My record at the excellent Wrynose or Bust?sportive is lamentable. I have entered 5 times and my results for the first four are as follows:

  • 2012 – Did not start: illness
  • 2013 – Did not start: last minute family holiday
  • 2014 – Did not finish: chain broke at 105 miles and I was too cold and tired to fix it
  • 2015 – Finished, but stolen signposting meant I went a shorter route and missed one of the major climbs

Add to that, for the two starts I did make the weather was miserable; it’s fair to say that things could only get better for round 5. And they so nearly didn’t! I went out for an evening run on the Friday before the event and managed to badly turn my ankle. At the time I felt I had no chance of making the start so after 24 hours of ibuprofen and ice I decided I needed to see if I could actually turn a pedal in anger. A 20km spin around my local lanes including a couple of climbs told me that although I was limping badly I couldn’t feel the injury when pedaling. This was all well and good for a short local spin, whether or not it would be the case for 115 miles around the southern Lake District was another matter. Still, it was encouragement enough to take the start line.

At least the forecast was reasonable: cool conditions and a light breeze with a possibility of a spot of rain according to the BBC. This was a marked improvement over the long term forecast at the start of the week which suggested there might be snow showers. Still, winter mitts, gilets and overshoes were the order of the day as Rob and I rolled out of 315 Leisure in Lancaster making our way northwards on familiar roads to towards Milnthorpe. The snow never materialised but we did have some spots of light rain after 50 miles but the winds were light and at times in the latter part of the ride the sun broke through momentarily.

According to the organisers, only 42 riders set out on the long version of the Wrynose or Bust (they also offer a 75 mile route and a 37 mile route) which is mystifying to me. Coming 2 weeks before the Fred Whitton it is a perfect training ride covering challenging terrain without excessive amounts of climbing. The two main hills are Wrynose pass itself which tops out at 25% for a short section and Bigland Hill, much later in the route. There are plenty of other lesser hills to keep up the interest and after 2600 metres of climbing you know you’ve had a tough day out. To make life as easy as possible the route was superbly signposted and marshaled. The two feeds were well spaced and well stocked with sandwiches, bananas, malt loaf and copious quantities of tea. Perhaps the weather over the last couple of years put people off, but with the ability to sign on on the day it’s quite possible to delay your decision whether or not to participate until the last minute. And if you do, you won’t be disappointed.

The first 25 miles of the route is pretty easy and there are no major challenges until the big climb on the A5092 at about 45 miles covered. As a reward you have a glorious descent followed by a few miles of flat riding back to the coast and the first feed station at Foxfield. From here the route becomes considerably more challenging. As soon as you turn north off the A595 to follow the River Duddon the first climb hits you hard. Thereafter the scenery becomes increasingly wild and desolate and although there are plenty of little descents and flats the overall theme is upward progress all the way up the Duddon Vally until you reach Cockley Beck and the right turn for Wynose itself. I knew I would struggle on Wrynose: I was on my race bike with a mid-compact chainset which meant that I was a couple of gears too long for the climb. Rob, on the other hand, had the ideal setup for such a sportive – a compact chainset and 12-32 rear cassette, although he was determined to get up without his granny gear. I let him forge ahead and I ground my way up steadily. I was almost at the top when a car passed a little too close for comfort and I wobbled off into the vegetation, and that was that. To be fair, it was hardly the driver’s fault, I was going really slowly so keeping a straight line was tricky. There was no chance of remounting on 25%! So I trudged the 75 metres to the top and set off again.

Wrynose Pass

Wrynose Pass

photo credit: Wrynose Pass via photopin (license)

The hills now follow quickly, but none of them are too large until you get to Bigland Hill. This is a real brute. At a solid 10% average for 1.7km, many riders find it tougher than Wrynose as by now you have a solid 140km in your legs. You’re nearly at the second feed, but after the descent from Bigland there is still another steady long climb up to High Newton between you and that warm mug of sweet tea.

Once clear of High Newton there is an incredibly sketchy and steep descent off the hills down to the coastal plain. It’s loose and gravelly with plenty of tight bends. Any speed gathered here may well result in disaster, but all the way down you’re thinking, “Thank God I’m not cycling up that!” However, the hills aren’t done. The organisers have added a new section that takes in a nasty little climb out of Levens towards Sizergh. The new section is only a few miles long but passes through some lovely countryside prior to linking with home roads back to Holme and Burton in Kendal. By now my legs were pretty cooked but I had enough left to really push on the flat section south of Burton – a creditable 40kmh average for the couple of kilometres before Priest Hutton. This left me gasping over the last major rise: Borwick Hill. I really hate this climb simply because I always reach it at the end of a long ride so I’m always knackered. Here we passed the point where my chain broke in 2014. There now remained 5 miles of undulating road, but I still managed to muster enough energy to dash down the hill to Halton before crossing the River Lune to the finish line.

I didn’t hang around for the excellent post race food as I still had 6 miles to ride to get home and I knew that if I sat down I’d be phoning home for a lift. I’m pleased I did because that took the total ride to just over 200km, possibly my longest ride ever. 5th time lucky, I finally got the Wrynose monkey off my back.

The Wrynose or Bust is an outstanding sportive. The quiet road up the Duddon is as fine a piece of Lake District scenery that you can find. The route is challenging without being too hard and the event is superbly marshaled and signposted. The food offering at feeds and at the end is also superb. This event deserves to be much more popular than it is and if you haven’t cycled the quiet roads of the southern Lake District before I would urge you to give it a go.