Family Cycling at Mallory Park

What better way to spend the Bank Holiday afternoon than razzing around Mallory Park race circuit with the kids?

The attraction of traffic free cycling for my girls and their cousins was too good to miss, so we loaded up the bikes and headed off to a special family session put on by Cycling Mallory.  The girls travelled by car while myself and my newly converted brother -in-law took a scenic route on our bikes through a blustery Leicestershire countryside.

Family Cycling

Some of the family bikes

As always, the smooth circuit is a real treat to cycle on, and with the guidance of “going steady” we rolled down the hill towards the start and finish straight.  My eldest has just mastered how to change gear while moving on her outstanding Frog bike and it was great to see how exhilarating she found the high speed descent (we forgot about “going steady”).

Just as predictable as the smooth circuit is the wind as you turn around Gerards Bend.  As we turned in to the wind, my nephew asked how there can be another Gerard because there is “only one Steven Gerrard” but soon finished with the questions when he was puffing and panting in to the wind.  Both the 7 year olds found it a slog around the bend but soon picked up each time we hit Stebbe Straight.

mallory park race circuit

The Circuit

The first time round we cut out the hill going up to Shaws hairpin bend, making the circuit in to an oval shape.  Pretty quickly we caught up my wife and my youngest who were on their first lap and chatting away about the things they could see on the lake in the middle of the track.  The downhill start had been a bit intimidating for my 4 year old who has been cycling her bike for a couple of months so they’d walked down before starting.  But the thought of bombing down the hill again was too good to resist so the older cousins both headed up to the hairpin at the end of their next lap so that they could race down from the Bus Stop to Devils Corner and along the Kirkby Straight.

Devils Elbow

Bombing down hill

All in all, the older ones did 5 or 6 laps each, my youngest did a couple of laps and her other cousin who is 5 did 3 or 4 laps at a good pace.  Plenty of families turned up with budding young Froomes and Contadors, whilst others were there to enjoy a safe environment for their kids to ride until their legs ached.

We certainly got our monies worth around the 1.2 mile track – it was £5 per adult and one child – and all our little ones (and some of the big ones) could feel that satisfying ache in their legs as we loaded the bikes in to the cars and headed home for pulled pork cobs!

(P.S. I happened to get a 3rd place in the KOM along Burbage Common Road on the way home so I was well happy too)

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The Fred Whitton Challenge

If you’re a cyclist and haven’t heard about it, stop reading now and forget you ever saw the name of The Fred Whitton Challenge.

Good. So now you’re either a non-cyclist or a rider who has heard about The Fred and decided it’s not for you.  If you are one of the latter, keep it that way!!

The Start

The Start

After last years RAID Pyrenees I fancied a more manageable, marquee, domestic challenge this year so in the winter I got the lads together and entered the “UK’s hardest sportive” in the Lake District. How hard could it be?

Well, I wish I’d really got my head around the answer to that question earlier. How hard? Very.

In a nutshell it is:

112 miles starting at Grasmere in the Lake District
Just under 4000m of climbing (more than any day in the RAID)
Gradient averages of up to 30% and small sections as high as 60%
In the changeable conditions typical of the region

We registered on Saturday so spent the afternoon and evening trying not to enjoy too many local beers  in Hawkshead where we stayed over night.  Planning to start as early as possible we headed back in to Grasmere at 5.30am on Sunday only to find that everyone else had the same idea – so it was nearly 7am before we’d reached the start and finally got away.

The Route and The Profile

The Route and The Profile

The first climbs start after a mile or two and it’s relentless from there on in! The first “foot down” section came at Newland Pass after about 35 miles.  Pushing through on the pedals, my front wheel lifted off the ground, landed at an angle and I headed off the road on to the grass verge. The steepness of the road made it impossible to get going again so I had no choice but to walk until the gradient softened up a bit.

With riders all over the road, some walking, some passing “on the right”, you have to have your wits about you at all times. Especially on the way down: these brutal climbs give you none of the descending rewards you get on bigger mountains.  They’re sharp, steep, winding, narrow roads that were damp and covered with gravel.  Mountain Rescue marshals constantly tell you to slow down and if it was your legs that were hurting on the way up, it’s your hands, shoulders and forearms that ache on the way down as you strive to find the sweetspot on the brakes to keep moving slowly down the hill.

By the time I’d reached the first feed stop I was cold, tired, cramping up and ready to go home.  After getting colder and more miserable we headed off to a climb starting a out 100 yards after the feed station and plodded on in to head winds, cross winds and hills.

Cold Fell is one of the lesser spoken about points of the ride but up the top of the moor (?) the crosswinds were a constant challenge.  On the rare occasions that we were on the flat, the wind would try to whip way the wheels as an ongoing reminder that, no matter how fatigued you felt in body and mind, you have to keep your guard up!

The Finish

The Finis

After some views of Sellafield and the Irish Sea you arrive at the next stop is at 81(ish) miles.   Only after several cups of coffee, a couple of sandwiches and mouthfuls of malt loaf did I feel ready to head off to the toughest section of the ride. We had a good group for 10 miles or so until everything got broken apart by Hardnott Pass.  It really is the beast of the ride over a mile long, averaging 30% gradient and popping up after 94 gruelling miles only the strongest can pedal all the way to the top.

I cramped up after about 300 yards, a woman in front just fell off when her pedals stopped turning and everyone around me was walking – apart from my mate Robbie.  He got halfway up before his back wheel spun out and he had to unclip. Another crappy descent leads straight on to Wrynose Pass which is  25% average for about a mile.  Robbie got up that one, I cramped and walked (as you can tell, there was a pattern going on here).

After those two climbs the countdown to the finish begins and the roads become a little more humane.

The Proof

The Proof

Soon enough the route finds its way back down to Ambleside, along the lakeside and eventually, over 10 hours after starting, back to Grasmere and the finish.

I greeted the finish with a certain numbness.  Pleased it was over, disappointed at how I’d coped with the ride and the conditions and unable to feel any sense of achievement after walking on 3 occasions.  I’m writing this over 48 hours after finishing and I still ache, I’m still tired and I still know that it was the first and last time I’ll be taking on that ridiculous challenge!