Monday, 16 May 2011

The Big Bike Ride 2011 - Wetherby(ish) to Scarborough

This was our first chance to get a taste of an organised cycling event - with support vehicles, signposts (!), a designated chocolate bar stop, and 160-odd other cyclists to boot! The Big Bike Ride is in aid of Andrea's Gift foundation, a charity that funds research into brain tumours throughout the Yorkshire region. The Big Bike Ride is an annual cycle from Wetherby and up to the wind-swept East Yorkshire coastal town of Scarborough, where fish and chips await.
We set off  at 7am with blue skies overhead, but a suspect weather forecast lurking near the front of our minds, carrying plenty of carbohydrates and water on our backs and bike frames. Though the route started at Wetherby it had been agreed that we would meet the route on the road towards Wetherby, clocking up the mileage we needed for success via Route 65 to Tollerton.

The first 18 miles were enjoyable and easy, with the exception of a herd of confused cows intent on breakfasting on the cyclepath. After a Marmite sandwich on Tollerton Green, I spotted a few lycra-clad cyclists waving as they shot past us; a quick look at the large numbers pinned to our chests reminded me that we were in a race and better get going! The route opens up into the fantastic Howardian Hills, hugely accessible from York and dominated by the imposing Castle Howard, but not before passing up the terrifying Bulmer Bank: a very steep incline indeed. For the first time we both made it to the top without having to push, or (in my case) very nearly toppling off in front of a car, and there was much whooping and cheering as the hill levelled out into the village of Bulmer.

 There was a support van at the top offering out chocolate, cereal bars and water to the hungry cyclists, and we stopped off to catch up with some of the other riders. There was a very social feel and some serious bike-envy on my part. (Also, some marvelling at the array of technical bike wear on display - sealskin calf-warmers anyone? How about thermo-stretch overshoes?) From here on, it was long roads and some long hills, with a bit of unpleasant cycling in heavy traffic on the A169. We stopped off for lunch just outside the lovely market town of Malton, which was a good call as the rest of the route was a steady and excruciating uphill to Scarborough.

The final test came on the A170 when cyclists were literally dropping off like flies into the roadside verge ("You alright mate?" "Yep, got cramp"). To top it all off, a heavy shower of hail appeared from nowhere, bouncing off our helmets and backs, biting into our skin. I don't remember too much about the final few miles to North Bay, but Catherine assures me there was a wonderful view of the sea when we finally reached the top of the hill. I was dizzy and my legs were refusing to turn the pedals anymore at this point - the closest I've come (though I can't be certain I was there) to the infamous Wall that people fitter than me discuss. I was woken from this utter torture by a horrendous sheet of rain from the North Sea, which accompanied us all the way to the finish line. It added a sense of drama to the occasion and, bumping over the cobbles to Marine Drive, we were elated and ecstatic to be at the end, surrounded by smiling faces.

We were soaked to the bone and Catherine quickly went blue, but after some much needed Soreen and photographs we were ready to face the train ride home. On the train, I enjoyed some well-earned chips and scraps (just say yes) while we discussed the race in intricate detail all the way back to York.

This is a brilliant race and has only made us more eager to get out on the bikes and prepare for that 100-mile challenge in August. It's not going to be easy - I know that I had absolutely no more miles left in me after the 64th - but it's definitely going to be a lot of fun.

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