If this is what Bradley Wiggins has done for cycling in the UK it’s amazing. That was my lasting impression as I crested the ascent of Waddington Fell on the Ride With Brad sportive, as spectators all asked after one man.
Several hours later, as he crossed the finish line of the 160km route a huge cheer rang out. I’d arrived five minutes faster than the Tour de France winner – albeit covering 60km less, with a few photo stops thrown in.
But sportives are all about personal achievement and not about racing – which was just as well since this was my first one since riding the Etape du Tour in 2004. I had actually forgotten how much fun riding a bike with so many like minded people was. This was the 'Brad factor' kicking in; riding a bike in some of the most stunning areas of the country is really cool.
My day had started with a loud ringing in my ears and the 5.15am alarm. Early in 2012 it was suggested that maybe I'd like to have a go at a few sportives. I thought ‘why not, I used to be pretty fit, I'll drag everyone round the route just like in the old days and leave them moaning that I'd ridden too quick for them’.
However, I'm no longer 12 stone, so opted for the 100km ride and set about putting some miles in during the last few months, certain I could complete the distance without any real problems.
Thirty minutes and some coffee later I'm on my way to Barnoldswick, a bit too eager with 90 minutes to spare and the chance to watch Bradley ring the bell, starting the 160km ride and announce he will be riding in 2012 Tour of Britain.
By 8.30am I had positioned myself at the head of the huge line of riders waiting to start. The bell was rung once more and we were away.
My confidence in completing the distance was given an early knock after a gentle roll out from Victory Park left me gasping for air. I had forgotten what riding up big hills really felt like and was wondering if I was going to do 10km let alone 100, but the legs soon got going and I settled down to a nice steady pace on the undulating tree lined lanes towards Bracewell and the Borough of the Ribble Valley.
Narrow lanes passed a host of small picturesque villages including Bolton by Bowland and West Bradford before we hit the first climb of the day at Waddington Fell. At 22km and a 5km king of the mountains challenge, I don't think I troubled the timing device too much.
Small groups of bystanders starting to gather on the side of the road cheering the riders on and asking ‘where’s Brad?’ – it’s not something I ever remember seeing at previous sportives, but it certainly encourages you not to climb off and walk.
Finally I got to the top of the climb in one piece with gears to spare, before the descent towards the pretty little village of Newton in Bowland and the chance to spin the legs and recover from the climb, trying to avoid the sheep on the way down.
Heading out of Newton the route took us through the most beautiful Whitehall Estate on undulating roads and onto the narrow roads on the top of Bowland with even more stunning views, the sun is blazing down.
Half distance and I'm still going but with a few nasty bumps to negotiate before the finish I decided to ease off the gas and keep some energy back and took a chance to have a chat with my fellow riders and discuss why we were now in driving rain when a few minutes earlier we had blazing sunshine.
We rode on through the easy lanes passing Marles Wood and Old Langho, before, with 70kms covered the road starts to climb through Wiswell. A grind of a climb, followed by Nick O' Pendle, another KOM challenge and the legs are starting to burn. An emergency gel, shades now dumped in the pocket, eyes stinging from the sweat and the road still goes up.
More crowds of well wishers on the course shouting support, so Brad hasn't gone past yet, he's obviously struggling as well. Reaching Black Hill, the legs are now shot but it’s my eyes that are hurting, rain and sweat are stinging and the more I rub them the worse they get. I pull over to grab a few pictures, everyone looks as though they’re hurting.
In the distance and through the rain I can see a huge '1612' emblazoned on the side of Pendle Hill to celebrate the 400 year anniversary of the Pendle witches, then head back to the finish and the cheers of the large crowds awaiting the arrival of Brad. I park my bike up and head towards the food tent for my pasta.
I spoke to a few finishers of the ride after we had got our breath back.
Oliver Thomas, Manchester
“I beat Bradley back. Today was a really enjoyable ride, I've competed in the Clitheroe triathlon before which takes in a few of the hills we rode today, but today’s route certainly opens your eyes to what’s really out there and what can be ridden. This is my first sportive and I decided to enter because my dad had entered, so I thought I'd give him some support. He did really well, he finished 20 minutes before us, he loves his cycling. We probably would have entered today even if Brad wasn't here, but he obviously has had a big effect on the event just by the numbers and the support out on the road which was amazing, I've never seen that kind of support before.”
Lyn Hewington, Walsall
“I've ridden a few sportives before. My other half and I have ridden round this area previously, but we decided to enter today while we were watching the Tour de France and thought ‘what an opportunity to ride with Bradley’. I've only been riding for three years. Today was a brilliant ride, apart from getting cramp on the last few hills. After the Nick o' Pendle climb the following hill was just cruel. To get so many people out for this event was just great and to see so many kids riding the course was so good, I haven't seen this much support on one of these before.”
Ben McCaulder, Warrington
“I thought today was really good. I used to cycle a lot when I was younger, it was my thing, but for no particular reason I stopped for about 10 years. I got the bike back out about two years ago and now really enjoy riding again. The roads are pretty flat where I live so it was nice to get a few big hills in the legs. After Nick o' Pendle, I thought ‘that will be about it now, just a nice ride back’, but it kept climbing and climbing pretty much to the end. I have always thought I would never walk on a hill, I stopped a few times to get my breath but I didn't walk with my bike. The only minor point with the route was the last 10 or so kilometres where the roads were almost farm tracks and were a bit dodgy, it’s no fun on an expensive bike. This is my fifth sportive this year, I try and keep to the 100km mark because I'm just getting back into riding. I thought the 160km one today was a bit too much to take on. I only entered as a last minute thing, mainly to show some support to Bradley, he is our first Tour De France winner and he seems like a genuinely nice guy. When I used to cycle we were the oddity, but coming back to the sport I noticed the sheer amount of people you see riding bikes, it’s great and we are now cool and if you know how to ride a bike it gives you that extra bit of kudos.
British Cycling would like to thank the organising team, officials and everyone else who helped promote this event. Our sport could not exist without the hundreds of people, many of them unpaid volunteers, who put in many hours of hard work running events, activities and clubs.