It is not often I get an opportunity to organise an evening ride but as it is currently half term in the south of the country, I decided to get out on the bike. We had a few members of Back On Track Cycling, the rest were on shift, plus Dunmow Velo attended and some new faces from the local area. In total 10 fellow cyclists started to pedal the back lanes of Dunmow.
The plan was for a social ride, curbing the speed that Back On Track have a habit of, you know the one, ‘let’s take it easy’, someone says then taking off like a wippet out of the gate. It was a cracking ride and there were a few opportuities for hill sprints, well as much as Essex can do a hill. It was great to see so many people out and something I will aim to do again
So did Fred treat me nicely? We were presented with a sunny warm day with little wind but it was not Fred I had to worry about.
You could not ask for better weather. A south westerly 8 mph wind with temperatures set to sore to 18º.Not the case at 0515 in the morning when myself and Ian left the hotel for a short 7 mile warm up ride to the start.
Once Ian had completed his early morning registration we lined up on the start.The earlier warmth slowly leaving our bodies and being replaced with the freshness that is 0600.
We finally crossed the start line at 0615 and I avoided the temptation to revel in the start and increase the pace to something that could not be maintained.I had decided to pace myself, setting the Garmin’s virtual partner to the speed completed in 2015.This was for two reasons, to stay ahead of my own target and stop me constantly looking down and counting down the miles.
We slowly started to warm up again as we headed through Ambleside, the marshals directing us off the main road and to the beginning of the first climb.The pace soon reduced to single figures as pedals were turned with more effort.Passing a sign stating the next section of the climb was at 116% and I was not sure if my 34/32 would cope with such steepness.This was the start of the climb to Kirkstone Pass, a long but gradual climb that would take us to the highest point on the course.I like this type of climb, it allows me to set a rhythm, a steady tempo on the pedals.I would say the view was fantastic but as we passed ‘the struggle’ we ended in the cloud and it was cold, around 4º as we crossed the summit.We were handed some Haribo by the support teams at the top and they tasted good. (The Haribo, not the support team).These climbs are tough but they do provide one hell of a descent and I like descending.Not because it means I can recover and no requirement to pedal but these descent are twisty, allowing the line of least resistance to be picked and then hold on.I did not allow the bike to run away but when the brake pads are starting to smell through heavy braking, you need to give things a break.
The ride continued well and slowly heading towards the 50 mile feed stop but there was still a testing climb to come, Honister Pass, 1.5 miles with a 10% average, slapping you with a short 15% section, just incase you thought it would be easy.In 2015 I stopped and walked a small section, this year I did not put a foot down but did utilise the stone bridge half way up to compose and motivate myself for the last push.Entering the slate mines it was then a 13% descent down the other side.A small group formed and away we went, quickly catching two cars but our top speed was scrubbed.With twisty tight roads there was no point in putting yourself or others in danger with a risky overtake.That was not the decision of all and caused issues that affected everyone else.
I met Ian at the 50 miles feed stop in Buttermere and grabbed malt loaf, sandwiches and refilled my water bottles.I did not want to stop for too long as the next climb, Newlands was less than a mile from the feed stop.During this climb I noticed something was not right, I started to feel a twinge in my right knee.
I decided to ease up and not too push on the flats, hoping it was something I could ride out.The next climb of Whinlatter, 1.8 miles at 7% average, I struggled.The climb has a couple of kickers but in general a steady climb but I was finding it difficult to apply pressure through my right leg.
I continued but things were starting to get worse.There were still two major climbs, Hardknott and Wrynose to come.I decided I would get to the 83 mile feed stop, take on some food, obtain some medical advise and rest up for a bit.Unfortunately this was not the case, a short and unassuming climb to Fangs Brow but at the top I knew I could not carry on.I made a marshalling point and needed assistance from them.At that moment it was that bad that I was unable to twist out of my cleat, a marshall had to undo my shoe so I could get off the bike.
Unfortunately this was the end of my race, there was no point in carrying on and being driven to the feed stop there was still some climbing to do.I am absolutely gutted I did not complete the course but I made the right decision.My time with Fred is done but I would still love to return to the area and complete the hills again, splitting them down into smaller chunks.
I have not ridden the bike for over a week now and rested.I did have a doctors appointment but due to the cyber attack, this had been cancelled.A physio’s appointment has also been booked but need to wait another week for that.I went out on a family ride yesterday for around 4 miles and everything felt good and the legs have been twitching to get back on the bike.I am back into work tomorrow so will have a spin around Regent’s Park and see how I get on.
In a few days I will be heading to Grasmere, Cumbria and register my place for the Fred Whitton Challenge then I’ll be heading off for a tranquil night in a B&B over looking Lake Windermere. There will not be a chance to soak up too much scenery as it is an early start on Sunday for a challenging ride.
Am I ready for Fred?
Having completed it before I am aware what the countryside will offer. I think I am fitter than I was in 2015 certainly putting in the miles. Eating plan sorted. New wheels from Hunt. Plus a compact chainset with 11 gears on the rear offering 11-32. There are a limited number of steep hills in Essex and even though it was part of my training program, my main job and Back On Track taking up time it soon took a back seat.
For 2017 I will be riding with Ian Appleby, a very good friend met through Twitter. I have not seen him since 2015, when we rode Fred for the first time and I will be entering his territory once again. Ian can climb, in the drops with a water bottle in his mouth. Personally I think he was just showing off but I would do the same if I had that ability.
The ride strategy has been organised but the Thorpe jury is still undecided, pass the 1st feed station at 50 miles and head for the 2nd at 88 miles. This will be the longest ride without a stop and I have not completed many rides of this distance over this type of terrain. If everything falls into place with eating, the speed and the wind behind me then anything is possible.
After the second stop the miles will count down towards Hardknott and Wrynose Pass, the climb you see in the distance, it plays with your mind as you can see the flicker of all the cyclist’s red lights dancing up the mountain. Last time I climbed this I was beaten, 18% average with 30% switch backs on Hardknott, pedals turning that slowly that there was not enough speed to unclip. Not sure how I will cope with it this year, I am aiming to complete the two climbs but I am a realist. I am not accepting defeat before I even begin but respectful of the surroundings.
The weather forecast is better than the wet soaked ride of 2015 and I am hoping it stays dry but with the amount of height gained, who knows what the weather may have in store for us.
The crowds that line the route are a credit to themselves and motivating to us riders. Turning out in all weathers, cheering, shouting and encouraging riders up the hills. To those there on the day and those who have been there in the past, chapeau.
I have a couple of rides under my belt for this week, a 63 miler, 100km for the Strava achievement, a non-stop affair with a climb up North Hill, all went well. Today was a ride with the rest of Back On Track Cycling, an easy ride to the Blue Egg for cake. An easy 16 mph average on the way out and a couple of sprints on the way home for good measure.