Sunday, 26 September 2010

Tour of Britain 2010 - Stoke Stage Sportive

"Quitting lasts forever, pain is temporary", those words from Lance Armstrong were ringing in my ears today on some of the biggest and hardest hills I've ever ridden. With just shy of 8,000 feet of ascent across the 100 mile sportive, today was about guts, not quitting when your body is shouting out for you to stop, digging deep for that extra little piece of energy when you thought everything was spent.

My mission today was clear, ride the whole route without walking up any hill. Prior to today, I'd of thought that a big ask as I've been off the bike on previous tough sportives, however I'd been mentally preparing myself for this one and arrived at the start line with a steely determination to give it everything I had. This was the hardest sportive on paper that I had ever entered and I had my race face on. I've captured the key points of the day in bullet form below for easy reading.

  • Driving down to Stoke at half six this morning, the temperature was dropping. Six degrees in Knutsford, three degrees in Stoke. On arrival at the car park, it felt really cold. I had planned to just wear shorts, a base layer, my top and some new Merino arm warmers I bought yesterday. I rolled out with a hat on and leg warmers too!
  • The start line was well organised with plenty of noise, plus TV cameras, so we managed to roll up to the line with our club tops on to hog the picture. Riding with me today were Martin, Sarah, Ade and Matt.
  • Riding out, we had a motorbike outrider and we were all pretty excited. Although the traffic wasn't stopped, like the real tour, the organisers had gone to town to try and give the riders the same experience.
  • It was windy today, really windy. It made the ride much, much harder and for me precarious at points. With the deep section wheels I had on, they really caught the wind. At one point, I hit 40mph on a descent (Ade hit 50mph) and was still gaining speed, a huge gust came from the side and nearly blew me off. The bike did a big wobble and I got straight on the brakes, it put the frighteners on me for sure and at other key times during the day I experienced the same thing. On the positive side, the wheels rolled magnificently and looked the business.
  • Food and drink was first rate today. All the drink and food stops were well stocked and on arrival back in Stoke you got a voucher for a bowl of pasta and a bag of freebies. I managed to bring back a pocketful of energy bars and gels. All in, there were six stops on the route. Only critiscism I had about the organisation was that they didn't have timing mats on the stops to deduct from your overall time. The mats just timed you rolling out and rolling in plus how quick you did Gun Hill. So, if you had a few stops, it would make it look like you were out for a huge amount of time.
  • Gun Hill. We were all cacking ourself about this one, particularly as it had a lot of press during the tour. To be honest, we all felt there were harder hills on the ride. Some of the short, sharp, shock hills which didn't qualify for King of the Mountains, were absolute killers! Many a time I was out of the saddle, fighting to stay on someone's wheel or just to stop myself coming to a complete stop.
  • What's very different about this Sportive compared to say The Cheshire Cat is that the hills were relentless over the entire distance. It felt like the bulk of the ride was going up. The Cheshire Cat gets them all done in the first thirty miles. Even within the last four miles of this ride, there was a hill. Not a big one, granted, but enough that you felt it after 96 miles of tough climbing.
  • Great moment was when Twitter follower Mike McConnell, who lives in Birmingham said "Are you Roadphil?" as he recognised my bike which I call "The Unicorn" at one of the feedstops. Mike is was great to meet you, readers please visit his blog or give him a follow on Twitter. The power of social media eh.
  • Fellow North Cheshire Clarion riders were magnificent today. Ade (AKA "Billy" the mountain goat) flew up everything in sight, Matt overcame terrible cramp at forty miles and ended up finishing (that took guts), Sarah just got stronger the longer the ride carried on and Martin kept our spirits up with his hill commentary. As a group we got round and had some good banter on the way.
  • Had my front derailleur fettled by the SRAM mechanics on the first foodstop. Was struggling to get it off the small ring to the big one on front, small adjustment and all sorted. The bike felt awesome today, I think it played a big part in my ability to get up the hills. It's light, nimble and puts the power straight to the wheels.
  • There were times when I was on my limit today, no doubt. I think the base miles and sportives I've ridden over the summer have helped. I can honestly say, I've never performed better on hills than I did today. Still not superfast, I'm 210Ibs in weight and that takes some hauling up, however compared to where I was twelve months ago, big change.
  • At the end of the sportive, we rode in the park where we set off to the finish line and we all crossed together, that was a great moment. It typifies what our cycling club is about, not shelling people off the back or dropping people, but never leaving a rider behind. Managed to bag some bargains from the Tour stall which was selling off its stock.
  • On the way back to the car park, I commandeered one of the lamp post signs for the Pro Tour, that will have pride of place somewhere when I figure out where to put it. Managed to hack it off with my house keys, nice memento.
  • All in all it's been one hell of a hard day. At times, my lungs were at capacity, my legs ached and it would have been easy to walk. However I did what I set out to do, that is ride the entire Sportive without getting off once (apart from food stops of course). Overall it took me about 7hrs 30mins to ride the 100 miles, comparing that to the 6hrs it took me to ride the Manchester 100 the other week, it says it all. Easily, the hardest ride I've done since starting on the bike last August, but by a long chalk, the most satisfying. Today was a real achievement for me and another step forward in enjoying this wonderful sport.


  1. Well done Phil, v impressive climbing. Sounds like it was very tough.

  2. Great post Phil, brilliant effort! Well done to you and your mates.

  3. For a moment I wasn't sure if you'd enjoyed it or not!

  4. Although I thought it was cold at the start, I didn't realise it was THAT cold! I was glad I'd decided on leggings. Agree with your assessment of the course. I thought the organisation and the reception at the end were both great. I did it essentially on my own, and got round in about 6h. If it hadn't been for riders in the 50-mile event walking up that last little hill, I'd have probably walked it too, but I just couldn't lose face!

  5. btw, I was watching some of the riders come through Leek (just after Gun). There were obviously some rather tired legs in the bunch by this stage.
    Also quite a number were going the wrong way?