Shivering on the start line in the rain the inclement weather was strangely liberating as the the little voice in my head re iterated "There's no way you're going sub4 on a day like today" With expectations of slidey grass off Ingleborough and slippery slabs off Whernside my expectations were conservative if not pessimistic and yet spirits were high. I put this down to the 'If Carlsberg did school re unions' atmosphere of the 'Peaks. Every year so many friends gathered together for the same race; riders, support crews and supporters. Already I'd met up with Al and Mark, Winkie and Mike, Waggey and John, Nick and Sarah, Greg and Pauline, Jonathan and Nicola, Jason, Dave, Dave, Simon and later on Tim, Heather, Mat and Claire... the list is endless!
The damp ascent of Ingleborough went more easily than expected, I was within a minute of last years time despite the soft going on the rideable sections. I seem to have gotten better at remounting at any reasonable opportunity which I think helps. A steady and uneventful descent and I grabbed a bottle and gels from Jo (@Hanglebad) at Cold Cotes but no photos today as dealing with the whole support crew stress - easily worse than just riding! Hammer down the road to catch a couple of riders to work with and a shared effort to Whernside. A personal target is to drink one bottle on this section and I force myself to do it. A few glances over my shoulder trudging up the steps to see if I could spy Al (@crossjunkie) but no sign as yet and I'm hoping he hasn't had a mechanical/puncture - last year he breezed by me on this ascent. Over the top and its onto my bogey section having punctured and mangled mechs here in the past. Each 'Peaks I think I ride more and more of the descent from Whernside but I still run the first section on the left as it seems both quicker and safer - as Clint says "A man's got to know his limitations" ;-)
Coming off Blea moor a couple of sneaky run/ride lines off the main track take me past the Italian Squadra resplendent in matching white kit, bikes and white tyres 'Forza Italia!" They pass me as I grab another bottle from Jo at Ribblehead and I let them go as I stuff gels and drink down on the first road section - in retrospect I should have put the effort in to hook up and then refuelled. after a couple of miles I join up with another rider and later a few riders coalesce and we share the work. Hitting the Pen-Y-Ghent track I still don't think the sub4 is on. Nicky Craig comes belting down in the drops with a massive lead. At the awkward corner I manage to ride the big rubble for the first time ever without a dab spurred on by a shout from Tim and this little triumph fires me up - it's on! Trying to stride up the final rocky track I catch up to the Italian Squadra but see Dave Haygarth descending with his arm tucked into his jersey - disaster, broken clavicle but he still finishes in 4:10!
Turning for home a stupid line choice leads to a tumble but it's a soft landing and nothing hurt on me or the bike just a bit of grass and mud collected in the lever. "Mustn't puncture, mustn't puncture" I daren't glance at my watch until I reach the road and I barely see Jo and Mark at the bottom. Out onto the road and I check the time - I'm going to make it!
Chatting at the finish I realise I've had a better round than expected and improved on last years time despite the conditions. I'm not sure if I was better prepared, I did put in a few long off road rides on the CX bike in August, but I didn't blow up like last year. Looking at the splits I was actually slower everywhere apart from the 'road' legs! Next year Al I reckon we ride together like the Italians but maybe without the all white kit! Then it was onto the beer and Jo's magnificent cakes...