Monday 25 June 2012

Dragon's Teeth

It was pouring of rain, absolutely teeming it down as I looked out the window early on Saturday morning. There were flood warnings on the Met Office's web site. Oh, and there was a bit of wind about. What a great day to be getting up at 6am to ride 97 miles in a hilly sportive! Despite all of this, I dragged on my cycling gear, grabbed a quick breakfast, got my bike in the car and set off for The Dragon's Teeth Sportive in Kinross. I had to do it anyway as I was trying to raise money for real heroes.

To be honest, the weather was the least of my concerns. The ruddy great hills that I was to cycle over were much more concerning. This was especially the case as I hadn't ridden more than 12 miles in one go since August last year. OK, it wasn't as bad as it sounded, as that 12 miles was repeated each day both ways, 5 days a week. My commute was my training. However, not having trained any significant endurance or hills into my legs for 10 months was certainly a concern.


On arrival at Kinross I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn't raining! Mind you the rain wasn't far away. So I quickly unloaded the car of all my cycling paraphernalia and decided on an outfit. Shorts (trousers would just soak up the rain), jersey, arm warmers, jacket, shoes, oh and waterproof overshoes. Of course, when I say waterproof, what I mean is waterproof at the front and completely open at the back. Yes the zips were busted on both overshoes. I did try and buy new ones in the days leading up to the sportive, but the shops just had summer gear in. Don't they know this is Scotland!?! I was pleased to see at least one rider with overshoes in the same disrepair as mine. We joked about the fact that the wet would only be coming from the front, due to our high velocity. Hmmm.

Off we started. About 50 of us all together, one of the benefits of a small field. It did worry me though that I would quickly fall out the back! I needn't have worried though as the speed built quite slowly and you do always get a boost being part of a pack. I really love riding in a peloton. Whizzing along in a group with 20 odd other cyclists is great fun. Mind you, with the rain having started the lack of mudguards meant I didn't have to bring as much water as usual. I just drank the spray! Did I mention the rain had started?

Then we hit the first hills. It hurt a bit of course. It always does. In fact I often find that first hill unusually hard. I suppose it's because you haven't fully warmed up yet, but the hill soon sorts that out! Having got the first hill out of the way, and still having some cyclists in my sights, I settled down and started enjoying the ride.

What I found, and I have noticed this before is that I'm actually above average at hill climbing. I tend to pass more than pass me. I don't think this means I am fitter though. I do have quite strong legs and I think I am quite good at churning my way up a hill. In fact I don't feel comfortable taking it as slow as some others do. However, I don't always keep the speed up as well on the flats and the hills get progressively harder as I get to the second, third, forth.....hill.

It was climbing up one of the earlier hills that I started looking at the other riders bikes. I was interested to note some of the small gears (large rear cassettes) that people had on their bikes. Did they know something I didn't?

I got to the first feed stop feeling pretty good, especially after the very fast descent into Dunning. I was in a bit of pain, however that was related to my front wheel kicking up a bolder into my shin, and nothing to do with the climb itself. It passed. The bun (a nice large bun with nice thick pink icing on!) and water was very much appreciate at the stop and I was soon on my merry way, looking forward to the next challenge. 'Have fun! ', said the chap at the feed station.

What the chap at the feed station had failed to mention was that now was not a good time to be filling your water bottles up and making your bike over a kilo heavier. Damn that feed station man! He would have known I was about to face..... THE DRAGON.

It all started gently enough. Coming out of Dunning the road began to rise. I understand that the only way out of Dunning is up, so it wasn't entirely unexpected. However, I  turned a corner, I looked ahead and thought.....OH F*&K! I'm not heading up there am I? Eek! Ahead of me was what looked like a wall. A road that got steeper, then further along got a bit steeper, and then got a bit steeper again. In the distance I could see a rider nearing the top of what looked the steepest bit. I couldn't quite work out if he was going forwards or going backwards.

It never looks as steep on Google maps...
Oh dear.

There was nothing for it, so I buckled down and hit the first steeper bit. Very soon I was in my granny gear (34 x 25). That is when the panic set in. Umm, I have nowhere else to go here...I've ran out of gears! So what could I do. Stop? Go back to the feed station and tell the feed station man that I was defeated. Not a chance! The embarrassment! So I kept on going.


That was me on the second steeper part. It is now that I did start wondering, how slow can I go without falling off? 5mph at this point if I remember correctly. My thighs were starting to burn now.


I was creeping on to the third steep bit now. Now would be a good time for a mechanical failure. Bang would go the chain and 'Damn! I'm just going to have to pull out now....'. Alas, there was no mechanical failure.

3mph. That seemed to be just about my limit before I would fall off. I just had to keep grinding at that. Must. Not. Stop....

It is of course at this point on the road, that  the mad man who decided to put a road in such a silly place decided to put in a bend, just to hide that last but not least, steepest section.  I bet he was laughing in his grave at that very moment. The problem was, I was at my stall speed, I had no gears left and I was damned if I was going to give up now. My only option at that point was to get out of the saddle. My legs were burning so much I was starting to choke on the smoke..... I battled up the last incredibly steep stretch.....

Phew! Made it! Umm, well, not entirely. The road builder had one more joke up his sleeve. Rather than put the really steep section at the top of the hill, he put it at the bottom, so there was plenty more climbing to do. To be fair it was significantly less steep than the 25% section that I had just trundled over (before anyone argues, it says 25% on the organisers web page!), but the fact that my legs now had a 25% section in them meant that 10% sections felt like 25% sections.

In the space of that 3.3km climb I went from feeling pretty good, to having legs like lead. I just wasn't prepared for The Dragon. Mind you, I didn't stop and that in itself felt like an achievement. There was a slight problem though....I still had another 55+ miles to ride! It was at this point I decided that the short route would be my saviour. Only 30 miles to go then. Just a shame there where still a few sizeable hills in that 30 miles....

The rest of the ride was all about getting to the end. I just had to make sure at the split point that I took the short route direction, and not the long one. Just stay alert until the split point and you'll be fine...

Eventually I came to Glenfarg, and I knew I had to be close to the split. There were a couple of cyclists ahead of me which was reassuring, as this meant I was going the right way. As I approached the junction I caught up with the other cyclists who were speaking to the marshal posted there..

Cyclist: Are you sure it's not left we need to go?
Marshal: No it's definitely right.
Cyclist: I thought the split was down there (point to the left)
Marshal: no, the split is further down there (Pointing to the right).

So we all head off to the right. The other two cyclists pulled away from me slowly as they were just a wee bit faster (OK, a good bit faster). About 10 minutes later I noticed that they were both stopped. I pulled over. It was here that they pointed out the problem. The road we were on was about to become the M9 motorway.

Oh dear.

Luckily one of the cyclists knew the area and directed us to a road that took us back towards Kinross. One cyclists went on to join the last section of the long ride while myself and another cyclist headed back towards Kinross. We wondered how many cyclists who didn't know the area were heading off in random directions!

My legs were...on their last legs by this point. Luckily the other cyclist kindly took my under his wing, or more accurately behind his back wheel and dragged me home. On arriving back at Kinross....Yeah!! Paul the organiser instantly apologised. Apparently about 15 cyclists had been misdirected before the marshal realised the mistake. Opps! We all took it in good humour though as everyone I met agreed that it had been a hard, but very enjoyable day on the road, and all were ready for the roll and sausage (or bacon or sandwich), soup and tea (or coffee) served back at HQ.

Had I slain the Dragon....? Not quite. Had it got the better of me? Again, not quite. It feels like I have some unfinished business that can only be resolved by a rerun....

WHAT? I'm considering doing it again!?!

Yes, if I can get permission from her that must be obeyed I'd like to take on the Dragon again. This time I'd be prepared. This time it might be nice weather (to be fair it only rained for the first hour or so) and this time I might even train before the ride.

Thanks to the organisers for such an enjoyable day and introducing me to a sportive that I am sure will grow into a classic over the next few years. Thanks even to the marshal who have me a great excuse for not cycling the whole 97 miles, and thanks EVEN to the road designer who was crazy enough to awaken a Dragon......


  1. 34/25? Chapeau, sir! My brand new 11-28 cassette with 50/34 did just fine!!

  2. I couldn't remember what my cassette was. Counted it today. Doesn't usually matter on my commute! I may invest in a new cassette! :-)

  3. Must return to the experience of gears - or should I just keep pedalling that 80-100" (as the chainring dictates - in the market for a 62T-65T if any are going spare?

  4. 34/25, 50/34, 80-100". 62T-65T are all gobbledegook, to me, I'm afraid, and I don't like hills, which is a problem here in Wales. Well done for conquer4ing the Dragon. My 27-speed tourer keeps me going on my commute, for which I use all the gears but it very much depends on my mood i.e., whether I'm up for the hills or not, tired or not etc.. There's no consistency with me at all. The thought of attempting a sportive frightens the life out of me, due to a great lack of confidence and ability. I enjoyed your post.

  5. Ouch. That's a climb that actually *does* look steep on the Streetview! Seems to be good bit worse than Tak-ma-doon, in terms of sustained steep gradient (though, still shorter than the Tak).

    Hat tip. ;)