Etape Pennines Sportive 2012
Date: Sunday October 7
Distances: 78 miles
Entry fee: £63
Cheering on male riders from the top of the King of the Mountains spot obviously isn't in Dale Carnegie's book How to Win Friends and Influence People. But I thought some encouragement would get them going up what was classed a category-three climb while I waited for my riding partner.
Shortly after crossing the timing mats, my friend, who wishes not to be named, let out a yelp like he had been shot. I dutifully asked if he was OK. A gasp and "Cramp!" escaped. At which point, I put the hammer down and pushed up through the climb. Harthope Moss, also known as Chapel Fell, reared up in front of us. Just over three miles long and rising to 627m, this scenic moor climb is the highest paved pass in England. And I was racing up it against the clock.
I pegged myself against another guy. We tussled our way up, one minute out of the saddle, then back to grinding out the cadence. Just when I thought I had shaken him off, he blasted past, giving it the ‘Come on'. Number 2020, you'll have your day! This was the King of the Mountains section, and everyone was racing for the coveted polka dot jersey. With six more category climbs to come and still half of the 78-mile distance to cover, now wasn't the time to leave it all out there.
The closed-road sportive addition to the Etape Series run by IMG Mass Participation was received well in County Durham. Over 1,400 athletes registered for the event, which started in historical Ushaw Collage, and is the sister event of the well-establish Etape Caledonia in Scotland.
This was the first time England had seen a closed-road sportive. It was billed as the hardest in England, but aren't all sportives ‘the hardest'? With 2,313m of climbing and seven categorised climbs, it certainly wasn't for the untrained, as a 50-year-old man found out as he was finally reunited with his family after 12 hours in the saddle.
Having a traffic-free route is a real luxury. Through the pretty dales of Weardale and Teesdale in the north Pennines, the route gave riders the opportunity to take in the scenery without worrying about cars.
In my eyes, it was all about the Scott 1km sprint and the King of the Mountains competitions. Finally my riding partner made it to the top. Walking. I threatened to take his picture and post it on Facebook if he didn't get back on the bike. Riding over the timing mats at the top, I am sure he got the booby prize. Cramps had hit him unusually hard, and he blamed the second feed station for having run out of food and energy products by the time we hit it. All we managed to get hold of was a fifth of a banana! It really wasn't enough to fuel the next 15 miles.
After all the waiting, I heard the officials on the timing mats say the roads had reopened, but there was no sign of the broomwagon or even a car to let us know we were now riding at our own risk. Everyone had to hold a 13mph average to stay on closed roads, a tall task for many of the charity riders. All of a sudden, cars were coming up the descent and it was back to ‘normal' sportive etiquette.
Once we crossed the River Tees into Weardale, the rest of the route was tough, plagued with twingy cramp-induced yelps and steep climbs. Walking seemed the favoured option at this end of the event for many. The sun shone brightly all day and my fingers finally thawed out by mile-65 as the temperature on the Garmin read a balmy 9.6°C - just in time to get my medal and a huge plate of fish and chips.
Many were raising funds for Marie Curie and sported a daffodil-yellow limited-edition jersey to advertise their achievements. Others were disgruntled to find out that, from their £61 entry fee, nothing went to the charity. Worse still, the 600 charity spots had to be bought at full price by Marie Curie. As the charity is the title sponsor, this is an area IMG will need to redesign if it wants to attract people to the event in following years. Aside from that criticism, this is a stunning ride in a stunning part of the world.
Lives: Isleworth (Middlesex)
"Brutal and unforgiving. It is gradually uphill for first 40 miles and then it is just relentless with five or six hills in the next 15 miles, all with ramps of between 15 and 20 per cent. Organisation was great; when my rear tyre blew after 10 miles, the mechanics were there very quickly with a replacement. A great experience but too tough for your average leisure cyclist, and by the third of the hills in the middle section, loads of people were having to walk up the steepest ramps. I would not do this ride again."
"Such a beautiful day. Efficiently organised over a very difficult course. Maybe two too many climbs? I didn't realise how much I enjoyed it until some time after I'd finished!"
This article was first published in the November 29, 2012 issue of Cycling Weekly magazine. On sale every Thursday and available via Apple Newstand, zinio.com and Kindle Fire.