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It’s not supposed to be easy…

| Blog, Cycling Plus | 09/04/2013 14:02pm

When regular Cycling Plus photographer Tom Simpson decided he needed a riding challenge entering two of Europe’s toughest sportives was the natural choice. (Warning: contains a rather grizzly image!)

Last November, I had a stupid idea. I was due to be in the Lake District to take photos of the World’s Biggest Liar competition. Doing some research, I realised the pub was practically at the foot of the Wrynose Pass, the infamous ‘final kick in the teeth’ of the Fred Whitton sportive, which I’d photographed two years previously.

Naturally, I decided to take my bike. Considering it was November, there was a rather large amount of blind optimism involved. Luckily, I managed to go for a ride on the only dry day in the lakes in the past three months. I decided on a 35 mile route that took in the Honister, Newlands and Winlatter passes, starting and finishing in Keswick.

After the ride I had a sudden realisation – I wasn’t totally knackered. In fact, it seemed my body had barely noticed it, despite the fact I was riding 25% inclines with a 34-25 bottom gear (I’d been racing at Hillingdon – pretty much the opposite of the Lake District). While this sounds impressive, trust me, it didn’t look it. At one point I might have been doing 3kph – essentially a very painful trackstand.

On the descent back into Keswick, my mind started whirring. If I could do that ride without lactic acid burning my legs into submission, stick some appropriate gears on, give it 6 months of training, and I could do the Fred Whitton. This started me thinking – which would be harder, the Fred Whitton, with it’s short but vicious gradients reducing your legs to jelly, or the slow attrition that is climbing in the Alps?

After a call to editor Rob Spedding, I was committed to a Fred Whitton/La Marmotte double. It was at this point my friends started calling me crazy.

 Three months later…

I knew this couldn’t be good for me. It really, really couldn’t be good for me. The world looked different from down here, and I was viewing the tarmac rushing by from a new and interesting angle. I’d just hit a patch of diesel at 60kph and was sliding along on my shoulder. I don’t know how long I slid for, but I know it was long enough for me to look around while I was sliding. Luckily, my winter jacket was astonishingly sturdy (Altura, my skin salutes you!) The windproof front panel was not even affected.

The same could not be said for my winter tights, however. It turns out, I’d put my knee out to control the slide (imagine a superbike rider in a corner). There was a large patch of road rash on my shin, but that didn’t worry me. It was the hole in my knee that concerned me most. It was about 10-15cm wide, and was a few millimeters deep. All hint of skin was gone, and I can only describe its appearance as ‘fleshy’, with a long strip flapping about at the bottom of the wound. Years of BMX had taught me to fall properly, and I have that experience to thank for the lack of broken bones.

After posting this image to Facebook, a BMXer friend of mine (a man who considers roadies with the same disdain that Dennis the Menace has for Walter and the Softies), made the comment ‘Oh dear, you’ve laddered your tights!’

Then I thought about my bike. My brand new Boardman SLR 9.0, which has been loaned to me by the good people at Boardman Bikes for my endeavour. When the front wheel started to disappear to the right (it was on a long and gentle right-hand corner), I’d compensated and gone into a two wheel drift, causing the bike to spin around and fall to its drivetrain side.

Not Tom’s Boardman, not yesterday…

As the road rapidly approached, I’d tucked into a ball, braced against the coming impact without putting an arm out, in fact, sliding along the road, I was still holding on to the drops. The long and the short of it, as my clubmates inspected my bike, was that the only casualty was the mech-hanger, which had been scraped along the tarmac.

After a long, expensive taxi ride back to my home in Peckham (Sunday, rail replacement buses, don’t ask…) I dressed the wound and even took a quick bike ride to Dulwich Park for a coffee. I’d been lucky and I’d be over this quickly, I thought.

Waking up in the morning, however, I realised that while the former was true, the latter certainly wasn’t. My entire leg had swelled up to double its normal size and couldn’t be moved. The Fred Whitton was looking incredibly unlikely. A quick scan of the UK sportive calendar however, and I saw the Wiggle Dragon Ride. While the gradients may lack the vicious punch of the Lake District, the 130 mile length could make up for it.

A month after my crash, I’ve started riding and training again. Thanks to the wonder that is the hydrocolloid gel patch, my knee is almost healed, there’s just a scab the size of a 10p piece left, and the road rash is almost completely gone. After a week taking in around 250 miles, I feel I’m back to the level I was at pre-injury – even better perhaps. And now I’ve just got three short months to build the endurance necessary to ride the 130 miles of the Brecon Beacon’s vertiginous slopes which make up the Dragon Ride. Bring it.

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