Ride Across Britain 3 & 4: Two epic stages

Riding through saddle soreness and three litres of Coke!

By day three of the Deloitte Ride Across Britain everyone was ready for some better weather, and we were not disappointed. Strange as it was to be woken at 3am by the daylight coming through the curtains, we were grateful for the blue skies as we set off on what would be the first of two incredibly epic stages. Back-to-back days of 130 miles [212 kilometres] were going to be a huge challenge, and long days were predicted for everyone.

For me it was about starting more steadily and surviving what would be the longest distances I’d ever ridden, beating my previous longest of 175km by some margin. Looking at the route profile, it seemed as though 7 hours 30 minutes would be a good time – so when I averaged 34kph for the first hour it was something of a surprise.

For the first of the two long stages I was riding solo. My Ironman bike buddy was planning a later start, so I had the opportunity to enjoy the company of my husband, who drafted me until his rear mech slipped into his rear wheel and there was he had to stop for mechanics. I carried on solo, passing groups of people as I rode towards the first pit stop of the day on the other side of the Glen Coe range.

It was a humbling trip to say the least, passing rider after rider, all heading out for the gruelling journey ahead. I passed people with every kind of set up, mountain bikes, trainers and flat pedals, many carrying panniers. It was such a motivating ride as I bid them all a good morning, and felt lucky to be riding a full carbon set up and Zipp 404’s.

The miles slipped by quite comfortably with a tailwind and the beautiful weather helping me along, as well as some breathtaking scenery which made for an easier first half. Before I knew it I was turning to head down the west banks of Loch Lomond and towards the second pit stop. This is where it got quite frightening, as the road was more like a motorway with HGVs, buses and, worst of all, cars towing vans skimming past me with alarming proximity. I spotted a path that was following the lake shore and after a quick nod from my support car, headed onto the path and away from the busy road.

Traversing the banks of the Loch was calm and tranquil and the water looked like a mill pond. All too soon the path ended and I had to rejoin the A82 for the final five miles into the second pit stop. With no one else there, I turned straight round and got back on with the route which took us through a built up area, along a dual carriageway and over the Erksine bridge, via the bike path, thankfully. The views from the bridge were quite spectacular, and with clear skies it was possible to see the planes on their approach to land at the nearby Glasgow Airport.

Almost as quickly as we’d been thrust into the busy sections, I was back out in open countryside as we finished the stage with a loop to the south west of Glasgow, which led us to the base camp based south of East Kilbride. This section was in fact more challenging than the climb through Glen Coe, as the tarmac was in a dire state and the road either went straight up or straight down, which made it terribly hard to maintain the 20 miles per hour average I’d managed up to that point. It was great practice for the National Road Race Championships a week on Sunday, though!

With the stage brief indicating we would cover 128 miles, I became rather alarmed that I’d missed the five miles to go sign when my power meter ticked over the 202km mark. When the lead motorbike caught up with me, he also confirmed that he thought we’d now passed inside the daily mileage, but then sure enough, instead of seeing a base camp, we saw the five mile marker! By this point I’d been drinking flat coke to try and get some life into my tired body. After 190km on the front and mainly riding alone, I’d started to swing big time and my saddle was very uncomfortable!

On realising I could stay there and grovel, or step on it and finish inside seven hours, I decided to pick up the pace again and kept telling myself this is what a lone breakaway would feel like! Thankfully the flags of the base camp soon appeared and I coasted in to applause – I was the first rider home! My clock said 6 hours and 57 minutes, a 30kph average speed – although with the 20 minutes I’d spent faffing with extra chamois cream and loo stops as well as the many traffic lights, my official time was 7 hours 17 minutes!

As I staggered away to get in the car, James Cracknell appeared at the finish, with an incredible solo ride of 6 hours 56 minutes. I wonder if he actually stopped at any point!

All too soon the massage was done, the dinner had been eaten and the alarm was ringing for the start of stage four  – another 212 gruelling kilometres which saw us leave Scotland and enter England. For me the start meant that I could spend another 100km with Barney, who was once again doing the starting leg for the relay he is doing with Jody Cundy. As both of us were feeling rough with bad stomachs we kept the pace quite steady, picking up riders looking for a tow as the wind was now coming from the south.

On deciding that we were probably on sports powder and gel overload, we ditched the bottles and refilled them with coke, which was pretty much the only thing we could stomach for several hours!

When I left Barney, there were very few people ahead. But gradually I was able to pick them off, and the second pit stop loomed just before crossing the border back into England. It’s not until you ride in this way that you realise just how far north Scotland reaches! The final leg was an undulating ride into Carlisle, and then a much hillier finish down to Ullswater. There were some steep rises and some fast and twisty descents, but the views were quite amazing, and we found roads that most people would never have realised existed. For most of this section I had the company of the lead motorbike, which confirmed I’d be the first rider home again. These motorbike marshals have been a very welcome sight on the route, and today I was grateful for him leading me through the twisty sections.

At one point we were high on the moors, passing through wild land with low-lying bushes, and hundreds of small ponies and sheep. The road was winding through this remote landscape and it made you feel like the only person in the world! As I rounded a corner, after slowing down to not scare the ponies, there was a huge sign wishing someone called Nigel all the very best and several people stood around it, cheering! It was awesome to see them high on this moorland, and I pushed on realising there was only about 20km to finish!

We crossed the A66, went through Troutbeck Head, and then gradually worked our way through the countryside to the side of Ullswater. Turning right, the road then climbed and fell through Patterdale, and before too long I could see the flags of the base camp in the distance. It was a welcome sight, and I was chuffed to again finish inside 7 hours – with 6 hours 53 minutes on the clock, a height gain of 1565m throughout the day, and another 185 watt average.

Being in the Lake District is familiar territory with the races I have done up here, but tomorrow starts with a climb over Kirkstone Pass, so that will need a good breakfast and thankfully a slightly later start at 8am! For now though it’s time to clear all those empty coke bottles from the car!!

For more about Sarah Storey, visit www.onthedrops.com

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