Thousands of cyclists gathered and departed from the world-famous Manchester United football club on a rolling start for several hours from 06:30 onwards. The 100km ride would take us on a winding route in a north-westerly direction on average, but in practice varying between northerly and southerly via Leigh, Atherton, Standish, Chorley, Leyland, Preston, Kirkham, Warton and Lytham St Anne’s.
I work for NXP Semiconductors and our company was once again enabling a large “NXP4C” team (NXP 4 Christie) to raise some valuable funds for that charity upon which so many depend. 87 of us, dressed in our easily recognised, specially printed fluorescent green technical T-shirts, set off at 07:30 to ‘do our own thing’. Speeds and steeds varied greatly but we all had one aim – to complete the journey and do our sponsors proud, which I know we achieved. Whenever the going got tough, our bottoms tenderised or undercarriage chafed, hill too steep, head wind too strong or energy levels low, we could think about the big carrot that was pulling us to the finish. That carrot was the barbecue and drinks on the finishing straight that the company had laid on for us. We were treated like royalty.
In the early stages of our ride we were threatened by a couple of showers, but fortunately they did not last very long. The sun soon came out and the day turned out pleasantly warm for a bike ride. I had done zero cycling practice for many years, the last proper ride being this very event two years previously. However, things seemed to be going relatively effortlessly and before I knew it I was passing Horwich. I had glanced to my right and spotted the communication masts on Winter Hill in the distance, while much closer between the houses I spotted the characteristic shape of the Reebok stadium. Wow, that’s normally an appreciable journey in the car.
From the outset I was surprised by the number of emergency puncture repairs that had to be carried out at the side of the road. I felt sorry for the victims and felt thankful for the tough tyres on my trusty Kona hybrid bike, which although not light or streamlined like a racing bike, feels very comfortable and is a pleasure to ride.
Altogether I had three brief stops, the final one being within a few miles of the finish. Each one was because I could feel my energy levels dropping, causing a slowdown. Having a bite to eat each time soon brought energy back to the legs. It’s just like in ultra running. I had a 2-litre bladder of water in my rucksack so I was able to drink on the go. The rucksack's bulging proportions were helped by extra clothing in case it got cold while we waiting for our return transport. It was never needed.
I spoke to a fellow rider afterwards who complained about how he slowed down and could no longer keep up with me. He told me he didn’t eat anything for the whole journey. He got a lecture from me on the importance of regular fuelling to avoid slowing to a crawl and feeling sorry for oneself. Like many I’ve learned this the hard way in the ultras.
For the most part I had been overtaking earlier-starting cyclists. Some of their machines looked or sounded in no fit state to be doing any distance, let alone 100km. Tyres were partially flat, rusty chains were squealing, gears were grinding and brakes were binding. After we had finished we saw some BMX riders finish. How they managed 100km on their super-low-geared single speeds with ground-level seats and their knees around their ears if they weren’t standing on the pedals, I shall never know. Quad burn probably featured quite highly on their day.
We experienced some long uphill grinds but they rewarded us with some long speedy downhills, which were the only times I used my top gear. I must have exceeded 30mph. I really wanted to activate the 30mph speed limit warning sign on one downhill but it didn’t work. Next time I’ll have to wear a metal jacket and try again.
As I neared the end, increasing numbers of racers, usually in packs, ‘buzzed’ their way past at effortless speed. (Why do expensive road bikes make more noise in their transmission? Surely, more noise equals more wasted energy.) I began to realise that brightness of clothing and machines was proportional to speed; the flashier the faster (usually).
The final 10 miles of this event are the worst. It’s a slog on the flat into a head wind. This is when my knees are getting sore and I slow down and get overtaken the most. However, unlike in 2009 when two sore knees prevented me from cycling for a week, only my left knee was a little sore this time. I crossed the line in 4:02 for an average speed of over 15mph including stops. My time in 2009 was 4:51. How strange that my first PB of 2011 turns out to be a cycling event.
I had 6 hours to kill before we and our bikes got transported back to work. This was spent eating, drinking, chatting and cheering our fellow riders, and others too, to sunny Blackpool promenade. The whole place was buzzing with activity. Among the attractions near the finish line was the Stockport Pantonic steel band – very accomplished, entertaining and amazingly loud (no amplification needed). I watched them for a good while before our 17:30 return coach brought to a close an epic sunny weekend. A big thank-you to all who have sponsored NXP4C this year.
Unlike in 2009 when I had no knee strength and had to wheel my bike home, this time I was able to cycle home relatively energetically on 1.5 leg power. 2 leg power returned within a day. There are no after-effects. Today I spoke to a regular cyclist who mentioned how tough he finds it on the legs to get back to walking or running after not doing it for a while. In contrast, my ultra runner's legs did not suffer at all from a long bike ride on zero practice. Does this mean that trail/hill/fell/mountain running affords better all-round leg fitness and is better for cycling than cycling is for running? Any thoughts from seasoned cyclists out there would be gratefully received.