Days six and seven of the Deloitte Ride Across Britain gave me the opportunity to ride in a bigger group for the start of both stages.
On Day six we were leaving Manchester and heading to Ludlow, and it was from here that some of the other para-cycling squad would join the ride for the day. Helen Scott – the tandem pilot, Terry Byrne and Shaun McKeown – both class C4, and coach Chris Furber all made the early start for what was billed as a 108 mile stage, but which somehow ended up 111 miles.
The start was flat but busy as we contended with the rush hour through Knutsford and Middlewich. However soon enough we were out in the Cheshire lanes, heading for a brief time over the border into Wales and then skirting Shrewsbury before the hilly finish into Ludlow. We’d all been told there would be a steep-ish climb at the end of the ride, but no one was prepared for what we actually faced.
It might as well have been a rock face as we slowly approached this sheer climb from the steep side of Long Mynd. With the 39x25 ratio most people seemed to have there was little chance of us pedalling up, and I sadly became one of the walkers. I’m told only 12 people were able to ride up it, but only because they had been fortunate enough to have been on a triple or compact anyway. If only we’d been told the severity, we could have been prepared!
After this the run into the finish was far longer than anyone realised, and everyone we spoke to was glad to have made it back.
Day seven was starting with some filming for Channel 4, the broadcaster of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. This meant a slightly later start than normal, and also meant we held back the event chaperones to ride with us so that the film would have the sense of the mass participation event.
Once the filming was over and we set off at our normal pace, Barney and I got to ride with the chaperones up to the first pit stop, and it was a fantastic section of the route.
At Deloitte Ride Across Britain, the chaperones have been the angels of the event as, along with the motorbike marshals, they have been the people making sure that everyone is safe on the road. The chaperones are the event helpers on push bikes and they are on the road until the bitter end everyday, making sure that everyone gets home.
Sometimes they have to push the struggling riders, sometimes they have to talk them through, but whatever the weather and whatever the time of day, provided it is daylight the chaperones are out there keeping everyone moving. It just so happens that the chaperones are all from Chippenham Wheelers and they are led by Andy Cook.
So once our filming was done we put the hammer down, and with the help of motorbike number one we made our way at full speed through the lanes around Hereford and towards the Forest of Dean. It was great to charge along at 30mph, and at times it felt like a Crit race as we sprinted out of corners and through villages! All these charperone guys are great fun, and told us of the people they’d helped and the long days they’d been keeping.
After the first pit stop the remainder of the ride was a solo effort for me, shy of a short distance into the second pit stop when an amazing guy came whizzing past me on a downhill and sheltered me into the stop.
It’s got to the stage of the ride where everyone is starting to marvel at how far they have come over the past week. On Wednesday we were in the Lake District, whereas now we’re in Devon! The conversations have been about the incredible distances we’ve covered, not to mention the extra unnecessary bits, just to take in yet another climb! It’s been great to catch a few words with the other riders as we move from group to group, although they are usually telling me off for riding too fast!
Today’s stage was another gruelling and very hilly slog across 117 miles from Cheddar to just past Launceston. It was the penultimate day of riding and it was very noticeable how people are now ready for the ride to be over! Although we have seen some incredible sights and will no doubt do so again tomorrow on the final leg, everyone has sore legs, knees and bottoms, and for the people who have spent 14 hours a day getting through the miles, there has been very little time off the bike over this past week.
I really do take my hat off to the people surviving from one mile to the next. I’m getting lots more rest at the end of each day because I can finish inside seven hours, and yet I am still struggling to keep the pedals turning at times.
For me today’s stage was extra good because we were passing through the town of Tiverton, the home of one of my best friends. Joanne Railston and her husband Damian moved down there around six years ago and they are sorely missed up north. So it was fantastic to be able to stop at the side of the road and have a quick chat!
After Tiverton the hills just kept on coming mile after mile, and with a headwind added in it meant there was very little rest before the next switch to the 39” chain ring. I was really grovelling by the time the lead motorbike found me and helped me negotiate my way through some tricky villages and narrow lanes. At one point the road was lined with grass down the middle and I was leaning towards that dangerous part of it as the trees were hanging over a long way!
Base camp and the end of the stage was a welcome sight and I was thankful for the cooling cologne and flannel Colin was wiping me down with! The sun has been shining for these past few days though, and with less than 100 miles (hopefully) ahead of us tomorrow, everyone here is looking forward to seeing Land’s End!
For more of Sarah Storey, visit www.onthedrops.com