What I discovered this June thanks to www.lovevelo.co.uk was the hidden gem of Andorra. Nestled in The Pyrenees between France and Spain this tiny principality, more known for its skiing offers some fantastic cycling in a sensational setting. With 21 different road routes there is plenty of choice to test your climbing and descending prowess. You will not see much in the way of a flat section. Our trip was organised through Love Velo and British Cycling and we were guest of Andorra Tourism and Sport No Limit Travel (www.sportnolimitravel.com)who acted as fantastic hosts. The 4-day taster Holiday gave us the chance to explore some of the routes on bikes plus check out some of the Hotels and Restaurants available.
Flying into Barcelona, we were transported the 2-hour 45mins journey through the Catalonian Countryside into the Pyrenees and across the border into Andorra and to our Hotel Magic in La Massana. The Hotel although basic was clean, friendly and comfortable and served as a good base for our stay. For our first evening, we were transported the 15min down to Santa Colomba d’Andorra to the newly opened ‘Sports’ Restaurant ‘El Raconet dela Bici’. Set with the historic 8th -12th Century Church and tower as its backdrop we enjoyed a welcome presentation from Jordi Haro from Andorra Tourism and had a fine meal with the chance to get to meet the other 7 riders from UK cycling clubs. As well as the Sports No Limit team of Christina, Luz and Josep. After we toured the premises which have been set up as a good meeting place for cyclists with a café, outside covered seating terrace and small gym, warm down rooms upstairs as well as the restaurant, complete with hanging ‘pro’ cycling jerseys. This was a pattern we will see over the next few days, fantastic food, flowing drinks, welcoming and friendly hosts keen to show us their accommodation and facilities. So on to Day 1 into the mountains. After a good night sleep and breakfast, we collected our pre-ordered hire bikes from Viladomat (www.viladomat.com) across the street and off we went. We were to be guided on our two days cycling by the very friendly Gerard Riart, and his mate (the silent one) both lean, mean cycling machines! Gerard’s lack of English was only beaten by our lack of Spanish/ Catalonian and school French. This didn’t stop some fun levels of communication (“not far now!“) and his joy of seeing us suffer on the climbs! Also joining us was a support vehicle, very handy to fuel up driven by Sports No limit travels Luz and Josep. One of the very few cars we saw on our days in the mountains! Honestly!! The man route in Andorra is basically one main road through the Country. In the towns rush hour is up to about 9.15am and between 4 and 6pm in the evenings. Best to avoid the main road these times but Cyclists are still given the space on the roads. As mentioned earlier no flat sections!. New bikes and a gentle start for 2k at 2.5% before starting on first climb of the day, the Col D’Ordino. Coming in at 8.9Km, 451 metres of climbing at average of 5.1% this hours climbing certainly gave us an indication of what to expect. Weather conditions were perfect with the stunning scenery a pleasant distraction from the tarmac. Descending (quickly for some!) the 1980m summit we took a break at Mirador Roc del Quer, a suspended 20 metre platform with the statue aptly named ‘The Ponderer’ perched on the end overlooking his domain, Simply breathtaking, a great view of the many switchbacks we were about to do on the descent. Carefully navigating the descent (fun) we continued into Canillo and out through El Tarter taking a left turn onto a narrow country lane. The 4km section to the end of the tarmac where Gerard took us through the valley with running streams and green Alpine-like fields, again stunning. Enough of this sightseeing! Back in the saddle and onto the next climb. 1796m summit of the Collada de Beixalis was next. At 8.7km 594m of climbing at an average of 6.8% this was a tough climb in the 25 degrees heat. My 18.46 on the 10.9% gradient section not quite competing with KOM Vincenzo Nibali 8.50 effort last September! The lack of traffic and perfect tarmac roads made the descending fun, even though I was generally out the back, admiring the scenery was my excuse! So back to the hotel and change for lunch where we were taken to the Anyos Park Wellness Resort. (www.anyospark.com) We had a great lunch in a relaxed and pleasant white draped outside covered seated area and then proceeded t have a tour of the Hotel. Spread across a large area, his is the place to come for pretty much any sporting activity you wish to do. Everything to an extremely high standard, Spa, swimming, squash, Tennis, Yoga, Beauty, spin classes… Would love to come and stay here, great place for a ‘rest day’ between rides. Bring the family. Didn’t seem much later than we were out for dinner again. Hosted by owner Albert we had a tour of the 4 star Art hotel (www.m.hotel-arthotelandorra.com) located in the town centre by the river. Again great food. These 3-course meals (with wine/beer) great excuse to prepare for the riding.
So on to day 2 in the saddle. The big climb. La Gallina 1910 metres above sea level, 12.2km long and 1019m of climbing at average of 8.4%. The last 3 k between 12 and 15%. Ouch. Again 25 degrees, beautiful blue skies for the ride ahead. First we had to climb out of La Massana, up the La Comella ascent 8% and down the other side to Sant Julia de Loria. Just before we started the climb we stopped to look in the biggest and best bike shop I’ve ever been in, Jorma Bikes. With a tax rate at 4%, you’ll get a serious bargain here. Onto the climb. All I can still see is this relentless road that just keeps on and on, to the next switch back and up, up again. The road narrows at the last section where the gradient gets tougher. Spent most of the climb trying to stay in touch with the three guys in front, never quite managing to get on them! The site of the summit is a bit of a fist-pumping moment for me. Elated, beautiful scenery when recovered even seeing this amazing Eagle swooping in front of us with an enormous wingspan appearing no smaller as it disappeared into the distance. Thinking this was the toughest of the day we relaxed into the sweeping, horseshoe bends descent exciting to be heading to our lunch stop. How wrong we were. The descent from la Gallina took us back though Sant Julia de Loria and then up to La Peguera (1821) a 13.9km climb at average 6.6%. This was gonna hurt.. And it did. We gained height with the many switchbacks quickly seeing the town disappear into the valley it soon became just us and the surrounding beauty, oh and the gradient! Delighted to have the support car as I needed water and a breather three-quarters of the way up. It was mighty hot. This was tougher than the other climbs, due to having done them already! Couldn’t have been happier to see the summit sign, especially as I’d cramped up 2k from the summit. Thanks Jack for getting me through it. Now that was the worst of it. We descending (starting to improve) to our Lunch stop. This was at the Coma-bella (www.hotelcomabella.com) We’d arrived just in time before the kitchen shut to great homemade cooking. My tagliatelli starter, Cordon Bleu and Apple Pie was soon devoured, along with a nice cold beer. A tour of the hotel each room having its own character, offering breathtaking views over the surrounding countryside followed then time to go. That was it, my first cycling experience in Andorra. Would I recommend it? Certainly would. What we saw was a stunningly beautiful country with safe and quiet roads in great condition, well marked out for cyclists. Our hosts were exceptional. Never felt more welcome. Everyone proud to show their hotels off and the gastronomy everywhere we went was to a high standard. Andorra is definitely to be on the cyclists to do list. Thanks to Jordi at Andorra Tourism Christina, Luz and Josep at Sports no Limit Travel And Jonathan and Luke at love Velo I’ll be back! Richard Marjoram
On 23rd June, a group of Brighton Excel riders took on one of the country's toughest sportives. Alan Coom, Alan Redman, Claire, Domino, Jimbo, Mark and Richard Marjoram tell the story.
RM-Who'd have thought that it was nearly a year ago that we'd started discussing the Open Cycling Coast to Coast in a day Sportive. Well at some point an email from the club came round and I signed up for this epic 150 mile in a day ride. Couldn't be that hard could it? Over the (horrible) winter, money was paid, accommodation booked, transport sorted and a training plan put in place (Alan Coom this didn't obviously mean you!) Richard Nunn doing a fantastic job in making this happen. Roll onto June 22nd and I was heading, bikes and gear loaded, north to The Lakes with Richard N.
After a reasonable journey, we arrived in blazing sunshine, who said it always rains in The Lakes? Checked in, went to see Alba travel who were taking us to the start at Seascale, back to hotel for evening meal and bed early ready for a 3.30am departure from Penrith on the Saturday Morning.
"Believe me, it was horrid. I am more than likely going back next year it was so bad!" Domino
The Night Before
AR-The evening before the ride, the group came together to eat, drink, and play the traditional pre-event competition of ‘who’s least ready for the challenge?’.
It’s hard to pick a clear winner from the discussions that evening; there was some highly creative and skilful use of the ‘wrong chain-set’ manoeuvre, the ‘persistent, niggling cough’ stratagem, and the perennial favourite ‘I’m not looking for a fast time, I’m just going to enjoy the ride’ double-bluff.
Naturally, I endeavoured to compete at what was clearly the very highest level of this game; but to use a football analogy, I found myself in the “group-of-death”. I fell back on my well-worn, but occasionally effective ‘I’m no good at early starts’ technique but lost badly in the face of overwhelmingly strong lowering of expectations from what were clearly veteran players of the game.
We retired, having all got tomorrow’s excuses in early, to a fitful night’s sleep; filled with fevered dreams of near vertical stretches of tarmac reaching into doom-laded skies; the silent hills gazing balefully down on the rusted skeletons of abandoned bikes strewn across the landscape, as monuments to riders who had tried and failed to best the climbs.
CB-Knowing the coach was picking us up at 3.20am the next day was tough, particularly after a huge dinner. Would I get enough sleep? Had I got everything I needed? Had I done enough training? What the hell am I doing here?? I must have got up and double checked my kit three times during the night. Worrying about not sleeping meant I was definitely not sleeping. I must have dozed off eventually because before I knew it, it was 2.50am and my alarm was beeping. Oh dear God, here we go. Heading down to the coach in the dark, people were still turning in from their night out. We tiptoed past a very drunk man who could barely stay on the pavement. Safe to say it was an odd start to the day.
AR-The morning was, in actual fact, still the night before. An even earlier departure than the advertised 4am had been negotiated just to make sure that nobody squandered their time by indulging in spells of quality sleep. The night-owls among us huddled in the pre-dawn chill, conserving precious energy, peering suspiciously at the darkness through gritty eyes. The early-birds or ‘bastards’ celebrated their premature start to the day with lively conversation and the general air of good humour you’d normally associate with a small lottery win.
CB-We carefully loaded on our bikes and piled on board. I don't think I said a word to anyone. I had a belly full of porridge and butterflies. Would I be able to keep up with the boys? Would I fall off at Hardknott or Wrynose? And so on and on. Leaving Penrith for Seascale the sun rose slowly, painting the morning sky pink, revealing some epic scenery and a glimpse of what was to come. Nerves soon abated, this was set to be a day to remember.
D-The start was possibly the worst part of the day, up at 2 in the morning and sharing a bus with 11 smelly blokes, note Claire’s not included in this, as she's not a bloke and not smelly. Anyway, it was just weird and wrong to have to do so much stuff in a rush - sort bike, bag drop, back to bag drop to get forgotten Oakleys, get food sorted, back for bloody bike shoes! I think at this point I was pretty much in headless chicken mode. The walk to the start is surreal - down the beach on plastic matting in your silly bike shoes and up onto the wooden pier jetty thing, and more walking, then click click and we’re off! The joy of turning the pedals as the Excel Amigos rode off on glorious winding roads into the sunrise.
Hardknott and Wrynose
RM- The biggest discussions through the year revolved around our first test at around 12miles in. Hardknott Pass, 30+% gradient in places... many places...As the route turned left onto the approach, a pretty York stone walled lane, my apprehension grew. We were soon over the cattle grid and on the start of the climb.
"The thought of a 1-in-3 gradient, three times, was terrifying. The day before the ride Richard Marjoram did nothing to ease our fears by stating he was terrified going down Hardknott in a car! I barely slept that night." Alan C
Anyway, the day came and we were riding as a group of 13, and then, 1 mile from Hardknott a whoosh of air came rushing from Potter’s tyre; a flat, 17 miles in. Ouch! I decided to go back and wait with Mark whilst the others, knowing the two hardest moments of the day were upon us, moved forward. Puncture repaired, Mark and I made our way to the bottom of the hill. It looked relentless. It was relentless! Stupidly steep, deadly hairpins and riders punching out of the saddle. Those not punching out of the saddle were walking, we’re only 300 meters in!
D- The first thing that struck me was how many people had given up before it started! The second was how many people had no idea of road craft or courtesy for those of us trying to have a go. Thirdly, the bloody front wheel keeps coming airborne! Sorry Richard, your wonderful training rides couldn't prepare us for this monster. So, while the "kids" raced off up the hill I felt a bit like Gulliver being assaulted by the Lilliputians.
RM- My word it is steep, and goes on and on, up and up. Quickly I slipped into my easiest gear and straight away I felt my front wheel starting to lift! “Calm down Richard, relax you can do this” I told myself. Shifting my weight forward further I tried to settle into the climb. At the first hairpin it ramped up again, I got out of the saddle and steadily started to battle the climb. Just me, the bike and the tarmac, don't focus on anything else. This was fine until the last section. I happened to look up and all I could see is the road disappearing up over 2 steep hairpins and over the top out of sight.
D- Wherever you rode some damn fool was trying knock you off. The net result was 3 restarts, large rocks are great for the back wheel when you can't get going 'cos of the gradient but the assault was completed, eventually. The photo taken at the top isn't one of my best. My face not showing me to be knackered but hacked off with the "pedestrians". Hey ho another day soon for a rematch! The descent - now that's another story.
RM- I kept going until the final 20 yards when I started to wobble, no speed; foot out of the pedal... so close! Then it was a few steps to remount, get back in and up to the summit, meeting up with the mountain goats; Jake, Jim, Alan and Alan.
AR (Mountain Goat) Climbing Hardnott is much the same as riding up Box Hill, except there’s no café stop at the top.
AC- You needed a rhythm and you needed to be on your top game. 15:20 later I had made it. I was at the top of Hardknott Pass, relieved, but I knew I had a deadly descent ahead followed by another 1-in-3 climb. Some guys like Jake and Matt bossed the descent with no fear, I was much slower. I wanted to get home in one piece. Marjoram had terrified me, the sight of the descent terrified me. Thank god it was dry!
RM- The descent into the valley was scary as Hell for me at least. What goes up..! Very carefully I made my way down, finding my own line and gliding safely into the valley and onto Wrynose pass.
"Wrynose is like walking across a dark room and stepping on an upturned 3-pin plug left on the floor (Harknott), recovering briefly from the shock and pain, only to step backwards and stand on a Lego brick." Alan R
AC-Wrynose was much the same but a bit shorter - terrifying but beautiful. We regrouped at the end and rolled on for a bit more - a group of 13, a grupetto in Blue and Yellow, proud to be representing our club, proud of conquering possibly the two hardest climbs in the UK.
The Big Middle
RM-The ferry crossing was closed this year, so we headed down and around Lake Windermere on the rolling roads into Kendal for a refuel. 39 miles done. It seemed everyone was there and we spent longer than planned filling water bottles and eating all the good stuff available. Then there was a climb straight away, not pleasant, then onwards through the Lakes and into the Yorkshire Dales as the weather warmed up.
We were in 2 groups now and were able to enjoy the beautiful scenery including Dandry Mire Viaduct. With 64 miles completed we rolled into Hardraw Feed Station where the first group were enjoying their refreshments. We joined them for some delicious leek and potato soup and a roll plus a few pieces of malt loaf- we were well catered for on this ride. It was a complete blast riding the next 25 miles together. Great organisation from Jake and Alan C made this section fly by in a rolling chain gang. Past Bolton Castle and out of the dales to Tunstall Village hall feed Station. 60 miles left now.
We rolled on fine, knocking the miles off, past Catterick Race Course, until we came to Northallerton. There had been an accident and our route was closed. More cyclists on the ride were coming through now. Alan C reported the problem to the emergency support number whilst others spoke with the Police. Jake managed to plot a way round and we headed off. This threw me for a while until the route markings appeared again. Heading into the North Yorkshire Moors we encountered a lot of climbing and as a consequence, we were spread out en route. Ed and I ended up riding together and were beginning to wonder if we’d missed the final feed station at Ingelby. I was just about out of water as we saw the Ingelby sign. Feeling mightily relieved we rolled in and I took the time to get myself together for the last 28 miles. It was hot by now so plenty of water, a cup of Coke and a delicious pork pie got me ready to go again.
End in Sight
We set off in two groups towards Whitby. Up on to the top of the North Yorkshire Moors we went. This last section was a lot harder than I thought it would be. There hadn’t been so much talk about the Moors. We had some great downhill dashes mixed in with some tough punchy climbs. The hardest being just past the 10-mile sign to Whitby. Round a bend you’re straight into a short sharp 30% gradient- Limber Hill. I got out of the saddle and fought my way up. It levelled off just in time but still, an average 16% climb after 140 miles.
JM- 140 miles in and your body has had enough, the ride’s been amazing but that last food stop doesn’t have the same rejuvenating effect that the others have had and you feel drained but excited to finish, as you set off you’re counting down the miles with one last pokey climb to do. Limber Hill suddenly comes into view as you come around the sharp right corner and it hurts, thankfully it’s only short compared to Hardnott, but you still have to grit your teeth and throw yourself at it, if you’re stuck in the big ring you’re walking, if there’s a slow-moving car down in front, you’re walking... it’s steep and mentally, after all the ride, it’s a little sadistic.
"I loved the scenery which was very varied throughout and the best bits for me were seeing the sea and then the last descent to the finish and feeling of elation over the line. Definitely, recommend any keen cyclist to give this a go but only the once." Mark
RM- With the blue North Sea coming into view it started to dawn on me that we were nearly there, 150 miles on from the 5.45 am departure this morning at Seascale on the other side of the country. A fast decent meant we got to the seafront quickly and through the barriers to the finish line, cheered on by a crowd of well-wishers waiting for their loved ones. There was a photographer to snap us over the line and we were done. Personally, I found it a bit emotional. Fool! This was the biggest, hardest ride I’d ever undertaken and to complete it filled me with a great sense of pride, made even better by riding with a great group. Congratulations, photographs, hugs and handshakes were quickly passed round to the tough boys already over the line, and it wasn’t long before we were all in.
RM- My actual ride time was 10 hours 5 mins. Total time 12 hours 35 mins. I was pleased with that, 12,000 feet of climbing.
The bus was due to collect us at 7.30 so we headed over to the leisure centre to collect bags and shower. No sign of Claire or Jim?? Ah yes here they were with much needed liquid refreshment. Legends! Deciding we needed to eat, Mark, Alan and Claire headed down to the front to find the famous Whitby fish and chips for all. ”13 haddock and chips please” Think they cleared them out. Delicious they were too.
Our Minibus driver decided he wanted to load all the bikes on the trailer himself, so it gave us plenty of time to enjoy our tea in beautiful sunshine. A quick phone call was made to ensure our hotel kept the bar open for us when we got back. We had a 2 and half hour drive back to Penrith, but were kept entertained by Jim, Liam and Dan. We were all knackered but still had time for a couple of well-earned beers, and then off to bed for a better night’s sleep.
The following morning it was breakfast together, a birthday boy fry-up for me, bags packed, more congratulations and then we headed to our transport for the long journey home. The trip home was spent listening to England thrashing the mighty Panama on the radio, talking about how well we’d all done and asking how Alan Coom could ride so effortlessly without training for it!
RM- What are we doing next year BECC??
D- An awesome day of terrifying terrain, emotional highs and lows, brilliant company, and yes a tear or two when I saw the sea on the opposite side of the country!!!
MP-I found riding in a group helped with speed and progress through the flatter sections, especially pummelling through The Dales in a double peloton, a real feeling of togetherness. Also knowing the group would be there either at the next main section or aid station was good psychologically when I was alone on Hardknott pass and especially after a puncture later on.
AR- I will always remember the view from the back of a mighty BECC train of riders, in perfect 2x2 formation, a flash of blue, red, and yellow powering through the Dales. For more than a little while, we really looked as if we might know what we’re doing.
So that's the end of another legendary cycling chapter but there's bound to be another challenge next year.
Read Richard Marjoram's unedited full account below.
Who’s the Least Ready: Basic Gameplay
For those who have never taken part this game, the rules are simple. The winner of the challenge is the rider who can most significantly lower expectations about his or her performance. Someone begins by perhaps volunteering how little training they’ve been able to fit in. Another player may chip in with the ‘injury card’, whereby they describe whatever terrible medical condition will prevent them from operating at peak performance. Extra points can be awarded for any Rocktape, prescriptions, or visible scars. Minus points for a knee problem that changes leg mid-evening. Alternative gambits are the broken bike, crushing ennui, the wrong kit, premonitions of your own death, and the trump card ‘I’ve ruined my legs with too much riding this week’.
Who'd have thought that it was nearly a year ago that we'd started discussing the Open Cycling Coast to Coast in a day Sportive. Well at some point an email from the club came round and I signed up for this epic 150 mile in a day ride. Couldn't be that hard...could it?
Over the winter – (remember how horrible that was?) Money was paid, Accommodation booked, transport sorted and a Training plan put in place (Alan Coom this didn't obviously mean you!) Richard Nunn doing a fantastic job in making this happen.
Roll onto June 22nd and I'm heading, bikes and gear loaded North to The Lakes with Richard N.
After a reasonable Journey there we arrive in blazing sunshine (who said it always rains in the lakes?) Check in, go and See Alba travel who were taking us to the start (Seascale) and back from the finish (Whitby). Back to hotel for evening meal and bed early ready for 3.30am departure from Penrith on the Saturday Morning.
With very little sleep, all 13 of us all climbed on the mini bus and off we went, breakfast on the go.
Hour and half later having experienced the sunrise over Sellafield, we get registered and at 5.45am head towards the start on the beach jetty.
The weather was a little overcast but promised to be warm and dry. We all (Ed!) looked splendid as we headed off into the Lakes in our Brighton Excelsior Kit (good salesmanship Rich N).
Biggest discussions through the year revolved around our first test at approx. 12miles in. Hard Knott Pass 30% plus gradient in places... many places...
As the route turned left onto the approach road my apprehension grew riding through the pretty York stone walled lane. Brief stop for a wee and Mark P to mend a puncture we were soon over the cattle grid and on the start of the climb.
Now the ride wasn't just about Hard Knott BUT! My word it is steep, and goes on and on, up and up. Quickly I slipped into small ring and easiest gear and started on the immediate ascent. Straight away I felt my front wheel starting to lift! “Calm down Richard, relax you can do this” I told myself. Shifting my weight forward further I tried to settle into the climb. At the first hairpin it ramped up again, out of the saddle and steadily started to battle the climb. Just me, the bike and the tarmac, don't focus on anything else. This was fine until the last section. I happened to look up and all I could see is the road disappearing up over 2 steep hairpins and over the top out of sight.
Pushing on I kept going, staying out of the saddle up until the last 20 yards of the climb. I started to wobble, no speed- foot out of the peddle... so close! Few steps to be able to remount, back in and up to the summit, meeting up with the mountain goats; Jake, Jim, Alan and Alan. Regrouped, all 13 of us over the hill and on towards Ambleside. If Only, The descent into the valley Scary as Hell for me at least. What goes up.... Very carefully I made my own down, finding my own line and safely into the valley and onto Wrynose pass. Not as bad as hard Knott but steep enough up and as horrible going down... Pleased to say we all made it safely through the hills. Congratulations all round and off we headed towards first feed station at Kendal.
The ferry crossing was closed this year so down and around Lake Windermere we headed on the rolling roads and into Kendal for a refuel. 39 miles done. It seems everyone was there as we spent a little longer there than planned as we filled water bottles and had some food, baguettes, cake, bananas- all the good stuff available.
Bit of a climb straight away, not pleasant (not the only time) and onwards through the lakes towards the Yorkshire Dales.
Weather warming up as work our way through the lakes and into the Yorkshire Dales. We’re in 2 groups at this part of the ride, steady rolling countryside through the hills. Able to enjoy the beautiful scenery including Dandry Mire Viaduct on the Settle to Carlisle railway line at Garsdale Head. We are now coming up to 64 miles completed as we roll into Hardraw Feed Station where first group are enjoying their refreshments. Join them, have some delicious Leek and Potato soup and a roll plus a few pieces of malt loaf- well catered for on this ride.
Next section was a complete blast we managed the next 25mile to stay together. Great organisation of us from Jake and Alan C made this section fly by in a rolling chain gang. Past Bolton Castle and out of the dales to Tunstall Village hall feed Station. 100 k left now. We refuelled and were on our way.
The next section we rolled on fine, knocking the miles off, past Catterick Race Course, until we came to North Allerton. Here there had been unfortunately an accident and our route was closed by the Police. More cyclists on the ride were coming through now. Alan C reported the problem to the emergency support number provided to us whilst other spoke with the Police. Jake managed to plot a way round and we headed off. This threw me for a while until the route markings appeared again. Heading into the North Yorkshire Moors we encountered a lot of climbing and as a consequence we were spread out on route. Ed and I ended up riding together and were beginning to wonder we’d missed the final feed station. I was just about out of water as we saw sign posted Ingelby, our last scheduled feed stop. Feeling mightily relived we rolled in and I took the time to get myself together for the last 28 miles. Weather was hot at this time so plenty of water, cup of Coca –cola and some delicious Pork pie got me ready to go again.
Unintentionally we ended up setting of in two groups towards Whitby. Up on to the top of the North Yorkshire Moors we went. This last section was a lot harder than I thought it would be. As said earlier a lot of discussion had gone on about the climbs in the lakes, not much mentioned about the N. Y Moors. We had some great downhill dashes mixed in with some tough punchy climbs. The hardest being just passed the 10 mile sign to Whitby. Round a bend and straight into a short sharp 30% gradient- Limber Hill. Out the saddle and fight my way up. Levelled off just in time but still an average 16% climb after 140 miles. Found myself just with Richard N, so off we headed to Whitby.
With the North Sea (blue it appeared!!) coming into view it started to dawn on me that we were nearly there, 150 miles on from the 5.45 am departure this morning at Seascale on the other side of the country. A fast decent meant we got to the seafront quickly and through the barriers to the finish line, cheered on by a crowd of well-wishers waiting for their loved ones... and not BECC riders! Photographer to snap us over the line and we were done. Personally I found it a bit emotional, fool! This was the biggest, hardest ride I’d ever undertaken and to complete it filled me with a great sense of pride, made even better by riding with a great group. Congratulations, photographs, hugs and handshakes were quickly passed round to the tough boys already over the line, and it wasn’t long before we were all in. My actual ride time was 10 hours 5 mins. Total time 12hours 35 mins.
Pleased with that. 12000 feet of climbing, needed the feed stations but should probably have moved on quicker to stop that initial restart of legs feeling sluggish for a while.
Mini bus was due to pick us all up at 7.30 so we headed over to the leisure centre to collect bags and shower. No sign of Claire or Jim?? Argh yes here they are with much needed liquid refreshment we all needed... Legends! Deciding we needed to eat, Mark, Alan and Claire headed down to the front to find the famous Whitby fish and chips for all. ”13 haddock and chips please” Think they cleared them out. Delicious they were too.
Our Minibus driver decided he wanted to load all the bikes on the trailer himself- long story, so gave us plenty of time to enjoy our tea in beautiful sunshine. Quick phone call was made to ensure our Hotel kept the bar open for us when we got back. We had a 2 and half hour drive back to Penrith, but were kept entertained by Jim, Liam and Dan’s recital of ‘Dumb and Dumber.’ We were all knackered but still had time for a couple of well-earned beers, and then off to bed for a better night sleep.
Following morning breakfast (Birthday boy fry up for me) together, packed bags, more congratulations and then headed to our transport for the long journey home. Trip home spent listening to England thrashing the mighty Panama on the radio, talking about how well we’d all done and asking how Alan Coom could ride so strong and effortlessly without training for it!
What we doing next year BECC??
Personally I’d like to thank everyone, certainly made a lot easier riding with these great guys and gal. Richard N, Alan C, Alan R, Claire B, Jim M, Marcus A, Ed E, Liam H, Dan H, Domino, Mark P and Jake.
Round II of the London X league went off well for Excel and VCJ, we had 9 riders across the different age groups.
The course was twisty with lots of punchy straights and little steep sections to get the heart pumping, there were steps, hurdles, big Bob Hill and a concrete step as well!
It was heavy on tyres and a couple of our riders suffered mechanicals. Ferdie Parsons in youth B punctured but still managed 7th after running in the top 5 for most of the race, in the youth A Bill Demuth also suffered a mechanical but managed 12th place regardless.
In the juniors we had two riders; Loz Coyle came in 8th after riding a regional race on the Saturday where he got third! Ollie Rogers came in just behind in 10th.
Steve Kane was slightly suffering from a big night out (he even forgot his kit!!) but came in 32nd in the Seniors. John Tindell started ungridded and was going pretty well until a crash slowed him down. "It's cyclocross, after that I just enjoyed myself and treated it as a training ride."
In the vet 40s, Jezz Shotter was 22nd and Paul Wilson 31st. Paul did very well as he was not gridded and Jezz also went well, coming home in front of quite a few of his rivals. Jez Parsons had a great race in the Vet 50s, after a poor start that saw him getting boxed in he fought his way back through the pack on the first lap to lead the race and stayed there to the end scoring his second victory of the season.
We'll keep you up to date as the season progresses. To get the inside track, have fun and improve your fitness you can join our CX training sessions 18:30 on Tuesdays at Water Hall Rugby Club.
Brighton Excelsior and VC Jubilee kick off each regional cyclocross [CX] season with a racing programme at Stanmer Park. Once again it was a huge success in 2016. This comes at a time when cyclocross participation is at an all time high in the club and our Tuesday night sessions at Water Hall Rugby Club are going from strength to strength.
We asked some of our riders about the Stanmer event and CX in general. We had contributions from Lawrence Coyle, Steve Kane, Connor Murphy, Jez Parsons and Tony Salmon. Many thanks to Rob Paynter for sharing the pictures – there are more in our CX Gallery.
What did you like about the Stanmer park CX event and how did you get on?
I loved the dry dusty conditions and the tight technical sections you could really push hard in, the weather too on the day was a touch. I got on alright, expected to get lapped which happened in the second half but had a steady race and was glad it was a full hour with no mechanicals after doing no racing for a year. Afterwards I felt pleasantly exhausted, keen to do my next event which will be Happy Valley which of course I will be getting mud specific tyres for.
Really well organised and a good course with some technical sections in the woods. A brutal climb that you get to do multiple times and some grass track to stretch the gaps out.
It was a really good, well organised event and many people from the club helped out either on the day or before. The course was really fun to ride.
Connor (on Facebook)
Thanks to everyone who helped, supported and raced at the CX today, it was a great start to the season!!
Stanmer, the first race of the season, was great. It had a good mix of fast single track and a gruelling climb to test the Summer season legs. It is always very well attended and this year was no exception, the catering was great and it was nice to see the club doing the food as most other events get a caterer in, the race was hard but i managed a third in Vet 50 and felt pretty good afterwards; probably in the glow of my result...
What do you feel you get out of the training sessions at Water Hall and what's Ben like as a coach?
The training sessions are really good because interval training is hard to do on your own, plus, the skills we learn and practise have helped me no end in my racing, Ben is very good at getting the whole group involved even though the age range is 9 to 50+. You can go as hard or as easy as you want so it is good for all abilities, he stands there in the pouring rain and freezing cold teaching us every week and does not get enough praise for his efforts; they show in the results the club are getting in the CX races though.
The training is a really good way of keeping fit over the Winter. Put it together with turbo training and you could be fitter in the Winter than you are in the Summer. I focus on the CX series and try to use the Summer Time Trial series and Track Racing to get me ready for the Winter.
They’re really good! All the coaches, and especially Ben, put so much time and effort into them and they have definitely helped me to progress as a rider. The cyclo-cross sessions are fun and there is a great atmosphere within the group.
Skills, intense fitness sessions, bike handling and corner practice, group riding and a good time to play on the CX bike without any cars to worry about. Ben is very good and clearly enjoys putting everyone through pain! A good mix of technical, fitness and endurance work.
Do you have a dedicated CX bike and do you love it?
I have a road, MTB and dedicated cross bike. It does the job perfectly well, it's a Trek X0 frame with my own build including single chainring and front disc and bar end shifter. It's not the lightest bike but I like to ride it on The Downs and sometimes commute with it so reliability is more important than lightweight kit.
I have two CX bikes, a full race bike on tubular tyres with no water bottle cages and a Kinesis Pro 6 CX bike as a spare race, commuter off road racer. I’ve ridden the Pro 6 the full length of the South Downs Way in in 8 hours 15 mins, it was great fun!
I have a cyclo cross club bike. I definitely don't love it but it does an okay job, especially considering we get lent them!
Yes and yes, see the pictures who wouldn’t?!
What are your cycling ambitions in CX and other disciplines?
My CX ambition is to get in the top 5 this year in the Vet 50 cat (I really want a podium but need a bit more fitness). I would like to do a few road races just to see if I could keep with the pack plus do some more MTB races and long off road CX races.
Ambitions are to get back to a level where I'm not lapped! However, mainly to use this a spring-board to racing MTB events. I want to compete in MTB races in the Summer like the Gorricks I used to enjoy when a student. I'd like to build from shorter races, then longer endurance events, maybe even some 6 hour or longer solo events.
To get a top grade in my sports A Level, I need to be competing at national level and so that's my ambition over the next few years and then well see how it goes.
To win an event, 6th is the best so far.
CX and why you should try it – by Jez
There are many reasons to give cyclocross a try, it is a great way to keep your fitness through the long Winter months, it gets you out on those wet days where the road bike ride is too cold and wet and a MTB ride is too slow and muddy. There is something special about a group of like minded people lining up in the rain to race flat out for 45 mins and all having a laugh at the same time. I say its the best fun you can have with your clothes on! The racing is as hard and fast as you want it to be, there are so many little races going on within the main race when you do it on a regular basis you tend to be racing the same small group and soon get to know them and this gives you the impetus to try and beat them in the next race!
On 31st July, 11 riders represented Brighton Excelsior in the country’s highest profile sportive. We helped a few to gain club entries and attracted excellent charity deals for some of the others. Normally a blog about 100 mile bike ride would feature the highs and lows of people’s training stories but we’re cyclists so there is none of that, although 4 of the 11 did the BECC Night Ride and 2 attempted the ESCA 100 mile TT in the previous weeks. Here is what 3 of our riders had to say about the event.
The Build Up
I'd like to thank the Club and The HTF Charity for giving me the opportunity to ride the Pru100. I completed the 160km in 5hours 5mins. This included 2 stops. Anyone who’s ridden Sunday Club Rides with me will be amazed that this only included 1 wee stop! (The other being to refill water bottles). My preparation involved spending the day as a tourist walking around the sites of London and having minimal sleep, up at 4.30am and having the fire alarm go off twice in the overnight accommodation.
I managed to enter via the ballot but I raised £150 for Alzheimers anyway. Driving up the day before it was apparent that cyclists had occupied the town. Every time I entered the hotel lift there was a carbon bike in it. For long rides I never know whether to fuel up the night before, on the morning or during the ride - so I did all 3. My sleep was apocalyptically bad, partly due to nerves and also to the boy racers thrashing around the empty streets. Just as I was telling myself to try for 2 more hours the alarm went off. The hotel laid on a cyclist’s breakfast after which I followed the bleary eyed hordes to the Olympic Park, you can’t get lost. I managed to complete the course with just 2 bottles and no stops, except 10 minutes or so for the crashes, heart attacks etc.
This was my second Ride London, though last year I rode it at a very leisurely pace as I turned it into a double century by riding to and from the event. So this year I was geared up to ride it at a brisker pace. Unfortunately, I was also working at the Ride London Expo on Friday and Saturday, so two days on my feet was the not the best preparation for a fast 100.
There are six colour coded start streams on 2 sides of the park. On arrival you can leave a bag to be collected at the finish and there are plenty of toilets too. Everyone has to enter holding pens with the faster riders generally having the earlier slots. It's never boiling hot before 6am. 2016 was a warm year but it's worth being prepared. You queue up to be released in batches and as you get closer to the Copper Box arena you hear the celebrities being interviewed at the start. Finally the MC asks the group to nominate a song to roll out to and the DJ does his best to oblige.
Once away from the start alongside the Velodrome at the Queen Elizabeth park, the wide roads into London were fast and I covered the first 68km in 2 hours. Grab a wheel, jump to the next train - it keeps you ticking along at a good speed, you don't want to stop.
My legs felt a little tired on Sunday morning so I rode with a couple of my work colleagues for the first 10 miles. Shortly after that I found a nice fast train to latch onto and so my pace soon increased. This was to be my tactic for the rest of the morning and I ensured I was always in a group for the flat sections and did my turn when required. On two occasions I had to drop out of the group I was in due to some inexperienced riders moving off their lines without looking and I was concerned that I was going to be brought down. But I managed to get around the course without incident and was also fortunate to only witness a couple of minor spills.
It’s a long wait at The Olympic Park but very well organised. The amazing thing about the speed right from the start was that it was everybody and it was sustained. Although the traditional 5 hour target was on my mind I was just out to enjoy myself so instead of jumping on every chain I spent a lot of time enjoying the space on the “wrong” side of the road. The speed of the other riders still drove me onwards. I thought I might run out of energy at some point but apart from a slight lull early on in Richmond Park I think I got stronger if anything.
The course takes a 6 mile southern detour so that the peloton can swing back round and climb Leith Hill before rolling on towards Box Hill. There is another drag a bit earlier on and a couple of sharper rises later on around Wimbledon. For South Downs cyclists there's nothing to worry about.
I didn't expect to be able to hold an average of 20 miles an hour for 5 hours but I did and now I'm hoping to ride next year and beat that time. The climbing is in the middle part of the ride from about 70km, gently up to Leith Hill and along to Box Hill at about 115km in. To be honest the climbs aren't difficult. The hardest part is negotiating slower riders on the right hand side of the road, they’re supposed to stick to the left, one rider caused me to stop as I was about to pass him on the climb up Leith.
I knew the hills were easy enough from riding them before. I was worried about being brought to a standstill on the climb and dangerous cyclists on the descent. I found that, although slower riders held me up on the ascent, the whole group was doing pretty well. So, although I could have gone quicker on Leith and Box Hill, I was surprised to find I had PBs for both. There was dangerous, selfish cycling to be seen on the downhills, Alan saw someone doing a full "Froome" top tube descent through the crowd. I stayed to the left out of harm’s way. Out on a descent on the A25 after Leith there was a 5 minute hold up for a horrible looking crash.
The final 10 miles, when I got past the last stoppage, were great. (My 10 minutes of standing time were annoying but you can see from Scott’s intervals that he came off way worse. I hope that the injured parties who were the cause of the delays are recovered now.) I blasted along the Embankment and picked off a rider I’d targeted on The Mall. I felt like a real cyclist having that much left at the end and think I could have sustained it for the last 25 if I’d had a clear run. My 5:11 could have been very close to 5 hours on the day without the stops and that's the hook; it’s almost inevitable that I’ll have another go. I wouldn't want to ride it in the wet though.
Heading back towards London, Leatherhead was a fast section. My legs (and backside) were starting to feel it as I came along the Embankment alongside the Thames. “Stop looking at the Garmin, keep going, nearly there!” It was a great feeling and sense of achievement when I finally crossed the line. I thought I was struggling in the last hour but it seems I did equal speed to the 2nd hour. The Club Night Ride was a great warm up to the event, having ridden further and in the saddle for a longer time, although a much slower ride. Bring it on 2017!
I was aiming for under 5:30, so I was very pleased with my 4:52. Would I do it again next year? I’m not sure. Whilst it’s wonderful to ride on closed roads, they aren’t the type of roads I would usually choose to ride on. And whilst the danger of being knocked off by a car is removed, the likelihood of being bought down by a rider with no experience of riding in a bunch seems to be high.
Highlights for me were riding on the closed roads of London, passing The Tower of London, Hampton Court, Richmond Park, Westminster and coming through Admiralty Arch onto the packed Mall with the finish line and Buckingham Palace in front of me. Plus, I can't say this too often: I overtook Mark Webber!
My favourite thing this year was seeing the chap on the Boris Bike 30 miles in. Also the camaraderie with the other riders after the event. There were plenty of riders to chat to and share stories on the train home.
I loved the whole closed road experience and the Blackwall Tunnel right near the start was a brilliant, surreal moment. There’s a phase early on where you race past several world famous sites one after the other which is brilliant and it makes a change to have the public cheering instead of swearing at you. I was worried I’d never find my Docklands hotel afterwards but I went in a pretty straight line after bumping into Paul 200m from my London office. (Even better that Richard made such a Horlicks of getting back to his!) I chatted with loads of other riders on the way back out there, it’s an uplifting, shared experience.
We are always happy to (re-)recruit long-distance members. Here's a recent chat with Gary Johnston, now living in Northern Scotland:
I was a member of the club in the 80's, joining when I was 15 - and remember well attending club nights at a social club (I think along by Shoreham power station), taking part in 10 mile TT's from Falmer to Lewes and back [that's right; the A27 was the '10' course! - Bob] and the odd 25 TT and Sunday Club runs as well.
At that time on club nights from Shoreham I remember some winter runs along the seafront in dark grim conditions under instruction from Roy (pretty sure that was his first name) Whitehead - whose son Martin was at school with me in the year above. Coming from Woodingdean I would also ride through to the Preston Park track on a Saturday morning and try out on my road bike with the club specialists. I remember Martin Penfold [Martin is still one of our club members – Bob] there and also seeing him take part in a Criterium race with the 'Big Boys' British Pros around Brighton Pavilion circuit in the days of the Milk Race.
I have enjoyed reading the website and club history and thinking back to my days of saving pocket money and paper round wages to buy various accessories and clothing from the cycle shops you mention in a bid to make me go faster.
I was also at college with Nick Burley - who I think was a member of various clubs - but worked at M&J Cycles [the shop was in Beaconsfield Road, then later in Preston Road Brighton; it closed in the late 90's], and even helped him with a project building a recumbent cycle for our A level design exams.
I now live in the Scottish Highlands just north of Inverness and have continued to cycle for fitness and fun - I still have my original Raleigh Rapide 531 tubing Campagnolo 980 equipped bike that I first bought and prompted me to joining your club some 30 years ago.
Visiting Brighton a few weeks ago and passing Preston Park track reminded me of those times. A subsequent call to Rayment Cycles (my old regular shop ), in search of a Brighton Excelsior club shirt, where the staff kindly recommended the club site to order one. I am gutted I can't find my old original club 'wooley' shirt from the 80's; however I do still have a TI Raleigh and a Panasonic Raleigh team shirt from that era which I still endeavour to squeeze into every now and then.
[Gary has now joined the Club again as a 'Lives Away' member, and will sport his Brighton Excelsior colours in Inverness and points North!]