Thursday, 23 May 2013

Etape du Dales

Some years ago a friend mentioned that she was doing the Etape du Dales. Having not heard of it I looked it up and felt somewhat in awe, basically if there was a big or steep hill in the Dales then you rode over it.

Back to the present and with a year of cycling as my main sport I felt ready to have a go. Except I didn't. Breaking my ankle in January put training back by a couple of months and I didn't feel as if I'd got the miles in my legs. Still I'd entered. My get-out clause of wind and rain failed to materialise so at 6:15am on Sunday morning I turned up at the event HQ at Threshfield Rugby Club. There was a posse from Skipton CC doing the ride but I thought I'd better start off a bit earlier as they were all fitter than me.

My basic plan was to get round, I'd set myself a target time of 9hrs, I'd be ecstatic with 8hrs and a time of 7hrs would lead to a trip to doping control :-) The weather was cool and overcast with no wind, ideal.

Timer attached to bike, there was little to do except get in the next group of ten or so to be let loose on the route. And then we were away, the first objective was to get warmed up before the foot of Fleet Moss so I ended up in a group of about six or seven pedalling away nicely along the back lanes of Wharfedale. Come Fleet Moss there were only a couple at my pace so either I was going OK or they knew something I didn't. Fleet Moss from the south side is relatively straightforward if long and you get  a breather after each steep section. (1hr mark: bridge over beck at Yockenthwaite)

On Fleet Moss, looking fairly happy

The first food stop at Hawes was gained in 1hr40 which I had in my mind as being around 8hr pace. There was just one of the original group with me so we continued over Buttertubs pass together. Now I'd never cycled any of the roads north of the Hawes - Garsdale road so other than looking at the map I didn't really know what to expect. Again, the reality wasn't as bad as I thought it might be, all the steep bits are low down and once you've passed the old mine workings at about quarter distance then it's a pleasant ride so it wasn't long till we reached the summit. (2hr mark: mine workings on Buttertubs ascent)

The drop down to Swaledale was a blast and even the first mile or so along the valley didn't require pedalling. Then it was a bit of roller-coaster road to get to Low Row and the next big climb. This is one of the steeper sections of the route, getting to 25%, plus it's a narrow lane in trees so you can't zig-zag around if you get tired. Then there's a cattle grid! Fortunately it's past the steep stuff. My companion was falling behind - I found out later he'd dropped his chain and his legs were tiring. The section over Reeth Moor is a bit undulating with two big drops, the second is to a ford which can be tricky but it was OK today. Finally there's a great, open, descent down to Arkengarthdale and the start of the next climb - Tan Hill. (3hr mark: Ford on Reeth Moor)

Any conversation about the Etape inevitably turns to the climb to Tan Hill. It's not steep, in fact there are quite a few descents and it only gains 150m in 13Km, but it's open and is in to the prevailing wind. Today with no wind, it was still a grind and by the end I could feel a bit of cramp coming on in my right thigh. Fortunately this started about 100m before the top of the last climb so I was able to drop down to the food stop at the pub and get replenished. 3hrs45 to here.

I took a good twenty minutes getting in some proper food rather than gels and power bars at Tan Hill before setting off again. The descent back in to Swaledale is open and fast until the last little bit which is a series of tight switchbacks before the turn right to Lamps Moss. (4hrs mark: Crossing the Swale - note this is riding time)

This was one bit of the route I didn't enjoy, basically it was my bad patch and the whole climb just felt hard work and a bit of a drag. The descent though was brilliant! It had been described to me as being alpine, open and fast, you can see round pretty well every bend so there's not much need for braking. All too soon it was over and I was faced with the one bit of road that I didn't really look forward to: the climb up to the Moorcock Inn. I've driven it and it's always felt as if there's more up than there should be.

As it turned out, it wasn't as bad as I'd made it out to be and I got to the Moorcock about ten minutes up on what I was expecting. (5hr mark: Pendragon Castle & 5:33 at the Moorcock) What I knew was coming up was The Coal Road, I'd done this on a recce a few weeks earlier but not with 70 miles in my legs. As you approached the base you could see a long line of cyclists slowly inching their way up the climb. Again, the steepest part is at the bottom so basically once you get past that you know you can do the rest. It's still pretty steep but there are easings to allow you to recover.

Still looking OK on the Coal Road

The mist was still down for the lumpy road over the top and then you dropped out of the cloud as you pick up speed for the descent in to Dentdale. I thought I was going quickly at about 40mph but a group shot past me. One of them obviously overdid it as I heard a scraping sound on the first sharp bend and he was just picking himself up as I went past. (6hr mark: Dent station)

Typically the sun chose to make an appearance on the most sheltered part of the route, the climb up to Newby Head. I've done this several times so it wasn't too bad as I knew what was coming up. Then another blast, down to Ribblehead and then on down through Horton to the final foodstop at Stainforth (7hr30) I got passed by Sean just before the stop. 7hrs12 to here.

One last climb over to Halton Gill and I was going OK, if slowly. Then it was just the ride down the valley to the finish. Somehow I managed to find some energy in my legs and made good time, even managing some Jens Voigt like "keep going" messages to my legs.

Finally I crossed the line with an official time of 8hrs27, my actual moving time was 7:45.

Surprisingly I didn't feel too bad, certainly not as bad as after the White Rose ride last year which was 30 miles shorter. I'd actually gone out with a drink/food strategy that I pretty much stuck to and this probably made a big difference. Could I have gone faster? Possibly though I might have suffered a bit more during the latter part of the ride.

All in all a good day out, I certainly slept well that night.

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