Saturday saw the first event of the 2019 season – the Tour de Lauder sportive. This starts just a few miles from my home village and follows a very hilly 89 mile route over most of the biggest climbs in the area for a total of over 6000 feet of ascent.
I’ve been struggling with a problem with my breathing and lower back in the past few months and had to significantly ramp down my training from the new year so I went into this event well below where I’d hoped to be fitness wise. I figured I could get round in under 6 hours as long as I didn’t go too wild. The course record is around 4.30 which is a very impressive time for the terrain, I reckon on a good day at full fitness I might get under 5, but not this year!
My wife was also riding her first solo sportive experience, doing the shorter (but sill very hilly) 50 mile route. We were both up early and prepared for the day with plenty of time to spare, and set out at 8 for the start within the majestic grounds of Thirlestane castle at 9. The weather was looking to be cold but not too bad, some rain possible but also some sun. I decided to risk it with the shorts and short gloves. We started setting up the bikes, getting ready for the ride and so on. At 8.22 precisely, I reached into the car to grab my food and drink, and realised with a sickening feeling that I had left it all in the fridge at home. S***e! I wondered if it would be possible to batter home (about 15 minutes ‘normal’ drive to get out of the castle grounds and back over the hill to Stow) and back and still make it to the start in time. Only one way to find out!
I hamered it over the hill as fast as I could. My bewildered daughter saw me flash in and out of the house without stopping to say a word, and I booted it back to the grounds. By this point the main route in was closed as that was also the exit route for the bikes, so I had to come in via the back route, and hoped nobody would complain. I made it back to the car park, where my wife was anxiously waiting as I had also zoomed off with her helmet and gloves in the car. I briefly stuffed as much food into my tiller bar bag as possible and put the rest and my drink into the Aeropod bag. We ran off to the start line and made it with a few minutes to spare. Phew! Not the best start to the day, but I was super happy to have made it in time.
I had been intending to take lots of photos for you, dear reader, but unfortunately I was in such a hurry I just had to stuff my phone into my bag and had no easy access to it, so I ended up with no pictures at all from the whole day. Sorry….
I had to start right at the back given my late arrival, so it took a while to get out of the grounds. The entire peloton is funneled down a narrow track 2 or 3 abreast. I decided that my strategy would be to start reasonably easy and see how it went for a couple of hours. If I was feeling OK I would ramp it up a bit after that. Riding out through Lauder is always a great experience – lots of the local school children decorate the fences and streets with pennants they’ve made, and half the village is out with cowbells to cheer everyone on. Being the only recumbent in the 700 strong field, I of course had every kid pointing at me and cheering, and wondering what the weird thing was that I was riding.
A mile out of the castle, we’re straight into the first climb of the day – the hill over to Stow. No time to get the legs warmed up! I decided to aim for an average NP of around 190W for the first couple of hours and see how it went. I took it pretty easy up the hill and then down into Stow where a lot of people were out to cheer us on as well. Another 10 minutes and the second big climb of the day is hit – Windydoors hill. I kept things steady and made it to the top without getting too puggled. From there it’s mostly downhill to Caddonfoot and I had assumed I could make up a lot of time here with the superior aerodynamics of the M5. However, I discovered that riding a recumbent in a mass participation event on narrow roads is definitely a major disadvantage unless you’re right at the front – everybody else is riding standard bikes and are significantly slower on the descents. I was unable to get past the crowds on the narrow roads and had to ride the brakes down most of the hills in the first couple of hours. Very frustrating! I lost a lot of time here.
We then got onto the back road to Traquair which is a series of up and down rollers. Again, I was stuck in traffic and was unable to make good progress. You lose time on the climbs with the weight penalty and recumbent position, but then don’t make it back on the descents due to the narrow roads packed with riders. I resigned myself to my fate and hoped things would thin out later. Just before Innerleithen we had a hail storm and I started to doubt my wisdom in wearing summer gloves. The temperature dropped and I did my best to keep my hands warm as I rode. It rained on and off for a while and was about 7 degrees C, but looked like it might clear up again so I was hopeful that it would improve later on.
By the time we got to the third climb of the day, Paddy Slacks, things had thinned out enough that I was able to start getting some decent speed on the descents. I continued to keep things in check though, and was passed by quite a few riders on the way up. Down the other side to the Gordon arms was a lovely fast descent, and then it was straight into the long pull up over Berrybush and down into the Ettrick Valley.
By this point my lungs were still feeling pretty good, and I figured that I could possibly go a little harder so started to ramp up the speed a little. Down the Ettrick valley for 7 miles and into the second steepest climb of the route – Witcheyknowe. This one requires some hard effort to get over the top, and I had to put out a higher effort. I started passing riders on the ascents which is always gratifying on a heavier recumbent! The descent off Witcheyknowe is treacherous, twisty and very narrow with gravel on the road. I kept it pretty reigned in and then it was back to cranking out a decent power back along the Yarrow valley to the Gordon Arms.
From there, it’s a right turn back over Paddy Slacks from the other side, and then a nice long gentle descent to Innerleithen. I was starting to pass riders all over the place here as the M5 blazed down the hills despite a big headwind (which of course just favours the recumbent even more). The long 7 mile climb out of Innerleithen was in glorious sunshine, and some of the stragglers from the short route started to appear. I kept up a little harder power although I was starting to feel the familiar tightness in my lungs and I knew that I had to keep something in reserve for the brutal climb out of Stow 5 miles from the finish – it gets up to above 15% and after 85 miles is punishing on a recumbent!
The rest of the route back to Stow is snappy rollers which favours the recumbent quite well, as you can get high speeds up on the descents and then use that to winch over the tops. I was passing more and more riders and kept up a decent speed. Just past Heriot my Garmin ran out of juice. I had about 14 miles to go. Down to Stow and then the moment of truth – the steepest climb of the day. Even on a 34-32 combo it’s still pretty hard in the recumbent position and my legs were pretty tired after 80 odd miles. I was grunting and making all sorts of strange noises. Half way up a bunch of guys had set up a tent, were having a barbecue and cheering everyone on which was a nice little boost. I was passed by a rider half way up which galvanised me – I hadn’t been passed by anybody since the Witcheyknowe climb a couple of hours earlier! I kept on his tail and put out as much as I could. He got to the top about 50 yards ahead of me, but I soon passed him again as soon as the road turned down. So I kept my ‘non passed’ record clean all the way from Witcheyknowe to the finish which I was pretty pleased about.
Superfast descent back down to Lauder, and then a couple of miles giving it everything I had left to sprint through the town and back into the castle grounds. I made it to the finish with a time of 5.45 and an NP of somewhere around 190W (my Garmin had been dead for the last 43 minutes and that was the only part of the day in which I was pushing hard. The last reading was 189W).
Being a charity event with the focus very much on raising funds, there is no official timing for the route. However, looking at Strava for the day, I came in around 35th from all the people who uploaded to Strava which was a pretty good result despite my lack of fitness. I’m sure there were others who don’t use Strava and were faster, but I’m assuming most of the fast riders are geeks who like to see their numbers 🙂 It’s a telling sign of how hard the course is that in the top 50 riders, there’s about 90 minutes between the fastest and the slowest!
I figured at the end that I could probably have done the route a fair bit quicker, but had preferred to play safe as I’ve had a couple of nasty breathing episodes in recent months. Definitely it would seem that on a recumbent, you need to start hard and get out of the crowds if you want to stand any chance of doing a good time, as the roads are too narrow to get past people on standard road bikes. My friend from the village did a superb 4.50 and came in 6th – well done Ross! My wife successfully completed her first ever solo Sportive – well done mrs recumbentcyclistuk!
All in all, it was a lovely day out in what is one of the friendliest events you can hope to enter. All for a great cause (Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland), and as one of the longest events in the calendar, it’s a good one to get out the way early on!
Next event – Skinny Tweed in June. I’m planning on doing that one on the Tarmac. Get the chafe cream ready!