Saturday, 30 October 2010

Wharfedale squeakers

Otley disputed: after consideration, I decided
against climbing to Otley
Key to success in any venture is a full assessment of what needs to be done. A quantity surveying, if you will. You only need to look at the Sphinx to see how badly something can go wrong if you don't order enough stone, for example.

So I'm in Yorkshire for an extended weekend and I've taken the opportunity to turn the legs over on the roads that cut grey, mottled scars across the bellies of Wharfedale and Nidderdale. It's a chance to run the rule over my current fitness levels to see what scale of training programme lies ahead. If the two jaunts I've had so far are anything to go by, it'll be a long, hard winter.

A window on Thursday afternoon and I'm into the lycra like a man possessed, slapping on layer after layer against the bracing Yorkshire air. There's a nice 22-mile circuit that takes in a flat back four of Linton, Spofforth, Harrogate and Harewood before settling back into East Keswick along a straight, fast sprint of a lane. Although not a long ride, it takes in a few rises, dales and troughs along its length. Once within a sniff of home, the barrier of Harewood Bank stands brashly between you and your destination; a brusque, stocky Yorshireman, its chest puffed out defying you to pass. To a chippy Lancastrian, this is all the red rag I need and I power up it as best I can in the 21-tooth sprocket and small chainring.

My verdict? I've made the change to a more race-oriented cassette too soon. This is soft, southern gearing, not the kind you need for the harsher highways of the north. But I survived it nonetheless and feel I've carried at least some fitness through from the summer.

Friday morning's ride is an altogether longer, testier affair. I've plotted a route through Wetherby, Little Ribston and Knaresborough all the way up to Ripley, then down through Beckwithshaw and out up it's cruel, malevolent corkscrew towards Otley, Pool, Arthington and Harewood Bank once again. It's just under 40 miles and the terrain is enough to turn grown men into squeaking, squealing mice.

This time I head off way too quickly, overtaking another cyclist on the descent towards the A58 and feeling like I need to hold him off to make the pass stick. It's big chainring stuff all the way to Ripley and I feel I'm averaging around 20mph. Veering on to the B6161 is a sobering lesson and I'm quickly dispelled of any notion I'm Fabian Cancellara as the wind whips into my face and halves the average speed in an instant. It comes as no surprise that I choose this moment to try and eat a cereal bar and end up breathing in small particles of rolled oat as I pootle into the headwind.

The road helps assassinate any myth of my own prowess I seem to have built up on the way to Ripley. What appears a mere bump takes all my strength to negotiate. A 10% gradient sign shows how steeply I'll descend, but fails to warn me of the 15% beast on the other side of the valley and I'm up. Out of the saddle, breathing hard as a rutting warthog and clinging to the mercy of the 23-tooth sprocket that at least allows me to turn the pedals.

It's painful progress, but I reach Pool still in one piece, although in no state to tackle an ascent up to Otley. I shun the climb in favour of a blast along the valley, taking on an energy gel to help with Harewood Bank. I try this in the lowest gear possible (34x23), but soon feel confident enough to grind out the rest on the 21-tooth sprocket. Reassuringly, I'm able to gun it along Harewood Road, sprint through East Keswick and up Lumby Lane.

Quantities suitably surveyed, I've planned a 45-mile final exam tomorrow morning that takes in Darley Head, a climb made famous in the Milk Race in years gone by. If I pass that, I'll feel buoyed enough to really loosen the shackles when I get back to London. Failure will banish me to the turbo trainer for a crash course in interval training. The stakes are high.

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