Last night we were entertained by Paul Dickinson of the BBC, who hosted a panel session with Paralympians Jody Cundy, tandem pairing Bex Rimmington and Lora Turmham. I hadn’t known, and a lot of people around me hadn’t known, but GB won 12 out of 13 cycling Golds in Beijing and have won more golds in each Paralympics since Atlanta. GB simply dominates the road and track in Paralympic cycling. It’s a fantastic achievement and deserves far more recognition than it gets. These guys also deserve the substantial funding they require. Deloitte RAB is about a challenge for 600 club and social riders but it’s also about raising money for GB’s Paralympic team.
Last night (my new and very close friend), James Cracknell (hey, I’ve talked to him twice exchanging at last 50 words!) handed over a cheque for over £260,000 to Phil Lane, CEO of the British Paralympic Association. It clearly meant a lot to the guys and will help them bring the medals back in 2012. I for one, will be watching them. During the lads discussion over breakfast we all agreed that day six looked like it would be a gentle stroll across Cheshire until we got to some hill or other, which has some reputation apparently, by the name of Long Mynd. Can’t be as bad as Kirkstone, it’ll be a doddle. More about that delusion later.
The first 77 miles were exactly as promised. Gentle hills and descents across the Cheshire plains, in full sunshine in perfect temperatures. Our opposition from yesterday started out at around the same time but they didn’t seem to be up for it. Perfect. Neither were we. I need to remind myself that my body has a lot of mileage on it with an increasing need for spare parts, none of which are stocked by Halfords. This ride has riders with a fairly wide standard of abilities and fitness. I would like to mention one who captures the spirit of the challenge. Each morning Michelle (sorry Michelle, I’ll get your surname by the end of the ride) typically sets out first at around 6.30 half an hour before the rest of us. She generally gets in towards the end of the field having cycled most of the route herself taking up to 10 hours and more. Yet every day she has a smile on her face and gets up ready to go again. She must be utterly exhausted but she is in-dominatable. Chapeau Michelle!
We took the first part of the ride at a sensible pace given the exertions of yesterday until we got to within five miles of the first pitstop. For some reason, Les, a whippersnapper of 50, decided he was on a pitstop time trial. He went to the front and ramped up the pace to TT level. Why? I haven’t a clue. What was even more puzzling is that we all went with him. I clearly come from a long line of lemmings. We arrived at the pitstop HRs maxed out and simply looked at Les, our eyes pleading, why Les why? Well sometimes you just have to go for it, he said. Hmm. We need to keep an eye on him. Even though we had subconsciously agreed that today would be a steady ride, the Halfords boys wound us up by telling us that there was at least ten in front of us. There wasn’t but it had the desired effect and without any agreement we wound up the pace until we got to the base of the first proper hill of the day, a few miles before Long Mynd itself. I haven’t a clue what it is called so I’ll name it Mini Mynd. We climbed over a mile at an average of around 8% (my guess) until we got to a short 400 metre section of around 18%. Up we went. At the top we re-grouped and Les gave his opinion that he had thought that Long Mynd would have been worse. Hmm. We need to keep an eye on him. We left him with that comforting thought.
The descent was a welcome relief and we hammered on until we came to a sudden left turn and a cattle grid. We had seen the side of Long Mynd for a few minutes but we couldn’t see the road. The side of the hill looked very steep and we assumed that any road up the side would be long and therefore a reasonable gradient. Oh no. As soon as were on it, the gradient ramped up to 20% then 22% and on to 25%. But it wasn’t just the gradient. We could see the road stretching ahead but there seemed to be no relief. I’ve managed to successfully get up Hardknott and Wrynose in the Fred Whitton but the sheer unremitting length of the climb takes Long Mynd into a class of its own. BIG G got off just after the start. Big engine but seventeen stones does not a climber make. Les fell off fairly soon after the start. Cleat problems he said. The two Chris’s and I got up about 400 metres and surrendered to the walk of shame. We attempted to get on twice more and on the second attempt about 300 metres from the top we succeeded. But full marks have to go to Ballymena Dave and our resident whippet, Rory, who both got to the top without getting off. A simply brilliant effort. Something I could never do with another five years of training. .
Less than thirty riders managed to climb it without getting off but the views from the top of Long Mynd were stunning. All around us were conical hills rising from the flat plains. This didn’t look like the England I know. It was far more exotic. Beautiful. A brief stop for photos and an award of the KoM jerseys to Rory and Dave and we were on the descent. This was fast, very fast. The gradient seemed about the same as the ascent and the road was narrow making passing the ascending cars tricky. What was worse was that on the left hand side of the road was a 100ft steep drop. We mixed our desire for speed with a great deal of caution. Except Les of course who hared down. We need to keep an eye on him. Finally we were at the end. Knackered. Done. Kaputt. The base camp on Ludlow Racecourse was some reward for our efforts. Tonight we will be eating in a proper restaurant – the cycling gods are shining on us. Tomorrow we head down to the West Country, or as Rory puts it the sticky out bit. Rory went to Leeds Uni – he clearly didn’t study geography. Youngsters. Educashun. It’s not like it was when I was a lad.
Nigel was the winner of our Deloitte Ride Across Britain competition, winning a place on the ride and a Boardman bike. Follow Nigel’s journey throughout the week.
More more information on the Deloitte Ride Across Britain, please visit: www.rideacrossbritain.comhttp://www.rideacrossbritain.com/>