Wednesday, 9 January 2013

'Snow joke: Finishing the Festive 500

Over Christmas I became rather enamoured with the idea of finally completing a Rapha Festive 500 - an annual challenge to ride over 500kmin the 8 days between 24-31st December. Being a time of year when the weatheris traditionally atrocious (a white Christmas doesn't hold the same level ofnostalgia for the roadie with a broken collarbone), I had brought my cyclocross bike home for the knobbly, wide tyres, more stable handling and general ability to handle the mucky stuff. Breaking the challenge down, I needed to ride 6 rides of at least 50 miles which doesn't sound too arduous, but adds up on a bike not necessarily designed for long miles, when doing mostly solo rides, and when it is so wet that it appears an ark might be a better mode of transport. Still, with 250 miles under the belt, I had arranged to meet a friend who featured earlier on this blog (riding the Fred Whitton) so we could do some riding around his home patch of Penrith and bag two of the last three remaining climbs in Lamps Moss and Hartside.

After a typically early start, Selene and I were sat in the car outside a pub in the deserted village of Nateby (great name) wondering what on earth I was doing here. It was blowing a gale, and the cold was bad enough getting the bike off the rack, so by the time I was layered up and back in with the heaters at full blast, it was a good thing that I had someone else showing up to make sure I had the gumption to save face and get out and ride.
All paths lead to London...eventually
Luke arrived (having already ridden an hour to get to the start) and we headed out: straight up Lamps Moss. A small rise in altitude andthe temperature plummeted. No big deal at first, but then as the climb progressed the road iced over, which in turn progressed into a good inch or so of slush on top of some hard-packed slippery stuff. Riding my cross bike was a little hairy, so quite how Luke was managing to stay upright and find traction to go uphill on his Paris-Roubaix 24c clinchers I really don’t know. Still, going uphill on ice is less than half the battle – it’s the descents and corners that really get you…
Climbing on ice

Cresting Lamps Moss

The route I had plotted took a loop up Lamps Moss, crossing the Dales to the Tan Hill Inn (the highest pub in the UK), before heading back down to the relative safety of the valley between the Dales and the Lake District. Unsurprisingly, perhaps given the conditions, it was absolutely deserted at the top with the pub shut and barely a car in sight. Strangely the only cars we saw all had kayaks on top, so there must have beensome wild water somewhere, but the looks on the drivers’ faces as they passed us by was priceless. It really hits home that the road is slippy when you have cars skidding down the hill towards you…
Tan Hill Inn

Sheltering in a bus stop and eating Haribo -
how some cyclists choose to spend their Festive holidays...
After a quick photo stop, we steeled ourselves for the descent. This was the point where the horizontal hail started – blown so hard by the head/cross-wind that it felt like you were getting a facial tattoo just trying to make progress. At one point both Luke and I were riding one-handed struggling to hold the bike upright, with the other hand shielding our faces from the icy blast. Sadly, this wasn’t a camera-phone appropriate moment, but I’m sure we looked particularly ‘special’ to the few passers-by.

Down in the valley things became more bearable, although we were both soaked through from the slushy spray and driving hail/snow/rain.Waterproof socks are magic from protecting your feet from below, but when water runs down your legs and then collects on the inside of the waterproof casing it is a recipe for numb toes… However, pinging along at a decent rate of knots, chat turned from the madness of the conditions to cycling plans for 2013, andwhere to take the ‘100 Climbs’ enthusiasm and grow it – notably with the intention to give racing a proper crack, get under 7 hours for the Fred Whitton, and possibly an adaption of Rapha’s Cent Cols challenge. I had asked for a book called ‘Mountain High: Europe’s 50 greatest cycle climbs’ for Christmas, but I should probably get the hint given that it wasn’t in my stocking on December 25th

After a Christmas spent mainly cycling in the pan-flat Vale of York (where you can easily ride 50 miles and only climb 600 feet), the ‘flat’ valley roads around Penrith were starting to take their toll on my legs – especially keeping pace with Luke on his road bike. We had discussed diverting from the route to climb the ‘golf ball’ climb ( but I don’t think either of us was in the mood, and the weather was looking pretty hairy up there. So we pledged to save it for another day, preferably with fresher legs and with slightly more clement weather.

Reaching the base of Hartside, we turned away from the wind and immediately felt the effects – gloves off, jackets unzipped, and buzzing along like we were being pushed by a helping hand. The road up is as Alpine as it gets outside of the Alps: snaking up through pine forests before emerging onto the sparse hillside road with stunning views back down the valley. Despite the helping wind, I was struggling, but being a complete gentleman, Luke rode with me up the climb, documenting the views and suffering on his camera.

Although Luke had been a complete gentleman, there was still a signpost at the top of the hill, with associated bragging rights. I played the “Tommy V” card, Hollywood-ing it up and sitting in the wheel until the last minute and making a sneaky attack. Using the word “attack” is probably disingenuous, as I’m not sure Luke was aware at first that we were even in a race, so this was very much Dick Dastardly on wheels.  “Nice guys finish last” goes the song – not if they have the legs, says the road and Luke easily came back around me to win the sprint. Feeling very much broken by the last surge to the top, it was a minor disaster that the cafĂ© at the top was closed and I couldn’t sample the paving-slab sized caramel shortbreads my Dad had told me about from his C2C ride.
Minor disaster: a firmly closed cafe
Making do with a gel and the dregs from my nearly empty bidon, we didn’t hang around at the summit as the wind was fierce enough to extract every iota of warmth and instead pedalled straight downhill into what would no-doubt be a storming descent in anything but the conditions that day. When you’re turning the cranks to keep momentum going down 10-15% gradients, you know there is more than a stiff breeze in your face. Sadly, the ‘flat’ roadhome was anything but, and was also steadfastly into the wind. Finally the seemingly endless road reached Penrith and with a quick handshake Luke was backon the road to his house, leaving me to peel off layers of wet lycra, massage some feeling into my feet, and visit the local drive-through to claw back some of that calorie deficit
Demolished in less than 30 seconds

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