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Club Run to the Iron Men. Mountain Bikes if you like 9:30 Prompt

HELL OF THE NORTH (Yorkshire) – Circuit of the Dales 2015

By Arthur Findley

“Er…..” I don’t presume to comment on son John’s choice of race kit – he knows what he’s doing – but as he was about to leave Ingleton Race HQ for the Start I’d realised he wasn’t wearing leg warmers, just hot rub, and the “Er” just slipped out. It was neutralised with a look, and he was gone. “That’s brave”, I thought, especially as the forecast heavy rain had just started and temperatures were predicted to hit 3-4 degrees. I trundled off in the team car to leapfrog him round the 50 mile course. My Circuit went like this.

P1070213

Approaching Garsdale Head

Ingleton – Kirkby Lonsdale; heavy rain, 4 degrees. Passed John a mile or so from Ingleton; I was heading for the snack van at Kirkby Lonsdale’s Devil’s Bridge for a brew. Working my way through the field of riders I noticed how well wrapped up they all were; some looked kitted out for a winter club run rather than an early season TT. Reached Devil’s Bridge, purchased tea, got back into car. Peering thru the camera viewfinder to set the zoom while it cooled, suddenly there he was. Jeez, I hadn’t even started my tea! Inconsiderate! Fired off a quick photo and then reached for my drink as the rain hammered on the roof. I managed a few sips but it was still too hot. Consumption could take a while. After a few minutes I reluctantly decided I wasn’t there to sup tea so poured it away and set off again.

Kirkby Lonsdale – Sedbergh; intensifying rain but what was this? Sleet?

P1070220

Approaching Garsdale Head

Not good especially as this was still the Lune valley and nowhere near the high fells. Road running with LOADS of surface water with proper floods developing in places which, combined with some poor surfaces, was potentially hazardous for riders. Temperature dropped to 3 deg. Began to feel a bit concerned about what might lie ahead for the riders, especially John who was the only bare-legged rider I saw. Cranked up the heater and pressed on to a very drenched Sedbergh; no sign of him. Forked right for Garsdale Head and the climb over the Pennine watershed. Now the serious stuff started.

Sedbergh – Hawes; Initially, bar the odd rise or two (it’s the Dales after all) the road follows the valley floor, although always climbing in net terms. Anyone who’s done the annual Fleet Moss 200k Randonnee will be familiar with this stretch which tops out at 324 mtrs (over 1,000 feet) near the Moorcock Inn. More very poor road surfaces and even more surface water but fewer degrees of Celsius; 2, then 1 and finally 0.5 degrees although John’s Garmin recorded minus 2 somewhere. Unsurprisingly, the sleet intensified and as height was gained it morphed into snow; proper, flaky stuff. The higher parts of the fells were white. At least the flooded roads meant the snow wasn’t sticking. I was properly concerned now; this was much worse than had been forecast. There’s wet and windy rides, then there’s wet, windy and cold rides, then there’s snowy, windy, sub-zero TT’s but not many of them I think. Add in the North Yorkshire remote hill country factor and altitude and you have a combo that’s not just hostile, it’s potentially dangerous in terms of hypothermia. If you were hill-walking you’d be well togged up. I had a contingency plan – I would keep the heater on full and leave the engine running at each pause so that if he climbed off he would have a warm refuge. I would only put the bike in the car after he’d dried and changed. I stopped a few times to see John thru – I didn’t know how he was keeping going in these terrible conditions; I had already seen some abandons and those who were soldiering on looked pretty grim. He looked to be going well; trademark high cadence, very composed, no signs of distress. I was reassured. What I didn’t know was that back at the Start he’d removed his gilet at the last minute and left it in the car, planning to put it on at the summit of Garsdale Head before the chilling drop to Hawes. For whatever reason he didn’t do this; there would be consequences….

P1070239

Garsdale Again

Hawes – Ingleton; as I made the awkward, steep right turn at Hawes I thought “home straight now, I think he’s going to be OK”. He was on for a good time. I overtook him and paused to take another few pics – still composed and looking good. Back in the car, next stop Ribblehead I thought, but for some reason paused again about a mile further on. He rolled up and stopped, asking for the gilet. Suddenly, he looked bad, very bad. I’ve never seen anyone shake so violently. At Hawes the course had turned into the south-west for the final 15 miles or so (a bit less to the Finish) over Ribblehead to Ingleton. These are high, very exposed moorland miles topping out at 438 mtrs (over 1,400 feet), ruthless in the wrong conditions. It was still pouring with rain, temperature back in Hawes was 1.5 degs so less up here (didn’t look) and the wind was dead against and would soon be building to the forecast 50 mph gusts; the wrong conditions! I got the gilet but as I passed it to him saw he was clearly in no state to continue. He wasn’t for stopping – there was a classic “put me back on my bike” moment – but continuing wasn’t an option.

Turned out that, without the gilet, he had become seriously chilled on the descent from Garsdale Head and turning into the headwind at Hawes, plus a heavy drenching from a passing car ploughing through a flood, sort of dropped him over a cliff. Game over. John’s first ever TT DNF.

Even though I was pushing on, the drive back to HQ seemed to take ages and conditions over Ribblehead were truly awful. We passed riders for whom the event looked to have morphed from “race” mode to “survival” mode. Various vehicles were out on the course helping riders, I think even the mountain rescue may have been assisting. Thing is, these roads are high, remote and demanding; you could get into proper trouble up there. Back at HQ First Aiders were active tending shivering riders. The radiators were popular. After a mug of tea John was fine.

CTT Results show that from a Start Sheet of 150 there were only 61 finishers. For SCC, Jim Henderson came in a very creditable 9th, about 10 minutes down on the Winner Mark Holton, whilst Pete Leonard DNF’d.

“Epic” is an overused adjective; I think only the riders could say whether in this case it is an appropriate one but it certainly looked epic through my windscreen.

Here’s a link to a Blog by the Winner, Mark Holton. Chapeau indeed, to all starters.

http://teamdrag2zero.co.uk/2015/04/13/mark-wins-an-epic-circuit-of-the-dales/

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