I rode 200km and it was fun

On 20th March 2016, around 13 of us rode our bicycles from Manchester to Cleethorpes as a slightly less glamorous tribute to Milano San Remo (a professional race the day before).

I hadn’t ridden this distance since Manchester to London in September last year and the closest I’d got since was 170km in January in Adelaide, Australia (you know, where it’s sunny and the weather is predictable). It’s a big ask to cycle a distance that far at this time of the year when, typically, you’re only just getting started after a long winter hibernation. Thankfully, I’d managed to keep my hand in over winter and it certainly helped that I spent three weeks in Adelaide to get some much needed vitamin D.

In order to use the daylight wisely, we met at Rapha at 0600 which therefore meant a 0430 alarm. Yes, 0430. I was paranoid I wouldn’t wake up despite my obvious excitement so I set four alarms which were scheduled to go off 5 minutes after each other. I would describe the night before a big ride like this as similar to the feeling you get before you go on holiday: have you packed everything you need? What if the weather doesn’t go to plan – do you have the right clothes? Have you withdrawn enough money? Don’t forget to leave with enough time to get to the airport clubhouse.

The forecast was overcast between Manchester and Cleethorpes, I opted for a long sleeve jersey, merino base layer (it’s cold in the morning and it’ll be even cooler at the top of a hill), shorts, winter tights, insulated gilet, oversocks and a smile on my dial.

Stood in the club drinking coffee
Caffeinating Photo credit: Matt Randall

In what seemed like no time at all, I was grinding up Holmfirth Road (otherwise known as Isle of Sky). Despite leaving ahead of the main group in order to get a head-start, I soon heard Joe’s creaking bottom bracket behind me as he played broomwagon. I never lost sight of the group and they all waited for me at the top so that we could descend into Holmfirth together, which is one of the best descents ever.

Reservoir view from a hill
Dovestones Reservoir before the summit of Holmfirth Road

It was almost as though the hill was blocking the sunshine as we dropped into and back out of Holmfirth up yet another slope. It was stunning, even though it took all my strength to persevere with the sheer amount of climbing I appeared to be doing. “We’re going over there, aren’t we?” pointing to the sweeping road ahead of me realising it’s the only road for miles and the hill that stood in front of me wasn’t going to suddenly disappear.

Cyclist ahead
Forever chasing wheels

After a minor quick link fix on Ross’ chain, we continued our way towards Barnsley were our northern roots proved too deep to forget simply because we were over the hill.

Greggs pasty shop
True Northerners

Fuelled by pain au chocolat and whatever other buttery delights silenced us for a few moments, we powered on to a great stretch of road where we had chance to have a little sprint, which at the time felt quite good until I then faded just seconds later!

Uphill cyclists
Lee pulling the train up a little kicker for some sprint points. Photo credit: Matt Randall

A few lanes and ramps later and we got to somewhere in the vicinity of Gainsborough – a far cry from Manchester and it felt like it too. We found a shopping centre where we had a proper feed mainly consisting of full fat Coke and carbs. It’s times like this on the bike you wonder whether you’ll top up your energy levels in the time allowed. It’s not even that I’m hungry in a stomach-growling sense, it’s just that I need food in order to keep myself from fading, something I’d been doing too frequently for comfort just moments before. I filled a bidon with half Coke, half water (a magical mix, I might add), shoved in a bean wrap and half a packet of veggie Percy Pigs and kept the other half along with a flapjack for later on. This was the last stop we’d have until Cleethorpes so it meant eating on the bike or waiting for one of the lads to need a wee so we all had time to fumble in our pockets for the last morsel of energy.

Pete’s running commentary of the number of kilometres remaining kept me going through the freak rain we encountered (seriously, we had to dress for three seasons!). At first he was saying we had 40km left, which was quite difficult to process mentally. That’s about 1.5 hours left…could I survive? Then suddenly, we had 25km left! In our peloton of efficiency, that meant less than an hour. Well, perhaps if this hill wasn’t there.

Claxby Thingymajig

The route, as we were warned, had a little surprise at the end. The surprise was a ten percent kicker in the wolds before we enjoyed a very much needed descent into Cleethorpes. I’m still waiting for the culprit who put that climb in at 175km to own up to his sadistic ways.

After this, it was a matter of keeping the group together and morale high as we continued to fade into Cleethorpes. It was much like pressing auto-pilot, following the wheel in front, staring emptily at my garmin as it ticked over edging ever closer to 200km and riding over mini roundabouts.

And then we turned left and met a not-so-exotic Cleethorpes. I don’t know what I expected but I imagined it to be slightly better than Skegness when I went back in ’03 on tour with my hockey team. It was about the same only redeemed by a magnificent chippy.

Cycling Team

Learnings and recommendations:

  • Eat all the time
  • Drink more than you think you need
  • Hills will always hurt
  • I still managed to get two QOMs
  • I’m ok at cycling
  • I don’t know what I’d do without RCC

Until the next adventure, see you on the road.

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