Adventure with Anna & John

Prologue

The bike was already dismantled last weekend. My headache this morning is how to carry the huge bike bag to the morning's first arriving commuter train in time. It will take me to the airport, where I‘ll meet up with Anna. I'm not worried about her. She will be there on time, with everything brought with her. Entirely correct! She is there! And, it was a tough walk for me to pull a 21k-nonwheeled bicycle bag to the shuttle. When on site, the rest of the morning is just like a bed of roses.

Standing nervously waiting for John. I've managed to minimize the packing, to get it all into my bike bag. We are traveling to Yorkshire to end the bicycle season with a 100 miles race held by HM Revenue & Customs, Sports & Leisure holding ECSA’s European road cycling championships. However, all my concerns are about the tough track profile with almost 2,500 altimeter. A really tough challenge. Can I do this?

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There comes John! Oh no... overweight in the bike bag ... how much of it can I transfer to Johns luggage? I who had packed everything so nicely. Wonderful! John has a few pounds left in his bags. We are on our way and next stop is Manchester. All bags show up on the belt and we meet Mike. Is it possible to pack all our luggage into his car? We really push the luggage into the car and hang Mikes racer on a bicycle rack. Wondering if the bikes are all right after this?

 

Two hours and a coffee break later we are in Thirsk. A small town in the middle of nowhere...

We have a nice long lunch with Mike before we check in and start with the day’s toughest task. To dismantle the bike and pack it down piece by piece, and then, believe in yourself to reassemble all parts again and get the mechanics to work smoothly with perfection, ahead of a monster run, requires strong self confidence in your own mechanical skills. The route is very demanding, and everything has to work perfectly. Are you the mechanic you need to be for this?

We assemble the bikes without major mishaps while the rain is pouring down the window. What’s the weather forecast for tomorrow?

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The race

Raceday and the clouds really fly over the sky. A gentle rain falls softly on the tarmac when we ride away. The first three miles are slightly hilly and we try to get down on the wheel of some English lads, but I can already feel the ascents so we let them go.aceday and the clouds really fly over the sky. A gentle rain falls softly on the tarmac when we ride away. The first three miles are slightly hilly and we try to get down on the wheel of some English lads, but I can already feel the ascents so we let them go.

The route is marked with small yellow arrows against blue background. Nice colours. A few miles into the race, we miss one and end up on a hiking trail. Just to turn around, and we probably lost 10 minutes.

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One hill up leads to a slope down. Nice! It is really steep downhill! I see a tight bend coming closer very fast. I better brake hard! Ouch! ... my rear wheel slips. Quickly, I take back the control of the situation, and at the same time, the same thing happens to John. He also slides on the rear wheel but master the situation well. Hey, something is wrong with my bike. It’s a flat tire... we stop in a new uphill. Off with the front wheel and a quick change of hose. Everything done in less than 5 minutes. Let’s go! No, only 500 m later and the front wheel is empty again. We just have to start all over again.

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After 48k we arrive at Pateley Bridge where we have the first check point and get our first rubber band round the wrists. Now it's pouring down on us besides the powerful headwind we're already struggling with. If it used to be steep slopes before, here comes the first of today's category 3 mountains. The first decent climb, Greenhow Hill. Oh! It's a wall! Sometimes a gradient over 20%, with an average gradient of 8% , and we shall do over 3k before reaching the top. John disappears out of sight while I slowly climb up, defeating the monstrous hill.

Gusty winds trying to throw you of the bike. A wall of wind in addition to the wall of tarmac ahead of you. I get off the bike at the top of the hill, resting while waiting for Anna and using the time to take in the astonishing scenery, with a photo session of the unmatched view. Here she comes! Now again, a powerful downhill is waiting. Let’s face downwards and let the gravitation do the job. Grouses flaps their wings, and scatter when we finally gain speed again, before taking on the next climb.

After the village Grassington we turn north and arrive on a narrow road. In our uncertainty, we stop and consult the map. A friendly elder British gentleman stops his car and confirms our correct road selection with his closing words "..at the end of the road there is a category 3 hill, you know!". Well, I knew it would be steep again, but I did not know what to expect.

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Almost like standing still uphill, with brusque walls embracing us with both its scenic beauty and brutal steepness, we struggle upwards along the climb, meter put to another meter. The last rainy climb is Park Rash and it offers us another average gradient of 8%. This time over 4k without rest. Sometimes, you're leaning your body completely in front of the handlebar and you can almost kiss the road in front of you. The pedalling will not take you many inches forward at a time, and all you can hear is your own frenetic pounding heartbeat. You feel the muscle tension throughout your whole body when you give it all to get up to the top of the hill, to claim your position as the king of the mountain.

The race was shortened from 160k to 136k due to hazardous weather conditions. The wind and rain is making it dangerous to send us up on the hill again, but above all, for us getting down with tired legs. The wind occasionally took a hard grip of you and your ride, risking throwing us off the bikes. The rainwater floods and drags mud all over the roads, making them even more slippery and harder to master in the wind. We, together with our mascot Tess, are only happy about that well considered decision.

Finally the journey home begins. Down from Park Rash and along swirling roads and around stone-built knots, overtaking all the contestants, we come across on our way to Thirsk. The top speed is measured to 70 km/h downhill on wet tarmac. Good for us that the brake pads are new. Two more check points and new rubber bracelets are retrieved.

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Riding downhill in Yorkshire is really challenging compared with previous experiences from races in Sweden. Sometimes, straight road stretches, as a free fall, mile after mile, heading into a village, just to end with a sharp bend, a curve without decreasing speed. Other times, dazzling cycling tracks are laid out over the overwhelmingly beautiful moor.

The sound of this fast-paced odyssey is a delightful blow of passing wind, the mechanical sharp noise of the chain swirling, and a humming, rumbling wheel pressing onto tarmac. All in harmony with the breathing and recovery of the heart pounding in your chest, when gravity is on your side. Whirling wet roads, in and out, through murky villages along the desolate hills of Yorkshire. AND then again, the pace ends in a sharp end.

Two cyclists dressed in yellow and blue with the tailwind doing its wonderful work helping to cut mile after mile on almost flat road into the finish line in Thirsk. However, we manage to miss the last arrow, but we’re doing it! We’re crossing the finish line!

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Epilogue

Reaching goal after around 6 hours out there. We reward ourselves with well-deserved coffee and homemade cakes of seven kinds made by wonderful British colleagues. Delicious baking! In the sport hall where we started our race this morning, we mingle with other cyclists and staff, sharing each other's stories about the shifting weather and today's varied personal experiences and tales of them. The atmosphere is cheerful and happy, and your fatigue legs are quickly forgotten. Many still remain out on the track, so the award ceremony is moved to the hotel restaurant before dinner. The coffee cup is emptied and we're heading back to the hotel. The task to clean and disassemble the bike is waiting again.

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Before the award ceremony we are happy to thank our fantastic hosts HM RCSL and ECSA, and praise them for taking such good care of us; frankly speaking doing everything but riding the race for us. Not to be forgotten, the fantastic organisation around this event. We're already looking forward to next year’s championship.

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The atmosphere is still good and the beer is a great reward after accomplishing this Tour de Yorkshire and now it's finally time to pay attention to the achievements of the day. There were actually three different distances to hand out prices for. The longest distance was unfortunately cancelled. We will not bore you with details of the prize ceremonies, but we are happy to present Europe's fastest tax men and customs officials over 85 miles. Congratulations Joe and Josh!!

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If you ever get an invitation to an ECSA event, especially a bike race, do as we did.

Join an adventure you too!

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Anna Quakkelaar & John Kuusimurto, Swedish Customs

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