Whilst most London cyclists seemed to be heading over the channel to take part in the Flanders sportive we packed road bikes into the back of the car and headed into the other direction to take part in a rather unique event.
Over two days we would ride 160 plus miles, in two countries along some of the quietest roads I have ever ridden a bicycle and through some of the most beautiful terrain the UK has to offer.
The event is called the Newcastleton Cross Border Classic Sportive and is based around the border town of Newcastleton. Nesting below a looming moorland hill the town forms the perfect location for the Friday night hillclimb and two long weekend rides. Unfortunately our long trip up from London stopped us taking part in the hillclimb but we were able to join the festivities in the Grapes bar when we eventually arrived.
Day 1 – new friends, spring lambs and caffeine gels
Saturday’s 80 miles were on the English side of the border. Within a couple of miles I had teamed up with one of the riders from the Trek Coventry club and a guy from Liverpool. I’ve not done many sportives (well, this was my second) but I found on both occasions people keen to ride with me and chat. Even if you are not actually talking the miles pass faster and more enjoyably if you are with someone.
My new Liverpudlian friend (I forgot to ask his name) explained the joy of sportives to me. For him it means going away in his camper with his wife and riding his bike in an unknown area without fear of getting lost or having to bother with maps.
In short it is an excuse to explore the UK by bike with very limited effort. I can’t argue with that logic – frankly its how I have ended up doing so many European mountain bike marathons!
The miles rolled by as we made our way along the military road that follows Hadrian’s wall and then turned north towards Kielder water. I admired the spring lambs gambolling in the fields and then began to get a bit short on energy and grumpy. Thankfully I also came upon a massive headwind at the same time, oh the irony! But 10 or so miles down the road we rolled into Kielder and the third feedzone at the village shop.
I topped up my bottle, grabbed a few jelly sweets and then decided to try the ‘Body glove’ caffeine gel I had been given at the start. Incredibly for the last 12 miles I felt turbo powered and even with the rain that started as we rolled back into Newcastleton I was still buzzing.
Luckily I then had an amazing meal (and half a bottle of wine) in the Copshaw Kitchen which counteracted the caffeine and sent me straight to sleep!
Day 2 – spring rain and headwinds
In true spring classics fashion Sunday dawned wet, grey and windy. Bedecked in every single item of waterproof clothing I own I headed northwards for the Scottish leg of the sportive.
This time I was accompanied by my other half Chris who had ridden the whole previous day alone and, looking for some company, had decided to ride a steadier pace with me. For the first 20 miles the rain was gentle and the air was warm and we pottered along merrily.
Lacking mudguards (me mainly because I was on a borrowed Trek Domane – the same as Cancellara went on to ride to the win in Flanders!) we sprayed anyone who sat on our wheels but rather surprisingly this didn’t seem to deter people. At 20 miles the shorter 40 mile route turned back towards Newcastleton but I was feeling great so despite the ever worsening weather I decided to carry on with the long route.
However another 5 miles down the road and I was regretting this decision. My knee started to hurt from wearing road shoes I wasn’t used to wearing and the tailwind we had for the first stint became a roaring headwind. At the second feed zone about 36 miles into the 80 mile route I decided to jump in the van with one of the organisers.
The weather was so crazy they were surprised that so many people had decided to do the long route so they were ready with plenty of vehicles to help those of us that needed it. Chris carried on with a group of guys and we drove the route checking the signage was still ok. The road wound its way through some amazing scenery, but we could see how strong the wind was blowing the puddles back up the road towards us. It was a crazy day!
Despite the weather I would recommend these rides to anyone. It is still a relatively undiscovered part of the UK and pretty much perfect for cycling with quiet roads and rolling hills. Having not finished the route I have something to prove to myself and am going back next year.
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