Fred or Dead: Part 2

17 May

I was frustrated to lose the quick group and set about fixing the tyre without much much urgency but rather enjoyed the novelty of my first time fitting tubular tyres and using the CO2 inflation.  I tried not to think about what could happen on the descent of Honister if I made a balls up of it.  When two decent sized groups of quick riders went by though, the first containing wheelbase Mike who had dropped off the back of the other group on Kirkstone, I got my act together, finished up and set off in pursuit.  After a couple of miles down the road the new tyre was making an odd ticking noise each rotation and I decided to stop where the route hit the A66 to check it out.  I couldn’t find anything wrong with it in the end and lost more time but it was better that than ending up sliding down the road on my face later.

On the A66 I had little choice but to get as low as possible on the bike and put the hammer down as there weren’t any quick riders around.  I caught several groups of more leisurely riders quickly as the traffic had backed up behind them and I cheekily drafted a few cars and trucks to make my way up the road.  Eventually after a couple of miles of time trial action I reached a group that looked like it might contain some handy riders.  The group was fragmented though and not working together so I decided to accelerate away.  It was only when I’d got a few hundred yards down the road did they get together and give chase.  They caught me and I joined the group to recover but ready to do my bit when required and the group just fell apart again, no one wanting to take the work up front, as we pulled out of Keswick then I got fed up, hit the gas again and moved away.  By this time I didn’t care if I hit the bottom of Honister in a state – the idea now was to have a killer training ride, my chances of a good time had already gone.

I took to a time trial like pace again for a few miles putting plenty of distance between me and the other group and eventually caught two riders in Honister 92 jerseys.  The three of us worked well together for a while before sitting up and chatting a little as Honister loomed into view and we gathered ourselves to take it on.  Honister is the first of the very steep passes and arguably the second hardest climb on the Fred, partly because it is longer than Wrynose but also because its the first steep one and hits you hard sending your heart rate through the roof early on with no chance to get a rhythm.  Two riders from the A66 group, one in a Katusha top and another smaller guy in KMB kit, caught me half way up the steep section.  Both were clearly better climbers than me and had the physiques to match.  They moved up the hill with much less effort and started to disappear into the distance until the gradient relaxed a bit and I was able to keep them in sight.  Over the top and down the other side and I had thankfully completely forgotten about my hastily fitted tubs, even when passing the paramedics tending to the inevitable downed rider.  This section is super steep and NOT the place to crash, even so with a smooth line and looking far ahead I found myself easing off the brakes more and more and quickly passing numerous riders including the two riders who had done me on the climb.

I reached the checkpoint at Buttermere just ahead of the KMB rider and, knowing we were heading for Newlands Pass straight after I ‘dibbed’ quickly and gave him the slip.  Both he and the Katusha guy, predictably, caught me on the climb but they’d clearly put in an effort to do so as, when I turned round to give a bit of banter acknowledging our little battle, there was no reply and I was able to pull away a little again to prolong the fight.  Sure enough though their power to weight ratio did me again but by this time we were almost at the top and as it leveled out I was able to catch up before making my getaway on the descent.  I was from there to Whinlatter I was able to put a decent distance between us just by descending quicker but I hit a dead stop when traffic was backed up in Braithwaite and a marshal held me and some other riders at the junction for a good minute.  When we got going again and exiting Braithwaite, Katusha guy and KMB man appeared from a side street, obviously missing the jammed junction and were right back on my case – cheeky!

KMB man had probably had enough by this point, or maybe his smaller frame lacked the power as I didn’t see him for a bit and Katusha guy and me were locked in another battle.  He put a couple of hundred meters into me as I struggled to keep back cramp but then I got a rhythm I could hold and he didn’t get any further away.  I heard the familiar cries of “put him in the Hurt Locker!” from a certain Ian Leitch standing on the side of the road, it wasn’t directed at me but it gave me enough encouragement to mount a fresh attack and I started reeling Katusha guy back in again.  As in the previous year the top of Whinlatter was full of people cheering and that gave me all the encouragement I needed to put in an effort that saw me catch him.  By the top he was more talkative and we chatted a bit before he said ‘you’ll burn me in these s-bends’ and backed off as the road got steeper and faster again.

Yet another descent and another getaway and I was starting to hurt but then so was everyone else.  The next few hills we smaller but the terrain was trying  – crucially I was starting to run out of food and water and rationing them only added to the fatigue.  I conceded to eat everything I had left and stop at the next feed station to re-fuel.  Approaching the bottom of Cold Fell my tyre was starting to feel soft again so I had to stop to top it up with the last of the CO2 again and yet again I was caught and passed but this time I was quite a way back.  Cold fell is my type of climb though, shallower gradient and long, by the top I had caught them all and by the descent it was the same old getaway.  I stopped at Calderbridge only to get passed again and find I had much more water that I thought, then at Irton Pike it was Katusha guy’s turn for a pit-stop and by the roll in to Hardknott we were all together again but I knew what would happen next.

Hardknott is the climb where you concentrate on putting the next pedal stroke in because that’s all you think you can manage, then you go for the next one and the one after that and eventually you end up near the top with one last push to make.  Every time I climb that hill I don’t think I’m going to make it and every time I get to the top I still don’t feel like it should have been possible, like somehow I’ve cheated and slipped by while gravity wasn’t looking.  By the top my front tyre was soft again, like nearly flat soft, I tried the CO2 again but in vain and set off gingerly on the descent.  Wrynose was hard but manageable in the wake of Hardknott and knowledge it was the last push but the bodies of the broken and tired were littered around the final few hundred meters.  By the descent my tyre was just about flat and when I hit the cattle grid near the bottom that was the final nail in the coffin (in fact I thought the rim was going to shatter).  I tried to re-fit the original tyre and get more gas out of the half spent canister but it was no use.  Around the corner a guy gave me the rest of his CO2 and that got me a couple of miles down the road before it was dead flat again.  After a mile or so of riding on the rim I borrowed a pump of a marshal and got a modest amount of air into the tyre.  There was only a few miles left to go and a guy passed me an shouted ‘jump on!’  I started to say it was a bad idea to go his speed with a flat tyre but then went anyway and held on.  My GPS was reading slightly out and it wasn’t as far as I thought back to Conniston.  I was pleased to make it back and totally surprised to scrape into the ‘elite’ category by the skin of my teeth with a time of 6 hours and 59 minutes and 19 seconds.  I was pretty happy with that considering everything.

PHEW!

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