Before the rain

Barnoldswick is your typical east Lancashire town, but, rain aside, yesterday was far from a normal Sunday in this quiet backwater. Living legend and surely soon to be knighted Bradley Wiggins was in town for the inaugural “Ride with Brad“cycle sportive. Sportive it may have been, but it’s the first such ride that I’ve done where there have been tv camera crews! It’s also the first sportive I’ve done that got reports on the BBC website and Northwest Tonight.

With about 1400 riders to get registered there were a few queues and not a few fairly nervous looking riders who were clearly riding a sportive for the first time. This gave me time to finally hand over a book that I had to a guy called Andrew. I’d only met Andrew once, a couple of years ago riding a sportive in Cheshire and we rode around together chatting. We exchanged tweets a few times, but shortly after that sportive Andrew was knocked off his bike by a hit and run driver. His leg was badly smashed resulting in many operations and prolonged rehab. Hopefully, Andrew will be back on his bike by Christmas. Anyway, when I first heard about his accident I had managed to organise via Twitter for cycling commentator, Anthony McCrossan, to get pro rider, Michael Barry to dedicate a copy of his book to him. My original intention was to give him the book in hospital but circumstances conspired against me. When I heard that Andrew was volunteering to help with the “Ride with Brad” I seized my opportunity. Good luck with the rehab, Andrew, I’m looking forward to riding with you again.

I lined up at the start with a small group just before eight while a rather large gentleman from Chicago was being introduced to the crowd. He had flown in to take part in the sportive because he had been so inspired by Brad’s exploits in France. He seemed a thoroughly good natured chap and I hope he got a chance to shake hands with his hero. Judging by his 1000 yard stare as I walked past him at the finish later on, it seemed that Nick o’ Pendle had taken its toll.

Once on the road a semblance of normality resumed as chain gangs quickly built up working at far too hard a pace to be sustainable on such a demanding course. Nearly 3,000 metres of climbing awaited us in the next 166 kilometres. Waddington fell would soon sort things out. I could tell that I wasn’t on a great day as I found the long and steady grade a bit of a trial. At least the weather was fine for the time being. After the descent to Newton and the small, but sharp climb to Slaidburn we started on the long climb out of the village up to Cross of Greet. When going well this is one of my favourite climbs as the setting alongside Lythe Fell is stunning. Just as I was starting up the climb who should ride past but his royal sideburns himself with an entourage in his wake. Obviously I wasn’t being shown up on my favourite climb, so I put it in the big ring and powered past. I thought it might have lacked panache not to let him take the summit, so with a grin and an “Awight” he swept by.

I was now on my local roads so missed the crowds at Bridge House tea rooms where I presumed Brad had stopped as I could stop for a brew a few miles further along the route in the comfort of my own home. The kids were out front waving their big green Tour de France hands and ringing their cowbells as I arrived with Brad hot on my heels!

Suitably refreshed I struggled over Jubilee Tower and went better on the Trough of Bowland climb, but was greeted with the first drops of rain on the descent. By Chipping it was raining steadily and the prospects for the last 40 miles looked grim. After grabbing a couple of gels and topping up my water bottle at Chipping village hall it was off once more to tackle a vicious sequence of climbs in the rain. On the first of these, Jeffrey Hill, many riders were off and walking, something that would happen with increasing regularity on subsequent climbs. I ground my way up, but it was far from pretty and didn’t bode well for what was coming. Through Whalley it was properly bucketing down and the small groups of riders were looking more miserable and bedraggled by the minute. Nick o’ Pendle was next on the menu followed rapidly by the excruciating ?pitch of Back Lane. By the following hill, probably the steepest of the route, people were talking about our Bradley in less than favourable terms, this route was a killer! As if that wasn’t enough there was the long and steady grind over Barley Fell before some narrow, twisty farm roads with short sharp stinging climbs to sap any vestiges of energy from weary bodies.

It was still raining in Barnoldswick when I eventually returned. I finished 237th out of the 633 riders who tackled the long route. It took me 7 hours 24 minutes to complete and given that my last century ride was last August at Ironman Regensburg, I was reasonably pleased with my time.

The “Ride with Brad” sportive was a great day out on some spectacular roads. It was well organised and the route was superbly signposted. As a sportive it ticks all the boxes, but riding it with Brad in his annus mirabilis made it that little bit more special.