Originally set to be run back in December, I’d entered the Christmas Cracker sportive, up in the Lakes, as part of my Strathpuffer training. The plan being to ride up there, do the 57 mile route then ride back to make a Big Day Out.
Sadly it had to be postponed due to mental amounts of snow and generally wintery weather (as you might expect in a mountainous area…in winter, ahem) turning the roads into ice skating rinks and burying everything under several foot of non-road-bike friendly snow, so I didn’t get to use it as training. Rather than just cancel the event, however, the organisers decided to postpone it and give everyone a go at it in slightly kinder conditions. It ended up being rearranged for last weekend, leaving it marooned a bit, as far as me using as training was concerned, but perfectly placed for Angela to enter it and give it a go as her first foray into the murky world of (semi) competitive bike riding.
A few weeks of ‘last minute’ training around my favourite local fells (I’m not sure that Angela really needed to do rides with 2 cat 1, 3 cat 2 and innumerable cat 3 climbs in, but I felt that it was better to be safe (and knackered) than sorry…plus I’m evil and strongly believe that everyone should grovel up long, steep climbs as much as possible) meant that come the day of the event Angela was in fighting fit shape and her MTB was set up as well as it could be for road riding.
The alarm went off at just after 5am, our plan being to get up and get to the start as early as possible, giving us as much time to do the route as we could possibly need, which gave Angela her first exprience of Daft Riding; trying to shovel down hearty breakfasts while all your body wants to do is sleep. She didn’t enjoy it. Not that you’re meant to, dark-o-clock is a crap time to have to get up, but it is an integral part of being a hardcore (idiot?) cyclist, so she got on with it and we soon found ourselves wizzing up the motorway towards Grasmere and the event HQ.
Vast amounts of money poured into Pay and Display machines, signing on done and pre ride chammy cream applied we joined the queue of eager looking, flourescent coated riders at the start before being set off in small groups so as to not cause any congestion on the utterly-deserted-because-it’s-still-stupidly-early-on-a-sunday-morning streets.
Angela had her sensible head on and stopped herself zooming off after everyone ahead of us as we rode away from the narrow Grasmere streets and into the surrounding woodland, spinning an easy gear and making short work of the first, incredibly steep, climb. The 25%+ gradient soon had people off and walking, but we span on and reached the top without having any real trouble at all. The following descent, just as steep as the rise up to it, was taken fairly easily; the rain-wet surface and sharp bends caught quite a few riders out, most notably a girl just ahead of us who missed a turn and ended up several foot away from the road in some bushes. Luckily she’d found the softest spot on the whole descent to crash on and after I’d got everything on her bike pointing in the right direction again and her mates had arrived on the scene she was able to carry on.
The second big climb of the day was summited with us barely noticing and we cruised on along the undulating roads, through woods and along lakesides and a decent pace. The rain that had been falling all morning was beginning to ease and as the morning progressed I began to recognise more and more of the roads we were on from previous rides in the area. We span on without any real problems, save one dropped energy gel wrapper (Angela’s waterproof didn’t have any pockets, so I was acting as drugs mule, passing her fuel as she needed it) which I had to stop and ride back up the road for while Angela carried on (don’t drop litter kids), only to discover that it was still half full as it dribbled out of the wrapper and down my back through my jersey pockets, yuck.
We crossed the A590, heading onto the Lakeland peninusulas towards the halfway foodstop at Cartmel as the clouds began to break a bit and as we entered Cartmel the sun finally made an appearance, in fact it was turning into a cracking day to be out on a bike.
We hit the foodstop hard and in good spirits; apart from a few niggles Angela was still feeling fresh, the weather had gone from a wintery, steady rain at the start to a positively spring like bright sunny day and the local church was even ringing the bells for us as we arrived (OK, maybe the bells weren’t for us, but never mind). Flapjacks, gingerbread, shortbread, scones (with jam and butter, of course), tea, coffee and sandwiches were all devoured, drinks bottles and camelbak bladders were refilled and rainjackets were swopped for lighter windstoppers as we prepared for the second half of the ride.
Jase and Phil arrived, having extended their ride by starting further south just as we began to suspect that eating any more would be a bad idea, so after a brief hello and glance at Jase’s nice new Ragley ‘Cragg Vale’ we headed back out to conquer the last couple of big climbs over Grizedale.
Back across the A590 and into Grizedale forest itself the roads remained wonderfully quiet for a sunny Sunday afternoon. Despite the ever growing miles in her legs, Angela pushed on, losing out to riders on road bikes on the flatter sections, but more than making up for it on the climbs, setting a challenging pace that saw her catch rider after rider without slowing. In fact, on the last real climb of the day while still spinning in the middle chainring we passed several people pushing their bikes, which provided more encouragment than any words could. We crested the climb and tucked in for a fast, swooping descent down to Hawkshead, which felt like the beginning of the tail end of the ride.
Fast B roads saw us skirt round Ambleside with a renewed vigour and a final guzzle of energy gel, despite tiredness beginning to creep in, as the mileage left dropped down to single figures. The shoreline road past Rydal Water and Grasmere itself turned into a bit of a final hurrah, before cruising past Dove Cottage and along the last (sneakily climbing, headwind infested) stretch of road into the village centre and across the finish line.
5hrs 30mins to ride the course. A full half hour faster than I had expected us to get round, despite wet roads at the start and a headwind for most of the way back from Cartmel. Angela seemed pleased, well she did after the all important post-ride brew anyway and, like all hardcore (idiot?) cyclists she was as busy contemplating how to follow the ride up with something bigger as she was feeling smug about completing it…