So over the first May bank holiday weekend, the lads and I took on ‘Hell Camp’. I got the train up to Ron’s in Holmfirth and, as always, the fresh air and stunning scenery quickly reminded me why BBC1 chose this village for their smash hit Last of the Summer Wine which graced our screens between 1973 and 2010.
I met Ron at Huddersfield train station (Huddersfield was presumably out the running as a setting for LotSW early doors) and we cycled back to his lovely pad in Holmfirth. Excitement was fever pitch as we awaited the arrival of K-ron and Stone and we set about plotting the route for the following day on the computer to upload to our Garmings. A couple of things dawned on me as that 20 minute task rolled into its third hour; 1) technology’s filtration North seems to have reached a stumbling block somewhere in the Midlands 2) There is a small chance we could encounter some form of logistical issues on the way to Istanbul.
Finally everyone had arrived and we were in the pub. Sweet. The weekend consisted of three century rides (100miles) around the Peak District. Many people will be thinking that doesn’t sound too bad because England is flat, however, it turns out this bit isn’t. I would be reminded of this fact and one other regularly throughout the weekend. The second fact was that deciding not to bother checking which cassette I had on my rear wheel on the basis that only one cassette of the half dozen I have would be drastically inappropriate, was a fairly significant error. I’m aiming to be less hungover when I pack for the TCR than I was when I was packing for hell camp.
The three rides were the notorious Savin’s Savage Century ™ on the final day (after the difficulty of SSC made it into folklore on the back of tales of its brutality, I asked Ron Savin why he didn’t schedule the easiest ride for the final day as I had to get a train home in the afternoon. He worryingly informed me that the SSC was in fact the easiest ride planned). The middle day was the White Pete Wolverine ™ (Originally White Peak Wolverine but after I misheard and questioned as to who this White Pete was it was renamed). The first ride had been planned especially for Hell Camp but was later named Savin’s Scenic Century ™.
After a night on the inflatable mattress I shared with Stone, spirits were high as we set off on the Scenic Century a mere 50minutes behind schedule. One of the beauties of riding out from Ron’s house is riders need not waste time warming up as riding in almost any direction you find yourself on a disconcertingly difficult climb within 3 minutes of being waved off. Another beauty being that the combination of questionably steep roads followed by perilously sketchy descents keeps your average speed well in check around the 22-25kph mark just to ensure you’re not short changed on your 8 hours of enjoyment.
This was our first century ride as the four of us which are taking on the TCR. Camaraderie was strong and it was a chance for us to all reassure each other of our ability as a team to complete this ridiculous challenge of riding to Istanbul with impressive displays of power and demonstrations of our peak physical condition. It was also the first time we got a good idea of each other’s riding style which is good to know heading into such a challenge. The most intriguing of riding style’s was K-ron. A man who trains largely in solitude in the peaks, he certainly wasn’t daunted by any of the descents, no matter how many gravel surprises we found left for us on the apex of crazily steep off camber hairpin bends. Early on I found this reassuring to an extent but the frequency with which Ron shared crash stories as we past scenes of K-rons previous episodes of misfortune balanced that out leaving me around level pegging.
As well as his strength on the descents, K-ron also demonstrated his handling ability on the brief sections of flatland (there weren’t many). The most impressive demonstration I saw was K-ron cycling along no handed on a notably rough and uneven road surface, sitting up with a lucozade bottle in one hand, the lid in the other hand and chatting to his wife on the phone which was sandwiched between his cheek and his shoulder. I decided to give him a couple of extra bike lengths space at that point.
Interestingly, a couple of weeks before Hell Camp, I had a call from Ron who spoke in a noticeably apologetic tone. I was a bit concerned as I waited for him to explain the reason. Once he explained that he was calling to apologise because he and K-ron had a track session at Manchester Velodrome booked for 5pm on the first day of hell camp but there were no more spaces for me and Stone I could barely have felt more smug. K-ron was given a gift of a track session and booked it for the pair of them a few months in advance such is the demand to get on there and they hadn’t realised it clashed with Hell Camp until shortly before. So with that being the case, we plotted our route for our 168km to finish at the Manchester Velodrome. I found it an almost overwhelming morale boost that after a 168km ride with 3,300m of climbing and with two similar days in prospect to follow, I’d be sitting in the stands at the Manchester Velodrome with a coffee and a chocolate bar watching Ron and K-ron smash an hours track session into their legs on top of the 168km we’d already done. This thought provided me with enough morale to get through even the toughest sections of the ride with ease. “Go easy on us tomorrow boys, you’ll have that extra speed in your legs from the track session don’t forget” I regularly quipped as we hit climb after climb on the way to the velodrome. We arrived about 45 mins before the track session started, ample time to recover from a 100mile smashfest I thought.
Ron and K-ron were super strong on the first day. It almost didn’t make sense how they had the energy to thrash around the track as Stone and I looked on. At the end of the day, we could all be content in the fact that everybody was riding impressively strongly and we could rest knowing we’d done well. When we finally got home from the velodrome Ron’s wife Ellie had prepared dinner for us and we cleaned ourselves up. I thought i wouldn’t have been in a good mood if we were on the TCR and I had trouble sourcing food after a ride.
On the second day we took on White Pete Wolverine ™. About 20 miles into the days ride we were to go up Wynatts pass. The lads told me it was steep. I moaned about only having a 23 tooth sprocket (a lot). Despite the warnings I wasn’t really prepared for how steep it was. The climb is 1,600m long and there’s a section that’s 500m long in the middle of that which must average a decent amount above 20% gradient. Climbbybike claims the maximum gradient is 28.2% and even that sounds low considering how it felt. I encountered numerous issues on the climb. Firstly and most obviously, 39×23 is drastically inappropriate as a gearing ratio to try and get up 30% gradients, especially 120 odd miles into a 300 mile weekend. Secondly, the steep section started only a couple of hundred meters from the start of the climb and I had no idea how long it would go on for which was incredibly bad for morale. I was on my limit just to keep the bike upright and moving. I was going so slowly that it seemed only logical to consider what I’d do if I had to stop, something I really didn’t want to do. Getting going again would be incredibly difficult and it wouldn’t exactly be a good indicator for the TCR and the prospect of riding from home to the bottom of the stelvio and then up it. I plodded on finding myself increasingly jealous of Stoney’s 32 tooth sprocket. I reached the top after Ron and was massively grateful to unclip whilst the Stoney and K-ron pedalled up to us. Disappointingly, they were only a few metres behind me as I’d hoped for a bit more recovery time. Wynatts pass had taken a big chunk out of me and I slowly ate half of one of my sandwiches feeling more daunted than ever about the prospect of the remainder of Hell Camp. The prospect of the TCR just seemed too ludicrous to contemplate at that point so I just chose not to (Tekkers). After 2 minutes to eat the sandwich there was only one thing to do, roll on. My tank felt heavily depleted from the climb (that was only 1600m long) and the other boys still looked pretty spritely. It was at that point that this White Pete became a personification of the difficulties of the route and it’s fair to say, we gave White Pete a bit of sh*t through the remaining 80 miles. By the end of White Pete Wolverine ™ I was cooked. In honesty, it was actually a decent way before the end that that happened.
Back at Ron’s house and after our experience in the morning, we had identified that it was key to ensure we did all the preparation work the night before rather than in the morning as we had some time pressures on the last day. It was K-ron’s turn to make the sandwiches for the next day. We’d got the formula right on the second day after falling a bit light on the first and established that we needed 3 ham and cheese sandwiches each. We would eat a barely feasible amount each day with the rides ranging from 6 hour ride time (still 7+ on the road) to I think 7.5 hours ride time on the White Pete. However, we found 3 sandwiches was the max you can fit into your jersey pockets once you’ve stuffed a few energy bars in there also. We’d supplement this on the road with anything from pringles and sausage rolls through to a range of weird, unbranded brown cuboids that K-ron kept buying. Anyway, so after a long day, K-ron seemed to have taken stacking the 24 slices of bread required into a giant bread-stack once he’d buttered them. I observed as I was preparing the bottles. To be fair, only once did I have to alert K-ron to the tower beginning to fall and, once it was completed, it was fairly impressive. On the flip side, in K-ron’s enthusiasm for constructing the tower was such that he’d overlooked one of the core fundamentals of sandwich bread tower construction and not stacked the buttered sides facing each other. The consequences of which were two fold, firstly, once the sandwiches had been warmed up by sweat for a few hours in your jersey pocket, the butter on the outside of the bread added an interesting warm, sloppy texture to the sandwich was somewhat unusual. Secondly, butter on the outside as well as inside of the sandwiches ensured a nice, frictionless coating on your hands, handlebars and breaks which added an additional element of surprise to various elements of your bike handling. Nonetheless, the sandwiches tasted amazing on the final day as our bodies yearned for almost any form of fuel available.
On the final day we faced Savin’s Savage Century™. Everybody was a bit in the dark as to how our legs were going to respond after a couple of seriously tough days but fortunately we were able to shed light on this relatively quickly as we were climbing the mighty Holme Moss about 2 and a half minutes after stepping out Ron’s front door. The SSC lived up to its billing and delivered a suitably cruel amount of climbing to ensure we were thoroughly knackered when we finished. Over the 3 rides we climbed well over 9,000 vertical metres which would leave you with some change after getting to the top of Everest from sea level. A logical question would be, if you were knackered after three tough rides back to back, how are you going to 12-14 on the Transcontinental race? I’m not sure any of us know the answer to that question just yet but we’re pretty excited about finding out and even when we’re suffering like we’ve never before at some point on the race route, i’m certain that with these boys there a laugh is never too far away.