Twenty-five percent grade forces most riders off their bikes.
I admit it: I got off and walked. I cut 12 miles off the course. I cursed the organizer to the seventh generation. I traveled five hours each way and paid £25 for the humiliation–but at least I could get a massage at the end.
The Wild Edric Cyclosportive covered 97 miles in Shropshire (England’s hidden county, or so we were told several times during the ride prep) and Wales, with an estimated 3,800 meters (that’s meters) of climbing that included three grades of 25%. And not just 25% for 100 yards–25% for a half mile or more.
To be honest, I can’t really recommend this ride. It seems to me that there’s no point in routing a bicycle ride up a climb that even fit cyclists who would choose to try it can’t actually get up. These were roads more fit for a hill-climb time trial than an endurance cycling event. I won’t be going back to this unless I learn that the organizer has omitted some of these climbs. On the positive side, it was a good day out. Atop some of these climbs (I didn’t walk every single one) were spectacular views, with open heathland with grazing sheep and picture-postcard overlooks of valley farmland. I just have to think that there’s a rideable way to the top.
A full account follows below.
The march to the top.
Wild Edric: Two Longs, Too Steep
“There’s a contest on among organizers,” said the graying Yorkshire rider pushing his Bob Jackson alongside me, “to see who can design the hardest route.”
If my Northern friend hadn’t told me this, I might have guessed. I was pushing my own bike up a 25 percent grade over the Long Mynd, the mountain in England with the Welsh name, just one in a long column of riders trudging up this Shropshire landmark. We were not even 20 miles into the Wild Edric cyclosportive, and we were reduced to this: walking and pushing. The occasional cyclist still astride his steed would ride by, in a 34-tooth compact chainring or a racing triple, but for the most part we had our feet on the ground. And even some of those still riding would finally surrender to the Gods of Gravity, click out, and join our slow march.
“Well,” the Yorkshireman added with a laugh, “I guess that’s why they call them pushbikes.”
At one time, they might have been called pushbikes, but I found it cold comfort. It took me five hours, two trains, and my own journey over the Long Mynd by a different road just to get to the start, and I hadn’t made that journey to walk. I came to ride, and I found myself cursing the cyclosportive organizer who would put in a climb that nobody could actually climb. Stupid, sick, pathological–words that came easily to me on the trudge, along with some others that I won’t repeat here.
Trudge, trudge, trudge.
My Yorkshire riding companion had warned me of the climb: Right turn at the phone box, cross the cattle grid, and then up. I sensed it happening before it happened. Downshift into the 39/27, and get up out of the saddle. Do a long set of alternating one-legged leg presses with abdominal crunches on the off-leg, and hope. But just … too long. The walk up revealed to me that I indeed had chosen well. It was a solid half-mile, bottom to top. Any effort to have gotten up that would have trashed me for the rest of the ride, and for what? A chance to say I’d climbed the Long Mynd? Forget it. I’ll walk.
At the top was an airfield, glider station, and waypoints for the Shropshire Way walking path. I stopped to snap a couple of pictures. The paramedics sent to the top by the ride organizer offered to take a shot of me aboard my bike as if I had climbed all the way to the top. I declined.
“That’d be lying,” I said.
“Well,” one laughed, “I think only about one in 20 made it up without walking.”
The route took us across a heathy plateau, with walkers and free-grazing sheep with a high view of the irregular valley farm plots that only metes-and-bounds surveying creates. It was almost enough to take my mind off the knowledge that I had more than 70 miles to go.
Then came the descent: A bumpy, twisty, steep hand-cramper of a fall down the mountain that left me cringing in fear of a blowout from overheated rims. At the bottom–another cattle grid. Braking as hard as I dared, thrusting my rear backward, I got my bike back to a reasonable speed, rolled over the grid and then into Church Stretton, shaking out my hands. Only 70 miles to go.
We continued much like this. Brief passes on undulating valley B-roads, only to be directed onto narrow lanes with more steep climbs. At another point, a fellow rider joked, “It looks like somebody just strung together all the hardest climbs in the area–twice.” It was true. More than once, descending from a summit the route made a sharp left or right–sometimes on blind corners with gravel and debris–and we would climb back onto the ridge we just crossed.
Later, I ran across my Yorkshire friend at the point where the short ride of 68 miles divided from the long ride of 97. “I’m going to take the short route today,” he said. “I’m stuffed.” It was tempting to follow him–but I’d traveled this far to ride 97 miles, and I wasn’t going to do any less.
The climb of Long Mountain–the Welsh mountain with the English name–forced me to walk once again. I have no idea how long the climb was–we were in a tunnel of trees that kept me guessing where the top was. And then a third mountain late in the day, which found me on and off several times before I finally reached the top, cursing the organizer and his descendants to the seventh generation. Another short descent and re-ascent of the same ridge found me uttering the worst profanity I can think of in the loudest voice possible.
In the valley after that climb, I found myself at a crossroads. A signpost suggested to me it was 8.5 miles back to the finish in Bishops Castle via roads in the valley, although my odometer told me the ride-as-written had another 20 miles. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t walk up another hill. The course had beaten me. Forty minutes later, I crossed the timing mat, 12 miles short of my goal ride, but happy I’d skipped the final hour of pain.