Regular readers will no doubt have noticed that I've ridden quite a few sportives (timed road rides) over the last few years, this weekend was different - we were the organising club. With the Tour de France coming through Skipton in just five weeks' time there was a desire to have a local event to tie in with it.
Thus the local council and club put together a sportive and recreational ride covering part of the route that Le Tour will take on its first day. Several months of planning, designing and ordering stationary, sorting out the feed stations and supplies for those, getting sponsors on board and many more tasks followed. The numbers signing up for the rides steadily but slowly mounted and with a couple of weeks to go we had a projected entry of around 750. Then things went mad and there was a rush of late entries and we had to limit numbers to 900.
Saturday morning and a few of us turned up to move materials from the council offices up to the event centre at the Auction Mart. With 900 riders plus family members you need quite a large area to cope. The mart also has a cafe so we had on-site catering thrown in. A morning of work and we'd got the basics sorted out: food for the feed stations split up; signs sorted out and put up around the routes; barriers in place. The afternoon shift were getting all 900 envelopes filled with timing chip, food slip and bike number, then sorting them in to alphabetical order ready for the riders to pick up in the morning.
Sunday morning and it's a 5am start! Cath was one of the registration team so needed to get away early whilst I had been assigned two roles: one as part of the start team for the sportive and of "sweeper" also for the sportive ride so didn't need to be there quite so early but even so it was just after 6am when I got on site. The weather looked like it was going to be a scorcher.
We hadn't even got the inflatable start banner up before the first of the riders was on the start line! Come 0800 and we had a big bunch of riders waiting to go. Rather than let everyone go at once and block the roads we were letting groups of 20 or so go every two minutes and it was my job to organise this and check that people had got their numbers on their bikes and timing chips on their helmets - I wasn't being too strict on it being exactly twenty: if there was a group obviously riding together then I let fewer or more through as was expedient. By 0840 just about the whole field had set off so any turning up could just go once they'd had their starter briefing about the ride.
There were three cut-off points for the sportive ride: top of Kidstones(1100), Ribblehead(1400) and Settle(1500) with the timing system at the finish being taken down at 1700. All I had to do (hopefully) was ride until I came across the back markers and ride with them, if they hadn't reached the locations by the cut-off times then I'd to ask them to retire. Due to setting off a little late (40 minutes!) I was ten minutes late in getting to Kidstones where there was a St John's ambulance - the descent from here was the trickiest part of the course, to be told that there'd been an accident, one of the early riders had broken his shoulder.
All this had happened some time earlier so it was time for me to press on and get to the first food stop at Aysgarth. The last rider had left just five minutes or so before I'd arrived so I'd plenty of time to grab something to drink and eat as I'd got over two hours to get to the next cut-off. Despite us setting the riders off as spread out as possible they'd pretty much arrived at this food stop en-masse so they'd been rushed off their feet for about half an hour.
I always find the road up Wensleydale a bit of a drag and today was no exception, there was also a slight headwind so it was a case of plodding along. The road out of Hawes had just been covered in chippings, "road dressing" being the correct term, and it was hard work keeping traction on the initial steep climb. Halfway up Widdale I caught the back marker up, a lady on a mountain bike. So it's slow down and have a chat encouraging her along.
She'd never ridden more than 40 miles before and she'd got a sore bum! But she was still pushing on. At the top of the climb was another St John's ambulance so a chat with them to let them know I was the sweeper and then it was catch-up on the descent to Ribblehead. We got to Ribblehead with half an hour to spare before the cut-off, the lady had though about retiring there but decided to press on to the food stop at Horton.
By the time we get to Horton she's decided that she'll abandon there and get the train back. The next back marker is also there getting stocked up for the last section. Again I give him a bit of time to get going as I only have to be in Settle by 3pm and it only takes twenty minutes or so to ride. The Horton food stop was supplied by the village and was proper sandwiches, cakes, etc rather than gels and bars. The ladies serving up the food were very appreciative of all the riders and said they'd all been polite and pleasant which is really good to hear.
With the food stop tidying up it was time to get down to Settle. I got there with ten minutes to spare and no sign of the back marker. After a call to event HQ to let them know I'd be on my way it was just the small matter of High Lane. Now the road signs say this is 16% but it's actually over 20% for the first part up out of town and is a real grind (it's harder than the climb out of Langcliffe which is in the 100 top climbs book). It was here that I saw the only abandoned gel wrapper on the entire route, that's one piece of litter from nearly 500 riders.
I caught the back marker up at the top of the steep bit so it was then a case of riding back to the finish at his pace. On the flat he wasn't that slow but any slight uphill was a bit of work. We got to the finish with half an hour to spare and with the rest of the crew cheering us in. Unfortunately we weren't the last home as one rider had taken a wrong turn in Hetton and we'd leap-frogged her in getting to Rylstone, luckily she was a local so knew her way back.
All in all a long day out. Judging from the comments on Twitter (search for LPGD2014) everyone taking part really enjoyed it, we couldn't have asked for better weather