I quite like a good sportive. I love racing, training and generally getting lost while exploring new routes on the bike, but the simplicity of paying someone to work out a nice route, organise a load of food halfway round and at the finish and generally work out and hassle with the day is a nice change occasionally. Sportives are probably as close to decadence as I get, really, with no pressure to go fast, beat anyone or make a good show of anything other than enjoying being out riding.
The Cumbrian Cracker turned into a bit of a classic the first time I rode it simply due to the Christmas Pudding and custard issued to every rider at the end. Cake and pudding is an excellent way to round off a ride and, given that the route managed to take in lots of Lakeland scenery without making everyone grovel over the high passes, I vowed to come back and do it again as soon as I’d finished.

This time round Angela wasn’t riding it with me, so I’d spent the weeks in the run up to the ride planning all sorts of daft additions to the course. Originally I was going to get up in the middle of the night and ride the 65 miles up to the start, then do the sportive (and eat all the food on offer) and ride back again afterwards, but the weather in the weeks preceding it ruled that out. In fact right up until the night before the weather forecasters were flailing their arms, warning of heavy rain and flooding everywhere. I decided to take the ‘safe’ option and drive up to Grasmere, ride the route and make a decision once I’d been round as to what would be sensible; training for the Strathpuffer means lots of long rides, but trying to spend the day in the saddle in dangerous conditions could write off any hope of racing at all.

I parked the car halfway up a hill a few miles out of town and shivered my way down to the start, wondering if I’d made a mistake with the clothes I’d chosen. Luckily a brew while signing on warmed me up and, after meeting a rather bleary eyed Jase at the start line we set off and immediately hit the slopes of Red Bank.

That, it’s safe to say, warmed me up nicely. Weaving our way through rider after rider fighting to keep their bikes upright on the 25%+ incline, heartrates rose and by the time we’d dropped back down the switchbacky little descent and reached the shoreline road round Coniston Water we were warm and ticking along nicely.

The organisers describe the route as “undulating” and this is a pretty apt description. There’s lots of flat roads (well, as flat as it gets in the Lake District) but you’re never far from a short climb or little swoopy section. There’s only one section that seems to drag, heading south from the one major road crossing towards Cark…long enough for us to sarcastically name it The Longest Road In The World after we’d been riding along it for a good 20 minutes or so without seemingly getting anywhere. We did get somewhere, of course, the next little Cumbrian town is never too far away and after a U-turn at the southernmost point of the route we hit Cartmell early enough to find table after table full of cake, ham sandwiches and brews sat waiting at the feed stop.

CC 2012 1_0087
Piccie by Sportsunday

Faces suitably stuffed (possibly over stuffed, if working on a calories out = calories in theme) we rode more undulations, more swooping little descents and lovely quiet roads back through Grizedale, past Ambleside and to the official finish line in a decent enough time. Not a Race Pace sort of time, but quick enough for Jase to head off home again for previous engagements and for me to decide that another lap of the course was in order.

The weather, which had been generally getting nicer and nicer as we’d ridden the route, was now thoroughly pleasant and, armed with a breadcrumb trail to follow on my computer (the organisers having already been round taking down the route signs) I headed back out.
Being a selfish kind of person, the quietness of the roads on the 2nd lap felt lovely – no more procession of rider after rider for the whole route, for most of the time I was on my own. I kept a similar pace to the first time round and managed to get back to the car just as the sun set and alight drizzle started to descend. Chuffed with my impeccable timing I awarded myself some more cake from a stash in the boot of the car before driving back in the midst of all the other Lakeland visitors queueing to head back onto the motorway.

Once again, a nice day out :)