Bettering the Beast
Last week, on a whim and looking for a bit of motivation, I decided to enter ‘The Beast’, one of a number of annual cycling events organised by Durham Big Ride. Although I’ve done longer and harder events in the past this one packs a lot of hills into a relatively short distance meaning that it’s a real rollercoaster with a profile like a rip-saw. Consequently it demands a reasonable standard of cycling fitness to enjoy and I should imagine many miles of quality riding to race (although the organisers are at pains to state that it is most certainly NOT a race – there’s no timing for instance).
As events of this type go, the organisation was fantastic and the Sniperley Park start/finish was one of the best I’ve used for the purpose. We set off after a short delay on a chilly, but sunny, September morning behind a police escort with me well off the back, taking pictures. By the time we’d climbed up to Long Edge on the way to Burnhope most of us were well up to operating temperature with clothing being shed but I elected to keep my arm-warmers on because of their brilliance as snot-rags! Now I started to work my way up the field so that as many people as possible could get a look at my Carers Trust t-shirt with the X-Pennine 300 Challenge and Durham Cow logos that I’d carefully ironed on that very morning (in retrospect I should have started at the front and let them all pass me but hey-ho).
After one of my favourite descents from Greencroft the next climb was Iveston Bank which is brutal but mercifully short. Although plenty of people were pushing at this point I was still passing cyclists doing very nicely on touring bikes and mountain bikes as well as those without any means of connecting themselves to the pedals! I spent the next forty-odd miles anxiously scanning the riders ahead of me for their general form, apparel and bike style. Although I undoubtedly benefited from local knowledge I spent the entire ride see-sawing, going backwards when we hit the climbs, pulling it back on the relatively sparse areas of ‘flat’ between them and, if I say so myself, making up a lot of ground on the descents. After the long climb through Thornley and up to Tow Law, I and many others didn’t bother with the overcrowded feed station but carried straight on to complete a cruel loop created just to include the short but steep Ivesley Bank.
Although I’ve confessed to being worried about those riding touring and mountain bikes, my own steed is no racing thoroughbred; its aluminium cyclo-cross frame is fitted with not-particularly-light mudguards and heavy 32C touring tyres put on especially for the training benefit. Currently it weighs about the same as my steel mountain bike but can only draw on a 34×26-tooth bottom gear which leaves me a bit over-geared on some of the steeper hills in this neck of the woods (many of which were included in the event). Shortly before the challenge itself I’ll be swapping the tyres for lighter models and possibly putting a smaller gear on depending on how the training is going. If the weather is forecast to be good I’ll be losing the mudguards as well.
About a third of the way through the event some considerate chap had decided to discard the contents of his drinks bottle just as I was passing on his right. God only knows what was in it but it was the stickiest brew I’ve ever come across and it ended up all over my left handlebar and down my left leg working its way in behind my knee which stuck itself together on every pedal stroke thereafter. I didn’t fully realise what had happened until I got down onto the hooks of the handlebars and I grabbed the sticky mess that had soaked into the tape. Putting my hand back onto the brake hood ensured that whenever I wanted to change my hand position from thereon I had to unpeel myself first!
After the final leg-busting climb on Ragpath Lane I made it onto the back of what became a fast-moving group speeding through the villages of Quebec, Esh and Bearpark; just when I thought that it was going to be plain sailing to the finish I got dropped on the steep little hill at the junction of Toll House Road and the A167 as I succumbed to some shocking cramp down the insides of both thighs at the same time. The final mile and a half was more uncomfortable than the rest of the ride put together but I had an appointment with a goody-bag that I intended to keep and five minutes later there I was crossing the finish to rapturous indifference. I quickly consumed the bottle of water, banana and Mars Bar, gave my legs a bit of a massage then headed off home to try and catch the start of the Italian Grand Prix.