I’m pleased to report that on Thursday 29 July at around 7:30PM I completed for the second time the UK’s longest audax, the 1400KM LEL, some 106 hours since setting out from Lee Valley YH in Hertfordshire the previous Sunday. With that I had finished 2 hours ahead of my 2005 time, and had around 9 hours to spare before the cut off time.
For those interested here is a brief summary of how we tackled it:-
Sunday 25 July, Lee Valley to Northallerton 445KM
Departed Lee Valley YH at 9am to follow the busy but scenic lanes North through Herts and Beds into Cambridgeshire where we enjoyed the first break at Gamlingay (60KM). We continued to Thurlby in Lincolnshire, then onto Washingbrough near Lincoln, to reach Doncaster (now in heavy drizzle!) by midnight. Then myself, Brett Hill from York and Chris Boulton from Leeds set out into the night to head for the Coxwold control and on to Northallerton for a well earned sleep and late breakfast with Anne and Lucia.
Monday 26 July, Northallerton to Eskdalemuir, 180KM
Set out from Northallerton 12:45PM in bright sunshine for the short stretch to the Middleton Tyas control, then onto Alston via Yad Moss. The Alston control was the outdoor centre owned by Stockton Council just before the final descent to the cobbles, where I discovered my first problem – I had left my longs at home which would make for difficult night and early morning cycling! I was thankfully saved by a sympathetic controller who loaned me a pair of roll-on leggings. From Alston we headed along the South Tyne Valley and over into the Borders to Langholm and onto Eskdalemuir, where the local community centre provided our bed for the night – unfortunately everyone had the same idea, and there were bodies lining every bit of floor space – I managed to book a bed from 3am though and slept like a log.
Tuesday 27 July, Eskdalemuir and Edinburgh and back to Alston, 250KM.
Departed Eskdalemuir 6:30am, enjoying a tail wind for the climb out of the valley which also made for a fast descent to the Edinburgh, Dalkeith control. It was tempting to feel inferior at the number of riders already heading back South but I knew I was well up in the first half of the 550 strong field at this stage. Having enjoyed an early lunch at Dalkeith the journey south into the head wind did not look promising with talk of 60 mph gales and heavy rain in the Borders. It did make for some very unpleasant cycling, but by this stage I had teamed up with a chap from Kansas City riding fixed which made for a lovely break from my own company, as I had spent the last 200KM+ riding alone. Having heard how bad the weather later turned in this area when we were back in England we can only thank our lucky stars – it seems that over 70 riders decided to abandon at this stage. Back in Alston I abandoned my original plan to ride through the night to home and opted for a bunk bed in the outdoor centre, accompanied by some encouragement and banter from the VC167 controllers.
Weds 28 July, Alston to Lincoln, 305KM
Left Alston at 6:15am, for a rather damp ascent of Yad Moss. By Barnard Castle though the sun had made an appearance and I opted to pass straight through Middleton Tyas in favour of lunch with Anne and Lucia. Full to bursting I set out for Coxwold in the knowledge we were in for some very wet conditions. We were not disappointed – from Coxwold all the way to Lincoln we faced heavy rain but fortunately the wind was nothing serious. It was a struggle to prize myself out of the Doncaster control into the dark and wet but I knew it was worth reaching Lincoln for a good sleep to make for a shorter cruise to the finish.
Thurs 29 July, Lincoln to Lee Valley, 220KM
Departed Lincoln 6am in bright conditions, made good progress to Thurlby, but in St Neots before Gamlingay we had to shelter from a ridiculous thunder storm with hail stones as big as golf balls, then a misreading of the route sheet led to a 5KM detour! After a meal and chat with the controllers we set out for the finish and not to be deterred by the renowned dangerous drivers in that area we reached the A10 at Cheshunt – I now realised with 3KM to go we were going to make it! After checking in I joined a group of VC167 finishers for a celebratory drink and wait for it …....................burger and chips - it was all the local pub were serving!
It felt like a greater achievement than last time under the conditions. It was quite an experience meeting so many international riders from most European countries, Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada. I finished the last couple of stages with a chap called Mark from Derby who works for Raleigh Cycles and learnt lots about the compatibility of modern transmission systems – the things Shimano and Camag would rather you didn’t know! There was a wide variety of bikes used, from sportive machines in carbon and titanium, to traditional steel touring and audax bikes – I stuck with my tried and tested Mercian, though added a pair of Shimano racing wheels which made for brisker acceleration and faster descents. Other than needing to re-oil the transmission it completed the 930 or so miles without incident.
I did enjoy the bulk of the event, even though the wet and windy stages were an acquired taste, but the best bit was to see 65 year old Chris Boulton finish. Chris is new to long distance audaxing and only completed his first 600KM event in 2007, so well done Chris!