Thursday, 17 June 2010

Northern Rock Cyclone Report

Craig Marshall, Rob Hemesley and Steven Fleming rode the Northern Rock Cyclone on Saturday, Rob takes up the story

Steve and I arrived early at the start to ensure we got a parking space. We registered and chilled out for a while as we had elected to drop our original plan of riding the 104 mile route in favour of doing the 63 mile route instead as neither of us had been feeling too good lately. After meeting up with fellow Clarion rider Craig, we decided the three of us would start out together. This would've been a nice idea but neither me nor Steve were able to stay at Craig's pace for very long and we dropped back.

Still, boosted on by the fact that we were still breezing past the novice riders we powered on to the first feed stop were we topped up on fluids. My head was spinning with the effort so I persuaded Steve to press on with only a short rest despite his pleas for a longer stop. After this we found ourselves becoming split up on almost every climb and unable to help one another along. I would be ahead on the longer climbs, then Steve would bomb past me on the descents.

On short climbs he would power over them far faster than I could manage. He later attributed this to his mountain biking pedigree. This kind of cat and mouse behaviour was prevalent with other riders around us also. Especially remarkable was a farther and son duo. The boy was about 10 years old and was beating me and Steve up almost every climb. He was slower then us descending though and we passed each other many times.

All around the wee fella folk were wide eyed with either amazement, disbelief or utter despondency as he passed them by. Eventually, after drafting him for a while I decided to put an end to this and chose to leave the duo behind on a longer hill climb. I pulled out and gave it some big time effort to beat them over the climb and down the other side. Sure enough, they passed me again on the next hill and that was the last I saw of them.

I rode alone(ish) for a while and was wondering when the dreaded Ryal's would appear. As I started up a hill going into a bend I figured they were still some way ahead and so decided to power up this one. I rounded the bend at a good pace and then spotted the steep climb I had been dreading. Last year I had ridden up the double climb without too much pain. But, this year I knew I was way down on my fitness and I was feeling real tired after the fast start with Craig. Having overcooked the approach, I slowed right down to give my legs a rest before the proper hill climbing began.

I'd liken the Ryal's to the Kingscavil hill climb regarding effort. There's a long gradual climb first, then a very steep section which then levels out before kicking up again for a short crank twisting finale. On this occasion, I selected bottom gear and sat in for about the first half of the steep section.

As soon as I stood up, I felt both legs going in to spasm as if about to cramp up. At exactly this moment, a rider further ahead of me ground to a halt and keeled over into the grassy verge, his legs no longer able to take the pain. His two mates who were riding with him stopped, but only to laugh at him - they offered him no help back onto his feet. No doubt the official photographer will have that incident on file!

Determined not to do the same and share in his shame and embarrassment, I carefully pressed on begging me legs to keep moving. A short relief as I was able to sit in the saddle as the road levelled. Now I just had to get over the last ramp over the top. I think I managed to sit in all the way over that bit - the brain was fuzzy by now. I had to keep it in low gears and spin the legs for some time after as I was close to cramping up.

A while later Steve bombed past me and I lost sight of him doing some ridiculous speed down a long descent. I figured I wouldn't see him until the finish and plodded on more conservatively. Another farther and son duo passed me. This time the laddie was a bit older, maybe 13 or 14 years old and was staying tucked close behind his dad. The dad asked me how I was, so I told him "I'm absolutely battered". "Jump on the back", he said, "It's not far now. I'll tow you to the finish!".

Accepting his generous offer I latched onto his boy's wheel and immediately my pace was increased dramatically. Soon after, I recognised Steve's blue and white jersey ahead of us and we were closing fast. As we passed I shouted to him "Jump on board!" and he didn't hesitate. We were making good progress now and I could hear the father saying it was under ten miles to go. A small climb ahead of us, I chose to drop to the small chain ring and dropped the chain clean off!

I watched Steve and the other two disappear over the hill as I was spinning my pedals frantically wondering why I wasn't still with them. "Your chain's off!" someone shouted as they passed, stating the obvious. Shit! A quick dismount to sort the issue and I was back on and over the hill. I remember from last year the last ten or so miles being rather fast. I figured this would suit Steve and didn't expect to see him again until the finish. But, he dropped his free ride home and slowed until I caught him. We rode together the rest of the way in with Steve finding a final surge of energy as he realised it was nearly all over.

I tucked behind him wondering where he had found this sudden burst and did everything I could to hold on. We were stopped momentarily about a mile from the line as a train crossed a level crossing in front of us. Finally reaching the rugby stadium where we began the ride and still going fast we almost sped past the entrance in to the finish line.

At the last moment a marshal waved us in. Steve jammed on the brakes and went to turn left. Myself on his inside, had decided that there was no way I could slow in time to make the corner and had elected to brake more gently, pass the turn and then double back thinking Steve would do the same. This very nearly resulted in a high speed collision just yards from the finish. That could've been an embarrassment.

Taking advantage of my mistake, Steve whipped through and over the line to ensure he got there a few seconds before me. Total ride time was 4 hrs and a few seconds. Over half an hour slower than my time the previous year. Plus, it hurt far more than I remembered it doing so before!

We found Craig collecting his goodie bag and T-shirt and he told us his ride time of three hours and forty-something minutes. I guess he must have slowed a little at some point because he was going like a rocket at the start.

Click here for official pictures of me suffering

After the ride we drove to a local pub to watch the England v USA match. Steve was feeling a bit edgy as he was afraid he would burst into an involuntary cheer if USA scored against England and was worried this would result in some serious aggro from the beer drinking locals. Almost unable to contain himself, he stepped outside when the USA goal came. So we moved on at half time and went to a pub in Stamfordham where we could relax with the shandy-ass pro cycling fraternity. I think Steve was the only one drinking hard liquor, as we were surrounded this time by the candiTV / Motorpoint Marshall's Pasta team and I was driving. This was overall a more relaxing environment. But, Steve was still careful to keep silent realising he was far more than a sprint distance away from the border.

We spent Sunday following the Beaumont trophy pro' road race and rode about the race route to spectate at different points including the Ryal hills. We rode down them first as Steve has a wager with a work colleague to be the first to clock 50 mph. He didn't do it this time. Riding up them again with slightly fresher legs was ok. Seeing how fast the pro's ride up them was not. Chris Newton of Rapha Condor Sharp won after getting in a break away and winning a two man sprint to the line. They finished their 104 mile race in less time than we completed our 63 mile sportive. Enough said.

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