A different kind of two wheels….
It’s 8am on a Sunday morning… I’m picking myself, and my push bike, up from the tarmac of a Manchester motorway roundabout wearing Lycra! The only way I think this scene could get any more embarrassing is if my headphone socket had popped out to reveal One Direction playing on my iPod! This, readers, is my Manchester 100k bike ride and I haven’t even got to the startline yet.
I’d been looking for something to keep me race fit for a while. The rigours of the Isle of Man TT and even my short circuit race career mean that the fitter you are the better you will perform. I’d been running in the mornings before work to train previously but found it gives me a right pounding (straining a calf muscle prior to last year’s TT), feels like I’m getting nowhere and I’m also crap at it! A gym membership would have been a waste with scarce free time available (married, young son, being a TT mega star and working full time etc, etc). So I took to cycling and have been doing it, on a regular basis, since the early spring (I didn’t just jump on the Bradley Wiggins band wagon!). I bought the cheapest bike possible and a few gentle rides later started cycling the 14 miles to work 3 days a week (unless it was raining hard!). I started getting more involved and eventually bought a better bike (trek 1.5). The plan to ride in the Manchester 100k was hatched a month or so ago and I started to build the mileage up taking the 30 mile scenic route to work on various occasions. After some numbness in the, shall we say, ‘meat and two veg’ area whilst riding, I decided I’d best start looking into this issue. Over the next few weeks ‘meat and two veg’ became a big (no pun intended) topic of conversation. For example I’d text Jo (wife) after arriving safe at work something like “all ok blah blah blah, my knob was numb by the Dunham arms!” Several thousand seat positions/angles and a pair of decent padded shorts later I can confirm that the problem is resolved! Which is a result as fumbling down the front of my shorts riding past the local high school was eventually going to end up with a police charge!
Anyway back to the subject. The usual racing team, Jo, Ann (mother in law), Ted (2yr old son) and I, set off from home early on Sunday morning with my push bike wedged into the Renault Scenic between Ted and me in the back. On arrival the queue to get off the motorway wasn’t moving fast and we were close enough to hear the PA system in Wythenshawe Park where the ride was starting from. With time marching on I jumped out, loaded up my pockets with energy gels, and rode the last half a mile to the park. Jo then set off to swap water bottles with me further into the route. Soon after taking up cycling I read about the benefits of using SPD (feet clipped in) pedals. A cheap set of shoes and pedals bought through Ebay later I’ve been happy, and had no accidents, with them ever since. Although riding through heavy traffic, with these pedals, hasn’t been a big part of my cycling training I now find myself having to do so outside a bike event in which 4000 people are taking part. Just as this thought entered my head the traffic stopped a bit quicker than I was expecting and although I stopped easily in the panic didn’t twist my foot enough to free it from the pedal. I pulled some stupid faces during the next 2 seconds and then slowly but surely fell like tree (with a push bike for roots) flat onto the roundabout. Quickly jumping to my feet, whilst smiling as if I thought it was funny, I gathered my stuff up, jumped back on and rode, with one foot kept unclipped, to the park. A short assessment once into the park revealed that I’d cut my knee but I reckoned I’d probably live for, at least, the rest of the day.
The park was packed with every type of cyclist going. I needn’t have worried about being the odd one out. There was every type of person from the cycling spectrum from Tour De France wannabes to a random guy in full Union Jack apparel on a mountain bike with a Tesco carrier bag hanging from his handlebars. I elected not to queue for the overloaded portaloos using the park trees in the way nature intended. I then handed my entry card in at the start tent to be given the route map, stuffing this in my back pocket along with my emergency contact details, just in case my cut knee got worse!
I sat at the start line whilst they waited for a gang of starters to assemble leaving a suitable gap from the previous group, the marshal dropped the rope and we were off. Not quite the engine revving and adrenaline fuelled Isle of Man TT start I’m more used to. I settled in to a gentle pace. I’d never ridden more than 35 miles in one stint before so I figured that metering out my energy so that I would last the distance was the best plan. I didn’t want to have to go into work on Monday to announce that I’d had a cardiac arrest at the 40 mile marker. I settled into a group, there were bikes pretty much as far as the eye could see, 2 abreast for the first 20 miles of the ride. I’d never ridden in a group before but found it saved loads of energy as I found myself being dragged along in the airstream as opposed to battling against the wind and swearing like I normally do. 9 miles in, at Tatton Park, I spotted Jo, Ann and Ted waving at the side of the road I reckoned I was still looking fresh faced at this point so it was nice to get some support. I set a plan to run at around 20mph where possible and not to try and hold the pace with the blokes whose calves looked like the top of a lego brick. At the first short climb out of Great Budworth I was pleased that I seemed to be holding my own. I was passing plenty of people who were up out of the seat pushing hard, whilst I was still seated and spinning it up at a lesser pace, than I normally would, to conserve my energy. I also spotted my first casualty of the ride, Union Jack man was off and pushing but such was the spirit of the event I’m positive that he made the finish line. The drizzle, which was coming down, turned to rain and for a few miles, I was amused by the guy in front riding no-handed and wrestling with a waterproof top. I just toughed it out and got wet, to be honest the spray coming up onto my backside was more annoying than the rain and it cleared up quicker than it had started. I pressed on with a group and learned a few hand signals to warn others that a car was coming or of a pot hole in the road. Arriving, 20 miles in, at the Anderton boat lift Jo shouted me across and after a 2 minute stop for a water bottle swap I was on my way again. After this stop the groups seemed to spread right out and the only other riders that I saw, until the end of the ride, were ones which I was overtaking. It was a shame that I never came across a group to drag me around for the rest of the ride. I mistakenly nearly took to the 100 mile route at the turn off point, spotting the sign for the 100k route to turn left I assumed this would be a way from the actual junction and promptly flew past and had to turn around 300 yards up the road.
The course was good, well sign posted/marshaled and was relatively flat and for my first big event this was welcome. The route went down as far as Church Minshull, up through Winsford to Knutsford and back to Wythenshawe. I kept a steady pace, setting my personal target of under 3 hrs 30 minutes to finish. I was just about on course, having another two minute stop with 10 miles to go. Once at this point I was happy to try a bit harder, knowing that I’d got enough left in the tank. I’d also got an iphone app on giving me 5 mile updates on time/distance/speed so I knew that I was just about on my target time. With 2 miles to go I had about 7 minutes to go so pressed on, solo, into what was now a bit of a headwind. A short kick up hill near to home was the only point in the ride at which I was feeling it through my legs. I had a quick glance over my shoulder a mile from home to see that the first rider that I’d come across for ages had tagged onto my back wheel! Riding back into the Park was a good feeling, the family were there giving me a cheer, I pushed hard onto the home straight to show off obviously. Stopping in the finishing tent I whipped my phone out and pressed the stop button. 3hrs 29 mins 38 seconds, 22 seconds underneath my goal, I’d love to say that this was all planned to perfection, being the professional that I am, but other than the last 5 miles I’d not taken much notice of any schedule.
The finish line guy on the PA asked me my name – don’t you know who I am? – and got me to announce that I’d raised £100 for The Christie (the cancer charity, whom the ride was in aid of). I got my certificate for finishing the ride had some ham sandwiches and stunk the car out for the drive home! A quick rest at home then Jo and I took young Ted out to the park on his bike. He learned to ride without stabilisers this week and going for a ride was the only thing he wanted to do that afternoon, looks like I’ve started him on the cycle/motorcycling path, oops!
All in all I was impressed with the way in which the event had been run, it can’t be easy to organize something of this size. I really enjoyed the ride and aside from my backside aching a bit towards the end (meat and two veg were fine for those interested) I reckon I could’ve done the full 100 mile. Maybe next time…..