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Sportives, 2015


Earlier this year, I made contact with the editor of Vegan Life magazine and asked if he would be interested in me writing any articles. His initial response was to ask if they could write an article about me - in terms of the effect that my vegan diet has had on my life. I agreed to this and the resulting article is included in the latest issue (No 8, September 2015). In fact, I wrote the article myself and based it on my cycling activities during May, when I rode three tough Sportives – all in respectable times and, moreover, I experienced no noticeable tiredness, aches or pains after any of them. I am entirely convinced that this is mainly down to my plant based diet!

The three rides were The Fred Whitton Challenge, Etape du Dales and Le Petit Depart.

Following these, I also rode The Monster at the beginning of July.

The Fred Whitton Challenge was on 10th May – the weather was not great and, in places, we were battling against very strong winds. Anyone who knows much about the world of cycling knows about the Fred Whitton Challenge. Paul Loftus (Lofty) has organised the event every year since 1999 (though he has now handed over the reins after the 2015 ride) – it was the first cycling ‘Sportive’ to be organised in the UK and is widely regarded as the toughest (though the organisers of The Monster beg to differ!)

The ride now starts and finishes in Grasmere (Coniston up to 2013) and there are 2000 riders! Every year now there are many more than 2000 wanting to ride – so there has to be a ballot. In any one year, places are guaranteed the following year (if they want them!) for helpers and anyone who raises more than £500 for one of the charities – Macmillan Cancer Care, NW Air Ambulance and Mountain Rescue. The event is outstandingly well organised and now requires around 200 helpers.

In summary, the ride is 112 miles and includes climbs over Kirkstone, Honister, Newlands, Whinlatter, Hardknott and Wrynose Passes – not to forget about several climbs in between – Matterdale End, Fang’s Brow and Cold Fell!

Full details can be found on the website :

www.fredwhittonchallenge.co.uk

This year, my official time was just under 9 hours – not as fast as some but pretty decent!

My riding time was 8 hours 30 mins, as recorded on Strava :

www.strava.com/activities/301809404

Alongside Ullswater Top of Honister Pass

The Etape du Dales was on 17th May - again, the weather was not great and, if anything, the winds were even stronger than during the Fred Whitton! This event supports the Dave Rayner Fund – a charity set up in memory of the outstanding professional cyclist from Bingley in West Yorkshire, who was tragically killed in 1994, at the age of 27. The fund is used to provide financial help for aspiring young professional cyclists.

Starting in Grassington (Wharfedale) this is another 112 miles. Initially, the route passes though Upper Wharfedale and through Kettlewell, Buckden and Hubberholme, before the steep climb over Fleet Moss to Hawes (Wensleydale). Although Fleet Moss is tough in places, it is an easier climb from this side than it is from Hawes!

Next comes the climb over Buttertubs – part of the 2014 Tour de France route. This climb has a pretty fierce reputation, but I don’t find it to be too bad!

Climbing Buttertubs

The descent from Buttertubs is into Swaledale, then along the valley through the villages of Thwaite, Muker and Gunnerside. A little way before Reeth, a left turn and a VERY steep climb (unnamed) then some up and down before turning left in Arkengarthdale and starting the long climb to Tan Hill. This was HORRENDOUS! Several miles of relentless climbing into the teeth of a gale. There cannot have been a single rider who did not feel a huge sense of relief at the sight of the Tan Hill Inn and the second feed station!

It is a long and undulating descent from Tan Hill – at the B6270 there is a right turn at the T junction, over to Nateby, from where the B6259 gradually climbs to the Moorcock Inn at Garsdale Head.

Then the Coal Road! Another very steep climb over into Dentdale, followed by a further long climb up to Newby Head and then down to Ribblehead - back into a very strong wind!

Finally some respite and a tailwind down through Horton-in-Ribblesdale to the final feed station at Stainforth.

Then another long climb out of Stainforth and past Pen-y-Ghent before dropping down to Halton Gill. The serious climbing is over for the day!

Finally, along Littondale, through Litton and Arncliffe, back to Wharfedale, through Kilnsey and Threshfield to the finish!

Given the weather conditions, that was one tough ride!

My official time was just under 9 hours.

My riding time was 8 hours 43 mins, as recorded on Strava :

www.strava.com/activities/306426891

My third Sportive in May was on the 31st - another event round the Yorkshire Dales – Le Petit Depart – the name obviously based on Le Grand Depart of 2014 and organised by Skipton Cycling Club. It started from the Cattle Mart in Skipton and we were very soon on the Tour de France route, climbing up Grassington Road – where I actually watched the race in July of last year.

Yet again, the weather was not great and very windy!!

Once out of Skipton, we followed the road up Wharfedale, through Threshfield, Kilnsey and Kettlewell up to Buckden. Unlike the Etape du Dales, from Buckden we took the right fork and climbed up through Cray and over KIdstones to West Burton before hitting the A684 and riding through Aysgarth (first feed station), Bainbridge and into Hawes.

Climbing over Kidstones

From here, it was out along the B6255, which is, largely, a long climb (on the day, into a strong wind) before finally dropping down to Ribblehead. Now we were in the same territory as the Etape du Dales and our route down to the next feed station in Horton-in-Ribblesdale had a welcome tailwind.

From there, we headed down to Settle. The route out of Settle was BRUTAL! Up the cobbles from the centre of Settle and up over High Hill Lane, eventually over to Airton village in Airedale.

From Airton, it was then a straightforward ide through Hetton and back to Skipton.

My riding time was 5 hours 39 mins, as recorded on Strava :

www.strava.com/activities/315482285

Earlier this year, I noticed that a company called A Cycling were promoting a Sportive in Wales, which they called ‘The Monster’ and claiming it to be a tougher ride than the Fred Whitton! I looked at the details and found it hard to believe that it could be tougher – but thought I ought to find out. In fact, it is longer than the Fred Whitton (130 miles) and involves more climbing (4200 m). They restrict the number of riders to 100, so as soon as they opened for entries, I registered and secured a place. In addition to the overall length and amount of climbing, they impose quite strict cut off times at the first and second feed stations – and were adamant that anyone failing to reach either station within that time would be asked to withdraw and return to base via a shorter route. Even if riders made it past the first two feed stations, they would only be entitled to a ‘Finisher’ T shirt if they completed the whole ride within 10 hours 30 mins.

When I looked closely at the ride, I felt that the 10 hours 30 mins should be quite achievable, but I thought the earlier cut off times were quite tough! In the event, I managed them all successfully and got my ‘Finisher’ T shirt!

Details can be found at :

http://www.acycling.com/monster/

The Monster starts and finishes at the Community Centre in Llangadog, a village close to Llandovery in Carmarthenshire, South Wales. The whole route is through wonderful scenery on very quiet roads. Although there is nothing quite to compare with the bottom of Honister and Harknott Pass in the Fred Whitton, it is nevertheless an extremely hilly ride (bound to be if there is 4200 m of climbing!) and does include some very steep climbs, such as The Devil’s Staircase.

So was it tougher than the Fred Whitton? Probably not – but it was tough! The climbing seemed to be relentless and the extra miles began to tell towards the end. Overall, the weather was somewhat better – certainly less windy – than the three earlier rides.

My ride was recorded on Strava (though, unfortunately, my phone battery ran out before the finish!) My average speed was a little slower than any of the other rides – though I was pleased to get round within the 10 hours 30 mins and be classed as a ‘FINISHER’! Looking at the list of times, only 69 of the 100 riders completed it successfully.

https://www.strava.com/activities/344404201

Finally, it was a very long drive from my home in North Yorkshire to Carmarthenshire, so I decided to do it in 2 stages leaving me a 90 mile drive in the early morning on the day of the event.

On the Friday and Saturday nights, I stayed at Wilderhope Manor, a Youth Hostel near Much Wenlock in Shropshire. This is actually an absolutely spectacular Elizabethan Manor - well worth a visit!!


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