Deloitte Ride Across Britain: Days 8 and 9 – reaching the finishing line the hard way!
Having dodged the rain clouds ourselves on Day 7, but listening to the stories of those who hadn’t been so lucky, we were all to experience the hell of high water during the eighth stage into Okehampton. By the finish I was heard to say “I didn’t even notice whether or not it was raining, that is how soaked I am.”
Pushing on in the rain is not the easiest of things to do, but equally I find it tough to stop and try and get warm when I know there is so much more riding to do. Starting with a lovely descent into Bath, the hills were soon upon us but within a few miles the descent through the spectacular Cheddar Gorge was a welcome relief. I picked up quite a group from Cheddar to the first pit stop, each of us battling the headwind and looking for a wheel to follow. One of the groups I came across had Bryony Shaw, Olympic Bronze Medallist in windsurfing from Beijing, riding with them. It was such a shame the weather was so horrific because although we were able to have a brief chat on the road and then at pit stop one, everyone was just getting too cold to be hanging around for long.
The remainder of the day was quite literally a battle of will against the weather. I was fortunate to get to Okehampton inside 7 hours but the strain of the climbs made me wince, I couldn’t even imagine the pain of the rest of the bunch who would have been out in the soggy conditions for so much longer than i was.
Leaving Okehampton for the final stage was an early one, with some of the riders setting off at 5am. Barney and I rolled out around 7am so we had a longer string of riders ahead and the pain from the day before was visible on everyone’s faces. It’s been a long old week, there is no doubt that the weather conditions and headwind have made it harder and since we start in the north and head south, believe it or not the terrain gets tougher too. Although I would take the hills of Devon and Cornwall any day against the shocking road surfaces in the south of Scotland.
Riding alongside the 500 riders like we did all week was yet another humbling experience, as it was last year. The grit and determination, especially as the terrain got tougher and the hills got steeper, was unreal. It’s one thing riding and racing for a living, but quite another to be training whilst holding down a full time job, taking leave from work and completely battering yourself to get from one end of the country to another. Riding John O Groats to Lands End is something I have always wanted to do and I have been lucky enough to fulfill that challenge twice, whilst being a full time bike rider. To watch each and every one of the other riders also fulfill their ambitions was amazing and I am so proud we were sharing the same [wet] roads for the past 9 days.
Finishing in Land’s End towards the front of the field meant I also had the honour of meeting the people I had been saying “hello” to all week. The riders who at times had been hanging on to the “Storey train” for as long as possible and it was so much fun to see everyone and be able to tell them they had done an amazing job. It was brilliant when people told me which section of the route we had been riding together, once everyone takes their helmets off we all look so different!
I must thank the young lady who donated all her lovely chocolate stash to us at the finish, she’d carried it all the way down and thought it should go to a good home. No better place than with myself and the husband!
There were so many jerseys to be signed and framed, so much fantastic memorabilia and a real sense of team. Everyone had helped someone and everyone had been helped by someone else. That was the great part, listening to the stories of how people had done things together along the route.
Talking of teams, there were two other teams out on the road with us. The real unsung hero’s of the ride. They were first out and last in every day and they were the people that made it happen for all of us.
Firstly there were the motorbikes and support cars, both the medic bikes and cars and the escort bikes. Each of these guys, led by Graham Harper as the lead motorbike were just superb. They always appeared when you needed them and there was always a smile and some encouragement to be had. Riding in the wet and wind, safely guiding us all, attending to the needs of the riders who’d had tumbles and quite how they coped with the zero visibility on Shap, I will never know. We all got over safely under their expert guidance. Without those guys the event could not have happened and I know I speak for everyone when I say how glad we were to see them everyday.
Secondly there were the chaperones, the team of riders led by Andy Cook. These guys are the knights in shining armour of many a late finisher or suffering rider. Out on the road until the last rider finishes, with no additional rest or special modes of transport, the chaperones would simply ride alongside those who needed their help, keeping them safe and sane right the way through every painful mile. Seeing these guys finish in Lands End was superb, they all crossed the line together after everyone else had finished, the final team on the road and feeling every pedal stroke we had all ridden. Such a brilliant group of people and like the bikes and medic cars, the other team we couldn’t have done without. Barney and I had the honour of visiting the Chaperones at their club dinner in Chippenham earlier this year and we had a ball. I hope they all know how amazing they were for us riders and I also hope they are enjoying a well deserved rest!
Finally there are the title sponsors, the event organisers and the rest of the crew to thank. Everyone on the event worked so hard and in many ways it is almost as hard doing the work on an event like this as it is doing the riding. Up before everyone and in bed after everyone, the crew on the event allowed it to run like clockwork and it was awesome to hear everyone talk about how well done the whole event had been done. Riding as the Deloitte Sports Ambassador for London 2012, was great fun and attending the Deloitte evenings on base camp was brilliant.
I have been representing Paralympics GB for 20 years now and so to be involved in such a huge fundraiser like this [Deloitte's target is £1 million over four years for Paralympics GB] for the second year in a row has been an inspiring experience. I don’t know many other sports where training for your chance to win a Paralympic Gold Medal, can mix in so well with meeting so many fundraisers and participating alongside them too. I hope that when I am hopefully on the start line in London next year, all the people I have ridden with will know they were a part of that training and all the support crew will know I couldn’t have done this big block of work without them.
So for now the feet are up and the process of absorbing the work i have done starts. It’s the National Road Race next week, so a few days worth of speed work and recovery and I’ll be heading off to see how things go in Northumbria!
Thanks to everyone on the Deloitte Ride Across Britian, enjoy a well earned rest if you can!
Days 5 and 6: Flaming June and riding through home territory!
Deloitte Ride Across Britain – Setting off from Carlisle on the 5th day of the Deloitte Across Britain was a voyage into the unknown for me, due to the fact I am an airhead and had brought the wrong charger for my electronic gears battery. Not the brightest thing to have done but with the red warning light on, it meant that I was down to around 50km’s of battery life, with a 185km stage in front of me!
There was going to be a charger waiting for me in Haydock [thanks Bex and Nick!] but the plan for the day with the red light on was to be as efficient as possible with my gear changes and especially in the first 50km as there was a ride over Shap to enjoy and I didn’t dare be caught in the 53 chain ring with a block headwind! It was a day of all seasons, with the morning seemingly quite nice, but then the drizzle turned into a full on downpour and by the time I’d finished climbing Shap, there was no visibility at all for quite a few hundred metres. Just as I entered the gloom there was a set of traffic lights where workmen were replacing the weather damaged road, but the fog was coming over in such waves and it was possible to see the next really thick patch being blown over the hillside. It was like something out of a movie!
My relief at descending into Penrith was not only because the skies had brightened but also that i had the chance to change gear again!
There was still over 100km to ride so I stuck the gear into 53×19 and that is where it stayed until I approached Garstang some 2 hours later! The route was undulating so I was spinning out and freewheeling on the downhills and then grinding it out of the saddle on the uphills. Having the Di2 electronic gears has been an amazing help in allowing me to change gear whilst out of the saddle, but for today i was just out of the saddle on the climbs and constantly reminding myself that I might not have another gear change left in the battery. The 2nd pit stop was around 90km from the finish so it was a good 3 hour ride before I knew I was safe and was able to cruise into the Haydock Race Course and the awaiting camera crew from Granada reports.
The final few kilometres had seen the heavens open again, so not for the first time I was soaked to the core again!
After drying off and catching up with our soigneur from the ride last year, Colin Baldwin for another awesome massage [well needed after all that fixed gear riding!] I was back at camp to host the Deloitte Evening with the GB Paracycling team. As Deloitte’s Sports Ambassador for 2012, it was my privilege to interview some of my team mates and also our Programme Lead Coach, Chris Furber. Asking the questions is a new thing for me, so it was good to be chatting to people I knew really well.
The 6th stage was the one both Barney and I were looking forward to the most as the roads were very familiar and we spent much of the first 2 hours traversing the Cheshire lanes we know so well. Heading out in bright skies, it looked to be the weather forecast was wrong, but then we hit the traffic of Middlewich and the heavens opened and we had the hail and heavy rain we’d been promised. No amount of additional clothing stopped us getting soaked to the skin and there was only one thing for it. Pick up the pace and ride faster until we felt warm again! By the end of the stage, which had been pretty flat although into a block headwind again, we climbed over Wenlock Edge and I was even able to do a spot of sunbathing whilst having lunch and watching the other riders head in for their own finish.
So far we have been starting at the back of the field everyday and picking up riders or passing riders as we go. It’s been a huge privilege to get so close to the fundraisers and meet the people who are working so hard for us. It’s a hard route for anyone, we are finding it tough going, but we are the ones that have been able to do the most training for it, so it really is hats off to everyone who is riding through this weather and getting home each night with another 100 odd miles under their belt. We’re around 700 miles into the ride now, just 3 days to go!
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Days 3 and 4 – a tale of two countries
Torrential rain welcomed us along the side of Loch Linnhe as we headed south for the ominous climb of Glen Coe and then a winding route from Loch Dochart, over Glen Ogle and down an amazing descent which I am sure everyone wished could have gone on for a lot longer! After battling into a headwind for most of the day and with the rain sticking with me for the first 3hours and 15 mins of my ride, I was wondering when my constant singing of Take That’s “Shine” would ever work in bringing out the sunshine!
After turning right in Callander the route deviated from the planned route due to some road closures and by the time we hit camp we’d ridden 198km and although it was less than 7 hours in the saddle I was very grateful to stop. Not only had the weather been grim, but the state of the roads on this stretch were appalling, with whole sections of potholes and bad surface that made it look as though no one had touched them since the last century! Add to that some shocking drivers and it meant that everyone was pleased to be enjoying the late evening sunshine and an awesome Judo display courtesy of Paralympics GB.
In contrast to the start of the Day3, Day 4 was bright, clear and beautiful with the sunshine making it warm enough to ride in just short sleeves and shorts from about 9am. it was a glorious day and the 170km route down through Glasgow and over the moors that run parallel to the M74. The state of the roads didn’t improve for 150km and everyone I rode past was saying roughly the same thing. “Ouch!” Unless you ride these sort of distances on a bike, you really don’t appreciate how much the road surface can make all the difference. After being thrown around on the saddle all day yesterday, it’s not easy to keep a good rhythm going when you get bounced around for a second day in a row.
With the sun beaming down for the whole ride the weather certainly did a lot for morale and as I picked my way from group to group it was nice to hear the “thank you’s” from people who’d jumped on my wheel for a quicker ride across the moorland. Given that the route we took was parallel to the motorway, the route was quiet and although the wind was a cross wind for most of the day, there were some great sections of tailwind too!
After 150km it was time to cross the border into England and then the noticeable change in road surface couldn’t have come soon enough. The speed lifted without any extra effort and after cruising through Carlisle the finish at Carlisle Racecourse was a welcome sight!
Now it’s time for the familiar post ride schedule, CNP Pro Peptide and lunch for recovery followed by shower, massage, lots of fluids, dinner and bed. Tomorrow we ride towards home so the roads will start to become familiar again.
Day Two of the Deloitte Ride Across Britain started in the mist of the Kyle of Sutherland but we were soon crossing the water and climbing out of Ardgay and into a bright, clear morning.
Starting at the back of the field at 8am, both Barney and I were looking forward to seeing riders on the route as we passed them. With some of the riders choosing to come and have a chat or jump on the train for a speedier section it was great to finally get to meet some of the fundraisers of this year’s ride. Of course with the road heading uphill so soon into the stage, Barney and I were seperated and left each other to move through the groups and each meet different people along the way.
For quite a while into the first pit stop, as we enjoyed the moorland route from Ardgay to Alness, I was fortunate to catch up with some life long cyclists who knew all about the pacing needed for a stretch of 9 days like we are facing. My main companion was one of the UPS riders, another Olympic and Paralympic sponsor like Deloitte, who are also involved with some of the logistics of the ride this year. It was great to chat about racing, especially as he’d been a former team mate of Russ Downing when Russ was just out of the junior ranks some 10-12 years ago.
After the first pit stop at Muir of Ord, the groups were smaller and I didn’t see so many people as the route took us along the side of Loch Ness. On this particular stage last year I’d been riding with former Ironman and CEO of Boardman Bikes, Alan Ingerfield and the entire day had been one hideous wash out with not much opportunity to enjoy the views. In fact along the side of Loch Ness last year, we couldn’t really see the water!
This year couldn’t have been more different, as not only was I riding solo, I was able to see across the water and to the impressive Glen Mor in the background. It was an impressive sight and definitely a good day for spotting the Loch Ness Monster!
All too soon, just like yesterday, the Loch ended and I was descending into Fort Augustus and the final check point and pit stop before the last shorter leg into the finish for the day. Climbing out of the small town I remembered the next bit of the route very well, as on that stretch last year we’d stopped to save a lamb who had got it’s head trapped in a wire fence. Passing the same field, I scanned it for stranded animals before pressing on and into the final 15 miles alongside Loch Lochy. It’s a rolling stretch of road, some of it resurfaced since last year which was very welcome as it not only helped lift the speed it also gave a bit of light relief from being bounced around!
The base camp and finish line for the end of stage two is under the impressive vista of Ben Nevis and just north of Fort William which sits on the banks of Loch Linne. I wasn’t the first person home today but I managed to continue my trend of improvement from last year and the training data looks good at first glance. 4 hours 57 in the saddle for around 10 watts less over the same course. Barney has been teasing me because I told him I thought I’d hit a plateau in training and would need to be patient for the next improvement. As I type he is jumping around saying “I told you so!” He too did an impressive ride today, less than 5 hours 30 for the route and I was glad to be able to cheer him on in the final stretch as i jumped in our support car and we went back to hand up extra bottles. I managed to pass him one on a descent as that was the only suitable parking space!
If you haven’t donated to the cause, please do. If not to sponsor me, then to show your appreciation of the other 500+ cyclists who are completing the route after training for it alongside their full time jobs. Being able to ride alongside so many people is fantastic and everyone is doing a superb job. Until tomorrow….
@MrsSarahStorey on twitter
Day 1 – Sarah’s Blog
Day 1 – Barney’s Blog