The Tri London contingent got up nice and early at Coniston Coppermines YHA to devour breakfasts of varying sizes – from Morag barely forcing down a slice of toast to myself on porridge with banana and honey followed by two toasted bagels with honey and peanut butter… better move on I’m getting hungry again.
We managed to register and get set off by 7am and the weather looked promising. Within a couple of miles of the start we started the ascent of Hawkshead Hill – this isn’t even worth a mention as one of the passes we go over but is a longer climb than anything we have around London. We regrouped at the top and whizzed down past the Drunken Duck and through Ambleside heading for the first major climb: Kirkstone Pass – this is the highest point on the course and we thought positive “it’s on average downhill from here” thoughts. This is a nice gentle intro the gradient not getting much beyond 16%. We regrouped again at the top for the fun descent into Patterdale – the full speed of this descent wasn’t apparent as the wind slowed us substantially. For anyone planning a cycling trip in these parts I recommend doing this pass the opposite way as the descent towards Windermere is awesome – long sweeping bends but no need to hit the brakes.
On the way down Morag and I discussed the Helvellyn course – this descent is part of it though the ascent to the top of Kirkstone is by the much steeper “Struggle” – we went past the swim course and could look up the precipitice path of the run course.
The next few miles were cruising underlating road along by Ulswater before taking a left up over Matterdale. This is a lovely little hill – 3 miles of gentle ascent allowing you to push as hard or as easy as you like. Then onto the A66 (worst bit of the course) into Keswick where we lost Anthony who decided to return before hitting the major passes as he wasn’t feeling great.
We cycled up Borrowdale, a beautiful valley, looking ahead wondering where the road goes. You see a rather steep road going over a very high summit- luckily this is an old mining road and our road doesn’t quite go that high. Honister pass – brutal. Straight out of Seatoller and it hits you, engage lowest gear and switch off pain sensors. 20% straight away but it gets worse, there’s a 25%+ bit about a third up, it then eases off before another 20% to the top. This is where for many people the pushing starts. The descent down the other side is awesome – you can see the whole road but initially you are full on the brakes cause it is so steep, as you descend though you can let rip and hurtle round fantastic bends and dips.
The first feed stop was in Buttermere – delicious ! The flapjack was the best ever ! They also had peanut butter sarnies, maltloaf with butter or jam on it, various other sarnies – I certainly over ate.
There’s no chance for the food to settle as it’s straight onto Newlands. Steep out of the valley, then eases and then very steep to the top. Lots of support on the summit which was great and then down the other side. I know this pass well and that on the other side there’s a 25% section followed by a sweeping bend, you can see the whole road and I knew that you can take this bend without hitting the brakes – top speed of the trip was achieved here – 47.8mph, it kept the smile on my face all the way to Braithwaite and the start of Whinlatter Pass. I like this climb as you are not reduced to your lowest gear for all of it so you feel you can chose how hard to push. Also, this is the more efficient direction – 2 to 3 miles of up followed by 6 miles of down. All big ring belting along in the high 20s mph.
Now for the underlating section round Loweswater and over to Ennerdale Bridge. Again none of the climbs rated sufficiently for a mention but there were some significant ones. Coming round Loweswater we got hit by hail… jeez it hurt.
Up over Cold Fell, a nice ascent followed by a lovely long descent into Gosforth for the second feed station. This time it was endless current slices – delicious.
Now the focus was on Hardknott pass, so much so we cruised over the little bump before Eskdale hardly noticing it.
Hardknott is great, from a distance you can start seeing it and the riders weaving / pushing up it. As you start the climb you can see the really steep section way up (it’s claimed to be 35%) but as you approach that section kind of comes back towards you which steepens the apparent gradient and it looks more like 45% ! Derek and I witnessed a guy grind to a halt at the start of this section and fall over – he stayed laid on the ground for minutes before getting the energy to get back up.
I knew this was a totally brutal climb but with 95 miles in your legs it hurt like you wouldn’t believe. Once on the climb you feel committed since you are going so slow to stop would mean to fall off. The support was fantastic, it was all I could do to turn the gear and my lungs were bursting. I regrouped with Derek at the top and with the others at the far side.
Now only Wrynose to go. Following Hardknott this didn’t seem so bad being a mere 25%er and from this side alot shorter. Soon had this baby ticked off and only had to get back to Coniston to complete – there is a sting in the tail though as there’s an unmentioned climb before getting into Coniston.
Completed in 9hr25, with a riding time of 7hr50. Brilliant event – will defo do it next year and quite tempted to stay at Coppermines YHA again – perhaps get a big Tri London contingent, book early and get the whole hostel.