Deloitte Ride Across Britain - Tuesday 15th June
Deloitte RAB lost the plot today and awoke us with ‘Eye of the Tiger’. Oh dear!! The weather gods were kind again – sun, barely a cloud in the sky and no wind. The route would take us from just south of East Kilbride, over the Lowther Hills, through the borders and down to the flat plains of the surroundings. From there we would pass through Carlisle on our way up to the Lake District and down to Ullswater.
As I sit here in our giant Moroccan themed tent, the sun is beaming down and we are surrounded on all sides by the fells, rugged, craggy and looking down with disdain at 600 riders who will climb the 20% Kirkside Pass tomorrow. The border country doesn’t have the wild beauty of the north of Scotland but if you’re used to the pot-holed Surrrey Hills, the quiet rolling roads through mile of gently hilled farmland is heaven sent.
At one point, our chain gang of six was overtaken by a local rider, Hugh Forgie. He said “where are youse boys gaein?”. “Lands End” I said. He offered to take the lead and powered the group along for 15 miles. On the two mile ascent just outside Moffat we chatted. Last year he rode solo from Glasgow to Malaga to raise money for Leukaemia. He did it as a thank you for the treatment he had. Hughie is in remission now and his form of Leukaemia is controlled by intermittent sessions of chemotherapy. Hughie still rides hundreds of miles a week, he just loves riding and is very interested in doing Deloitte Ride Across Britain nest year. I hope he does – he’s an inspirational guy to ride with even for a short few miles and we have something in common – two years ago I recovered from cancer and started to cycle to regain fitness.
A few gentle climbs and descents and we were on the flat plans of the Solway Firth. The pace ramped up. No doubt our English riders could sense they were nearing home, after Carlisle we started the ascent to the edge of the Lake District National Park, an 18%er was a shock to the system and split the group. The descent from the top was just awesome. Stunning views down to Ullswater. For the last 10 miles we rode in with Jody Cundy, the Paralympic sprinter with five, yes five, gold medals to his name. One of the priviledges or riding Deloitte RAB is to meet and ride with Olympians and Paralympians like Jody. He let us cycle with him (he did sprint off for a few hundred metres though. That was frightening.) Jody, Sarah and Barney Storey have chatted with all the riders, no doubt retelling the same stories of training and competing, selflessly with great humour. I started the day with an inspirational rider and ended up with another.
Wednesday 16th June
As I sit here we’re more than half way to Land's End. This is the stage I thought we’d all really feel it, but all of us in our regular six man chain gang felt good today. Before this, none of us had cycled more than 100 miles two days in a row. Now we’ve done five. Perhaps our bodies are getting used to the punishment we’re putting them through.
The bikes are a different story. Some of the roads have been rough over the last two days, not just potholes but poor boneshaking surfaces. Martin Immison, who heads up the on site Halfords team has had to bring in 30 sets of wheels today and scour local bike shops for parts for all makes of bikes, some common others more exotic. So far they have succeeded in getting most people going again.
Our base camp last night, at Kirkstone in the Lake District, was set in a stunning location, surrounded on three sides by imposting peaks, one of which hid the now dreaded Kirkstone Pass . Set off was scheduled for 7am and we passed through the start line at 7.20 with plenty of riders ahead of us. Kirkstone is about two miles long and up to 20%. I had done the Fred Whitton earlier in the year so knew what to expect. We climbed as a team up the hill passing bodies of all shapes in sizes. Everyone had clearly prepared well for the event and were getting up the pass – perhaps with sky high heart rates but they were getting up.
The descent was fast, furious and heaven. A couple of months ago I had lost my bottle on a wet descent on Coombe Bottom in the Surrey Hills when I nearly had a big clanger but now the inner child took over. A mate texted me that after my write up of the Boardman I had clearly been bought! I haven’t, honestly - the Boardman is just brilliant on descents like Kirkstone, with corners that are just made to get the adrenalin levels soaring. And it kept on going - forget the short sharp descents of the Surrey Hills this was positively Alpine.
The team then settled about task of getting out of the Lake District and across the western edge of the Lancashire Dales to the first pit stop at 35 miles. The team we have formed over the last three days has bonded really well. In what other high intensity sport can two old codgers in their 50s ride along side a couple of guys in the thirties and another two in their twenties? I though I might lose the Gramps moniker but Les is two years younger than me at 50. Les‘s thing is time trials and he is strong on the flats. Gavin is a 17 stone powerhouse and an Ironman. Big G is just a big engine. Dave played representative rugby from school on, playing ultimately for Ulster but sadly getting injured shortly before they won the European Cup. Dave is just strong, flat, hills, descents, he goes all out. Chris is the youngster of the group. Strong on the climb and the flat, Chris is a great all rounder. Unbelievably, because of the arrival of a new baby he has cycled just 300 miles in the last three months. Lord knows what he could do with some serious training under his belt. Makes me feel completely inadequate (though most other cyclists do frankly!)
By the time of the first feed stop, we were aware that there was just one group of five riders ahead of us. Now Deloitte RAB is not a race. It isn’t. No, no no. It is James Cracknell's baby and he’s simply not a competitive chap at all. You must all know that by now. Ok, so maybe a small element of competition descended on us. Actually, make that a big dose, a very big dose.
We discovered that there was just one group of five riders (all much younger than us of course) ahead of us by the time of the first pitstop. They exited both the first and the second pitstop just as we were arriving. They were ten minutes ahead, with 47 miles to go after the final pitstop. No conscious decision was made but as the speed began to ramp up we all knew exactly what was happening. The race was on. We wanted to be first in to base camp, just south of Manchester.
With a mental age some 40 plus years less than my sad old body age, this was what we needed. Bit by bit our group shrank and eventually it was just Dave and I. A big drag up the final hill to descend to Bolton was just knackering. Into Bolton, we caught sight of our prey. We ramped up the speed again now averaging over 25mph. This was fine for Dave but I was at the end. Eventually, we caught them. I settled in behind their lead rider as I thought that as we had bridged, we would cycle the last 10 miles together. Dave gave me one of his, “what do you think you are doing Gramps” looks and sprinted on. OMG, here we go again. At the five mile to go sign, we were clear. We couldnt see them but we kept up the pace nevertheless. Just in case. With a mile to go we came off the drops and began to cycle together convinced we had done enough. Schoolboy error. They had ramped up their speed, were hunting us down and saw us with two miles to go. Suddenly with just 500 metres to go they sprinted past. The race and the sprint was on. Forget the ascent of Kirkstone Pass, forget the last 115 miles surely we couldn’t lose now. With 50m to go it was Dave and their lead rider. Then we were at the entrance to the base camp. Who won? No-one. We had cycled into the wrong entrance. We found the right entrance 100m further on and, having parked our bikes, in proper Deloitte RAB spirit congratulated each other on our rides. Remember, the Deloitte Ride Across Britain is not a race. It's just not. Well sometimes, just a little bit. I have to go as we have a team meeting in five minutes to discuss tactics for today's race, I mean ride.
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.com <http://www.rideacrossbritain.com/>