|Pic: Ed Rollason|
See that above - that's a grown man's lip quivering that is. This year, the Peaks was and still feels, like an almost overwhelmingly emotional challenge. OK, and a bit physical too.
From the incomprehensible shock at the steepness of Simon Fell (despite being there many times before), to the heart-rending sight of training partner and confidant Dave Haygarth so obviously broken but persisting on, with a dose of utter loneliness on the road to Penyghent sandwiched in between - heck it felt like a hard year. A rollercoaster of emotions, up and down often in diammetric opposition to the angle of the terrain.
|Down but not out - Dave nurses his broken collarbone before gathering himself and walking/coasting to the finish. In 4 hrs 10 mins!|
Pic: Andy Holden
At the finish, all talk was of the tough conditions, windy on the road, boggy off it. Of crashes, and near misses - usual Peaks stuff. It was a hard year no doubt, but as ever I kept things smooth and controlled, mostly.
And I was faster, I 'know' I was. The splits tell a different story - slower on the descents, slower on the road - but that is only half the picture. I flowed more, I took more risks that were calculated and that paid off. The mojo was there going downhill, something I had worked on all year.
Ultimately, however I was undone by wind, wheel sucking bog and a shocker of a transition from Ribblehead to Horton, riding alone and hesitant over how much to save for the final climb to come. Salvation came late in the form of the fast and consistent Isla Rowntree (2nd Lady and current Vets National Cyclocross Champ) and she led me steadily up much of PYG before forging ahead. Some time saved.
|Pic: Neil Coverley|
Not much left then, other than to make it down safely and quickly. It felt fast down PYG, it was fast, well for me but it wasn't enough to clip under the magic 4 hours like last year. And hence the disappointment. Few were faster this year in the tough conditions, though fellow Belgian and perennial running mate, Richard Allen improved significantly to ride home in 3 hrs 55 mins - a superb effort, the foundations of which were laid as he walked away from me at the very steepest section of Simon Fell. Chapeau, through gritted teeth.
So in true emotional Oscar-winning speech style, I would like to thank Dave for his sharing of the pain of Bull Hill reps and many many wise tips, and Konrad Manning (Rapha) for his co-operation on the road out of Ingleton - now there were two well dressed riders if ever I saw them. Thanks too to my wife Margaret, who indulged her paranoid husband beforehand, cooked all weekend for our guests Greg and Pauline, and even brought the kids to cheer Dad in. And as ever, my now experienced and trusty support crew in the form of Mark who delivered bottles and a bike right on cue - thank you so much and please don't get any ideas about riding in future years..
Please don't take this personally Alan - I've been reading a few blog posts and reports saying it's harder in 2011 - and indeed it was (3 mins more for Nick Craig to Cold Cotes for example - four more for me on the 2010 time) ... BUT - there was a mega tailwind on the road section from Ingleton and also incredibly wind-assisted top of Whernside section - making some grinds very very ride-able. The result (for me) was a massive 4 mins faster this year on the split between Cold Cotes to summit of Whernside.
I know - it's swings and roundabouts - but you have to take what solace you can from those uplifting bits!
Regretfully my other splits don't really bear much comparison (punctures this year, broken brakes last year) which is annoying...
You're dead right - it was wind assisted toward and up Whernside, very noticeably so. I'd forgotten that in amongst the struggle elsewhere on the course.
Even more a case of 'must try harder' then. Natch.
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