Cyclone Sportive: Ride C, Saturday 18th June, 2016
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 179 km / 111 miles with 2,477 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 7 hours 59 minutes
Average Speed: 23.9 km/h
Cyclone Distance: 90 miles
Cyclone Time: 6 hours 7 minutes
Group size: 10 riders and 5,200 others
Weather in a word or two: Cool, grey and dry.
So for the 10th year running the Cyclone Festival of Cycling has rolled around again and for this anniversary edition it features a brand new, 90-mile “challenge ride” encompassing a handful of well-known local climbs including the Gibbet and the Ryals. Having participated in the event for the past 6 years this seemed like the ideal time to step up from my usual 64-mile route and try something new – what could possibly go wrong?
I had everything planned, laid out and prepared the night before. I’d pre-selected my kit based on the expected weather forecast, filled a bottle with drink and collected a small hoard of energy bars and gels to fuel the ride. The bike was thoroughly checked, fully lubed, waxed and polished, with the tyres inflated to optimum pressures. It had even spent the night cosseted indoors in the spare room, ready for a quick and effortless departure in the morning.
The timing chip was fixed to my helmet and the event number firmly secured to my handlebars in a suitable, appropriate, visual and aesthetically pleasing manner. I wouldn’t usually mention such a small thing but, from the evidence of other riders it seems that attaching the number in the right way and in the right place is a bit of a dark art and slightly more challenging than rocket science. People reported seeing them on seat-stays and seat posts, under saddles, hanging from the top tubes like sleeping bats and sticking up from handlebars like some kind of improvised motorcycle windshield.
G-Dawg had his number tightly wrapped around his head tube, but he claimed this was simply to negate aerodynamic drag. He’d also scrupulously prepared for the event by making sure his inner ring was actually in proper working order and by fitting a single bottle cage to the seat tube. As a measure of just how intensive and careful his preparations had been he’d actually test-ridden last week’s club run with the bottle cage on, although without a corresponding bottle. For this ride he would actually be going “the full Monty” and carrying a bottle too, which I can only assume had some form of G-Dawg liquid refreshment inside – kryptonite, concentrated bat blood, red diesel or something similar.
The weather Saturday morning wasn’t good, but would do, unremittingly grey and surprisingly chilly, though thankfully the wind was fairly light. I tipped down the hill to start my nine-hour round trip and began making my way to the start point, Kingston Park, the exposed and windswept home of the Newcastle Falcons rugby team.
I picked up another rider just after crossing the river and had a brief chat about our respective planned rides. Hearing I was off to ride the Cyclone, he asked if I was turning left somewhere up ahead and I answered with a vague yes, without giving his question too much thought.
What he’d actually meant was would I be turning immediate next left. He did. I didn’t and as he pushed across my line I bounced off him and went down. Hard. Or, in the immortal words of Dabman, “I came down like a sack of spuds.” (Where are you Dabman? I miss your unfailing cheerfulness in the face of catastrophic injury and broken bones.)
I took the brunt of the impact on all the sticky-out bits down the right side – shoulder, elbow, hand, hip, knee and ankle. Ooph! The elbow and knuckles of my pinkie showed the most damage with dramatic splotches of blood, but the hip was the sorest. Luckily though the bike seemed totally unscathed other than a little scuffing of the bar tape. A lucky escape.
My fellow cyclist helped me up, retrieved my bottle and apologised, even though it wasn’t his fault. We parted, as he finally got to turn left unimpeded and I pressed on vowing to pay more attention to what people were asking me when riding alongside. Everything was a bit sore, but I guessed since I’d be constantly riding, there’d be absolutely no chance of anything stiffening up for the next few hours or so.
We had a fairly reasonable (and by our standards remarkably organised) group meet at the start, where we also picked up Szell, the Red Max, the Monkey Butler Boy and one of the Monkey Butler Boy’s contemporaries, who seemed to be wearing a hijab under his Kask helmet. They were all off to do the 65 mile ride, but would tag along with us until the routes split.
There were then around a dozen or so of us lined up for the 90-mile ride including G-Dawg, Sneaky Pete, Captain Black, Cushty, Mini Miss, Big Dunc, Guido and Caracol.
We pushed off to start our great adventure and I immediately found myself leading out with Sneaky Pete, who was a bit worried to be on the front so early. I suggested we only had to do a couple of miles in the lead to earn wheel-sucking rights for the rest of the ride, but I don’t think he was too convinced and he soon slipped back to be replaced by the Red Max.
Max suggested the entire event was a sore trial to him as the roads were packed with other cyclists, or “chase bait” that would in normal circumstances trip his proximity sensor and like a loopy Labrador chasing cars, see the engagement of an all-out-pursuit mode. Paternal responsibilities and a growing maturity may perhaps have tempered once rabid inclinations, but even as I write this I can hear and exact facsimile of his voice in my head and it’s saying “Never!”
He needn’t have worried too much though, as the Monkey Butler Boy was intent on proving that the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, bounding onwards in an explosion of youthful enthusiasm with his hajib wearing side-kick and ruthlessly hunting down anything that moved on the road ahead.
Keeping an eye on the errant weavers we were forced to over-take every few metres, Max noted how they seemed to ride like fish, flexing his hand left and right, in a perfect imitation of a trout trying to swim upstream. I’d already had a too-close, dumb encounter with another experienced cyclist though – so wasn’t really in a position to take the moral high ground.
As we passed through the first feed-station I was chatting to Szell and knew he was doing the 65-mile ride. I told him that Red Max and the kids were likely to stop, thinking he might appreciate a bit of company on his route, but this seemed only to upset him.
“What are you implying?” he demanded to know, spluttering in what I took to be mock outrage, although I couldn’t be too certain and would learn a little later how just thin-skinned and easily offended some male cyclists can be. I grinned and rode on.
The first serious climb, up Ritton Bank presaged a filling-rattling crossing of the ford at Forestburn Gate. I’d been warned of how bad the surface was by Sneaky Pete and scrubbed off enough speed to negotiate the passage safely. A couple of of unsuspecting riders in front of me weren’t so lucky – one pulled up with a pinch puncture, while the other stood ruefully spinning his front wheel and trying to decide how much damage he’d unwittingly inflicted on his shiny carbon clincher.
We were now out onto the moors and struggling to find any section of road that was horizontal. We re-grouped and then splintered again and a small bunch of us pushed on while the others waited for a back marker.
The constant rising and falling finally led us to the Bilsmoor Climb, 2kms at a 7% average gradient, maxing out at 15% , every metre of it loathed and very roundly cursed by G-Dawg for its relentlessness. I actually enjoyed the climb, finding a decent rhythm from the start and spinning up with G-Dawg in tow, as we rode in pursuit of Caracol and Captain Black who’d forged on ahead.
Half way up the climb we found Another Engine chugging steadily upwards and we exchanged a few words wherein he claimed the C-Ride was his idea. I don’t know if Sneaky Pete was aware of this and now I’m wondering if we shouldn’t be naming this the Another Engine Memorial Ride. Not that any of it matters of course, as OGL is always going to claim it was his idea all along.
There was then an exhilarating and fast drop into Elsdon where I hit my maximum speed for the day – a heady 43 mph. A quick stop at the feed-station to replenish supplies and we started the Gibbet climb which would lead to the route’s highest elevation at 258 metres.
This is a 3.3km climb at an average of 5% but with an initial ramp of almost 20%. It features in the first 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs book where, somewhat surprisingly the steepest section is only listed as 10%. Either the book, or my Strava is plain wrong. Either way, it’s hard.
I started from the back and gradually hauled myself up to G-Dawg and Captain Black as we crested the climb. Stopping only to note that the eponymous gibbet has now been restored to its rightful place, Captain Black engaged his turbo and lined us out as he smashed it down a rolling but incessantly downward pointing road toward Wallington, while G-Dawg and I clung to his rear wheel.
More climbing followed as we crested a series of rolling roads, drawing inexorably toward the final challenge of the Ryals looming some way ahead. At some point a weasel chased a young rabbit across the road in front of us, fully intent on its prey and not even seeming to notice or care about the whirring wheels it had to dart around in pursuit of its dinner. Then G-Dawg was emptying his bottle to lighten the load and I knew the final climb was coming.
I had a quick word with Captain Black and dropped off the back of the group, content on taking the climb at my own pace and needing to engage in my own version of weight reduction behind a nearby hedge. Relieved and somewhat lightened I pressed onwards and just like everyone else, seem to slow almost to a standstill as we crept toward where the first ramp of the Ryals was louring over us.
The Ryal’s are 1.7km long at an average gradient of 6% topping out at 15% on the first ramp and featured in Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs. With 80 plus miles in the legs and plenty of climbing already completed, this was just a case of getting to the top, while trying to pick my way around the wobblers, weaver and walkers. It wasn’t smooth and it wasn’t elegant, but it got me up and I was soon pressing on toward the last feed station at Stamfordham.
Just as I entered the village I recognised the blur of Ovis riding past in his ever-present blue and yellow kit and he slowed for a brief chat. He’d apparently being doing the 100-mile route for the umpteenth time, but had somehow become lost. Now he didn’t know if he’d ridden a longer or shorter way around and at that stage was probably past caring and just happy to be back on track. As one cruel commentator jibed, he was perhaps unique in being the only person who could possibly get lost while following hundreds of other cyclists along a route with big black directional arrows at every junction.
I was reunited with Caracol, G-Dawg and Captain Black at the Stamfordham feed station and set out to ride the rest of the way with them, when my plans were curtailed by my mobile ringing and vibrating incessantly in my back pocket. I stopped to take the call and found myself on my own again, but being somewhat leg weary I wasn’t too disappointed as I entered the last 10 miles at my own pace.
I was making good progress when I found myself blocked behind a quartet of riders from another local club, two massively powerful-looking big blokes towing along two female companions and in the process taking up most of the road. The trouble was that they couldn’t climb and at every rise the pace dropped away horribly.
I had a chat with one of the girls and she asked if I wanted to be past, even relaying the fact that people were queuing up behind them forward, but failing to elicit any movement from the front pair. I told her I was happy just to sit in a while and asked if she’d enjoyed the ride. She said she hadn’t really and I wondered if it was perhaps because of the company she was keeping…
At the next small hill, I skipped up the outside and smartly away before dropping down the other side, freewheeling and easing toward the sharp left hand turn that I knew was coming up. At this point the quartet powered past me in madcap pursuit, before braking sharply and sweeping dangerously wide around the bend. Another hill and I was able to slide past them again, only to find the two blokes had seemingly taken this as an affront to their manhood and were so intent on getting ahead of me that they’d abandoned their companions and seemingly all sense of self-preservation too.
I let them pass and stalked them for a while as we entered the last few mile. They then pulled a truly stupid stunt, forcing their way down the outside of a queue of traffic stopped by a red light at some roadworks, before cutting into the line and making an instant enemy of every driver there – a truly sterling job of fostering driver-cyclist relations and mutual respect. I eased back at that point and let them get well clear, entering a state of almost zen-like inner calm as I made the last turn, heard the electronic chirrup of the timing gate and crossed the line to a smattering of applause and “Well done’s!”
Re-emerging from picking up my goody back I found the sun had finally broken through and I was going to have the best part of the day to ride home in. Oh well, better late than never. I quite enjoyed my extended day in the saddle despite everything, but have to admit I’m really looking forward to getting back to a “normal” club run next week.
YTD Totals: 3,460 km / 2,150 miles with 34,137 metres of climbing