Tour of Penrith

This year’s big event for me was theTour of Penrith. This is the second self-organised three-day cycling tour myself and a group of great friends from B&DCC have put together and ridden. In terms of Hills, this was by far the most epic, despite having tackled The Tour of the Highlands and our self-organised Tour of Shropshire, both of which included some big name climbs.

This year was my turn to organise, as I’d ridden in the lakes, the National Cycle Network C2C route and had a bit of local knowledge from that. I used the C2C Guide website to find somewhere to stay and stumbled on The Strickland Arms near Penrith for a base. This looked pretty good. A cycling focused pub with good group accommodation and an amazing sounding menu, plenty of space to park, on quiet roads, within reach of a lot of epic cycling. Seemed a bit of a no brainer, so we booked in.

I was a bit nervous before we got there as to whether or not it’d work out. They’d been really helpful via email as we’d sorted out all the names and who owed what etc. As we set off, Google Maps informed us that the pub didn’t open till 5, which could have been a problem with some people arriving mid-morning to get a ride in.

It wasn’t. They were there and we got sorted out and it was perfect. They have a “shrine” to when Team Sky visited on the 2012 Tour of Britain, complete with Wiggo signed yellow jersey. They’re really enthusiastic about cycling too. Cracking place to stay, friendly and we settled in. Since not all of us had booked the day off work, it seemed a good time to start sending pictures of us enjoying a pint in the pub to the rest…

We had a good first evening in the pub, preparing well for a tough day ahead cycling by drinking and eating. Possibly a bit too much drinking given we had 102 miles ahead the next day. But these trips are as much about the social aspect as the riding bit!

Saturday’s ride was into the North Penines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It was a little cool and grey at the start of the day, but we soon warmed up and the weather was pretty spot on. Sunny spells, cloudy spells. Kept the temperature just about right for a hilly ride.

The route snaked us through the Eden Valley to get a warm up before tackling Hartside, which is a nice long steady climb up to the now burned out remains of the previously highest cafe in England. Amazing views from up there, out across the valley to the Lake District. But a massive headwind slowed us up the climb. The last snake of the road was in the lea of the hill and I was dropping down gears and picking up speed, showing how much affect the head wind had.

At the top we stopped for some photos, but the wind was cold so we headed off on the descent, which normally is super fast and rewarding, but as we were full into the wind was tough going and steady!

From this point on we followed the NCN C2C route to Stanhope. Which meant repeated climbs, but on good, quiet roads with decent tarmac. Beautiful part of the world to cycle in. Cafe stop at Allenheads was well timed as we were all ready for something by then.

More undulations got us to Stanhope, where we were due to climb Crawleyside, another long climb but with some tougher sections that Hartside. Again, up into the head-wind making it tougher than usual. Views at the top a bit less epic, but the descent was supported by a tail wind and we flew down for a quick stop at a shop for ice creams, more water and fuel.

Now riding with a tail wind, and leaving the NCN C2C route, we had to climb and drop again repeatedly to get back to the Eden Valley. Some outstanding long stead climbs, some vicious kickers too. Some great descents to match the climbs, through quiet roads with good surfaces. The final stretch of climb was a series of long gradual climbs taking us out of the hilly areas before an amazing descent back to Brough where a final shop stop fuelled us up for the last 20 miles of gentle undulations back to the pub.

The ride was 102 miles, and we took it steady, plenty of time to re-group on every climb. Plenty of chat and banter. Hard work eating and drinking so much that evening…

Day 2 we had decided to ride the Lake District, we’d planned to move the cars to Greystoke, this meant we could hit three major Lake District climbs and some really beautiful places.

We parked in a good car park at Greystoke itself where it turned out there was a quite serious looking TT kicking off, and rode to the start of the route. The roads were small, pretty good surfaces and very light on traffic. The weather was incredible. Warm and sunny with a tailwind!

We cruised round some stunning places, looping round to the north of Bassenthwaite, it was just amazing out on the bike in those conditions.

At Bassenthwaite there’s really only one road though. The A66. We got our heads down and with two strong riders driving the pace on the front with very little traffic indeed we made short work of the small section of dual carriageway on the route before striking out up Whinlatter. Whinlatter is a beautiful climb, twisting up through the woods past a visitors centre. There was some confusion over where the Strava segment ended, which is a little way into the descent, before we doubled back to the cafe.

Which was too busy to stop at, so just a quick bottle re-fill and off. We seemed to have lost Neil though. Turns out he misheard the details of where the segment ended, did the full Whinlatter descent and rode back up just as we were descending to find him… ooops…

From here you ride into Buttermere valley, we stopped at a cafe where they were a bit chaotic and overwhelmed with us. I wouldn’t stop there again to be honest. A bit pricey and rubbish service. But the food was good. Even if we did sit and cook in the suntrap for a bit.

Buttermere is stunning. No other words. But that also explains why so many cars make their way down the twisty single track road to the main village. We stopped for a few shots on the way in, it’s that pretty to look at. At Buttermere though, the route turned left to climb Newlands Hause. Into the headwind.

Newlands is a tough climb, longish with some really steep sections, especially at the finish. At the top everyone felt great for doing it though. Loads of happy faces, photos of bikes held aloft. Then we went back down it the way we came to head for Honister.

Honister is tough. There’s a really long 7% lead in before you hit the wall of the climb. 25% up to the slate mine and cafe. With traffic. Including a bus. A bus which clipped Neil knocking him off. The chaos of this resulted in a few of us walking the last section of the climb. When you stop on that there’s no chance of clipping back in.

A refuel and bike repair at the top before a descent and chase along the valley to Keswick for Ice Cream before the final climb back along the NCN route up to Greystoke and the best pint ever. It had been a baking hot day, despite the wind, and I’d cooked. I needed that beer. Wiped out.

After that we were back to the pub for more food, more beer and as it turned out a bit of a party!

Day three was all about Great Dun Fell. The plan was mixed, there was a full 100km route, however, some of us needed to get back/to other places so planned to just ride the route as far as GDF then loop back to the pub for an early depart.

The route gently climbed and twisted through the Eden Valley with Great Dun Fell always visible high on the hills in front. We turned off onto the dead end road and immediately started to climb. The road is amazing. Single track, really good surface and as it’s a dead end and closed to traffic from part way up no traffic on it either.

You can’t quite see where the road goes, suddenly you’ll go round a bend and a new section is revealed, or unless you’re Ian and way up front, you could see where the road was (if you believed it…) by seeing the faster riders up front riding up ahead.

Unfortunately, we were again into a headwind, which was really tough in parts. And the road is tough on it’s own. 7.5km long, with multiple ramps of 25% and “easy” sections down to a mere 10-12% it just climbs and climbs. One gate required a dismount to get round before the final turns to the Radar Station at the summit.

About 5km into the climb you start to get the most amazing views. GDF is really high up, but on the edge of a flat area. The views are hard to beat on a clear day. You felt like you were on the top of the world!

Back down to the bottom, where the group split, some riders opting for the full 100km, others off to home/holidays.

It was a brilliant weekend, there are some amazing places to ride up there. The pub made a perfect base for a cycling weekend. But the best bit was the strong group of friends riding. Great group of people to ride with. It’s never perfect, mechanical issues happen, people have flat spots and struggle. Hard to keep a large group working well together over 200+ miles. But we make it work and it’s great.

Everyone is still buzzing, main topic of conversation – where are we going next year?

Pretzel Club

The plan for this morning was to head out into the Peak again for a good  hilly ride. The forecasts I’d seen were for a nippy start and rain kicking in later in the day, but for me, was good enough to think I could get out, ride the route and probably only get soaked for the last 20-30 miles.

Which for me, seemed a fair deal.

Unfortunately, it had been wet yesterday and when I got up to walk the dog I saw that my road had been replaced with an ice laden death trap. And the next road. The next road after that is gritted, but, was still not great.

A new plan was needed.

Matt had mentioned that he was going to ride the Pretzel. This is the uber-segment on Watopia. It takes in both the KOM and Epic climbs as well as the Sprint in both directions and is just over 40 miles long.

The idea of riding that far on the turbo wasn’t a nice one. But it’s there, the Pretzel is a challenge. And that’s enough to get me interested.

I got the garage set up and got on the bike to ride. Mat joined in a bit later, then Darren and JPW. Pretzel club was rolling. A bit of messaging between us to keep us motivated on our individual quests.

Darren quit. Because he’s a quitter. Says he’s got a cold. Some excuse. Matt suffered a Strava crash throwing away most of his ride. JPW took his usual breaks…

It’s done though. I rode the whole thing, my official segment time 2:31:56 and I have no intention of ever trying to improve it! 60-90 minutes is a decent Zwift training session. And mentally do-able for me. It’s so much better than any other indoor training option for keeping me engaged. But not for 2:30. Well not again anyway. Challenge ticked off. Back to normal turbo and hoping for better Sunday weather!

Testing the Legs

So the January Spanker was the first proper ride of the year. I was on the heavy bike with the fast guys so I was slow. I felt strong. But I was lagging behind constantly. I needed a proper test of my fitness. Needed a proper chance to assess how I was on the bike in the depths of the winter fitness slump after not having been able to ride properly since the accident in August.

This was a tricky one. It had to be the Peak District to get a real test. But I didn’t want to start hitting the 100 Climbs. As it was January, there was a risk of ice making roads dangerous.

A bit of thought and poking round with Strava Routes came up with a loop that took in some tough climbs, to give me a test, mainly on bigger roads that I hoped would be well gritted and travelled enough that I’d be safe on the bike.

I prepped the good bike to. The light weight carbon bike. Took it off the turbo, fitted the non-turbo rear. Reindexed the gears. Cleaned and lubed the drive chain. Fitted lights, saddle bag with the right spares. Made sure I was all set.

Sunday came and it was cold, very cold. So I layered up in my finest winter gear, loaded the route and set off to meet my mate.

I think I got the layering about right. We hit snow, rain, sleet, hail and rain. Occasionally it was dry too. It wasn’t too awful out. It felt great to be out riding in the Peak in not-the-greatest weather. Tough. Rule #9 applied.

After the boring bit (with hills) riding out to the real Peak, we had a good cruise across the top of Froggatt before dropping down to Hathersage and steaming along Hope Valley to Bradwell where we hit the climb on the road to Tideswell.

That’s a good road to ride. Starts stead, building the climb, kick and a drop before that final slog to the top. Often a bit busy with traffic, on a cold wet January Sunday it’s quite empty. Felt good. Smashed up it.

We dropped down to Miller’s Dale, which is a nice cruise down, before climbing out via Priestcliffe. Again, good steady climb. And across to Longnor.

There’s a brilliant cafe at Longnor, but we were on a no-cafe-stop ride. No fannying around. It’s winter. Get the hills ridden and get home.

After Longnor is one of my favourite Peak District climbs. Crowdecote is half a mile. It’s steep. It has hair pins. It’s a beautiful place. That was shrouded in fog and drizzle this week.

I got my 4th best time up there. Which I thought was great going for January. My legs were starting to try and attract my attention by then though. Hope to set a PR up it in a few months, on a nice day. I do love that climb.

Cracked on from there, back to Bakewell, Bradwell and then using Owler Bar as the best option to climb back out of the Peak. I paced steady up that. Save what was left in the legs.

It was just great getting out for a proper ride. At points, when the snow was light and proper snow, settling on the edges of the road and fields, it was magical. At others, like the hail facial tattoo, it was a bit grim. But generally it was great.

I’m not in peak form, it’s January. I need to keep the Zwift sessions going in the week and work on the fitness. But I’m ready for proper long rides in the Peak. Well. Ready to start building the stamina better. My back is not used to that long on a bike any more and is killing me…

January Spanker

So 2017 outdoor cycling got underway today with my first real ride of the year. I was planning on getting out new years day, but it was too icy to be safe, so just the one turbo session in the week so far.

As well as aiming for doing as many of the 100 Greatest Climbs as I can this year, for me, it’s about exploring and enjoying being out on the bike. Going new places. That’s part of why I’m tackling the 100 Greatest. It gives me a set of places to go and ride. Ok I’ve been to some of them before, but I want to push the count up. New roads, new places.

The other idea that is on the list, is visiting as many local places as we can with funny names. So today Andrew used his local knowledge of the area to the south of us to route us up Spanker Lane. I’m childish enough to prefer to stop and take a picture of the street name, than worry about my time up the hill. And we turned on the road part way up the main segment anyway!

Which was extra useful, as today I was riding the old commute bike. I’m still wary of my collar bone which I broke last year. So the 28mm tyres and aluminium frame as well as the more upright position make it preferable to riding the carbon fibre bike with it’s 23mm 110psi tyres.

And the disc brakes are a reassurance too. I’ve lost a ton of descending confidence since the accident, with the time off too. So being able to stop better really helps.

But that bike is heavy, it’s at least 3kg heavier than the carbon bike. I need to re-weigh them both as I’ve made some changes and can’t remember what I had on the bikes when I weighed them. But I think with water bottles the carbon bike is 9kg. Wheras with the pannier rack on, the commuter bike is 12kg.

Plus, something had got my gears out of wack and I didn’t want to jinx the ride adjusting them. So my best rear gear was a 28, not the 32 the bike has.

Thankfully this route was lumpy, not hilly. The total climb racks in well over my threshold of 100ft/mile which defines a tough ride, but, there was nothing super evil. Just an unending lumpy up and down. But even so I was slow. I felt strong. Stamina was fine. I could put the power down and push hard and get some speed out up a hill. Just not as much as the fitter guys with lighter bikes I rode with!

I’m thinking next week, a proper hilly peak ride. I don’t want to hit one of the local 100 climbs as it’s too early and I’ll be no where near my PR. But I want to ride a few really tough hills to give myself a good test.

Oh, took me about 2 minutes to fix the gear shift when I got home!

The Lincoln Blast

Sunday sees the Hill’s Angels hosting a C2C Training Milestone ride. The aim is to ride 100 miles, flat not hilly, because by now, if you’re going to C2C in June, you should be able to ride 100 miles, flat, not hilly. 🙂

So, the plan is to head out to Lincoln, climb Michaelgate, one of the Hundred Greatest Cycling Climbs, have a pint, and cycle back.

It’s going to be windy 🙁