9 May 2017 0 Comments

It’s Going To Be Epic

On June 11th a new triathlon will take place near Lancaster. The Epicman, run by Epic Events will feature a swim in the River Lune, a bicycle tour of the Forest of Bowland and a run along the cycle track next to the river. At only £60 to enter it is one of the cheapest middle distance triathlons in the country and at time of writing, has attracted close to 200 entries.

I know from speaking to various folk that the swim is causing a degree of concern with it being a river swim (and rivers flow), however down at Halton Camp when the tide is in the river is pretty benign and hopefully with late spring weather the flow will be minimal. That said, I remember a few years back that an Olympic distance event at the same venue had to to can the swim because torrential rain in the build up left the Lune in full spate. Fingers crossed for good weather, then.

The run along the Lune cycle track is about as flat as it could be and on decent metalled surface, so shouldn’t present too much of a challenge despite it being a half marathon. But that is assuming you have anything left in your legs. For it is the bike course that is going to be the meat of this event. With nearly 1600m of climbing, including a couple of very big hills, this is the hardest middle-distance bike course I’ve ever seen, harder even than the “A day in the Lakes” bike course in its original form with its ascent of the infamous Kirkstone Pass.

With the challenge in mind I decided to ride the course last weekend to get an idea of what we were letting ourselves in for. The conditions were perfect, blue sky and virtually no breeze all day led to a fantastic ride with 3 other members of COLT (2 training for IM 70.3 Mallorca next weekend – good luck Dawn and Anne).

Jubilee Tower

The first climb on the route is the ascent of Jubilee Tower from Quernmore crossroads. Most cyclists from the Lancaster area know this climb very well – it’s our local test piece. The main difficulties are early on with the section through the zig zag being the steepest. The worst part comes next, to my mind, as you have to grind up a few hundred metres dead straight at around 10%. Once through that the climb relents for a short while before continuing on up to the Tower itself at the top.

The descent from Jubilee starts superbly with a mile or two of gentle downhill (mind the cattle grid), but be aware that as you drop into the trees the road falls away to the right quite sharply onto a steeper and more technical section. You’ll need to knock off some speed here. At the bottom of the descent the road winds through a farm with a very narrow and poorly surfaced section of road. Again caution will be needed before sprinting hard over the bridge for the steep little rise on the other side.

Trough of Bowland

After a glorious few kilometres the road begins to climb again up to the Trough of Bowland itself. This is not a tough climb, but does drag on for a while and adds another 150m of ascent to your day.

The main concern for riders here is the descent. This is steep and fairly narrow. Cars will be extremely reluctant to stop coming up the 20% plus gradient and you will need to be careful not to let your bike build up too much speed as you drop down.

Once at the bottom of the Trough a fast section with a couple of small rises follows all the way down to Dunsop Bridge where a sharp left is taken over a narrow bridge. and twisty drop. Cars tend to be looking for parking here as it’s a popular tourist spot, so watch out for drivers paying more attention to the ducks and cafe than they are to cyclists.

The next section to Slaidburn through Newton has two more climbs on it, enough to get you out of the seat and panting with the climb out of Newton having yet another 10% section in it. But the next biggish climb comes straight out of Slaidburn with a steep start through the zig zag before climbing for a further 3 kilometres.

Bowland Knotts

About 5 kilometres after leaving Slaidburn the route turns left again past Stocks Reservoir and through Gisburn Forest. This is a beautiful area much loved by mountain bikers and dog walkers. After about half a mile of straight road you hit a short descent with a truly horrendous road surface. Heavily pot holed and gravelly you need to take real care down this little bank. After that the road winds through the forest for a couple of miles before hitting the climb of Bowland Knotts. You’ll know you are on the climb because the road hits a small descent before pitching straight into an unrelenting gradient of up to 14% for a kilometre or so. Watch riders scrabble for gears just here and it is really not the place where you want to throw your chain. This is the toughest climb on the route, and once you are over the steep section the road carries on for a further couple of kilometres at a much more benign grade. However, this section is across open and windswept moorland so fingers crossed for a tailwind on the day.

Dawn McCracken cresting Bowland Knotts

The descent from Bowland Knotts is possibly the highlight of the course for me. Once over the top you know you have no more serious climbs left and although the start of the descent is fairly twisty and steep, you are soon onto a fast and open downhill across the moorland with brilliant visibility. The only objective danger is the sheep who may wander across the road so don’t relax too much! Speeds of 50mph plus are quite possible for confident cyclists so if you aren’t a speedy descender you will need to keep your wits about you and stay left.

On our ride we turned left along Mewith Lane to head back down the valley via Wray, but checking back on the route map we should have carried on all the way down to Clapham Station before turning left and left again back to Bentham. There is a climb past Clapham Station to contend with and further climbing over the moors to Bentham where a right turn is made.Then it’s up the last small but steepish climb of the route. Once over this, the route is essentially down hill (with a few small undulations) for 15km or so back to the start so this will be a good opportunity to try and recover before hitting the run!

Road Bike or TT?

According to the Strava route there is almost 1600m of climbing on the Epicman bike leg with Jubilee and Bowland Knotts being the set pieces. Gradients on the ascents max out at around 14%, but the descent off Trough of Bowland is considerably steeper and must be treated with respect. The toughest climb comes after you already have 1000m of climbing in your legs and is a relentless brute. I’ll be riding an aero road bike with a compact crankset (34/28 will be my bottom gear). If you are at all concerned at the severity of the bike course I would definitely consider a 32 sprocket on the rear cassette.

My personal view is that this course is not for TT bikes. There is too much twisty and technical descending where good braking is essential, and too much climbing for 53/38 chainsets unless you are an absolute beast on the bike. I doubt there will be many sub 3 hour splits on this bike route!

Whichever option you choose, pray for good weather and I look forward to seeing you on the course!

The Epicman Bike Route on Strava

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