Tour of Pain

My hip still aches, which I’ll take as on Saturday night I was walking like John Wayne, bow-legged and slowly. Although I hadn’t been near a horse I’d spent just over 4 hours in the saddle of my trusty Giant bike. It’s probably a good advert for my Specialised saddle and my Decathlon bib shorts that the only thing that didn’t hurt was my arse. My quads were on fire, my feet ached, my left knee…well was being my left knee, and my hands were sore from pulling on brake levers. Not what I was expecting from an event my training partner Andy H described to me as “A nice gentle ride round the Lakes” Hmmmm….

Familiar Logo?

Le Tour de Staveley is a 48 mile sportive organised by the cycle store Wheelbase. It has 4029 feet of climbing, and features a 2 mile “Bianchi Strada” climb over Gummers Howe, but more about that later.

I was doing the event with Dave The Ex-Spartan, who was fresh off a trip to the other Tour that’s going on across the Channel at the moment. It was great hearing tales of his trip and about the training he’s been doing as we waited for the start. Suzie and Annie of Team Spartan where also present to take photos ( all in this post courtesy of them ) and to tell us about their arduous afternoon following the course and stopping for afternoon tea….I think they had the more sensible approach to a nice afternoon in the Lake District.

I’d been given the race number of 220 – maybe they knew I was a triathlete?

Smiles all around before the start.

The fast riders started at 3pm, whilst the more sedate competitors such as myself started at 3.10pm. The first 10 miles or so was a bit of a bun fight as 300 riders streamed down narrow lanes, as we headed away from Staveley into the flat lands of Levens Valley. The peloton was halted by a slow moving herd of cows on the road, conversation and jokes a plenty as riders passed the time. A distinct polar opposite to the atmosphere that was about to descend over the riders as we approached 14 miles and the climb of Tow Top.

That's what 4029ft of climbing looks like.

The climb was 20%, I can safely say that I’ve never experienced anything like it. At the foot of the climb Dave rode away from me, his strength and his recent loss of weight paying off. Switch back after switch back, each one getting progressively steeper, sapped both my legs and my spirit. Through bloodshot eyes I could see a pile up, and Dave, standing by his bike. He was fine, he’d just had to stop to avoid the crash. I weaved through somehow and kept pedalling squares, my lungs were on fire and I sounded like Darth Vader with a cold. About 3/4s of the way up two riders just fell in front of me, they just couldn’t pedal anymore, the steepness causing them to roll backwards. In a split second I unclipped, if not I would have crashed over them. It took all my strength to keep the bike upright as my feet touched the ground. Getting back on was not an option, gravity was against me. I started to walk pushing the bike, joining the now long procession of riders on foot. My cleeted shoes slipped on the steep road like brogues on an ice rink, 30 seconds later I was walking up the harsh surface in just my socks. My feet hurt but at least I could walk. Dave overtook me walking and we both kind of grunted at each other, those grunts spoke volumes.

Finally nearing the top it levelled out enough to jump back on the bike and pedal very slowly up the rest of the hill. I could see Dave talking to Team Spartan, I couldn’t repeat what I said when I pulled over to talk and have a gel. The climb had gone from 62ft to 514ft in less than a mile, now that is brutal, no wonder it hurt.

At the top of the 20% Tow Top

At the top of the 20% Tow Top - that's a grimace, not a smile

There was a little time to recover as we headed through High Newton and over Bigland Fell before dropping down into Backbarrow where we were spurred on by parents, who’d come out to offer encouragement. This was much needed. We then hit the Furness Fells and more climbing. As my Garmin showed 25 miles I remarked to Dave “That’s the hardest 25 miles I’ve ever ridden”, little did I know the rest of the course wasn’t going to get any easier.

Descending down towards Newby Bridge we were treated to the spectacular site of a huge wild boar running towards us up the road, it was a magnificent creature. It easily jumped a wall and headed into the forest as we prepared for the next challenge of the day.

The “Bianchi Strada” or “White Road” was a forest track that went off-road over Gummer Howe. There was the option to stay on the road which was a hard enough climb, but we decided we might as well give the harder climb a go. Two miles uphill, covering 587 ft on slate and loose gravel on a mountain bike would be hard, on a road bike it was bloody tough. Dave had obviously been on the Spanish Beef as he shot off away from me, riding like a man possessed. I found an easy gear, sat back and methodically worked my way up the climb, passing plenty of fellow riders. It was tough on the legs, and the arms keeping the bike level on such an uneven surface but the sense of achievement at the top and the stunning views of Lake Windermere were worth all the pain and effort. This for me was the highlight of the day.

What goes up must come down right? Knackered and sore I started the two mile descent down 662ft of steep gravel track. I’d have been nervous on fat mountain bike tyres, my 23mm slick road tyres were sliding all over the place. I got cramp in my wrists as my brakes were squeezed for all they were worth. It was serious Squeeky bum time!! I even had to stop as the uneven ground caused my chain to come off.

Soon after though relief came in a pub checkpoint where free drinks were on offer. Dave had a beer as we caught up again with Team Spartan. I feared the alcohol would not help the cramp I’d been getting sporadically in my quads and groin since about 22 miles so opted for a blackcurrant and lemonade. It was pure bliss, despite 3 bottles I was parched.

A well earned drink

A well earned drink.

Suitably refreshed we hoped that the final 8 miles would be easy, we should have known better. Almost 400 ft of climbing awaited us. With about 3 miles to go Dave went away as I was done. Pulling into the finish I was both relieved and pleased that the ride was over and I’d completed it. It had been very tough. I finished in 4.05, and Dave was ahead of me by about 12 minutes. Map and stats of the ride from my garmin are here.

A well-earned free beer from the Hawkshead brewery accompanied the cassoulet and french bread from Wilfs Cafe.

It was a tough day out but a thoroughly enjoyable one. I really must thank Team Spartan for their support and Dave for dragging me round when he could have easily rode away from me early on and got a much quicker time. He’s in the form of his life. Would I do it again? I would actually, I’d love to get climbing fit and attack this course. My lack of bike miles really showed but I think I can improve on this time quite a lot. Got to drop the weight, train the lungs and work the legs.

Le Tour de Staveley – I’ll be back, see you again.



2 responses to “Tour of Pain

  1. Great post Andy, was there myself, Tow Top was a bit of a challenge!!!
    It was my 1st cycle event & I’ve entered for my 1st Tri in September at Fleetwood. Just got your book and must say I’m really enjoying it….you’re certainly inspiring me to greater things!!! Keep up the good work!!

  2. Hey John,
    Thanks for commenting. As a first cycle event you certainly picked a good one!!
    I’m also doing fleetwood so keep an eye out for me. Good luck with the training and the race.
    Glad you are enjoying the book!!

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