I knew that a century ride through the southern Lake District would be tough. 110 miles including Wrynose Pass is never going to be an easy ride on a good day, but when the longest ride you’ve done all year is less than 50 miles you know you’re going to struggle before the start. The sensible option would have been to do the 80 mile “Bay Dash” variant, but sometimes you just have to take your medicine.
At least it wasn’t raining. Last year’s cold and miserable Wrynose or Bust sportive took place in horrid conditions and ended ignominiously after 105 miles with a broken chain which I was too frozen to fix. This time the weather looked settled. It wasn’t warm and was fairly windy, but at least I was confident that it would remain dry.
About 110 riders had signed up for the long version of the sportive, which given that it’s a few weeks before the Fred Whitton is a surprisingly low number. The superb route, marshalling and feed stations, not to mention the fantastic hotpot at the finish deserve much more popularity. Perhaps it’s a bit early in the season for a tough century and the Lakeland weather in April for the last two editions might put a few off. This should not prevent you from signing on: cycling up the Duddon Valley is one of the loveliest stretches of road you’re ever likely to encounter on a bike in England.
I set off with a group of fellow COLTs (City of Lancaster Triathlon) but given that one was in training for a double ironman in late May and the others were doing Ironman Lanzarote in a few weeks I knew that they’d be close to peak fitness. I didn’t expect to be dropped definitively on the first climb (within the first mile) but knew that turning myself inside out to stay with them would have serious consequences later so adopted a more conservative approach. Fellow COLT, Danny Rogerson, either out of sympathy or a similar unwillingness to have his legs torn off joined me (I suspect the former).
The first 50 miles offers little serious challenge apart from the long hill prior to dropping down into Foxfield for the first feed which I briefly paused at for a bottle refill and banana before pressing on (Danny had turned for home some while before, he wasn’t doing the event and had just ridden the first couple of hours for company). Soon after Foxfield the route gets more difficult. There is the steep climb at the start of the Duddon Valley to contend with followed by a series of small climbs up the valley before the route broadens out into the dramatic Esk Valley at Cockley Beck and the level approach to Wrynose Pass. Compared to the other passes on the route of the legendary Fred Whitton, Wrynose is relatively straightforward, but still represents a tough challenge for an out of condition triathlete. At least the wind was a tailwind.Soon after, the route heads southwards via narrow lanes to Hawkshead. From here, the route was supposed to go through Grizedale Forest but the removal of some key signage meant that everyone headed straight south to Newby Bridge. Luckily the excellent marshals were on the case and rerouted folk either west along the A590 to the notorious Bigland Hill or east to the second feed at High Newton. This also necessitated a stretch of about a mile on the awful and scary A590, but missed Bigland Hill. Given the my legs were already protesting loudly it took barely a moment to decide upon which option I’d take.
At the second feed I took longer to allow a little recovery. Cups of tea, egg sandwiches and chocolate cake were consumed in quantity and I bumped into fellow COLT Andy Richardson who seemed to be regretting his decision to follow the A Team on their ride around the route. He’d done Bigland Hill, but his legs were “bollocksed”. Luckily, the last 30 miles are over relatively straightforward terrain, although the climb from Capernwray, so late in the route, is a test of will. It was just after this point last year that my chain snapped and I almost wished that history repeated itself as I turned on to the Kirby Lonsdale to Carnforth road into a demoralisingly strong headwind. The marshal at this point said seven miles to go which confused me as I was sure that it was no more than five. But a sneaky detour which took you into Nether Kellet and one more climb up to the TV mast on Kellet Lane added the extra couple of miles. At least it was a freewheel down to the finish line!
A large plate of Lancashire Hotpot awaited, complete with mushy peas and pickled cabbage (vegetarian option also available). The volunteers from Rotary even brought cups of tea to our table! I just had to muster the energy to roll the last few miles home along a level cycle track with the wind behind me to reflect on a great day out in the saddle.