It's about a month since I finished Ride Across Britain, which I will henceforth refer to as RAB. I've attempted to type up a sort of review of the event before, however I think I exceeded Blogger's character count for saved drafts, and it was comprehensively eaten...
Day 0 - Reading to John o'Groats
I set off with me, a bag which weighed considerably more than the specified 15kgs, and Gill, who accompanied me to Basingstoke Train station. From there it was to Southampton Airport (where I bumped into my first fellow RAB'bers, each dragging equalled over-weighted bags) to begin the flight upto Wick. At the plane swap in Edinburgh the number of cyclists heading northwards became very apparent, and Logan Air (who run the flights to Wick) were struggling with the volume of luggage (which all had to be pre-booked, so not sure why it was a surprise). The small plane was entirely composed of RAB cyclists, with an air of apprehension and eagerness.
From Wick airport we were met by a double-decker bus (that was to follow us down the country, and act as a sweep wagon, office and portable hospital as we cycled) to take us to Base Camp 1, right at Jogn O'Groats. We were met by a sea of 1-man tents, a series of marquees, and a vicious wind from the west (the way we would be heading off the next day).
The first evening consisted of prepping my bike (which had travelled up by lorry the previous week), settling into my small tent, checking out the facilities (which were pretty good...plenty of showers, decent loo's, and a massive catering tent, as well as a chill-out marquee and a host of medical facilities), and attending the initial briefing. the weather, for it's part, got slowly worse, and when sensible people retired to bed (about 9pm), some tents were in the process of collapsing. Mine stood strong, though the conditons were so bad I reckon I got 2-3 hours sleep...not the perfect prep for a long cycle ride!
Day 1 - John O'Groats to Kyle of Sutherland
Distance - 167km
The real challenge here was not the route, but the weather. I set off in the first wave (for better of worse I had been flagged as a top 50 rider based on some arbitary quizzing over the phone), and we had the first 40-50 miles into a 25mph headwind, with occasional rain. Within a few miles we formed a pack of about 10 riders (pack riding improves efficiency massively, as only the front riders take the headwind...in normal conditions you are talking about a 25-30% efficiency saving, though with headwinds that can easily go upto 60-70%), and I quickly spotted I was in with like-minded people. After about a couple of hours riding we spotted a small group ahead of us, and determined that it must contain an olympiad of one flavour or another (the famous people had set off first). We put the hammer down (a phrase that was used repeatedly over the 9 days), and were soon overhauling Rebeca Romero, gold medallist in Beijing.
After the first pit stop (she skipped it, and gained a lead again) we headed back out, already first pack on the road, and as the weather cleared up a bit we started to spit up. Being the over-competitive swine that I am I held with the front group, and ended up riding with 4 other chaps for the rest of the day. I shall introduce some of the protagonists now;
- Chris - chap from Shropshire...extremely good cyclist.
- Tom - Chris's brother. again a good rider, but not quite as strong as Chris
- Simon - cycling journalist for the Independant newspaper
- David - a chicken farmer no less. Able to hammer out a crazy pace without showing any pain!
As a pack we started to head inland, and lose the headwind. For a while we had a camera-car following us, so we acted up and posed down the hills. Rolling into the second pitstop we were about a minute behind Rebecca, so she formed up in a pack with us, and we did the final leg of the ride together. I foolishly didn't take on enough calories, and faded in the last 10 miles, however the day generally went well, 6 hours on the road was a good time, and given the adverse conditions I was more than happy! At basecamp I quickly grabbed a sports massage (I was able to get this sorted every day, and it was a godsend to get the quad muscles cleared of lactate quickly, and recover for the next day), grab a couple of hours sleep, and then attack the catering tent with gusto (2 roast dinners, and a couple of desserts for good measure). That done I headed back to bed. No trouble sleeping at all!
Day 2 - Kyle of Sutherland to Loch Linnhe
Distance - 160kmthe Garmin refused to record the ride today, due to the conditionsOn the plus side the wind had died right down, and swung into a gentle tailwind. On the downside it was raining...a constant heavy drizzle. I met up with a couple of lads at the start-line from the original pack of 10 from yesterday;
- Stuart - a mountain biker from Bath
- Johnathon - a slightly weird chap, who would feature again later in the ride
...and we headed off. There was a biggish climb in the first leg, which we paced ourselves over. The plan for the day was to keep the pace high to keep us warm...as it was we were quickly getting into the lead, as we took a lot of people on the hill (which included some fairly nasty long, angled cattle grids, no fun in the wet on slick tyres), and rolled into the first pitstop in the lead. As we were getting ready to leave, Chris, David, Tom and Simon rolled in...we had about 4 minutes on them. The mist descended, and the pace upped over the second hill of the day. We got to the second pitstop about 1 minute ahead (I'll say it now, Chris and David were far stronger cyclists than me...), however Tom and Simon were looking a little the worse for wear. As Stuart, John and myself set off, David and Chris took up pursuit by themselves as we headed along the shores of Loch Ness, and tagged us with about 10 miles to the finish...they then performed a perfect attack on a hill, and reached the finish about a minute ahead of us. General opinion was that we'd made the best of a tough day...the rain never stopped, which kept you cold and hard to get the legs going, yet we'd spent less than 6 hours on the bike (people were rolling in for another 6-7 hours...) Over dinner Chris, David, Stuart and myself agreed to face Day 3 as a pack. Tom and Simon were busy getting various limbs repaired in the medical tent however they joined us later and also agreed to form up. That sorted, we all headed off for an early night (I was clocking up 10-12 hours sleep a night...I have no idea how those who were taking 12-13 hours to complete a stage were coping!)
Day 3 - Kyle of Sutherland to East Renfrewshire
Distance - 210km
The biggie. Today we'd cover 130 miles, and go over Glen Coe. Due to the length of the stage they started setting people off from 6.30am, so when we formed up at 7am there were already plenty of people on the road. The weather had finally cleared up, and we had a fantastic view of Ben Nevis as we set out. Despite plans to take it easy, David decided we wanted a bit of clear road, so hauled us along at 20mph for a while, then we kept a steady pace until we reached the base of the Glen Coe ascent. once climbing we held a steady pace...to be honest the climb was nowhere near as bad as we expected...long but not overly steep (about 5-6% for those who understand such things). We reached the top, and were greeted with some fantastic views, and even better some amazing descents, which we took full advantage of...nothing quite like flying down a mountainside at 40mph! Next up was the banks of Lock Lomond...once again great views, and where we met up with the final member of the team (or "the Unit", as we referred to ourselves)
- Toby - a lad from Edinburgh who was on home soil here
He'd been riding near us, and joined our pack, but unlike most people was happy to do his turn at the front...
...I should probably do a bit of an aside here. Those who know me probably know I have a bit of the competitive spirit about me.one thing I learned during RAB was that as a pack of riders we were extremely strong...each person had a role they could play...David could haul us along for long periods at a very high pace, Chris and Stuart were good on hills, whereas I was good for bursts of speed, which was used for shaking free-riders off our tail. As we overtook people, we noticed that they would try to catch a free drag, though without offering to do any work...my job was to goto the front and put down 5km at a pace that was uncomfortable to live with, and "snap the elastic". This way we could keep the team at a manageable size. I should probably say now that while it wasn't a race, sometimes it certainly felt like one!
...anyhow, Toby was obviously a great rider, and cheerfully did stints at the front to help the pack, so we quickly invited him to join the Unit :-) As a full pack of 5 we quickly set to cleaning out a team of 10 who were trying to draft us, resulting in me hauling us down the banks of Loch Lomond at 22-23mph for a while.
The final part of the day was very, very tough...the outskirts of Glasgow consisted of a seies of sharp and steep valleys, where getting a rhythym going was impossible, and by then we had already ridden 100 miles. Getting into basecamp was a relief, and I had the first signs of knee pain at the end. A visit to the Physio (often referred to as Sue the Miracle Worker) revealed a tear to my right knee fascia, and binding on both quads (where the muscle sheath is sticking to the muscle, causing tearing). Neither were terminal, though the knee-tear would mean the rest of the ride would be on painkillers.
Next time...we'll actually get out of Scotland!