Thursday, July 10, 2014

Blog special: Sportiving, cycling's new black

Blog special: Sportiving, cycling's new black

What is it about the sportive that seems to entice so many bike riders? They're long (often more than an hour!), difficult, usually done on tarmac, so I mean, seriously, what's to like? My first encounter with a 'sportif' was in France where my ride pal Jon and I stopped in a nice restaurant for a two course lunch (the Sportif Special I seem to remember). It was only after we got back to base that it dawned on me this was a timed event and the challenge was in getting around the 170km as fast as possible. Silly me I thought we were there to enjoy a day out on the bike in the spectacular Ardèche countryside. Schoolboy error (#1). This sportive season I've done three local but seriously challenging events as 3 Peaks training fodder.

First up, Etape du Dales (Yorkshire and Cumbria, Dave Rayner Fund, 178km) where recent good form in the Scotton 100 meant that I could expect to motor along and pull Chris around in my wake. In the event the opposite happened. The schoolboy errors just kept on coming: started too fast, not enough to eat or drink, over cooked it on the first climb, you name it, I did it (#2,3,4,5). Lucky for me a serious mechanical failure on Chris's bike meant he could only descend on the back brake so we struck together and he literally towed me home on the flat sections with our mismatch in climbing and descending levelling us out a bit. I decided that's it for me, no more Sportives this season.

That is until Chris offers me a spare slot on the Tour De France Stage 1 route (Yorkshire, Cyclists Fighting Cancer), I couldn't say no. The Tour de France in Yorkshire!  (CX riders: this is a big race for roadies, a bit like the CX World Champs or e.g. Koksijde). But say no I should've. We arrived at the first feed station with an average speed of 32+kph (20+mph) and I was well into the red zone, when will I ever learn? (#6). I waved my companions Geoff and Chris (Beamish Odd Sox) goodbye, and set about solo-TTing it around the rest of the 197km course as best I could. It wasn't pretty, but I got home.

So then club-mate Paul says to me "are you doing the White Rose Classic next week? It's the toughest course by far" (Yorkshire and Cumbria, Yorkshire Air Ambulance, 183km). I know. I've done it twice and been broken twice. Proper shattered, snails pace for agonising km after km. I was too late to enter, but dopey me I got in touch with the organisers at Ilkley Cycling Club who said OK, you can ride. But here at CXM we like to tell it as it is, so in fairness they did ask me to mention it in the blog. So I'm gonna mention it.

This time no stupid mistakes, I quietly departed solo and early doors from the well organised ride HQ at Ilkley Rugby Club. An error free ride was the aim, time not important, but remaining intact was. First hill: Norwood Edge, where our club (Harrogate Nova) organise a hill climb TT, so I know this one well. A treat for the riders was French style km marker stones telling us gradient and distance to the cols and sommets. A nice touch. Then a slog on to Grassington, where as luck would have it CX friends Sophie and Rob Thackray with the Paul Milnes club ride are heading and I shelter in their wake in a severe headwind section. They turn off and I find myself riding with Nick from Hope Technology. Yes, you do know him, he's the one who shows you how to fix your bike in all those great videos.

Next up Fleet Moss, not the up so much but the down that can be a bit nerve racking. It's not hard to get to 80 or 90 kph on this run down to Hawes, but a nice headwind tempered this a little (71kph). Hawes for me is lunch time, sadly no restaurant (couldn't we maybe stop the clock?) but a quick cheese sarnie and a bag of crisps (hula hoops).

Then a fast rolling section to Coal Road climb where I ride with Nova sportive suprema Corrine who's on a mission today. She sets off up this 20% gradient and I revert to my own pacing strategy (survival, intact). Onto Ribblehead and this is what I came to see: all three of the peaks that await in September. From this distance they don't look so big but by the time you get to Horton-in-Ribblesdale, the third peak of Pen-y-gent looms large and I keep checking to see any kind of route up or down that looks bike-able. There isn't one. I'm confused.

Two more lumps to go, first is Settle to Airton and a 25% 'côte' before the final feed stop. I’m not kidding, 25%. Try it, then try it after 135kms. You get the idea. As with all the feed stations on this event, it's well stocked with everything, including the choice of champions, fig newtons. I stuff a handful in my pocket, I know what's coming 'cos last year I watched at all I slow motion: super narrow country lanes, gravel and broken surfaces (CX riders paradise) and rolling up and downs. I get super lucky again and meet CX aficionado John Graveling who pulls me along Wharfdale to the base of Langbar, the final côte in the tail. Now John is heading home to Ilkley and could of course go over Langbar (at only 20%), but why on earth would you? Well, one reason is to have your photo taken by Rick Robson (an example of his excellent work is shown below), the other is the sneaky timing mat at the top of this nasty little côte. So I'm back riding solo, but I know I've got this one licked now. Over the top, a mad descent and I'm back safe, tucking into the WRCs complimentary sausage butty and coffee with club mates and the other tired finishers.
photo coutesty of Rick Robson
Sportives eh? Great summer training events for CX riders everywhere. But be careful what you wish for, you might just get an entry.

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