Sportive report below, in the comments as usual...
I find myself in the slightly odd position of not being quite sure where to begin with this one. I suppose the first order of the day is to make it clear that, as per event write-ups, this isn't a Club event and so I free myself from certain restrictions in terms of family friendliness, because, well, just because.
Let us begin at the beginning.
This year, for Lesley, myself and a small number of others who, it seems, didn't find the Marmotte traumatic enough and wanted to do another one. As parts of our prep, Lesley wanted some more experience with sportive events and, as the Fred Whitton wasn't really her preference (far too easy), she picked out this one instead. It looked suitably interesting, so we agreed to go for it, as did a few others.
As time went on, the party shrank: in part due to injury and in part due to the dire weather forecast that appeared from the Monday prior to the event. This was enough that, by the end of Thursday, decisions had been made and it was only Lesley, Alex, Gary and myself who'd be travelling down with the intention of participating. I'm not quite positive with this, simply because the weather was on our minds: the forecast was changing seemingly by the hour and we had no real idea of what to expect. We did go prepared, though, as we'd all brought bikes with mudguards.
Come the day, then, and there were two distinct camps. Lesley and I sorted our own breakfast in the room, whilst Alex and Gary went for a quickie in the hotel restaurant. This last turned out to be problematic in that the young lad in charge of the kitchen had some trouble poaching eggs: hot water is usually recommended for this, so his tactic of starting with a big pan of cold water wasn't going well, and continued not to go well for 20 minutes, by which time the guys really needed to be leaving. A compromise was reached involving two just-about-done eggs and another fried one (we'll discount the second fried egg that landed on the counter-top) and they made it out onto the road.
By this time, Lesley and I had checked out and were parking ourselves at the event HQ, ready to brave the slight mizzle that had infected the air. Fearing the worst, I operated my umbrella and we made it to registration nice and dry, although the idea of carrying something to keep the water off you got me some funny looks. Mind you, I was giving some other people funny looks too: there was a preponderance of both summer (non-mudguard equipped) bikes and people in shorts. This wasn't going to be pretty for some.
We registered, eventually, once the guy in front had actually got out of the way to go and find his mate, rather than continuing to stand there blocking the rest of us whilst looking around the HQ for him. This wouldn't be our final encounter with numpties during the day (or f***wits as they later became known.)
We trudged through the mizzle, and increasingly muddy, car park to return to the car and then spent the next half hour doing what I always do before events: fanny about 'getting ready'. Quite why it always takes me this long to don my jacket, put on my cycling shoes (or boots), stick essentials in pockets and go riding is a complete mystery to me. I manage all of this in seconds at home, but from the back of a car, oh, no, that takes *much* longer.
By the time we'd got ourselves ready, wandered back to the HQ, which also housed the start line, and I'd joined the queue for the gents, Alex and Gary had arrived, which meant I was now the hold up. Well, strictly speaking the three stalls and far greater number of men who wished to perform excretory duties was the actual problem. And then, for fun, once you did get through all of they, you found that only one tap was dispensing any water with which to wash/rinse ones hands and that was in a slow trickle.
Having successfully negotiated all of this, it was time to saddle up and point ourselves in the direction of the great outdoors. The good news was that, by this time, the mizzle had abated and we were about to head out into dry atmospheric conditions. We were also about to head out without Lesley, but that was as expected, and, in fact, planned - she was doing a different route and wanted to begin on her own.
So off we went. Slowly. In fairness, the track out of the HQ wasn't the best quality and had a definite muddy quality to it. We managed, but it did claim someone's tyre: it's a bad sign to see a bike upside down and puncture repairs happening within two minutes of the start.
We continued to go slowly, because the group itself was moving very slowly. This is until Alex decided that he'd had enough and we bumped our pace up towards what we'd normally ride at: we were still being conservative as we had 94 miles left to go. Despite this easy pace, we were passing whole groups left, right and centre and no-one was passing us. Most odd. What did they know that we didn't?
We found the early parts of the ride to be ... flat. And still. This made for good progress, until the point we were directed onto a cycle path, which was actually a muddy track. We weren't happy. This was advertised as a road cycling event and the idea of cyclo-crossing it wasn't in the plan. I found out later than Lesley wasn't pleased either. But what can you do - that's the way the route goes, so that's what you have to do. I still think it was a mistake to try and route 1200 people down a muddy track and would like to offer a suggestion that the route be changed to avoid this section in the future.
It remained flat after this and we continued to pick off riders and groups of riders. Eventually, we passed a group with a couple of Allen Valley Velo riders in it (Dean and Mark) and, after saying hello, the tacked onto us and the five of us continued our merry progress. So merry, in fact, that Alex and Gary completely missed the sign for us to turn left. It took us a while to realise that something was wrong, i.e. when we ended up back at our hotel for the previous evening. We turned around and headed back the way we'd come and eventually rejoined the actual route, having done an extra 10km, or so.
Back on the route again, we started re-passing a whole bunch of people that we'd already passed. We were also punished by the weather with half an hour of decent rain, which made things somewhat quiet and sombre. Oh, well. Along the way a few people sat on the back - some dropped off, but one guy, unhappy at the way we were keeping our effort nice and steady, rode past on one of the rises, but didn't really get away. Alex and I looked at each other, decided that we could catch him, but chose not to. We weren't even at one third distance yet and it seemed like a waste of energy. Another guy did similar, but then pulled up in directly front of us to take a comfort break. This was Numpty two.
Harewood House was the scene of our ride's feed stops. Lesley's ride used a different location which we wouldn't pass. This was a big area, which is just as well as there were a big number of riders. As promised, sandwiches, pork pies and sausage rolls were on offer in addition to the usual energy bars and flapjacks. Tea and coffee were also on offer, which Alex and Gary went straight for, whilst I fought with the water dispenser: it was proving ... difficult to get a steady, non-aerated, stream of water into my bottle. In fact, it took three goes of putting water in and waiting for it to settle before I was done, a process that wasn't helped by my energy drink of choice's propensity to expand like a fizzy drink when provoked. I calmed myself by the application of half a sausage roll to my face. Most of it even entered my mouth.
The next hilarity was the gents. As it happened, Gary had already been through this trauma and pointed me in the general direction. He also had a handy local tip: to avoid the queue at the gents, there was a baby changing room a little further around the building which was empty. Job done. As it were. I should point out that at no point were any mothers, or babies, obstructed in this operation. I wouldn't do that. He then had another genius idea: to dry his gloves off, he was using the hot exhaust from the generator attached to the van that was providing the hot water for the tes and coffee. I tried a similar trick, except that my gloves were already on. I ended up with hands that were still wet, but nice and warm, which is good, because it was starting to feel absolutely Baltic by this point.
We got back to our bikes to find that the Allen Valley guys had left. Shrugging our shoulders, we got on our bikes and headed away ourselves.
On the way out of Harewood house, we passed by a couple of guys who'd found a different solution to the queue at the gents. It wasn't long before they caught us and tagged along for a mile, or so, before dropping us quite convincingly on the first actual climb of the day. We let them get on with it as they were clearly locals and one of them was boasting about the 400m of ascent that he had to do every day on his 15 mile commute. I thought that would be the last we saw of them. I was wrong.
The roads had gone from being flat to 'rolling' - much more like you'd expect to see in Northumberland. Then we got to Otley. This was a proper hill, with some decently steep sections and enough length that you knew about it. We passed a few people and were passed by others. Once again, we were just keeping it ticking along.
Once on top, as it were, the road just went back to rolling again. There were the odd lump and bump along the way, until the organisers stuck what can only be described as a gratuitous loop into the mix. We dropped down to the side of a reservoir, which I quite liked as it meant we were no longer on the, relatively, busy main road. Along the way we encountered a car coming the other way whose driver blew her horn at us and came to a complete halt, despite there being more than enough room for both her and us to pass. Sometimes you just can't win.
The payback, of course, was that there was an uphill to go with the 'dropping down' and, soon, the road turned left and we had a third of a mile of 8-10% before arriving back at the main road. Both Alex and I used this as a test of our Maratona pacing as it was quite indicative of the gradients we'll be facing out there. This went pretty well, although there is definitely room for improvement in our form!
Not long after this, we caught up with the Allen Valley guys again to find that Dean was on a good day, but Mark was really struggling on the hills. We rode with them for a bit, but, in the end, we were struggling to go slow enough and had to get back into our own rhythm.
After this, I completely lost track of where we were, but I do remember a decent sized descent where we had to stop at a crossroads with a major road. This took a while to negotiate as the major road was pretty busy, but, grabbing our particulars, we took our opportunity, along with some others who then decided to alternate between tagging on and making a break for it. We ignored this superficiality and just rode at our own pace right the way to the end of the road, where we then had an opportunity to actually ride on a major road (the A61). This was, I have to say, no fun whatsoever. I really didn't like it: there was a lot of traffic and none of it was pleased that we were there. The only saving grace, I feel, is that there were other riders on the road too, so we weren't a particular focus of hatred. This was one of those occasions where, despite the road being wide enough to accommodate it, single file was the order of the day.
Once off this road, we relaxed considerably, and it wasn't long before we returned to Harewood House. Well, sort of. The feed station had moved and was now just outside the front portal and was much, much, smaller. And without a gents. This was a problem. No matter, we sorted ourselves out and, during this process, Dean arrived to say that Mark was also now having mechanical trouble and so he was now on his own and was very happy to accept our offer of tagging along with us again to the finish.
Onto the final third of the ride and we were back n the (relative) flatlands. Or so we thought. The route back was rolling to begin with, then flat and then, just for amusement, went up an interesting little climb called Rigton Bank. I put on a squeeze here, because I wanted to get to the top and use the 'facilities', where I also put on a squeeze.
Having caught the guys up again, we set off for home, trying not to fall off and die on the very muddy, scarred roads of this section.
Eventually, we dropped back down into the flatlands and caught a group of three riders. This, apparently, was sufficient to light their blue touch paper and there was all manner of 'rotation' within the group as first one person, then the next, would endeavour to try and maintain a much raised pace, so that we wouldn't be able to get past. In the end, I got annoyed and put in a proper effort and the four of us whistled straight past and put a little distance into them. I'm guessing that they worked very hard to get back onto our wheels as, down one of the few remaining lumps, one of them hauled it past us waving one of his arms at me as if I'd done something wrong and then screaming around the next two 90 degree bends like his life depended on it. Still being on the front, I shrugged my shoulders and let him go. I still have no idea what the problem was, but I did get my opportunity for revenge. As he was Numpty three, I feel no guilt about this. Come the next small click up, he was standing up, rocking the bike around, yet making little progress. I chose to apply some power to the situation, left it in the big ring and motored straight past, dragging everyone else with me (they'd worked out what I was doing; ah, you know me so well, gents) and dropping him like a hot stone.
This didn't last and, somehow, he got back on. Actually, not somehow. He got back on, because I dropped the pace pack to what it had been: something decent (18-19mph) but sustainable (Zone 2). Now, as the terrain really did become, essentially, flat, I went into my constant effort mode, which I'd not particularly bothered with thus far. Now, I know I've come in for some flak over this and I accept that there are differences of opinion on the subject (there's even a myth going around that I run the Sunday Club Runs that way: it's not true - training rides, yes, to a greater, or lesser extent, but not a Sunday Club Run), but this was the perfect place to use it.
My tactic worked well - we began catching and passing groups of riders again, including the two local lads who'd dropped us at the start of the hills. They didn't last long, though - Alex said they were 'spent', although I think he actually meant 'completed f***ed' and they disappeared off the back to roll to the finish in 15-20 minutes after we did.
And then it kicked off a bit. One of the three guys we'd passed earlier decided that sitting in a paceline with someone else doing the work wasn't for him and he cruised past me like I was standing still. Not a word and no chance of giving me his wheel for even a few seconds for my trouble (I'd been on the front now for about 12 miles without a break and was expecting to take the group through the remaining 30 miles to the finish like that, hence the steady effort). I let him go, but, not long after, his spring began to wind down and he stopped getting away from us. So I ramped the pace a little bit and winched him back in. And sat on his wheel.
At this point he became Numpty four. He was none too keen on having someone on his wheel and every time there was another rider ahead, or a bend, or junction, he'd put in a dig to try and get free of us. The problem was that (a) I had the legs on him anyway and (b) I was sitting in the draft doing, essentially, nothing other than responding to his accelerations and, given that he had no apparent idea of how aerodynamics worked, seemed unaware of how easy it was for me to counter what was, to him, a massive effort.
Eventually, something had to give and, once again, the spring ran down and I cruised straight on past him back to the front. I also kept the pace higher as I didn't feel like having to go through the same thing again. By the time I'd done another eight miles, or so, at a higher effort, I was starting to feel it and decided that someone else should be offered a chance of having a go. Sadly, the person behind me was Numpty four, who, as I dropped back after flicking the elbow, said 'why doesn't someone else have a f***ing go?' It took me all my politeness to not point out to him that I'd been on the front for twenty miles since Harewood House and that he was the one who'd decided to come past me earlier on, so why was I the subject of his complaint.
After this the group degenerated into the least organised chain gang I've ever been involved with. It was just like when we were behind the three guys earlier on, but this time I decided to let them get on with it. I didn't have to surge, or do very much, but it was fun to watch them fight it out for who'd be on the front to the next junction/traffic lights/hazard.
And then they stopped. About a mile from the finish, they just pulled up at the side of the road with no warning whatsoever. It was most peculiar and the four of us looked around at each other and wondered what the hell just happened. In the end, it didn't really matter and we rolled it in to the finish, once we'd followed the right service road, I.e. not the one for the car park.
And so we rolled in, mud spattered, but pleased at our day out. I'm happy with the way the day went, although certain specifics mean that I wouldn't be likely to enter this particular event again: the off-road stuff and the sections on the major roads I found not to my liking.
Lesley was there to greet us, medal in hand, and, after posing for a photo, or two, we headed for our complimentary sausage sandwich and bottle of beer (which I kept for home), before chucking everything in the car, trying not to get mud absolutely everywhere, and driving home.
And, with that, I shall bid you adieu and I'll be back on the Club Run next Sunday...
My Strava data is here: https://www.strava.com/activities/1446133841
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