The next instalment for the Warriors was upon us, and came in the shape of the Tour of the Shire. On paper this was going to be a beast of a route, well for me anyway, 101 miles taking in over 6,000 feet of climbing, of which included the famous Mennock Pass and the highest village in Scotland, Wanlockhead.
A wee reprieve was offered three days before the event when a risk assessment was carried out and a section of the course was deemed too dangerous and removed. 4 miles and 500 feet of climbing was now removed from the route meaning the total distance was now 97 miles, 3 miles short of the milestone that is 100 miles. For me this wasn’t too much of an issue as I’ve done 3 ton plus events in the past, though it was gutting to be so close to another ton yet not cross that mark.
Not only had the distance been cut but also the Warriors team sheet. Four of us had signed up yet only two made it to the start line. Stevie Potter pulled out on fitness grounds, having only been out on the bike twice since the Etape back in May due to work commitments. Robbie was the next to pull out, again work related. Having just started a new job and having to catch a plane later that evening to head down South he decided not to take the gamble of missing his flight and losing his job, quite right. Robbie phoned me the day before and was genuinely gutted at missing it, he was looking for reassurance he’d be back in time to catch his flight. I couldn’t offer this as I’d never done the event / route before so didn’t know how long it would take, and if there was a mechanical or puncture then things could be tight.
We did however have a guest rider in our ranks for the day in the form of Hugh Whitelaw. Hugh had been duped into signing up for the event by Shaun and a couple of his mates. He’d signed up before going on holiday, only to return and find that the others weren’t doing it so asked if he could tag along with us for some company. Hugh really must’ve been struggling if he wanted our company! Put it this way, when on a solo ride, I even bore myself with my patter! Lol
Stevie had arranged to pick me up at 6:15am on the morning of the event but in true Stevie style he forgot his sunglasses and had to turn back, not that there was any promise of sunshine! 6:15 turned into 6:30 and Stevie appeared. We loaded his car up with my ten ton of energy gels and strapped the bike to the roof. On entering his car I was treated to the lovely aroma of stale fart! What was worse he assured me that it was only the one!
Before long we’d arrived at the starting point, Strathaven Rugby Club. As we drove up the lane into the car park towards the club house I was surprise at how quiet it was, I was expecting a lot more cars, a lot more cyclists carrying out the final checks on their trusty steads. We headed into the club house to sign on and were handed our event number to be attached to the front of our bikes, along with a small white box. At this point Stevie burst out laughing and said to the guy “What’s this, a mug or something“, yip you’ve got it, it did turn out to be a mug! So there we were standing in the club house, before the event started, with our finishing prize! Would it be bad to jump in the car and head home now? After all we did have our finishing prize! Ok the lure of a free burger and soft drink after the event spurred us on, well, that and the fact a load of people had sponsored us for the Beatson Cancer Charity.
We met Hugh and got kitted up, ready to tackle whatever the day would throw at us. The forecast at the start of the week had been dreadful, heavy rain and strong winds, but as the week went on the forecast changed for the better, settling on light rain at around 3pm.
All kitted up we rolled out the car park and down the lane to the junction of the main road. Our ride numbers were recorded and we set off in the 2nd pack, just after 7:30am. The first few miles were at a nice easy pace, it was going to be a long day so we wisely decided to not burst a gut from the off. Our Peloton stuck together with two riders on the front, Stevie and myself right behind them and Hugh and another rider behind us.
After around 2 miles Stevie suggested that we give the two riders up front a break, which I agreed to and out we popped and onto the front. Next up Hugh and another boy who ended up sticking with us for the full route, jumped on the front to give us a break and this is how it went for the next 25 miles, just our group taking turns on the front! 26 mile mark and we turned right off the main road onto a climb, bang, off they rest of the peloton went, the guys that we’d dragged along for 25 miles just shot of and left us! Thanks for that! Lol
We plodded on working well as a group of four and before long at reached Crawfordjohn. From Crawfordjohn we made our way along the country roads towards what would be the main climb of the day, Mennock Pass. As we cycled along Stevie and Hugh were on the front, I was directly behind Stevie with the other boy beside me, Stevie took a gel out his back pocket and tore the top off it. Next thing I knew the top of the gel wrapper came hurtling towards me and stuck to my bottom lip! He honestly couldn’t of done that if he’d tried! Unaware of what had happened I cycled up beside him, with the top of the gel wrapper still stuck to my bottom lip, and asked if he wanted it back.
The course at this point was undulated and continued this way for several miles, before arriving in Sanquhar and to the foot of the Mennock Pass, 40 miles in. This was where the first feed station was situated, a guy with the boot of his car open and a table sitting out with a range of goodies which we fuelled up on. On chatting to the boy at the feed station he assured us that the wind would be behind us on the Mennock Pass accent as it was cutting across us where we stood, which made sense, but in true cycling fashion turned out not to be the case!
We could put it off no longer, it was time, time to tackle the beast that is Mennock Pass, with a tailwind as promised by the feed station guy. Just as we set off I got a text message through to my Garmin from Stevie Potter wishing us good luck and saying we don’t have long left! Not long left!!!! Timing of that text couldn’t of been any worse as we were just about to start out assault on the Mennock Pass and still had 57 miles to go! Lol
So off we set, turned the bend and bang!… the tailwind we were promised was in fact a headwind! With nothing else for it we got our heads down and started grinding our way up Mennock Pass despite every effort of the wind to push us back down! Hugh was off, very Froome like but without a crowd spitting and throwing urine at him! Froome rides clean, it’s his Kenyan genes that makes him the climber he is, Hugh on the other hand has no trace of Kenyan genes, as far as I’m aware, he’s just a machine! Lol
Stevie also started to distance himself from me, but all was not doom and gloom as I caught up with and passed a rider that had set off from the feed station a few minutes before us. I grinded in and caught up with Stevie, to be fair Stevie eased up and allowed me to catch up with him and after a few false summits we crested Mennock Pass. I felt some what cheated, deflated even, after the effort I’d put into the climb, into a headwind, only to look down at my Garmin to see it had only changed by around 3 miles or so! Lol
Plodding on we had another wee dig before enjoying a nice long decent and relative flat section. Around the 75 mile mark with quads started threatening to cramp up but thankfully it came to nothing. My legs were starting to feel it at this stage and the next feed station at the 80 mile mark offered a welcome respite while we refulled on Tunnocks caramel wafers and jelly beans. I was starting to get a sore head at this point. This is the point that it starts to become dangerous, you’re tired, you start loosing concentration a little which can lead to mistakes on a decent and get you into trouble. It’s important to try and stay focused!
We were now on the last leg, a leg that consisted of 17 miles, 17 miles of pain as each climb and rough surface squeezed even more energy out the legs. Leaving the second and final feed station we were treated to several miles of road surface that were more suited to full suspension mountain bikes rather than carbon road bikes! Nevertheless we plodded on, some hills easier than other, some offering a higher degree of pain than others, but all offering some form of pain.
It was time to focus, focus on the job in hand, focus on why we were doing this, focus on heart that we wore on our sleeves, the heart of the Beatson Cancer Charity!
After what seemed like a lifetime we found some smooth tarmac which allowed the pain to ease a little. Just glad I don’t have false teeth or they would’ve come flying out my mouth with all that rattling around! Slowly the miles ticked away and we reached what was a magical number, a number that gave us hope, hope that the end was near, that number was 90. At this point I wasn’t fussed about the 4 miles that had been cut off the original route, I wasn’t fussed that at the end, my Garmin would display 97 miles and not 101 miles.
Hugh must’ve felt that first spit of rain as he dropped a gear and off he went, leaving a trail of dust behind him. All became clear at the end as it turned out he had his wife’s Beetle convertible and the bike was going inside the car so he wanted to keep it dry! Lol
Strathaven now approached and we really were on the final straight, not a flat straight I may add, we had two more climbs, one from the traffic lights up to the sign for Hamilton then a left turn, and the last up hill dig past the Strathaven Hotel to the Rugby Club entrance where our numbers were noted and we were free to head back to the car park, and claim our free burger and soft drink.
It was all over, 97 miles and 5,255 feet of climbing, into a headwind, we had completed the task in hand, completed the Tour of the Shire and raised some vital funds for the Beatson Cancer Charity in the process.
It was a tough day and my legs were hurting by the end of it, but to be fair it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, at least the rain stayed away! Very happy completing the course with 6 hrs 13 mins in the saddle at an average speed of 15.5mph
A visit to the toilet when I got home revealed the reason behind my sore head, I was very dehydrated, not seen my urine that dark before! Lesson to be learnt there!