“when the spirits are low and the day appears dark when work becomes monotonous and hope hardly seems worth having just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road without thought on anything but the ride you are taking”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Well what can I say? I survived!!! Yeay!!
But I don’t mind telling you…the hilly sections were sometimes bloody brutal. Theres a beast of a Category 4 climb just north of Biggar Called Devonside Road near Harleyholm that was a VERY steep climb – I don’t know the actual gradient but it was by far the steepest of the entire route – there was a few choice words said about the course designers on that section. (if anyone has information about that hill – please do let me know…I’m going back there to have another go soon). Most of the cyclists got off at that point.
Starting at the beginning then
The beginning starts at 4.30 am Sunday morning with a very sleep deprived me cursing the fact that I’d left my bike prep too late (again) on the Saturday evening due to a full work week AND a full Saturday too. It was easily 6pm Saturday before I got going on my routine of bike check / clean and the like. I had visited Decathlon on the Wednesday evening and picked up new SPD-SL cleats for my shoes, energy gels and powerbars, batteries for lights, CO2 cylinders for my pump etc. I had also picked up a lovely and beautifully crafted Lezyne 39g multitool from the Ronde bike shop during a lunch break from work.
It’s been a great joy for me to find out that my new work office is just around the corner from the Ronde coffee shop / bike shop. Nirvana in one place – good coffee, good cake, bike magazines to read with the cake, the odd fellow cyclist to talk to and bike bits to ogle…bliss. Recommended.
And as an aside, Lezyne products – superbly machined, very well crafted, made as light as possible, beautiful products.
I picked up the Lezyne SV10 Multitool at Ronde – really light – fits in my tool pouch just great. Superbly engineered, its a masterclass in product design in its own right.
SO Saturday night – late start cleaning and prepping , last minute thrash through all my personal stuff to find the envelope that contained my travel ticket and entry numbers into the event itself. It was therefore 1am before I get to bed……not good – so much for being rested then. “Maybe …” I reason to myself, ” Maybe I’ll get an hours kip in the bus going over to Glasgow…”
Sunday morning 4.30am I’m dragging my sleep deprived self out of bed. Thankfully I had made sure we had porridge for my breakfast and I had also had an epiphany moment that solved my “comfort v clothes” battle that I always have when the weather is being a bit dubious (which is most of the time in Scotland). I had decided, in the bleary hours of Saturday night / Sunday AM that instead of having to pre-decide to go long legged or short legged bib – I’d wear one and pack the other in a back pack, along with the tools and other clothes / food I wanted to bring.
I know , I know – a backpack isn’t exactly de-rigueur amongst the sportive lycra clad cycling community, least of all by me, but it was a long way I was going, and the weather was being simultaneously reported by different media as raining for most of the day or clearing with a good chance of sunshine. It is also quite chilly at 4.30am when it’s still dark outside. ( I DO still like to go out for rides with the most minimal kit required for the ride – in order of priority – clothes – food – tools and money / phone. Clothes first. I can go hungry for a couple of hours and walk home with a ruined bike – but I am not going to do it whilst freezing to death, getting soaked to the skin and getting pleuresy into thebargain… Been there….. done that …it’s not much fun. (not pleuresy ….the freezing / soaking thing….) ).
Yes…. yes….. Velominati Rule §5 applies here……
But seriously – If I can prepare for an event properly and actually have the right kit to avoid a soaking or a freezing – I’ll take it. Especially on a long trip….see my previous stories for examples of why.
The beauty of having my small black British Cycling back pack, however, was I could take my Jacket, spare bib leggings, hat, food, route description, overshoes, energy bars / gels, etc etc. without it overflowing out of my Jersey pockets and making me look like Fatman out of the “Jake and the Fatman” TV detective series. Or stuff falling out onto the road, if I hit a pothole – that’s happened to me too….
So I’m creeping around the house, semi- clothed, only partially awake, collecting all the bits and pieces I had unearthed and prepared the night before ( 3 hours ago). Bleary eyed, I get my porridge, get into my long legged bib trousers and get the rest of my apparel on, have last check of tyre pressure and lights (its still dark outside) and I’m (sort of) ready to go. Sportive numbers and chip get attached and the lightweight jacket gets swapped into the bag at the last moment instead of the heavier better ventilated one I had already packed.
Ready at 5.40am – still numb with sleep – I’m tripping out the door for the 11km trip down to Murrayfield stadium. Initially I’m on autopilot, mentally ticking off my list of bits and bobs – belatedly realising I haven’t packed my favourite cycling glasses and I’m going to go cycling for the day without them…….bugger. Oh well – not turning back now – I can’t afford to miss the bus and the starting slot of 6.30 to 730am. The Sportive instructions were quite clear on that. Thankfully the first mile or so of my route is along the Innocent Railway cycle path and I’m beginning to enjoy the quiet, traffic- free still slumbering Edinburgh around me as I wake up to my rythmic pedalling and breathing. I’m ploughing through the side streets and break out onto The Meadows., amazed that there are people walking and running around at 6 in the morning on a Sunday. It’s still quiet enough though and I’m still enjoying the small amount of traffic and uncluttered streets. The sun is starting to coming up and dawn is just starting to break over the horizon. I get flashes of daylit stone or bright reflections from the roof tops in the distance as the sky brightens. I’m loving this already ….
The density of cyclists on the road increases exponentially as I reach the sidestreets around Murray Field – a good sign. Entering the site from the Roseburn Street side, I think again , and not for the 1st time, of the enormity of the Murrayfield Stadium Structure and how it looks like some sort of huge visiting flying saucer that has just arrived from some far flung galaxy.
The organisers have two buses and two artic lorries waiting and have thoughtfully provided rolls of bubble wrap for you to wrap your bike frame. This is a good idea – last time I took the bike transport through to Glasgow my bike came off the back of the lorry with a scratch on the top tube. The bike duly got wrapped and lifted up onto the lorry. I recieved a slip of paper – your bike is on “transport lorry No. 2” it informed me. It was still darkish in the car parking area but the sky was lightening. It was still chilly however and now that I was off the bike I was cooling rather quickly – time to get on the bus. I located my transport ticket in my magic bag.
“Sorry this bus is full – try the next one”, was swiftly met with ” This bus is also full” on the next bus. “Don’t worry” I was informed, “There’s another one or two due in shortly”.
I was getting cold. To my relief, not just 1 or two buses arrived but a fleet of 4 buses arrived. More were due to arrive for the Challenge ride after us. I got on and was immediately joined by a tall angular gentlemen whose name I never did catch (Dave?) as the buses moved off. “Have you done this before?” he asked. The ensuing conversation lasted most of the way in to Glasgow. (So much for my sleep).
We established that, yes, I had done the PFS before, twice actually, but not the Sportive route – that was new for me. Yes – I had done other Sportives and was used to doing 70 to 80 mile routes – the 110 mile was going to be a “stretching exercise” however. My travelling companion noted he had completed lots of long distance cycle rides as a cycling tourist – a lot of them had been holidays abroad. He talked of the various places he’d been to – most of which were recognisable to me, some I’d never heard of. He’d never completed a sportive before so wasn’t sure how it would be organised etc. I talked him through the start at Glasgow Green, the facilties in the main building in the centre, how it would be timed etc. By this time, I noticed, we were passing Celtic Park Football Stadium. After a very short time, we arrived. The Arctic Lorries were already there and were unloading. The guys taking the bikes off were shouting the bikes race number and you had to be wearing the same number on your chest or back to get the bike off them. It worked very well and the bikes were being unloaded quickly with a swarm of cyclists around them.
Glasgow Green Start
The Green is by far the oldest of the city’s parks. It is situated within walking distance of the city centre east of the Saltmarket and is currently being revitalised with major investment through the Lottery Heritage Fund providing a catalyst for the redevelopment of the local neighbourhood. In the middle of the Green there is a large building called the People’s Palace with a large Winter Gardens attached. This served as the registration point for people picking up their numbers and was the only pitstop for toilets and coffee.
We had arrived at 7am – the last sportive riders were to leave by 7.20am. I decided I’d be too hot in the full length legging bib so visited the toilets and got changed into my much lighter 3/4 legged. Once on the bike, I raced with a few other tardy riders towards the start line. We were waved on and through – we had started!! The start of the route takes you through the impressive McLennan Arch designed by Robert and James Adam. (The arch is a remodelling of the centre of the piano nobile of Robert and James Adam’s 1890 Assembly Rooms, Ingram Street, as a triumphal arch. The building was demolished – and the arch was subsequently resited twice – the most recent being in 1992. Once through the arch the sportive route turned left and headed south west towards Kilmarnock.
The City Challenge Ride – that started some time after we had left!!!
I joined a group of 3 other riders as we threaded our way out if the city. The other guys were having a good chat amongst themselves and found myself reflecting on the down side of being a single rider. Having a cycle buddy is really good on longer rides – someone to blether with as you ride passes the time and the miles pass much more easily than when you are on your own. You’ve also got someone that can lead out for a while and then can get on your wheel. It’s always good to have someone who can spur you on when you’re flagging.
There was an unending stream of streets, corners and junctions which flew passed quickly as we worked our way out of the city.
Eventually the city buildings, gave way to suburban houses, which gave way to rural fields and roads. We were on the B769 – and the road had tilted up. We had passed Pollock Park, Thornliebank and Patterton. We crossed over to the west side of the M74, which meant we were about about 130m up and 13km out from the start. Another 5km to go before we would top out at 240m, so a few steeper hills ahead. I pushed on – catching up with and passing quite a few riders on the hills, which was nice. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t revel in other peoples misery, far from it – but it was nice to think that this non-club recreational cyclist was getting on up hills past other folk (most of whom were on bikes much newer and presumably lighter than mine).
Turning on the gas in a chain gang.
Once we were on Dodside road and had climbed to the top, the road turned into a real gem – reasonably smooth road surface with rolling hills and mature green countryside. Thankful not to be climbing hills anymore, I turned on the gas a bit more and started to spin faster.
Ah….much better. It’s good to get a bit of speed up – get the wind in your face, the heat in your muscles, that slight burn in your lungs and legs. I was pushing along now, nose into the wind , but a group of 4 other riders chain-ganged past me. I joined their wheel. They were setting a good pace and I had to lift my own game to keep pace. This was good!! I yelled my “hello- mind if I join your wheel?” into the wind, as there is nothing more unfriendly than sitting on someones wheel, getting sucked along behind them without even introducing yourself. It’s just not decent, you know. Also, if you do join a wee chain, expect to filter your way to the front and do a stint there before being overhauled. Again, if you are benefitting from other people putting in the work – it’s only right and fitting that you take your turn and allow them to breathe a bit before coming back up to assist you.
This is where I have to confess that whilst I had got on to their tails in a good fashion and had a good few stints up front it wasn’t long before the relentless pace was making me flag. I wasn’t used to this sort of pace. Again, the downside to not having enough time to train with others. I’m going to have to do something about that. Get myself into a bike club or something…anyone got any good suggestions?
Unfortunately, we were now blasting along so quickly we missed one of the titchy arrow turn off signs to go down Clunch Road down to the A77. We blasted from Newton Mearns straight through Stewarton and on to Kinmaurs before we noticed a distinct lack of roadsigns. A quick stop and a check of our GPS or google maps enabled phones showed we were off course. We realised we were so far south that we were closer to Kilmarnock than to Galston, which was to be the next town on the signposted route. We plotted our route down to Kilmarnock in order to turn east along the A71 to reach Galston and pick up on the official signposted route. This added about 4km to the the distance by going to Galston via Kinmaurs, Kilmarnock and Hurlsford, instead of the shorter route that was signposted………Doh!
Food stop privation equals energy loss just as we start to climb…sigh!
As well as the extra distance, there was another down side to our little off-piste sortie. Our new diversion meant we had missed the first food stop of the ride and consequently had another 35 miles to cycle before getting to the next one. Although I had eaten (sort of) before leaving in the morning, and although I had crammed a quick energy bar in before the off at Glasgow Green, my tank was beginning to empty and my legs were fading. I also realised that having just got to Galston, we were about to embark on two pretty big climbs just south of the town. I bade my speedy chums a farewell and said I’d be taking it easy up the hills. I broke out another energy bar – I was going to need more food than this. Strava informed me later that I had used up 4062 Kj of energy over the entire ride.
Just south of Galson, at the 40km mark, the road tilts up and goes up 181km in the next 3.3km – In Strava world it’s called the B7037 Climb and is considerd to be a category 3 climb at gradients between 4 and 14.2 per cent. I slugged my way up – both passing others and being passed by others. My energy levels had plummeted and I knew it was going to be at least 30 minutes or so before my digestion would offer anything better in the way of energy. I plodded on but didn’t push too hard – trying to save energy. I reflected that perhaps saving energy on the first part of the ride, stopping for fuel where it was provided and having energy to climb the first real long climb of the day would have made good sense – just as the route plotters would have intended it perhaps.
Just to add insult to injury there is a second part of the climb immediately after the first rising from 235m to 307m in 0.8km -its called the Burnhouse Climb. Both climbs took 32mins 10 seconds at an average speed of 10.7km/h – Woeful really – but I wasn’t at my best obviously.
The descent to Darvel drops to 129m from 307m in about 4km. It passed in a blur at speeds up to 45.4 kmh. We dropped to a road junction, joining the A71 again, where we proceded to climb up out of the very valley that we had just descended into.
To cut a veeeery long story short – there was a series of no fewer than 9 uphill sections that morning before the next food station at Crawford John – my average speeds increased up each hill as I took on more energy bars or gels but I was still starving by the time I got there. The weather had been variable – it had rained at times (light showers), been gusty at times ( it was generally windy) and I had been very focused on keeping on going , facing into the wind. I fervently hoped that as we turned east the wind would be behind me.
The lovely people at the community centre had put on live music – a tad too loud for my taste – loads of hot tea and coffee, sandwiches, energy biscuits and bowls of pasta. I ate everything that wasn’t tied down……
Clearly the local community were fighting a planning issue with the development of windmill farms on their doorstep, as a number of “object to this development” brochures were available at each table. This clearly didn’t sit well with a lot of the relatively knackered riders that appeared as most collected food and then went to sit outside….
Onwards – refreshed, refueled and much more like business as usual.
Surprise, Surprise – it was uphill again on the way out of Crawford John back up to the higher levels where the wind blew you about. I had travelled 106.2km and had cycled for 5 hours and 11minutes before I cycled under the A74 near Abington. I felt like I was cycling back in to a landscape that I knew and understood. I was coming back into “home” territory, having been abroad in foreign cycling territory that had preyed upon me with its wicked hills.
I had fueled up and was feeling much more refreshed at lunch and my performance was much more like business as usual. I was climbing hills better, revelling in the downhill sections and pushing up speeds on the flat sections. Turning left at Roberton, there was a Loooong category 4 uphill gradient that led on to another long Category 4 climb on the B7055. This took you over the shoulder of the range of Pentland Hills and into the valley that ultimately leads to Balerno. My average speed going uphill was 16.5km/h – a little bit faster than earlier. On the A70, I am pushing 35 to 40kmh, rolling up and down with the road, and loving it. Getting going again!!!
That bloody hill!!
As you enter Harley Holm from the west you turn right to face south east and you see down a straight street to a short sharp uphill section that is called Carmichael Hill (Devonside Road), that has an elevation gain of 96m in just half a kilometre. As I look up it, I see maybe half a dozen people cycling up it, straining everything just to creep up so slowly it looks like they’re standing still. The vast majority of riders (20 to 30 of them) are off their bikes and are walking up the left hand side of the road. Oh God! It looks like hell. As I approach the bottom, two you lads are handing out cups of water to passing cyclists, Tour de France style. “Chuck the cup away when you’re finished, they’ll pick them up ” they shout…
I’m in my granny gear and am ascending, concentrating on keeping a regular rythm. I hear my heartbeat and breathing loudly in my ears, as I strain further up the hill – the gradient has popped up from 5% to 12.3% . Bloody hell – this is getting steeper! And so it does – suddenly ramping up to 38% according to my Garmin and Strava read out, That can’t be right can it??
It is right – and it certainly feels like it. I am having to lean hard over the handlebars to keep the front wheel from lifting. I am having to push evenly on the pedals to stop the rear wheel from slipping. Mental note – I must write to Simon Warren – Author of “100 Greatest Cycling climbs” and “Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs”. This one has to get put into it – it has to be printed for the world to see.
I’m now red-faced, panting heaviliy and cursing every kilogram, of my gravity sucked bodymass as I lever it up the hill in foot long sections. Crank, crank, push push push. I’m getting there – but the sweat is running down the small of my back and my legs are now vibrating beneath me. Bizarely, I’m loving it, grinning ear to ear in a kind of deathly grin as I suck in air to try and oxygenate my labouring muscles. I am absolutley and coldly , ruthlessly determined to get up the hill when others have failed. I feel oddly removed from my surroundings and am sitting back in my brain observing my body performing as I am commanding ( although barely) and am barely registering the discomfort and pain in my legs from the lactic acid build up. My eyes are stinging now from sweat from my brow that has burst over the dam of my eyebrows. I can’take my hand off my bars now, I’ll just have to perservere, blinking crazily my by-now red-rimmed eyes. I’m not caring – I’m mentally in a cool place reflecting on my effort so far and determining the next best push. I approach what appears to be the top and I see that it is in fact a left hand right angled turn with yet more hill beyond it. Shit! ………..I can see the top though, it’s not too far – Keep pushing Phil you can get there. C’mon!
…and suddenly it’s all over. The three cyclists immediately in front of me stop dead in their tracks and put their feet down. I swerve crazily trying to get past with no distance to spare, start to get turned back down the hill by the gradient and thats it….I have to unclip and put my feet down or I’d be over in a heap. Damn it!! I was doing okay…I could maybe have completed that hill in one go!!! Trying to get started and clipped in and push on upwards on the steepest gradient section is impossible so I grumpily walk for a small section until I judge (correctly) that I can probably get going again – I do so straight away.
I took me 9mins 59 seconds to climb 89m on that bloody stretch of road – i will DEFINATELY be coming back to do this bit of road again,,,and again…and again. Oh yes…..
I think I might be a cycling sado-masochist – I certainly have all of the hallmarks.
The downhill after this is fantastic – in 3mins 38 seconds I top out at 58.9kmh because my legs are still twitching from the hill climb.
By now I’m pushing on, my confidence building as I get closer and closer to Edinburgh and on to roads I recognise.
Interestingly, I had travelled 106.2km and had cycled for 5 hours and 11minutes before I cycled under the A74 near Abington, the latter 80km were completed in 3hours 45 minutes and 49 seconds, A huge improvement. I blazed into Edinburgh feeling just great – my endorphins going crazy with the delight of being back hame.
Overall 184.6 km in 8hrs 01min 02seconds.
Strava link with map and count ours etc attached
- Pedal for Scotland Sportive – 110miles – getting nervous…. (ezpcgoescycling.wordpress.com)
- More than 8000 cyclists take part in cross-country cycle challenge (news.stv.tv)
- Sportive Riding Tips (decathlonuk.com)
- Dancing On Your Pedals (decathlonuk.com)
- Seven Characteristics of a Well-Designed Cycle Sportive Bicycle (cyclesportive.wordpress.com)