As Deloitte Ride Across Britain kicked off in John O' Groats, the beautiful weather being enjoyed further south in the country never made it as far as our 170km route for the first stage of the nine-day event.
With little more than one hour of darkness at this time of year, the HQ for the event was a hive of activity by the time I rolled up to start at 7am. Riding alongside fellow Paralympians Barney Storey and Jody Cundy, as well as Olympians Rebecca Romero and James Cracknell, we had to wait around and pose for the official start photos before the ride proper got underway.
Before too long the rain was falling, and the 600 strong field was spread out over many, many miles. With a strong headwind and temperatures struggling to get close to 10 degrees, the ride brought back memories of last winter! Thankfully I’d packed in preparation and in almost full winter gear, we ploughed on to get warm.
As with many sportives, the selection of riders was soon established, and I found myself out front with a former UK Ironman record holder Alan Ingarfield, these days the CEO of Boardman Bikes. I was riding the new women’s frame I’d been sent by his company, so this was a great opportunity to thank him and catch up with the racing history of our former lives.
On discovering Alan’s racing pedigree it became clear why our 20 mile-an-hour average was never waning, regardless of how many kilometres clicked by. 170km? Well that's just a warm up for an Ironman!
After starting racing in the early 1980s, Alan became the first man in the UK to finish inside the nine hour mark for the Ironman, when he knocked an impressive 27 minutes off the former record to clock a 8.37.19 at the Roth Ironman in Germany iin 1992. It’s true what the sports scientists say about muscle memory though, because after a 15 year lay off and co-founding the Boardman Bike brand, Alan jumped back on two wheels last September in preparation to ride this event.
We finally pedalled out of the last of the rain and started the climb across the north coast of Scotland, passing through Thurso and the curiously named Bettyshill. After around 50 miles we were grateful for the turn towards the south, and the chance of a slight tailwind. Passing through the typical Scottish lanes, complete with passing places, we reminded ourselves this was a major A road, and yet there were very few other people out – apart from the 598 riders spread out along the route behind us!
As the three-and-a-half-hour mark came and went, Alan announced this was to be the longest ride he’d done in 15 years, yet with another two hours of riding ahead, no one would ever have guessed. As the wind came to our back wheel, the pace lifted again and we cruised by the side of a beautiful loch, never dropping below 30kph.
Finally the end was in sight, and we approached the Falls of Shin and the castle with the 365 windows that stands on the banks of Loch Linne, which was to be our resting place for the night. My power meter stopped at a 230 watts average for the 5 hours 45 minutes, and the shower and massage table were a welcome sight!
With one day down and the fabulous scenery well and truly introduced to us, not to mention the incredible motorbike marshals and our top notch support team and their legendary jam butties, we are ready and raring to get on with day two!
Updates along the route to follow!
For more of Sarah Storey, visit www.onthedrops.com.