So a bit late with this write up, and after four months I can just about recall the details! But I thought I'd record the event for future reference. That and I've just found out that this blog, though dormant for the past six months is still getting hundreds of views a month.
So then, finally a summer running of the Lion. We'd done the recce's and we'd even run due to popular demand a mid winter version (for hardy souls only)
We had chosen August in the hope that it would be the driest month, and therefore offer the fastest run. And thinking that even if it did rain the ground would be to baked to get boggy, unlike the winter mudfest that previous January.
So it was then that we rolled out from the Black Lion on a not that summery day! By now my riding was already on the way down, so I let the fast boys form their own little group and sent them off ahead. I happily set off with group B.
The first part to this ride is a long steady road section, heading to Wing with the first sector near Winslow your objective. The ride gets you warmed up and gives you time to decide if a road or cross bike was the right choice, a very broken Well Lane helps confirm your decision whatever it was.
Then after clearing said road section, that during the winter run was a ball breaking, puncture fest in the pouring rain we arrive a the first sector unscathed. This sector is a peach in the dry, flat fast and dusty with even a little pave thrown in. Midway through the sector group B comes across group A who have suffered a puncture. And in true 'Top Gear' style a group of us bugger off leaving the stricken club mates to sort them selves out......if done with a smile it's okay.
So now I'm in group A, all warmed up and ready to go and in my element. We give it the berries. Our fast moving road group on this dusty rough track provides entertainment/bewilderment to the Sunday family bike riders we pass.
Sector one over with we hit tarmac and turn right for the next. Through Newton Longville (where I point out the place I go dancing to whoops and cheers, mildly offended as I do dance there, it's not a euphemism) And then into Stoke Hammond. The sector here starts as a residential road that narrows to a traffic free lane, over the Grand Union and towards what looks like a dead end, but is the start of the rough stuff. I'm sure someone asks if this is right.......yeah it's like the whole point dude.
We turn to climb what we have christened the Gravelberg, a steep broken tarmac, gravel and mud climb. Only one way to climb this mountainbikers favourite and that's seated and steady with eyes front. Flip a gear or change direction and you'll be walking. I'm pleased to say I cleaned it with road bike and 25c's. From the ****ity ****s I can hear behind me some didn't.
We regroup at the top and head for Heath and Reach via Rushmere.
We descend into Rushmere with a mix of speed and caution, and I'm very glad my boys are handy racers as this road is pretty dangerous. Constantly twisting, broken up, shady, wet and mossy in some places, dry and covered in deep sand in others and often frequented by WRC wannabes.
We land at Heath and Reach and stop to replenish food and drink. Ash still hasn't given us the reason he wasn't there with bacon sarnies this time?
Going by the amount of food and water purchased we must have been going some! The local convenience store will be our only pit stop, unless anyone wants to peel off for a pint. Though I think the thought of being towed by this, what is now a fast group around the rest of the route a far more appealing one than a solo wobble back after a pint.
Once back on the bike it's just a few yards before you're climbing out of Heath and Reach up a hill know to us as 'Roubaix Hill' mainly due to it's cambered surface being permanently wet and broken. from the top it's a fast group ride to Stanbridge via Eggington, passing the quarries on the way. On a hot day in a slower group the 'Five Bells of Stanbridge' would be a very welcome stop, but the fast moving bunch passes it by without even a glance. We turn off just before the bypass into a village cut off by the 'new' road. We pick up the third sector care of Sustrans route 59. This is a long one that leads to the bottom of the Dunstable Downs climb. The first part of the sector is a gentle incline onto a bridge over the bypass and onto a hardpack gravel path. This section of the path always seems a favourite and offers views over the chalky Downs. Though today I only get a glimpse whilst blowing out of my ****. You need to look out for the timber bridge over the village of Sewell. It's an obvious find as gravel gives way to the wooden structure. Here you drop off the gravel to your right and onto a very broken steep road, only a thin strip of tarmac remains so the group splits and is stretched out at the top. This lane/cutting puts the group back onto the sector. A strange track network very reminiscent of Holland, flat and windswept. The only difference is that I've never seen a another bike up here in all the times I've ridden it which is rather sad. Being so open and traffic free gives the groups a chance to hammer it, road bikes remain on the gravel whilst the crossers take to the rough stuff and we race each other in parallel lines to the paths end.
The path eventually spits you out onto a busy road in Dunstable. Directly ahead of you is a the climb to the top of Dunstable Downs, but we go right from here and onto a road that'll let us push it into the high 20's so we can get out of the town as quick as you like. The London Flying Club marks the point at which we'll turn off and drop down into Totternhoe. The lanes here are peachy, so the group eases off and turns up the banter and it's very welcome. We've worked hard and considering the amount of off road we've tackled the average speed is very very high.
We turn and point for the church on the hill in Eddlesborough. Crossing the ford on the way. A cautionary note to anyone who fancies riding this......do not take the central line through the ford unless you've packed swimming trunks!
We regroup by the church and single out for sector four. This is the one everyone loves. Long and arrow straight, first over cinder singletrack then across a railway sleeper bridge and onto chalky double track. It just begs to be ridden at full tilt, big ring and full berries. In fact ride it slowly and it's a bumpy and wheel grabbing nightmare. But at full tilt the bike gets a little lift and 'glides' over the surface. (remember that first sector at the Hell Of The North Ross?) The long sector is broken up by a road crossing at the base of the Ivinghoe Beacon climb. The fitter faster youth get here first, but we regroup and hit the final part of the sector together as one. This time it's plain old mud, but thankfully it's bone dry and we ride it fast choking in the ensuing dust cloud thrown up by our wheels. We're now in Pitstone.
The road out of Pitstone is a bit dull and has a gradient on part of it that is a pet hate. A section of road that climbs and drops for no good reason? It's not just me who slows as we go over it. Soon though we're in Marsworth, crossing the Grand Union and looking for the right hand turn into Watery Lane, everyone loves watery Lane. It's not a sector, but it's a dirty road, but in a good way, super narrow with a few very tight turns and it crosses the Grand Union a further two more times in it's short distance. The crossings offer a some steep pulls and the third pull to the lanes end makes for some competitive riding. We turn left crossing the Grand Union once again! Now we're heading for Long Marston and our turning to Astrope for sector five.
I want to say something about the zig zags in the Astrope road.....be carefull, a mix of mud and red diesel thown up by tractors makes this small section treacherous. Add wet leaves and the first rain and it's lethal. I've seen more 'offs' here than anywhere else in all the decades I've been riding. That includes me, riding home with two less teeth and covered in blood from puncture wounds that still itch to this day, and another old boy that barely made it out alive. Please take care. In fact when I recced the ride the week prior to the Lion, there was a trail of wet diesel along the entire length of the road.
However sector five is worth the passage. At Astrope there's an obvious left hander, it's here that we go straight ahead and onto said sector. Again it calls for speed and throwing caution to the wind, worry about bumps, rocks and punctures and basically you're ride will be just one of pure misery. I think now that a few of the sector 'virgins' are realising that bikes aren't made of cheese and can handle this stuff in their stride. At this point I think about the pave through the Trouée d'Arenberg, I'd love to see the look on their faces. Finally everyone is happy to go for it, berries are given along the flat hardpack, then it's a right hander into pure cyclo cross territory before being spat out onto tarmac.
Time to head home now. There's a short section of road here that will take us over the Grand Union for the umpteenth time, but this time we hit the brakes standing and drop onto the canal side path, it's just a short slippery sector six to the next bridge, and with a heave on the bars we're back up on the road. When we did this ride the previous January we crouched behind the walls of this bridge sheltering from the freezing sideways rain and sleet, not this time thankfully.
Sector seven is another fast flat one, and you're upon it after sector six almost immediately. First of all it's a wide cinder track, then a tight right hander has you retracing the sandy hardpack of sector five.
It's the first call of puncture since the first sector back near Winslow, a few of us ride on to a safe place to stop and wait for our deflated group member. At this point a lone Wout pedals into sight, the only remnant of the other group. See these Belgians are made of sterner stuff, true flahutes. It's good to see him, the fastest hardest riders are full of admiration. 'Has he sorted that puncture yet' When he has we leave the sector retracing our path, thankfully on the other side of the road to the river of diesel, but we throw out warning shouts to riders coming the other way.
Into Cheddington and into the big ring and drops gassing it for Mentmore. This road is always quick and has the tiniest of gradient just enough to bite into. The group rides in perfect formation, silent and quick with no need for verbal or visual communication. Age dictates that I can come off the front just in time for a tow to the base of the Mentmore climb. Always a hurter this one after a long ride, but we're all together. No one on this ride has taken a back seat and waited until the last few miles to show us what they can do, so I'm happy. Actually just typing this makes me seethe, nothing makes me more annoyed than towing someone for 55 miles of a 62 mile ride only for them to pass and drop you at the sight of the first Leighton Buzzard sign. Everyone's worked hard, so there will be no sheepish walks into the pub at the end.
We dart down past 'Train robbers bridge' into Ledburn and head right, I think they all know I love this bit of road so I'm happy to pull. We're near home now and just about to hit sector eight. It's a dog leg turn off the road and down a rough path that runs parallel to the good old Grand Union. It's taken with ease and we ride past the lake at Tiddenfoot and turn into Mentmore Gardens cul de sac. The weekend DIY'ers must wonder where this sweaty dust covered mob are heading. There's a cycle path at it's end, usually the domain of the work a week cycle commuter, but today it's the penultimate section of the ride for us road and cross racers. Once off the cycle path we're in Leightons industry, but only a few yards later we turn left and back onto another cycle path, the final leg. We warm down and roll over the Grand Union for the last time and up through Parsons rec, passing the church at a respectful speed before looping around and unclipping. Without a word someone enters the Black Lion and opens the gates for our group. We clip clop in, helmets, gloves and shoes are soon off and we're sitting down with our beer of choice in hand.....mines a Duval.
Just one last thing before we can call it a day though. We're all looking at the door waiting for Wout. He doesn't let us down. And relax.