Ride Across Britain

All of this years riding has been as a build up to an early September attempt to Ride Across Britain from Land’s End to John O’Groats. 969 miles in nine days. It started last year when I rode a couple of day stages as part of the Dulux Peloton. I enjoyed it so much that, with some training, thought it would be good to try for the whole thing this year. This blog has documented all the training rides I’ve used to get me ready, with highlights being the Tour of Flanders, The Tour of Yorkshire and the Ride London 100. Now the ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats is done, and this is the official trip report!

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Rather than a boring day-by-day account, I’ll try to give a flavor of the typical day, some highlights from along the trip, and a table of statistics.

Just back from mountain biking across Scotland in perfect weather and it was straight down to the Dulux Decorator Centre in Altrincham to drop off my road bike for them to transport to Land’s End. Three short days at work, with my mind on the challenge ahead, and then Friday brought an expensive railway journey from Darlington to Penzance. Luckily Liz had packed me up with some fantastic food for the journey, including special biscuits!

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Who needs a route map when you have one of these?

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Landing at Penzance I joined the rest of the Dulux team for a minibus to Land’s End. The journey had taken so long there was just time to register, collect and check the bike, get a tent allocated and grab some dinner before the evening briefing, and then off to bed.

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The obligatory start line photograph

A typical day

Depending on how far through the ride you are, and who is around you can determine whether your day starts in the early hours listening to one of your neighbours snoring away in their tent, or whether you sleep through to the 5:30am alarm call. This is some cheesy music piped over the PA system at high volume. On Day One this was Take That with “Greatest Day”. Yes it was cheesy, but lying in my sleeping bag with this immense challenge ahead, yes, it was emotional too! On the last day we had Elbow with “One Day Like This,” again cheesy, but again emotional. In between days were less memorable, or skipped, as you’ll see.

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My home for the week would generally look like this…
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Far too early for civilised people to be up and about

Once woken up, you have to negotiate your way out of the warm sleeping bag and into a cold tent full of condensation. Out to the toilet block for morning ablutions. Do you shower in the morning? You’ll be getting hot and sweaty shortly and showering when you get in, so why bother? I alternated, generally going for two showers per day once I got into it.

Then off to breakfast in the big tent. This is done on a military scale, and the food is good, but essentially just fuel for the day. Fried breakfast every day with no guilt is certainly a nice place to be.

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Then it’s time to drop off your bag with DHL and collect the bike, ensure the water bottles are full, and either join the Dulux morning inspirational talk, or get right to the front of the queue to start at 7:00am sharp. I alternated: it was good to be in the team, but the September weather was close to freezing at this time of the morning in the beautiful clear skies we enjoyed, whereas late afternoon was closer to 20°C, so even with arm/leg warmers and gillet in the morning, hanging around was a near-hypothermic experience before the pedalling began.

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At the start line the Course Director, Andy Cook, would give a quick resume of the route, usually involving words like “lumpy” and “grippy”, and then we were off.

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The ride would typically be 110 miles, and Andy had done great work to take in scenic back roads, with busy A-roads kept to a minimum. The speed that I ride at meant I was one of the slower ones on the road; as a result, I had to keep riding, with no chance to stop and enjoy the cafes en-route (just chance to cast an envious glance at those faster riders doing so). The ride would be slit into thirds, with a feed station at one and two thirds into the ride. The first would be gels and bars, the second sandwiches and crisps. We were advised to spend no longer than fifteen minutes in the feed station, as otherwise our bodies would think their work for the day was over.

On finishing, the bike is dropped into the compound, bag is collected, tent allocated and then shower time. If there is time, a quick beer and socializing, otherwise time for dinner, the evening briefing and then off to bed.

Repeat times nine and the job is done. How hard can it be?

Highlights and Lowlights

Apart from the scenery and the chance to ride through some beautiful areas of the country I’ve never really been to before, some of the highlights included:

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Just starting out – at St Michael’s Mount

On Day Three, a whole bunch of colleagues from Dulux R&D in Slough had signed up to ride the day stage. In a break from the usual campsite routine we were staying at student halls at Bath University. The bed was a welcome change from the tent, but in the morning we had a freezing descent from the hill into the bottom of Bath, and then into our first big climb. The stage riders were all fresh, whereas I already had over a couple of hundred miles in my legs. Needless to say, they dropped me. At the top of the hill they were waiting to regroup, but with my pace and need to keep moving, I couldn’t keep stopping, so had to soldier on. We kept meeting at feed stations, but I was struggling, and top marks to Lyndsey for riding with me on the second stage, and Lyndsey and Julie for getting me through the third stage into Ludlow. Even better, Jess had arranged a luxury cottage for the evening, so it was a second night in a real bed, and this was amazing cotton, not some student bed! Her fiancée sorted out pizza takeaway, and the team had brought some ale from the Windsor & Eton brewery. I was worried about getting back to camp the following morning, but Brian got up at 5:30am to chauffeur me down to the race course.

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Welcome to Wales

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Old friends from Slough join me for Day 3
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One of the scenic highlights, the Wye valley, but also scene of an unnecessarily “lumpy” diversion
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Lyndsey and Julie

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Receiving instructions from the team captain

Day Four started out well, but after heading over some hills, my left knee started to generate a whole world of pain. In 2000 I’d had a bad mountain bike crash that involved going over the handlebars on the Scottish/English border and landing on a rock, knee first. I’d hurt it again last Autumn coming off the new mountain bike in a schoolboy error. Three hard days of long, hilly riding had taken their toll, and I had to limp 20 miles into the feed station pedaling mostly with my right leg. I was near the back of the field and in big trouble. I decided to get on the broom wagon. This was a luxury bus that would take all day to get to the end at Haydock Park. Most of the journey I slept, as I was exhausted after three long hard days in the saddle. The following day I wasn’t feeling better, so got a lift in the Dulux bus up to Hutton-in-the-Forest near Penrith. Liz was coming to visit me here, and I decided to take a time-out and head home with her. This gave me a day of ice packs and ibuprofen, then we headed up the road to rejoin the team at Fort William where I’d try to carry on.

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Suffering on Day Four

Arriving at Fort William to bad news. On the ride up from Hamilton, one of the riders, Sally, had been involved in a road accident. It was serious. The police had called all the Deloitte vehicles off the road to get access, and the ride was cancelled for the day. Sally was in hospital and the riders were being bussed around to Fort William. The following day we rode from Fort William through Inverness to Bonar Bridge, Sally’s team leading us out, in perfect weather and beautiful scenery, but got the news that evening that Sally had passed away from her injuries, with her family by her side. So sad, and words fail me at this point – it’s worth reading what Sally’s husband has said in tribute to her.

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Ibuprofen-powered smile

On the final day we ride north through Sutherland to the north coast of Scotland. Some people had thought it was all over here, but hadn’t realized the coast meant headlands and beaches, so we had lots more climbing to do. We also had the headwind from hell. The last 20 miles was straight into the wind. As we approached John O’Groats I saw a rider pedaling with one foot clipped in, the other leg bandaged up and a team-mate pushing him. This brought it home to me just how tough things had been, and how people had dug deep to get the ride done. Our team had agreed to meet at the Sea View Inn, just 600 yards from the finish line. As I walked through the door there was a huge cheer from the Dulux team already there, beer and chips were flowing freely, and the cheer was repeated as the team gradually came back together. Eventually our team leader, Alistair, received phone call from the organisers: there were only forty riders left to complete, all from Dulux. We were the last on the road. Could we please get out of the pub and finish the ride? We rode down en-masse to complete our challenge. Medals were handed out, Liz was there to meet me, and (probably wisely) we slunk off to Inverness, while the rest of Team Dulux had photographs taken at the signpost and had a silly quantity of champagne to consume.

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Beautiful riding in Sutherland
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Reaching the north coast
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Team Dulux cross the finishing line at John O’Groats
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In the car, heading south to Inverness

Retrospective

So it’s all over now. The bike is in the garage: I haven’t taken it all apart and cleaned it yet – it was squeaking on the way into the garage as I wheeled it in. I’ve been exceptionally tired since getting back, and think I’m coming down with a cold due to the exhaustion. My legs feel fine (in fact after a couple of days they stop hurting, or your brain stops listening).

People were really disappointed for me when I pulled out of some of the middle days, but I was never really fixated on doing the whole end-to-end thing: more interested in enjoying some cycling in beautiful parts of the country. I wouldn’t want to have pushed on through the pain with medication and done some further long-term damage to my knee, so am happy with my decision.

Would I do such an intense event again? Probably not, the physical challenge is immense, although without my knee problems I’m sure I would have got through fine. What I did miss was having time to relax along the way, take in some coffee stops and spend time in the beautiful parts of the country that we shot through at speed.

I’m not sure how long the fitness will last, but at least I now have a realistic view of what my body is capable of, and am heading down to Sheffield this weekend with the mountain bike…

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Statistics

  Start Finish Distance Ascent My Strava Log
Day 1 Land’s End Oakhampton 107 miles 6932 feet Link
Day 2 Oakhampton Bath 111 miles 5955 feet Link
Day 3 Bath Ludlow 99 miles 4787 feet Link
Day 4 Ludlow Haydock 105 miles 2310 feet Link
Day 5 Haydock Penrith 104 miles 4245 feet
Day 6 Penrith Hamilton 100 miles 2874 feet
Day 7 Hamilton Fort William 126 miles 5951 feet
Day 8 Fort William Kyle of Sutherland 111 miles 4925 feet Link
Day 9 Kyle of Sutherland John O’Groats 104 miles 4078 feet Link
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7 thoughts on “Ride Across Britain

  1. Your Dirty Disco is stunning! (I came across this blog whilst looking for others who run their DD as road bike). You’ve done a great job with yours, and it looks like you’ve been putting it to best possible use too! Well done.

    1. Cheers! It started with the Vittoria Open Pave tyres with green, and the theme evolved from there – bottle cages, bar tape and lately brake cables.

      My next step is converting my carbon 29-er wheels on it to tubeless for the winter – looking for some chunky cross or gravel tyres for it to do that.

      1. Great. Pop an update on when you find the chunkier tyres.

        I need something more capable for some off-road long-distance touring (in Sierra Nevada, Spain) next year, so i am keen to learn what you go for

  2. Well, not decided for sure yet, but want something wider than the UCI Cross-legal (32mm), but choice in the UK seems limited. Have been looking at the Specialised Trigger Pro 2Bliss – more of a gravel tyre, but 38mm wide.

    http://www.specializedconceptstore.co.uk/trigger-pro-2bliss/35601/2015equiptiresfreeroadcx

    These would do for dry off-roading, and railway tracks. I have my existing Schwalbe CX Pros (with tubes) on my metal wheels for the Dirty Disco. These are a bit worn, but for this winter I’ve just swapped back and front around, and will probably toss them at the end of this season.

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