Two years ago I rode my first century, the Ken Laidlaw Sportive, in torrential rain. On paper it should have been a miserable experience as I also rode on my own and hadn’t done enough training. But it was the best ever event I had ridden, due to the stunning route on quiet roads and the great organisation and camaraderie. So in 2011 I promised myself I would ride it again, hopefully in better conditions and as a stronger rider.
My other half had somehow talked himself into entering as well so we were both up at 6am for the drive down to Hawick for the 9am mass start. Both of us hadn’t done enough training so we discussed that we would opt for the 52 mile route if we weren’t feeling strong by the first feed stop. Two years ago the lack of training was because I had entered on the spur of the moment, this time it was down to work commitments. Still, no time to dwell on that. We arrived at the start and I spotted a few of my club mates from the West Lothian Clarion. I have only been a member of the club for 2 years so it was great to be in a small posse of gold & white jerseys at the start.
9am and we were off in a peleton of 500 cyclists riding through Hawick town centre on closed roads. Soon we left the urbun confines and into the approach of the first climb, where I lost contact with my club mates. No matter, there were so many friendly people riding to chat so you just end up riding with anyone. Then someone called my name and I turned my head to see a former work colleague. It was a pleasant surprise to see Alan, who used to be a short distance commuter, wanting to do more miles. So Alan & I caught up on news on the first climb before he dropped back to ride with his brother. We soon reached Roberton where there were lots of bystanders cheering us on like the Tour of Britain was riding though. Kids were banging pots. It was such a brilliant atmosphere, which took away the pain of the first three climbs. There were even supporters on top of the Swire, which has featured as a killer climb in Cycling Weekly.
Somehow I lost contact with my group on the descent so had to work hard in the Yarrow Valley in the head wind to catch a group. I took my turn at the front but found the pace a bit slow so I left them behind. Then I spotted a clarion jersey up ahead so wound the pace up again to catch John Hanlin. We started up the next climb together and worked with four others up the gradual Berrybush climb into that persistent head wind. I looked behind and saw about 30 hangers on. I tried the flick of the shoulder to get more to share the work. Then I got half wheeled out of the group so I decided it was time to get clear of the group and went over the top on my own. Of course I got caught on the descent and John & I rode into the first feed station together.
My beady eyes were searching out a red Ribble amongst the melee of bikes outside the village hall. Yes! I had caught up with Mark at the feed station so walked in with a grinning face to spot him. Both of us were having a great ride, and the weather was fair, so there was no way we were going to cut the ride short. It’s very hard to leave the feed stops on the Ken Laidlaw sportive as it is more like being in a café, but even better - a café filled entirely with cyclists. I chatted to so many people that it was 20 minutes gone by before I could get myself sorted for the next section, where John & I joined forces with more clarionistas Davy & Gordon for the rest of the route.
We worked together and chatted for the next section to Langholm, so it was more like being on a club run. I was dreading the next climb as I knew it was a biggy and was steep at the bottom. About three miles before “That Climb” Davy punctured. Within 30 seconds a support vehicle pulled up with spare tubes, then another, and then a motorbike with a track pump appeared. Puncture repaired, we were off, only to puncture again.
Nicely rested after the second puncture we were soon faced with That Climb! After four big climbs in the legs and a head wind it was tough. Everyone seemed to be in their on little world of pain. Alan caught me so we rode up together to what we thought was the top. But there was more to come as there was a dip and then more ascent. Davy, Gordon & John were waiting for me at the first false summit –what a sight for sore eyes! We mingled in with the club from Dalmeny, a neighbouring town, whose shirts said “No Hill No Cake”. Great motto and after that hill we deserved cake. The next feed stop didn’t disappoint and there was definitely cake to be had and much more, including endless cups of tea.
By this stage we were tired but thought we had cracked the ride. Mmm, maybe not with 3 big climbs left….the ride almost cracked me. I had to resort to the emergency caffeine gel for the second to last climb as I was feeling the pace. And then there was Bonchester hill, the last gruelling climb to get over before the charge for home. And it went on, and on, and on. When you’ve got three grown men asking if this is the last climb then you know it’s been a tough day. Still we dug in got to the top and then it was only five miles of descent and a straight run home…until we punctured again with three miles to go. Again there was fantastic support from the roving supporters. Puncture “fixed” we were off to the finish of what has got to be the best sportive in the UK. Challenging route, quiet roads and brilliantly supported. The icing on the cake is it is such a friendly event from the organisers and volunteers to the riders to the supporters on the road side. Simply fantastic!
105 miles, 2,500 metres of ascent. Rolling time of 7 hours. Elapsed time of 8 hours 40 minutes.