Engage ‘redlining’ mode and attack.
(This pic courtesy of Rich at Qwertyphoto – he took loads of other pics that sum up the race brilliantly, go have a gander!)
My attempt to get away from Alan Dorrington had started back on Whernside. I’d spent what seemed like hours focussed intensely on the next rock step in front of my face, cleats ‘klacking’ on the unevenly angled cobbles and upended slabs that made up the ‘stairway to heaven’ as one competitor behind me had – sarcastically – called it, following him.
He was on for a sub four hour time and, in my snot drenched state, I’d decided that would do for me too, so in order to get it I gave myself a target – get to the finish before him. Race him. Have it!
As race strategies go it was a bit simplistic, but given that thinking hard seemed to hurt (due to the cold I’d woken up with, I hasten to add, I’m not thick…) it was the best I could come up with. I didn’t tell him that was what I was doing, of course, that would just be daft…and he seemed to be stomping his way up the hillside with enough gusto and motivation without me adding to it, so I kept my fiendish plans to myself and got on with hanging onto his coattails as we climbed higher and eventually reached the ridgeline path that meant a return to riding our bikes, rather than lugging them around on unhappy shoulders.
My strategy went somewhat awry on the fast descent down to Ribblehead when, while mincing down the side of the main path, he came flying past me, skimming over the ruts and rocks while I bobbed and wobbled around slowly. He’s not slow down the hills and it was pretty stupid of me to think I’d just cruise away from him, but in a way it helped me pull myself together a bit on a part of the course I’ve hated ever since, on my first attempt at this race, I’d faceplanted on the stone slabs and freaked myself out quite a bit. I grabbed the bars and, in what felt like a heroic attempt, managed to catch him back up.
I’d tried to get away from him again as the race rejoined the road between Whernside and Pen-Y-Ghent, remembering how I’d caught and dropped several people along it last year I threw the bike into the biggest gear I had and set about trying to spin out a 50×11 gear. Sadly I didn’t have the legs or lungs for it this year and after a few miles the sound of a snatched gear shift behind me told me I’d been recaught by Alan and Belgian #2 (who’s name I don’t know – but they were both on the same team) working together. Never mind. As it happens we seemed to all work together quite well on the final few miles to the Pen-Y-Ghent climb, although the polite conversation that had helped break up the climb on Whernside had long gone as our thoughts turned to the ‘one last effort’ to the final summit of the day.
We’d turned off the spectator lined road onto the cobbled still together and I knew that if we got to the top together, I’d lose out on the descent back to the finish line in Helwith Bridge, leaving me only one real option: Go.
I glanced further up the climb at a rider a minute or so ahead of me, lowered my head and started to rock the bike underneath me as I pushed everything I could through my legs. The sounds of spectators screaming encouragement began to disappear as the pounding of blood in my head reached near explosive levels, snot flowed freely down my face (sorry!) and my gasping for breath began to burn my lungs and throat. Tired eyes locked down on the rocks in fronI, face contorted as the initial effort gives way to a more sustained hurt. I tried to keep my pedalling as smooth as possible over the uneven surface. Loose rocks would spit the back end around underneath me as I pushed as much force as I could through the cranks . Concentrating as much on getting into a rhythm as on giving everything I had left created a distraction from the horribly uncomfortable feelings thrashing a body that would have rather been curled up in bed full of Lemsip created and as I got my pedalling and heavy breathing synchronised I dared to glance upwards again.
That gap of around a minute had gone, the next rider was right in front of me and, as I lurched the bike to the right to pass him, seemed to have no answer to my pace. Good. A quick glance up towards the next rider on the course, then head back down and do it all over again. Look up only as I reach his back wheel and only long enough to pick my next target. The theme tune to Jaws is playing over in my head as I close in again and again on people ahead of me and grind past up the climb. I’m nearly an hour down on the winner (in fact he’s already finished) but right now I’m the fastest thing this hill has seen for a long while. And it’s working.
I ‘dib in’ at the summit checkpoint and set about trying to get back down the hill with some semblance of style and speed. I fail at the first objective within a few hundred metres, losing control on a deceptively tricky bit of moorland track (‘oh, that’s why the bloke in front got off and ran this bit’ I thought as the bike went one way and I stumbled helplessly off in another) right in front of Jase, who was nearing the end of the final climb and who couldn’t resist pointing out what a quality crash it was (before following suit and wiping out on the same section himself!) and it’s not until about halfway down the fellside that I begin to ride with any real speed. But, teeth clenched, I manage to skim over the stones and drainage channels, wrestle the tyres over the gravel as it writhes underneath me and dodge the riders making their weary way up the path and even catch a couple of racers in front (and the annual ‘poor bloke who’s bike has snapped in two’) before rejoining the road, suffering cramp, ignoring it and rolling over the finish line in a slightly-slower-than-last-year-but-still-respectable sub four hour time.
Success! Of sorts. You can’t be over enamoured with a time an hour slower than the winner but, given that I wasn’t even sure I’d get over the first hill as I drove to the start earlier that morning, not a bad result at all.
And I’d got away from Alan (who also finished in under four hours, leading many to speculate that his snow white tyres had somehow helped), who had no idea I’d been using him as a big target for two thirds of the race. Ha. I imagine he’ll repay the favour next time though :-/