 40mph, making it in 19:03.  I took a gel and calculated that I was still down so pushed a bit harder to do the next 10 in 22:05.  It was back on – my renewed impetus and the tailwind helping me to complete the next 10 in 19:29 to clock a new PB of 01:48:48 and a Seamons all-age veteran club record.  That felt really satisfying, especially as I didn’t get wet at all!  01:48:48, results not yet in

The weather must have put a few people off for the last club 10 of June as there were only 24 riders.  The forecast correctly predicted the rain would blow over so none of the riders got wet which was another bonus.  The effects of the weekends efforts and training meant I was coming into this with a -11 TSB and low expectations and I met those comfortably!  My legs simply ran out of power after about 6 miles.  22:35, 2nd from 24

Here’s hoping that July brings some kinder weather with it.

Overall, during the month I rode 639 miles, with 27,987ft of climbing at an average speed of around 18.4mph.  I used 21,932kcals of energy, with another 10,473kcals during 13hrs and 24mins of turbo time.  Total training stress was 2,679TSS.

August

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I managed a few gentle training rides in Lanzarote at the start of August (see previous post) and arrived back feeling rested but slightly unfit. And two days later it was the National Clarion Road Race at York Arena.  That was great fun and it was really successful for North Cheshire Clarion, taking 1st, 2nd, 4th and 7th for myself.

The day after was Manchester Wheelers Hilly TT, a 20.5M loop round the Peak District.  I took the TT bike which was fine for going up the hills, but terrifying going down, especially in breezy conditions and on winding descents.  In fact my nervousness probably cost me a prize.  4th from 37, 58:35

On the Wednesday was the final Seamons Club 10 of the year, and I enjoyed another good ride in sunny conditions which attracted a large field.  2nd from 50, 22:41

The following Saturday was my third 50 of the season.  I’d normally done a few more by this stage and I was a bit nervous given my fitness levels.  As it was the ride went like a dream and I felt really comfortable, with a power PB and clocking my best time for J4/16, although there was a stellar field with some of the best amateurs in the country riding.  16th from 108, 01:56:14

The midweek ride at Rainford was cancelled due to the weather so my next ride was Withington Wheelers 10 at J2/1 the following Saturday.  I needed a decent ride here as I won’t get the full 10 rides in for the Cheshire points series, so need to pick up as many as I can in this and the final qualifying race in September. As it was I rode a course best time but it could have been quite a bit quicker due to traffic hold-ups and needing to unclip twice.  I’m not sure I like J2/1 – I always seem to get something holding me up.  11th from 83, 00:22:06

Rainford on the Wednesday threatened rain again, but it held off.  For some reason I felt really strong, and put down my best 10M average power and narrowly missed a “21”.  4th from 30, 22:00

In between races I tried a bit of cycle-cross riding, as I’ll be racing this autumn/winter.  Here’s a bit of video of me – first one is a short version

 

The final Sunday of the month saw me riding at D25/8e early in the morning.  It meant getting up at 5-30am and driving an hour and a half to Tilstock.  As I didn’t warm up on the turbo (an extra half hour in bed seemed favourable!) I knew the first 5 miles would be horrible.  And they were, my legs feeling heavy and slow. For a change on D25/8e the conditions were calm and I started to get stronger and stronger and managed another power PB.  I’d had decent results here with 57 and 58 minute times so when I crossed the line in my course just under 55 minutes I thought I might do well.  It was good enough for my first open podium finish, fastest veteran and £15 prize money.  I was absolutely delighted, and it was nice to finish the month with 4 successive course bests and new power bests at 10M, 25M and 50M.  3rd from 96, 54:59

August saw me ride 654 miles, with 31,523ft of climbing at an average speed of around 17.4mph.  I used 24,461kcals of energy, with another 3,392kcals during 4hrs and 18mins of turbo time.  Total training stress was 2,062TSS.

Cycling in Lanzarote

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I was allowed to hire a bike for two lots of 3 days on our holiday to Lanzarote (thanks Liz!) and so I contacted Revolution Bikes who were absolutely brilliant.  I’d highly recommend these guys – they are so helpful and the bike, a carbon Planet X, was great.  I did some research and came up with six routes prior to leaving.  A quick check with Revolution and I had to amend all of them – many of the roads I’d chosen were dirt tracks, even though they appear on google maps. So my first tip is stick to roads labelled LZnnn – and more than likely you’ll be fine.  Or check out my routes on strava – apart from when I went wrong or the mapping software played up a bit they are fine.  I’d last been to Lanzarote in 2003 and travelled the island in a hire car. I couldn’t remember it being hilly, and it isn’t alp-like, but it’s rarely flat.  I’d classify it as rolling.  The biggest hills are maybe 1,500ft, but the prevailing northerly wind is hard work!  Unless you are heading south, there are few free rides in Lanzarote.  It’s ideal for training.

Here’s the whole 340 or so miles I rode in a little under a minute!

 

Day 1 – I elected for a shortish route from my Puerto del Carmen base. This took me up through Timanfaya to Club LaSanta and then back down through Teguise

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https://www.strava.com/activities/362919224

Day 2 – I followed the cycle path from PdC for over 10 miles along the coast, through Arrecife.  This is completely separate from the traffic, it’s wide, well-surfaced and safe – something the UK could do with a lot more of.

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The cycle path also passes the very end of the airport runway!

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I met an Italian cyclist called Marco in Costa Teguise so it was nice to have company for the majority of the ride

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https://www.strava.com/activities/362919165

Day 3 – West to El Golfo and then followed the road down the Playa Blanca.  Then a monster headwind north plus a long and steep climb up to Femes – very hard work into the wind!

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https://www.strava.com/activities/362919164

Day 4 – Longest ride including a ride along the coast as far North as possible and up to Mirador del Rio, then a decent climb out of Haria followed by a tailwind all the way home!

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Coast road north

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View from Mirador del Rio

https://www.strava.com/activities/362919201

Day 5 – Similar ride to day 1 but a different route back.  Started to feel it in my legs today and my HR monitor packed in part way round so I got some very strange readings.

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https://www.strava.com/activities/362919299

Day 6 – Back up to Haria for my biggest day of climbing with rides up both sides of arguably Lanzarote’s highest profile climb – the road out of Haria.

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Top of the climb looking back at Haria

https://www.strava.com/activities/362919215

Pictures – some of the pictures I took

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Videos – some videos taken from the rear mounted GoPro camera on my bike

Failing (or the Art of Compounding Mistakes…)

At the start of the year I sat down and wrote down a series of things that I wanted to achieve from the 2015 time-trial season.  There were some main goals, some interim goals and some one-off goals.  I then planned out my race calendar so that races that contributed to the main goals were classified as “A” races, “B” races contributed to the other goals and “C” races were simply about race-craft or training.  My training plans would build towards an “A” race and my focus would be 100% on preparation, so it was supposed to be highly scientific and carefully planned.

And then reality happened.

For my first “A” race earlier in the season everything was going to plan in preparation, but the race itself didn’t turn out how I thought it would and at the time I didn’t know why – with hindsight I was at the start of an illness that knocked me back for about 4 weeks.

For my second “A” race I really wasn’t in the right mental frame of mind.  I almost didn’t ride.  The race went entirely to plan!  Make of that what you will.

My third “A” race was over the weekend just gone and involved a 300+ mile round trip.  Again, everything was going to plan.  In the previous week I’d ridden two TT’s at a course best for me. I arrived at the HQ very relaxed and confident.  My warmup was okay.  The trouble was it was very hot – the Garmin and car gauges were reading 30˚C.  I decided against a bottle on the bike because, hey, I’d never needed one for a 25 before.

Hello mistake number 1.

I rode to the start.  It was hot but okay when I was moving.  I rolled past the start and then further up did a U-turn and came back down to the queue of riders, forgetting to change to a higher gear and leaving the bike in too big a gear for my start.

And that was mistake number 2.

My intention was to hold the front brake on, lean the bike forward and flip the gear like I’d done a hundred times before.  I pulled the brake and heard an alarming “ping” as the right hand caliper, hidden behind an aero fairing inside the front fork, clamped to the wheel.  The rider in front of me was at the start line which meant I had a little over a minute.  The wheel wouldn’t turn, the caliper wouldn’t move.  I had no tools to remove the fairing.  I wouldn’t recommend this at home, and with hindsight it didn’t help much, but I loosened the wheel and repositioned it at a slight angle such that it would turn, albeit still touching the pad.  I realised I didn’t dare pull the front brake so I’d be approaching every roundabout simply feathering the rear.  I didn’t have time to be too nervous about that because then it was my turn to push off.  N1/25C has a gift hill at the start.  I realised going down that that I wasn’t going as fast as I should be and so my natural instinct kicked in.

Mistake number 3.

I pushed a bit harder than I should have done, and kept on pushing, but still the speed didn’t come.  At roundabouts (there are lots on N1/25C) I was backing off and using my one brake carefully.  At 8 miles the course turns back on itself and on this day was into a cross headwind.  By 10 miles I was overheating and my power was dropping as my heart rate was rising.  At 13 miles the course turns back again and the sweat was dripping down onto my visor.  I was cursing myself for not putting a bottle on the bike as I was so thirsty.  I’d pretty much run out of gas.  The rest of the ride was a bit of a blur of unpleasantness, and at the end I felt dazed and dizzy as I got my breath back before heading back to HQ.  To be confronted by my worst 25 time for 2 years. In an “A” race.  AN “A” RACE!

Anyway, I sulked for the duration of the drive home.  Took the brake apart to find the broken spring – see picture.  Manufactured a pretty dodgy Heath Robinson fix.  Emailed Canyon to request a warranty replacement.  Got my stuff ready for the following day.  Sulked a bit more.

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On Sunday morning I just got on my bike and rode.  No warmup as such, a lot of care on the front brake (used it only once) and concentrated on putting the power down in the right places.  I came 6th overall in a time around 4 minutes quicker than the day before. I’d like to say it made up for the Saturday, and in some ways it did.  But I still need to re-assess my overall goals and probably change them, as the ones I’d set are pretty much insurmountable now.  So that remains a real and tangible disappointment after all the effort I’ve put in over the winter.

Anyway, lessons to be learned and more plans to be made.  You might call it a Plan B.  Onwards and upwards.

Charlie Westlake Memorial Ride 2015

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Started off a reasonably nice day – not too cold but a bit windy!  The wind was WSW so the first section of the ride to was subject to crosswinds, but after Belmont it was pretty much behind for the next 20 miles or so.  From Belmont I pretty much rode on my own, albeit being in the same general vicinity as a couple of other riders for much of it.  The temperature was dropping all day and after Downham it started to hail, which into a headwind is particularly painful.  It didn’t last long and stayed pretty dry until the official finish at Owd Betts.  Riding home I got soaked – icy rain and hail for the second Sunday running.  Thankfully only 10 miles.  Oh, and my HR monitor packed up half way round, as it appears, did my cadence sensor! Overall it was nice to catchup with some people I’d not seen for a while, albeit briefly, and the route itself is interesting, so an enjoyable day.

Ride stats : 78.5 miles in 4hrs 44m at 16.6mph.  6,124ft ascent.

Strava ride here

My 2014 Highlights

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December has been a bit of a freeze-out in terms of cycling.  I’ve only managed 261 miles on the road and unlike 2012 and 2013 I haven’t completed the Rapha Festive 500. I have been training though, managing 31hrs 43m and a TSS of 1726.2.

That said, 2014 has been a great cycling year for me.  You can read about my racing year here so here are the overall stats and some pictures of the highlights for me.

  • 6,439 miles in 378hrs 2m at 17mph average speed
  • Of that 1,124 miles were racing
  • An additional 71hrs 4m on the turbo
  • 312,377ft ascent
  • 245,293 kcalories used road and 51,284 kcalories turbo
  • Longest distance – 133 miles
  • Best average speed – 28.8mph
  • Highest speed – 56.3mph (Alps!)
  • Average HR 130bpm road, 140bpm turbo and highest HR 188bpm
  • Most climbing in one ride – 11,965ft
  • Most energy used in one ride – 6,179 kcalories
  • Ride temperatures from -1.2˚C to 29˚C

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Whatever your aims for 2015 I wish you success.  Happy New Year!

Not the Winter Solstice Audax

I was looking forward to this 200km audax.  The last two years the weather has been relatively kind and it looked like it would be mild today.  I got everything ready last night, got up nice and early, had my pre-200k breakfast and got to the start in plenty of time.  I’ve even been growing my beard.  After chatting for a bit with the usual audax crowd I set off.  In half a mile I heard a ping and suddenly I started spinning.  Looking down the chain was on the small ring and the cable looked like it had worked loose.  I turned round to go back to the start to borrow an allan key but when I got there and touched the bolt with my fingers it came away.  So I got the bike in summer and have done maybe 700 or 800 miles on it as I didn’t start using it until October.  The first derailleur bolt sheared off about 3 weeks ago, and the whole derailleur had to be replaced by the LBS.  This has maybe done 50 miles so it’s not really funny, and as most people who ride with me know, I rarely use the small ring anyway, so it’s not like I’m changing gear every two minutes.  My bikes are all Shimano but this is my first experience of 105.  Dura-Ace, Ultegra and Tiagra have all done thousands of miles with no issues at all.  I’m not impressed.

So I packed my bike up and came home, got the spare winter bike out, tinkered with it to get it ready and then went out on that.  From being dry and mild in South Manchester, it was now wet and cold in North Manchester.  As Peter Kay says it was that fine rain that soaks you through.  Whilst I’m on the subject of poor-performing kit…

  • Sealskinz Waterproof Winter gloves – 5 out of 10 – hands soaked and freezing within an hour
  • Sealskinz Waterproof Overshoes – 6 out of 10 – boots were generally dry except for toe area within an hour
  • Northwave Fahrenheit winter boots – 6 out of 10 – wet toes within an hour – rest okay
  • Sealskinz Waterproof Socks – 5 out of 10 – wet toes, freezing cold – very disappointing
  • Bioracer club winter jacket – 9 out of 10 – body stayed dry – lower arms from cuffs a bit damp – reasonably warm

Anyway I managed around 45 miles or so – I should have gone south rather than north but didn’t want to navigate Manchester as the traffic is pretty bad in the run-up to Christmas.  I’m glad I did get out even though it was raining as I’ve been going a bit stir-crazy on the turbo.  It’s important to keep up the aerobic base fitness training, even if the weather is bad.  In your mid to late forties it’s too easy to lose fitness and if you think you can routinely miss sessions and not struggle then you’re only kidding yourself.  And of course there is a certain masochistic pleasure to be had in souffrance but that’s for another blog post!

Enjoy your Christmas and keep riding!

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