Monday, May 26, 2014

Jennings Rivers Ride 2014

I've never done a 'sportive' before. I'm not really a road rider, to be honest. I own a road bike - well, a cyclocross bike with slick tyres - and ride it occasionally for commuting and pottering around, but aside from road stages in multisport races I don't really ride on the road. Same reason as not running on the road a lot, I think: I find it dull. I like the technical challenge of mountain biking, the variance in surface and skill level required keeps it interesting. Road biking doesn't really have that, for me.

So, there was a bit of trepidation in getting ready for the Jennings Rivers Ride. I'm not particularly fit at the moment - I'm a couple of stone heavier than I should be, and while I'm still kayaking a fair amount I'm not getting out to run or bike as much as I should do. I'd been entered to ride with my Dad, but hip and leg problems meant he was out, and I'd not managed to find anyone to take his place. The route I was booked onto was a 38 miler (map below) from Keswick, out to Cockermouth, over Whinlatter and then round the top of Derwentwater, which gives some lovely back roads to ride but one sod of a climb in the middle. I've had my road/CX bike - the Cotic X frame I bought from Wayne at EDS Bikes a while back - built up for a while but not done any longer rdes on it, just the odd bit of commuting. I'm running a compact double cyclocross chainset, but knowing the problems with gearing I had on the road stage of the Scottish C2C (not having a low enough climbing gear), I was hoping the 11-32 MTB cassette would be enough for me. Not that there would be much sense blaming the gearing, the simpler solution would just have been to be fitter...

I dropped in to Keswick on my way up from Leeds on Saturday to register and pick up my number and timing chip, had a quick chat with Chez (the organiser) and got myself sorted out. I was staying at home for the weekend and Mum was away up in Glasgow so Dad and I adjourned to the local for dinner and a couple of pints. After a bit of kit faff, a decent night's sleep (and a slight over-sleep in fact. I'd set my alarm for 6:30 and actually woke up about 7... oops), a light breakfast and a bit more kit faff, I was off towards Keswick to to set up and get going.

The weather forecast was good for the morning but set to deteriorate badly after lunch, so most of the kit faff was around what I needed to both wear and to be carrying. I set off just before 8:30 with bib shorts, jersey, arm warmers, windproof gilet and a Buff on, and with a waterproof jacket shoved in my jersey pocket. The run through to Castle Inn was smooth enough, undulating rather than hilly, and a road I know well enough, having been along it pretty much every day of my secondary school life. The few short climbs on that stretch and along the back of Setmurthy towards Cockermouth were hurting my thighs a touch, so it seemed like I'd dropped my seat a bit low when I was tweaking the bike. The descent towards Cockermouth Hospital was a welcome break and we soon turned up towards the school and the first feed station - 16 miles out of the way in about 1:10, not too bad.

I opted not to hang around too long at the feed stations, Adventure Racer mentality I guess. A lot of people seemed to be spending a chunk of time there, whereas I think I was in and out in under 5 minutes at both stops. Cockermouth was a case of refill my water bottle, strip the gilet, Buff and arm warmers off since the day had warmed up, chuck a couple of chunks of flapjack down my neck and tweak by saddle height, then head off. The next stage was the daunting part, the meandering roll out of Cockermouth to Lorton then onto Whinlatter itself. I've ridden up the pass this way before, on the Solstice Triangle route many years ago, but that was on an MTB. I stuck a gel down my neck at the base and toiled up the first bit of the climb, but was forced to get off and push 50yds of the steepest section. A quick water fill/empty stop when the gradient eased off a bit and I was back on a trogging away towards the top. I managed to ride the rest, which surprised me a bit. A pleasant surprise though!

Pic courtesy of Sport Sunday
One of Sport Sunday's photographers was lurking at the top, just to get you when you're at your slowest and sweatiest, and just beyond him a big bunch of people were stopped, eating, drinking and celebrating conquering the climb... Which they hadn't finished. The road dips just after their meeting point, then climbs steeply up to the main road, and continues a gradual grind up to the Whinlatter visitor centre itself. I decided not to stop, just pushed on while I was warm. The short jab to the junction was a sod, but I was soon cranking steadily on towards the true summit.

At the visitor centre I decided it was a good time to have a quick break. A couple of mouthfuls of a Mule Bar and some water, a minute's breather to take in the fact that I'd done the hardest bit of the ride, and I was off again. The descent was fast and furious, and it's testament to the bike build that I was confident enough to get down into the drops and crank it all the way down the steepest bits of the pass. Descending it on the Solstice ride, on a slick-tyred MTB, I'd been hesitant to get the bike leaned over in the corners, but the Cotic felt awesome. I wish I'd had my bike computer on to see my speed stats, but I'd forgotten to pick it up when I left Leeds. I was certainly going fast enough that the disc brakes on the Cotic were getting a good workout, even more so when a very hesitant Volvo driver appeared as we hit Braithwaite and held myself and a couple of other riders up through the narrow section before the second feed stop.

Dad had come out to give me a bit of support, and having missed me at Castle Inn he'd driven to Braithwaite and was waiting at the turnoff to the feed stop. We had a quick natter while I was refilling my bottle and stuffing a flapjack down my neck, but again, I'd decided not to stand still too long. The weather was looking good, though it was clouding over a touch, so I left my waterproof with him and rolled out for the last 10 miles. There was one short sharp shock climb, up the hairpins by Hawes End onto the end of Catbells, but that out of the way, the roll along the hillside towards Manesty was beautiful, sun out and a fantastic view across Derwent Water. Soon, I was at Grange and, just over the bridge, the sign said "Keswick 4 miles": A sight for sore eyes.

I'd been riding fairly close to two guys wearing Iggesund jerseys, Iggesund being the paperboard factory I worked at over summers when I was a student. I hooked into a group with them and a lady who'd been ahead of us and we picked up the pace back down the valley, past Lodore and Shepherds Cafe, having a quick chat about the factory and a couple of characters I'd worked with. Just beyond the Great Wood car park they gapped me on a short climb and I dropped off, looking behind to realise we'd dropped the lady as well, I kep the pace I was at, passing a small group as we came towards the Lake Road roundabout and swept round the corner by Booths onto the main street. The last stretch was in sight, stopped at the traffic lights first, but soon round onto Bank Street for the final short pull up to County Corner, onto Station Street and down to the finish by the Fitz Park gates.

I walked down over the timing mats, stopping the clock at 3:16:47, much quicker than the 4hrs I'd estimated. I'm not saying I'm fitter than I thought I was, but it's nice to know I've still got the legs to get round a ride like that in a respectable time. Dad was waiting at the finish, so I handed my chip in, picked my time ticket up, and we wandered over to get my complimentary tea and cake first, then a quick change and into town itself for a well needed lunch. The weather had held off, and while it had clouded over, the much-feared rain had never hit, although the road back to Torpenhow was showing signs of some heavy showers as we drove back home.

All in all a cracking day. The route was fantastic, well waymarked and planned. All the marshals were great, happy and helpful, whether signposting a split, managing traffic and rider flow or manning a feed stop, and there was a great atmosphere in amongst the riders. We were also very lucky with the weather, which always helps! It's definitely an event I'd happily ride again, not to try and beat a time or go for a longer course on necessarily, but just for a hard-but-enjoyable day's riding. I don't think it'll tempt me to go full Roadie, but I should really get more miles in for my own good, and maybe the road bikes a good way to do that occasionally... Hmmm...