Protective Four Peaks – Austria

Ian Wakefield

What is the Four Peaks?

OK, I agree it’s a rubbish name for a bike race, however, what used to be the Trans Germany has now become the Four Peaks and is rapidly becoming the best-known European mountain bike stage race.  One thousand participants ride more than 270 kilometers and climb more than 8,860 altitude in meters.  The event is estimated to attract more than 10,000 spectators at the stage locations.

Preparations

I was one of those 1000 competitors, and over the preceding 9 months had prepared myself for the challenges to come.  Or so I thought. Preparing to race across the Alps and training for it in the flat lands of Norfolk is far from ideal and being accident prone didn’t help either, six weeks before the start I hit the deck on a wet slippery road in Macedonia and broke my little finger in two places.  Big deal I hear you say, but would I really be able to hold onto the handlebars tight enough with a broken finger on descents? to cap it all, on a rainy ride to Beccles three days before the start, I once again hit the deck, and now had road rash all down the right side of my body and left, with big bruises across my left thigh, and a broken finger.

Excuses over then, I flew out to Salzburg on Monday 15th June 2015 where I met my long time friends Mursel and Kathleen Rexhepi who had just completed three weeks training in the Swiss Alps.  We drove to the starting location of the race, a beautiful town called Bad Kleinkirchheim.  I couldn’t pronounce it either so it became “Bad Clench and Climb” which amused my friends.

The Tuesday was spent preparing the bikes and familiarising ourselves with the routines, locations and arrangements for race day.

That night was a sleepless night, I was very nervous about what was to come. I had so many doubts.  Had I trained hard enough? Had I trained long enough? Would I be able to cope with all the climbing? Would I be able to manage the descents? What if I fell off and bashed my broken finger again? the questions were endless.

Stage 1 (49 km climbing 2349 m)

Billed as the “Hardest day” this was the one that scared me the most it was over 49.36 km and up two major climbs, giving a total elevation of 2349 m.  Each day included an enduro challenge, ranking riders in terms of their speed down the most technical sections.

The first climb went well and I rode within myself to reach the first summit “Wollaner Nock” in good time.  It was at least 4 years since I had ridden down a steep ski slope so had to get off an walk on occasions.  Into the woods half way down and we were onto the enduro section.

In the rain it was very difficult to manoeuvre across the wet roots, sharp rocks, drops and ledges without coming off and I did so on several occasions.  Finding out later that I was roughly three times slower than the leading rider Juri Ragnoli (ITA) over the same section.

Soon enough we came to the second climb up to “Kolmnock Gipfeltrail”, at 10 – 12% for most of the way, until the top which was 31% and required the rider to carry their bike, in most cases it was too steep even to push.  It seemed to take forever to climb this last few hundred meters. Shortly after this I punctured, and with tubeless tires this really was a pain, the tire wall had a sharp cut which was too big to be sealed by the sealant, it took about twenty minutes of messing around to put an inner tube in and get going again.

Once over the top we were on the Franz Klammer World Cup Downhill Ski slope, which varied between -20 and -27% , the track was wet and slippery and with fingers and forearms aching from braking I was relieved to finish Stage 1.

Ian Wakefield

Ian Wakefield – Four Peaks – Stage 1

Stage 2 (91 km climbing 1969 m)

Although stage 2 was the longest stage at 91 km, it was one I was looking forward to as I knew I’d be able to take advantage of my flat speed, one of my only strengths.  Our opening descent out of Bad Kleinkircheim was neutralised, thankfully traffic police had stopped traffic and the 1000 strong peloton snaked it’s way down the winding road to the riverside in Radentheim.  My favourite part of this stage was drafting in large groups through the flat sections, I especially enjoyed leading some of the small groups although really I knew I should be saving my energy.  Riding in a group was proving to be highly effective as we sped past lone riders and small groups who didn’t have enough energy or motivation to jump on the back.

The stage ended fairly uneventfully in Hermagor, a pretty alpine town.  After washing my bike I decided to ride to my hotel rather than catching the bus, a distance of about 8 km.  The hotel (Strasswirt) was beautiful and the owners friendly and helpful.

Ian Wakefield - Stage 2 - Four Peaks

Ian Wakefield – Four Peaks – Stage 2

Stage 3 (59 km climbing 2421 m)

Next morning at 8 am I had an 8 km ride to the start, my friends and most of the other riders were on the bus.  It was a good opportunity to warm up and get rid of some stiffness in my legs.

Whilst waiting for the start I sat in an archway talking to some German riders who told me they were from Dortmund, I told them my dad (Now deceased) had been stationed there in the 50’s, they told me the camps were no longer there and we had a little joke, but I was thinking of my father, his life, his death and wondering whether his spirit was with me.  I had his Royal Artillery lapel badge in my bag, I touched it for good luck and swallowed to avoid being seen with tears in my eyes.

Stage 3 had the biggest single climb of 1300 m, I felt strong up it and went past many of the riders I’d been riding with or near for the last few days, it took me about 2 hrs, which meant I witnessed the two lead riders Christoph Sauser and Juri Ragnoli on their final descent, coming back down (they had completed the climb in about 1 hr roughly twice as quick as me). Before you judge, bear in mind they averaged 380 watts for the whole climb of 1 hr, I averaged about 208 watts for 2 hrs which was absolutely on my limit.

The second part of the stage became a real challenge for me having burnt too much energy on the first climb. With another very tricky technical section just before the second feed station, I was relieved to make it to the finish relatively unscathed.  When I say that, I actually had bruises all down my chest and stomach where the seat had hit me on steep descents, bruises all down the inside of my thighs where I had tried to grip the seat on rocky descents with my thighs, bruises down the front of both thighs and shins from previous crashes and a broken finger.  I realised at this point I was going to have work on my descending technique, as I felt many of the injuries were down to poor technique.

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Ian Wakefield – Four Peaks – Stage 3

Stage 4 (71 km climbing 2122 m)

Noticing ten minutes before the start that yesterday’s crashes had caused my seat to be broken and was angled at a 45 degree angle to the side wasn’t an ideal start to the stage, but luckily the neutral service team were able to replace it before the gun went off.

The stage started in Tropolach and although it was raining, it was one I was looking forward to as once again it was flatter and longer, I was feeling stronger with the past three days riding now firmly in my legs.  Going into the mountains I rested long enough at the back of each group on the road to save enough energy to go past to the next group on the road, I did this about six times and was feeling good working my way through the field.  On some of the long climbs off road, I worked with other riders and on occasions took advantage of shelter behind stronger riders, leaving them when they ran out of energy.

The enduro on stage 4 was a pleasure and more like the trails I was used to in Thetford, unfortunately due to poor signing and marshaling I and a half dozen other riders went the wrong way, about 2 miles out of our way half way down.

As I approached 60 km in the pouring rain and mist I dared to think I was going to finish, each climb seemed to become longer, the skies became darker, I became colder but I knew I was getting closer to the end.  Eventually in the distance I could see a peak and I could see the sun shining through, this must be the final climb I kept saying to myself.  As I went over the top, the sun did indeed shine on me, a feeling of warmth came over me and I looked at the sky and said “Dad I’m going to finish”, somehow I felt he was with me.  I remembered his final bike ride to the post office before collapsing with a heart attack and it brought tears to my eyes. I wondered what he would have thought about me on this Austrian mountain, would he have been proud, maybe, maybe not, but what I did know is that I was proud to be his son.

The final descent was truly exhilarating and so close to the finish I was letting the bike run longer and longer between braking.  As I came across the finish line, an enormous sense of achievement, relief and excitement came over me.

Ian Wakefield

Ian Wakefield – Four Peaks – Stage 4

Final thoughts

I didn’t have to wait too long before my team mates Kathy and Mursel came in holding hands across the finish line, it was group hugs all round and an emotional visit to the podium for photos, it was going to take some time for it to sink in what we had all done and overcome.

Before the race I had designed some team jerseys, the motto on them was “Vincit qui se vincit” which translates as “He who conquers himself, conquers” we all conquered ourselves and I personally will treasure the memories and camaraderie from my team mates and other riders for many years to come.

Results

I finished 208 in the masters category which was won by Udo Bolts (GER) a twelve-time finisher of the Tour de France.  The overall race was won by Juri Ragnoli (ITA) who narrowly beat former world champion Christoph Sauser (SWI).

Nibali wears yellow in Cambridge.


Vincenzo Nibali is not a name that trips off the tongue but one that I will remember with pride for a very long time. Seeing Vincenzo Nibali the “Mailott jaune” riding through the streets of Cambridge with fellow riders on the 7th July for the 3rd Stage of the 2014 Tour de France brought a big lump to my throat.  Why you ask? From March 2014 I had been employed by Cambridge City and Cambridgeshire County Council to promote stage 3 to it’s residents, so seeing thousands of people lining the streets, experiencing the deafening roar as the riders passed and seeing the greatest bike riders in the world in the greatest bike race, right in front of me was truly amazing.

The Devil and I

 

The Devil and Me 2009 Monte Carlo

My interest in the Tour de France goes back as long as I can remember and inspires me each year to ride more, ride harder and to be more ambitious.  After witnessing the 1st stage in 2009 which saw Fabian Cancellara win the time trial I was mesmerized.  That stage was in Monte Carlo, a more classic backdrop you just couldn’t imagine.

Among my highlights of that day were meeting the famous “Devil” and also Sean Kelly a legend of the tour.

2009 was one of the first times that electronic gears were used on the time trial bikes, which you could clearly hear as the riders flicked their levers on the steep climbs round the circuit.  Other than the tremendous speed of the riders the other thing that captured my imagination at that time was the helicopters.  Each rider, on setting off at 2 minute intervals, was tracked by the helicopter. Behind each rider was a car bearing the riders name on the bonnet all accompanied by flashing lights sirens and thousands of spectators it was truly spectacular.

Since that day I’ve dreamed of  my own helicopter hovering above me, and behind me a car with my name on. Although I know that will never happen, it certainly makes me ride faster, even on a wet windy day in Derbyshire.

2014 has been a difficult year in my life beginning with the death of my father, who loved to cycle and rode his bike almost everyday, it was shortly after his death that I got a job working on the Tour de France.

Although my father rarely gave compliments I felt sure that he would be proud of my new appointment and my contributions to the greatest bike race on earth.

I worked hard for 4 months, planning, organising and working with colleagues to both make sure Cambridge was appropriately branded with lamp post banners, posters, bunting etc.. and to make sure local residents were aware of the significant disruptions which would affect them on July 7th (a Monday).  This we achieved effectively with a few stressful moments but in the main everything we set out to achieve we did.

Stephen Roche

Stephen Roche 1987 TdF Winner

On the night before the race I was on duty capturing images of the build up, and couldn’t believe my luck when I was introduced to Stephen Roche one of only two riders to win the “Triple Crown” Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and the World road race championships.

So to race day.  Walking into Cambridge at 7 am it was a beautiful day and crowds were already starting to gather. Tour makers were being briefed and the Council were removing bikes locked to railings.  I was looking forward to a historic day.  As part of my role on the Social Media side I had a list of images to send through to control to posted, I worked my way round taking pictures of the crowd, start line, tour buses, big screen and of course the riders.

Just before the start I was given access to the “Tour Village” a secure area where media, riders and officials relaxed and went about their business, it was quite a privilege.  I felt like a little boy in a sweet shop, everywhere I looked there were riders, team mangers and beautiful girls (all dressed in yellow of course).  I took my photo’s then moved on towards the start, as I’d got this far I thought I would ride my luck and walk down the inside of the barriers where riders were gathering, nobody stopped me! It felt like an out of body experience, was I really walking down to the Tour de France start with the worlds greatest riders all around me? I was and in the end as I didn’t have a security pass I decided it would be best to leave voluntarily rather than be ejected which would have been embarrassing, so I hopped over the fence.

Helicopter Stage 3

My Helicopter – I wish 🙂

Trying to get to the start on the other side of the barrier was impossible and I had to give up, just too many people.  As I was making my way over to Trumpington Street I got a text from a friend telling me she thought “My Helicopter” had arrived!  It certainly felt like that, I was almost floating down the road with excitement.  A few minutes later the peleton came past preceded by the procession, service cars and numerous police and gendarmerie. Right in the centre was Vincenzo Nibali, the Yellow Jersey – a moment I will remember for the rest of my life..

Shortly after the stage John Bridge OBE who is Chief Executive of the Chamber of Commerce in Cambridgeshire published an opinion piece which was very complimentary of the communications during the event here it is: John Bridge Chamber Opinion Piece Aug 14.

Milk Race 2013 – Nottingham


The history of the Milk Race is legendary in the UK having run from 1958 right up to the last race in 1993, which was the last time the race came to Nottingham.

So as a lifelong cycling enthusiast it was with great excitement that I made my way to Nottingham city centre on Sunday (26th of May) to witness the revival of one of the greatest British bike races. The revival was brought to life by Anthony Doyle MBE, a former professional cyclist who was World Pursuit Champion in 1980 and 1986.

Unlike the original Milk Race the format of the 2013 race was a criterium, meaning that the cyclists ride a circular course for a set time/number of laps, or sometimes a combination of the two, until you have a winner.

The commentators described Sunday’s course as a tight technical, but fast, three-quarter mile route which centered on Market Square and the Council House in Nottingham.

The day began with a fun ride for families and non-competitive riders around the city centre course.  Some concern was raised before the race over tramlines and how safe they would be to ride over, but the race organisers had temporarily filled the tramlines on sections of the course where this might have been an issue. The focus on families and fun was supported on the day by a collection of cartoon characters merrily dancing their way round the square, and lots of opportunities for kids to try out different bikes and of course a plentiful supply of milk.

Womens Elite Race

The first professional race of the day was the Elite Womens Race, which took place over 50 minutes plus 5 laps.  First prize was £1,000 (the same as the mens’ race).

The favourites for the Elite Womens Race were Emma Trott (Sister of Laura Trott, a double Olympic Gold Medalist and World Champion on the Track) and Dani King from Southampton who won Gold in the 2012 Olympic Team pursuit and is also a double World Champion in the same discipline. The race was started by Dame Sarah Storey, herself a winner of 11 Paralympic Gold Medals.

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The racing was fast and furious with Dani King showing her class early on to pull out a quarter mile lead.  By the end of the race Dani had stretched her winning margin to almost a whole lap. The thousands of spectators lining the route were generous in their appreciation for her display of speed, confidence and endurance. The chasing group crossed the line a few minutes later in a bunched sprint with Hannah Barnes (MG-MaxiFuel) coming in second and Amy Roberts (Wiggle-Honda) third. For the record, my vote for most aggressive rider would certainly be for Emma Trott who consistently made big efforts to ride off the front and she was rewarded with 7th place.

Final Placings:
1 Danielle King – Wiggle Honda – 59:33:00
2 Hannah Barnes – MG-Maxifuel Pro Cycling
3 Amy Roberts – Wiggle Honda
4 Emily Kay – Scott Contessa Epic
5 Annabel Simpson – Team Hope Factory Racing
6 Charlene Joiner – MG-Maxifuel Pro Cycling
7 Emma Trott – Boels Dolmans
8 Hayley Jones – Node 4 / Giodana Racing
9 Jessie Walker – Matrix Fitness Racing Academy
10 Lucy Martin – Boels Dolmans

Dani King

Pictured: Dani King (Winner Womens Elite)

Varsity Race

Next up was the Varsity Race between the University of Nottingham and their old rival Nottingham Trent University (NTU).  Having some inside knowledge I knew that the NTU team had been training hard for this, but unfortunately they were outclassed on the day by at least half a lap by both University of Nottingham Teams.

My overriding memory of the race was listening to the disbelief of the Commentator that one of the NTU riders was riding a ‘Fixey’ (fixed wheel bike with no gears) with only one brake.  This caused some amusement from the cycling aficionados around me but, to his credit, the guy put on a good show and demonstrated that it was not all about the bike!

Pride of Nottingham

Now was the turn of the ‘Pride of Nottingham’ Race which was in the same format as the Varsity Race;   one lap per rider relay. Among the teams competing were Nottingham City Council, The Ambulance Service, Police Service and Nottingham Panthers.  The race was undertaken in good spirits with some of the competitors in fancy dress and riding a variety of different styles of bike. Joviality aside, every rider gave 100% obviously inspired by previous races, with the eventual winner being ‘Nottingham Panthers’.

Mens Elite Race

The grand finale was the Mens Elite Race which included two high profile Olympians;  Ed Clancy who won Gold in the 2012 Olympics Team Pursuit (also World Champion) and Stephen Burke who won Olympic Gold in 2012 with Ed Clancy in the same event.

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The race was to be over one hour plus 5 laps. Within a couple of laps two riders, Felix English (Rapha Condor) and French rider Alex Blain (Team Raleigh), had broken away to form a 20 second gap over the chasing group. With average speeds of around 30 mph and with less than 6 inches between riders, the race truly was a spectacle to witness close up. Each time the riders lapped the gap between them and the chase group got bigger and bigger.

With suffering etched into every rider’s face as they embraced the pain and summoned as much mental strength as they could muster to hang on to the wheel in front. With each passing lap more and more riders dropped off the back, unable to keep up with the blistering pace. Once they became lapped then they had to ride off the course.  All in all probably only half the field finished the race because of this rule.

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As the race was coming to its final few laps it was obvious that, with the exception of technical incidents or crashes,  the two lone riders would be victorious.  But who would win the final sprint? English and Blaine were trying to surge away from each other. Over and over they tried to break the shadow of the rider behind until finally, on the last lap, Felix English burst away to beat his rival by a few meters on the line.

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In the frenzy of effort to beat each other the pair had gained almost a lap on the main field, who were lead in a few minutes later by Ed Clancy MBE who won the bunch sprint to claim 3rd place.

Final Placings:
1 Felix English – Rapha Condor JLT  -01:08:58
2 Alex Blain – Team Raleigh
3 Edward Clancy – MBE Rapha Condor JLT
4 Tom Moses – Team Raleigh
5 George Atkins – 100% Me
6 David Lines – MG-Maxifuel Pro Cycling
7 James Williamson  – Node 4 Giordana Racing
8 Roman Van Uden – Node 4 Giordana Racing
9 Graham Biggs – Team Raleigh
10 Sam Witmitz  -Team Raleigh

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Pictured: L to R Alex Blaine (2nd), Felix English (Winner) & Ed Clancy MBE (3rd)

Final Thoughts

It would be amiss of me to end this article without making reference to the tremendous vision, commitment and organisational expertise of Nottingham City Council, British Cycling, The Milk Race, Anthony Doyle MBE and its sponsors;   including the Dairy Council, all of whom not only made the event possible but also a truly memorable experience and an event I hope will make a return to Nottingham very soon.

For all my photos from the Milk Race see:

2013

2014

First published by Sport Nottinghamshire

Tour of Britain 2012


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Article first posted on Sport Nottinghamshire website Sep 2012

Monday 10th September 2012 saw the Tour of Britain come to Nottingham for the first time in 7 years, altogether about 100 riders, including Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish who has now won 23 Tour de France stages and is ranked 4th on the tours all-time list one place ahead of Lance Armstrong, perhaps the worlds most famous cyclist.

My own start to the day was an early one getting into Nottingham at around 6.30 am. Being a keen cyclist and not wanting to be late for this ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity I didn’t want to get stuck in traffic or risk being late.

The race was scheduled to start at 10 am prompt, from outside Nottingham Castle which was a superb backdrop to such an event. As the sun was coming up I enjoyed watching the frenzy of activity as sponsor hoardings were erected, TV crews turned up, volunteers arrived and then a bit later on of course, hundreds of excited school children, all frantically waving their sponsor flags and wearing Bradley Wiggins masks took their places at the start.

Last but not least, the riders started to arrive, each one of them was required to sign on before the race started, which provided some great photo opportunities right in front of the Robin Hood statue.

I was lucky enough to get a media pass and access to get right up close to the riders.  I tried to imagine how I would feel were I about to ride to Liverpool on a bike – pretty nervous was the answer, but these guys oozed confidence, many of them bronzed from continental races, covered in scars from previous races and some sporting bandages and wounds from only the day before.

On a more light hearted note the talk on the start line was high spirited and I was amused to see ‘Wiggo’ throw his half eaten energy bar at ‘Cav’ like a naughty schoolboy. You certainly couldn’t accuse ‘Wiggo’ of not having a personality could you?

The race started with military precision at 10 am and on leaving the castle, moved through Old Market Square and on to Wollaton Park.  The first part of the race was a virtual procession (Neutralised) and the race proper started at Trowell Road, near the M1, before climbing into Derbyshire and the Peak District.

Australia’s Leigh Howard eventually outsprinted Mark Cavendish to win the stage as it ended in Cheshire, 41/2 hrs later.

Stage Result

Stage Two, Nottingham to Knowsley, 180.7km
1) Leigh Howard, AUS, Orica GreenEDGE, 4:31:09
2) Mark Cavendish, GBR, Team Sky, same time
3) Boy Van Poppel, NED, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling, same time
4) Steele Von Hoff, AUS, Garmin – Sharp, same time
5) Russ Downing, GBR, Endura Racing, same time
6) Sep Vanmarcke, BEL, Garmin – Sharp, same time
7) Wesley Kreder, NED, Vacansoleil – DCM, same time
8) Nathan Haas, AUS, Garmin – Sharp, same time
9) Sam Bennett, IRL, AN Post Sean Kelly, + 0.01
10) Luke Rowe, GBR, Team Sky, same time

For all my Tour of Britain photo’s see:

2012

Cycling Peddars Way – Norfolk


I recently cycled Peddars Way in Norfolk with my brother and have decided to document my ride both for my own records and for the information of others:

Always looking for a new challenge and living away from my home county of Norfolk,  I thought riding Peddars Way  would be an ideal opportunity to have a great day of riding whilst seeing some great sights and visiting my family.  I began by convincing my brother what a great idea it would be, and although he was reticent at first because of the distance (58 miles), we agreed that we would take it easy, stop as often as we needed and I would lead as much as possible so he could draft me.  As it turns out none of this was necessary (read on).

We decided to do the ride on Saturday the 28th July, which frustratingly turned out to be the same day as the Olympic men’s road race, where Mark Cavendish was expected to win Gold.  So much for forward planning 😦

Finding the start

It wasn’t long before the day had arrived and we set off armed with maps, fuel, and enthusiasm.  Our agreed starting point was a place called Knettishall Heath near Diss in Norfolk.  For anyone wishing to follow in our Tyre marks, park or get dropped off at the Knettishall Heath Country Park car park. Then turn south out of the car park (away from your destination), turn right as you exit the car park, ride for about 800 m until you come to a small car park on your left.  Then on the opposite side of the road about 50 m further on is where the trail starts.  58 miles North ish takes you to Hunstanton on the Norfolk Coast.

They’re off

The first 10 miles of the ride are probably the fastest as they are through wooded  singletracks.  As we followed the trail we kept coming across a group of MTX riders who were also riding down to the coast (Although this is not permitted for MTX!).  Being an eternal optimist I said to my  brother, “I think we can beat these down to the coast !” as I knew they would have to keep stopping, and would probably have to take the long way round at some points.

My brother (Jeremy) wasn’t impressed with my ‘haring off’ after the bikes and sensibly stuck to a comfortable pace (wish I had done the same!).

My brother (Jens)

Jeremy a keen cyclist who enjoys XC but is more comfortable on his road bike, was I think it was fair to say a little apprehensive about riding 58 miles XC with me.  Training for at most an hour at a time,  I think he was worried what 6 hrs in the saddle would do to him.

He needn’t have worried as after 40 miles I was starting to flag and Jeremy was taking the lead and riding like a man possessed.

I told him he reminded me of Jens Voigt one of my favorite riders, who like him was a big powerful rider, who rode massive gears. Somehow it made me feel better to compare him to a rider such as Jens, as I was having trouble keeping up with him.

Halfway

We stopped in Castle Acre for lunch which was about half way and an ideal place, full of quaint little bric-a-brac shops, tea rooms and pubs.

Castle Acre Church

The section between 20 miles and 40 miles were the most difficult,  riding through at times long grass, then sand, then long grass again, and over an undulating profile.

This sort of terrain was gradually sapping my strength and despite having ridden 100 miles the weekend before in under 5 1/2 hrs I was running out of steam and Jeremy gradually left me behind. Although he always waited at crossing and route points for me to catch up.

Over 40 years we’d built up  healthy sibling rivalry and during my ‘suffer time’ I was trying hard to justify how it was, that my brother who doesn’t ride competitively (as I do) and who only trains for an hour at a time was dropping me like a hot potato?  I was after-all riding quite well I thought.

My only conclusion was that he really was a natural bike rider, with great natural power from years of playing  badminton, and that he really hadn’t tested himself before like he was on our ride, it was I thought a confidence thing for him, as he obviously had the ability to ride hard for at least 40 miles XC.  What else could I come up with?  All my training would be wasted…

Jens Voigt having a well earned rest

For those wondering, the 58 miles including a 45 min stop half way and another 15 min stop further on took us about 6 hrs, and we averaged about 12 mph.  Less ambitious cyclists should not be deterred, the ride really is a ‘must do’ and at a slower pace would have been much more enjoyable. The whole of Peddars Way is ride-able despite maps indicating to the contrary, and the terrain varies from wooded fire trails, to grassy climbs and quiet country roads. It’s so easy to follow as it’s almost dead straight.

I can see the sea!!

The first time you see the sea, coming out of Ringstead, there is a tremendous feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment having left all those strength sapping miles behind you.

On our journey which was on a beautiful summers day we passed no more than 10 people.  Remarkably the trail passes through very few villages, maybe two or three, so take the opportunity to stop when you can, as if you wait for the next opportunity it may be 20 miles coming, and yes for anyone wondering we didn’t beat the guys on MTX bikes, although my legs felt like they’d tried pretty hard.

Thanks to my brother for making me want to be a better bike rider!!

Download a GPX file of Peddars Way

Download a TCX file of Peddars Way (Works with some Garmins)

Download a Map of Peddars Way

Download an Aerial Photo Map of Peddars Way

Kids with Guns – in Derby


Don’t be alarmed no guns were seen here, but they may as well have been.  This is a short account of a recent training ride from Loughborough to Derby.

May the 13th (next weekend) is scheduled as my next bike race.  The race is part of the Mud Sweat & Gears series incorporating the East of England XC Championships, so I really felt that despite the severe weather warnings that I needed to get a good few miles in over the bank holiday weekend.

During Fridays FE Games in Nottingham I had psyched myself up to ride over to my girlfriends house that evening and ride back on Monday evening.  By the time I got home from work it was almost 6 and on a good day the ride was going to take about 2 hrs so I knew it would be dark before I got there.  I got well prepared with layers of waterproof clothing, overshoes and lights, although not just any lights – two sets of high powered enduro lights on the handlebars, there should be no excuses for not seeing me.

So off I set on a quiet evening, enjoying my ride through the Leicestershire countryside down the Garendon and Cloud Trails towards Derby, there was a cool breeze and a light rain, the aroma from the endless fields of rapeseed was spectacular.

The route was one I’d done many times although not at night.  It gradually got darker as I approached Derby and I’d been pushing really hard on the trail as there was nobody else about.  Coming  to the outskirts of the City I came to an underpass, I could see a group of about 15 people gathered in front of me, all dressed in dark hoodies and moving in and out of the shadows.  As I got closer I could smell the unmistakable stench of ‘weed’,  I was cautious and as I went into the darkness lighting up the subway, the group moved into my path, some with viscous looking dogs who were yelping at this unwanted visitor.  Although my lights were powerful I couldn’t make out any of the hooded faces, who blocked my path. Some stood with their backs to me, other laid their bikes down across the path.

My adrenalin was already pumped with the ride, and I slowed down but not that much, in an attempt to force them to move out of my path.  This tactic was somewhat unsuccessful as I found myself riding over bikes and pushing my way through these faceless people.  At the time I was listening to ‘Kids with Guns’ on my earphones which seemed to be most apt for the situation I found myself in.

I ignored the abuse being shouted and half expected to look behind and see the hooded figures chasing me on their BMXs’ but they were not.  My adrenalin at this point was rushing through my veins and I used this to try and propell me faster and faster. Thinking that this incident was a one off I focussed my attention on the trail and the ride.  Only to be confronted a few miles later by a similar gang of hooded figures, who thought it would be amusing to block my way across a narrow bridge.  In a similar attempt to intimidate I rode straight at the hoodie in front of me who was laughing and smoking weed, he didn’t move which caused me to again force my way past him again resulting an a torrent of abuse by him and his cronies.

I thanked my lucky stars and continued on my journey with a collection of strange thoughts floating around in my head. Were the kids trying to intimidate? Were they just playing around? Was I just as bad as them in my younger days? What would have happened if I had stopped? or worse still had hit one hard?  I hoped I would never know the answers to these questions but the whole experience to reminded me of how ‘Sport’ can change lives and direct the energies of young people like these.

During the day these trails are filled with happy families, lovers hand in hand, people out on their bikes and walking their dogs, at night it seems the hooded youth of Derby make these subways and underpasses their territory.  I will certainly think twice before making another night ride to Derby.

The Eiger Race 2010


The Eiger has a reputation second to none for not only its great beauty but also its fearsome reputation. The North Face of the Eiger was first climbed in 1938 and since that time more than 64 climbers have met their deaths attempting to conquer it.  So it was  with disbelief that early in 2010 I listened to my friend Shpend Gerguri trying to persuade me that we should enter the Eiger Challenge – a mountain bike race up ‘Murder Mountain’.

Shpend and I had done many races and events together and we were always looking for the next big challenge, one that none of our friends had done.  But the Eiger? surely this was going a bit far I thought.  Eventually we talked each other into it and gradually we realised that normal training was not going to be enough.  I put myself through hell for the six months leading up to the race including 3 x 80 -100 mile rides, and a 142km Enduro, Shpend did the same, but each night when I went to sleep I would lie awake wondering if this would be enough?

The race was in early August so the weather promised to be good.   We both took a week off work and made our way down to Dover where we caught the ferry across, then taking it in turns to drive, we made our way through Belgium, Germany and finally into Switzerland, it was a 12 hour trip and exhausting.  We had booked ourselves into a small hotel on the outskirts of Grindelwald (a small town at the foot of the Eiger), we awoke the morning after our journey to the most spectacular views and couldn’t wait to assemble our bikes and ride off toward the town to familiarise ourselves.

As we came into Grindelwald we got our first sight of the Eiger.  It was silent, beautiful and intimidating, I couldn’t help as I gazed at the snow capped peak to think about all the men who had died trying to climb it. The Graveyard in the town bore witness to the violent history of the mountain with rows and rows of graves dedicated to the brave men who had risked their lives for glory, it bought a lump to my throat.

The time came for us to register for the race at the local Sports Centre, there were 3 distances available 22k, 55k and 88k, naturally we went for the 88k, we couldn’t seriously come all the way here and not do the toughest race available could we?  At this point we were both quite confident, until one of the German officials gave us a look of disbelief that we were doing the 88k, he asked us if we were good at carrying zee bikes with a sarcastic smile on his face.  I remember thinking, he doesn’t know me, or what I’ve done, and no mountain is going to get the better of me!!

The next morning we woke early about 6 am I think, to see that outside it was dark, cold, windy and pouring with rain.  Somehow this didn’t really fit with my vision of riding through beautiful alpine fields with the sun on my back, but we kept telling ourselves it would brighten up, and made our way to the start at the bottom of the mountain.

We were both nervous but trying not to show it, the 88k course wasn’t just up the Eiger, it was round it, down it, up the next mountain, and the next and included a total of 13500 ft of climbing (off road).  Soon after we left the start I lost sight of Shpend who was out in front of me, I stopped worrying about whether I was going to beat him and focused on climbing the mountain.  I knew it was going to be a long hard ride and tried to conserve my energy as much as possible.  As we wound our way up the mountain through the little villages, many of the locals had come out to cheer us on,  and rattle their cow bells, this I found helped me in my battle against gravity.  Whilst training in England I had rarely if ever got out of the middle ring on climbs and certainly hardly ever went into the ‘Granny’, I was convinced I would be able to ride the Eiger without going into the ‘Granny’.

How wrong I was! After an hour of climbing I was already in the smallest gear I had.  My legs were hurting, my back was hurting, it was pouring with rain and we’d only just started.  I could see above me riders going up and up and up, after another hour of climbing with no break and with the summit still nowhere to be seen, many riders around me were walking, I resisted as long as I could but there comes a point when you are moving so slowly because of the gradient that you lose your balance.

So after 2 hrs of climbing I found myself alone in the mist, with just my thoughts to keep me company.  Just a few years earlier I had suffered from a Spontaneous Pneumothorax (Collapsed lung), I knew that there was a chance that it could collapse again especially at altitude, but had chosen to take that risk.  My lungs felt like they were burning and the pain got more and more intense, I wondered if the lung was collapsing, what would I do? there was no medical support where I was, I could die!  What would happen if I died here?  What would people think of me? Would my Girlfriend and the people I loved  ever come to this place? I sat down and cried.

Psychologically the Eiger had beaten me, I was in the lowest place mentally I had ever been in my life, I had been climbing for 2 hrs and yet still I could see no end to the ascent.  I began to think of all the brave ancestors I had and how they would be ashamed if they could see me feeling sorry for myself on this mountain.

I got up and continued my climb on foot,  the pain in my chest was still there and I wondered if maybe I was having a heart attack (I was 42).  I watched my heart rate monitor and tried to keep it to under 160 bpm which seemed to help.

Finally I could see riders coming down the ski slope in front of me, the top must be near!  After 2 1/2 hrs of climbing I finally reached the top and carefully made my way down.  The race was far from over with more peaks to climb and sketchy descents to be made.  After 5 1/2 hrs in the saddle I was coming back into Grindalwald knowing that I still had another massive mountain to climb before the finish.  It was with relief that I was stopped from making this ascent as I’d exceeded the time limit.  I rode into the finish to a sea of cheering faces, but not with happiness, with relief that the race for me was over.

My friend Shpend Gerguri beat the time limit and continued to the final summit, finishing his ride of 88km in about 9 hrs.  Shpend told me he’d had the same feelings and also found himself in tears and thinking about his unborn child and wife back home in England.

Nearing the top of that mountain in such self doubt and pain was a humbling experience and one which has taught me a lot about myself and made me not only a stronger rider but a stronger person.  It was an experience I will never forget and any riders out there who want to test themselves you won’t get much more of a test than the Eiger Challenge,  I look forward to reading your story.

This 6 minute video of one of the other competitors gives you an idea of the determination required