The Ride with Brad Sportive takes place on 19 August, in a part of the UK that has rightly earned a special place in the hearts of roadies from throughout the north west of England. The ‘Forests’ of Bowland and Pendle have featured in many a Tour of Britain and are the stomping ground of some of the country’s top road pros.
So when we first heard that the Ride with Brad Sportive uses some of Bradley Wiggins’ favourite UK training roads we were very keen to take a look. If training on the roads of the Bowland and Pendle fells is one ingredient in making Brad a Grand Tour specialist, then it has to do us some good, right?
That was our rationale as we leapt into the British Cycling jalopy and headed north from our Manchester base to Victory Park in Barnoldswick, a small but perfectly formed town around ten miles north of Burnley. Our plan was to tackle the 100km route, plus a loop out over the Trough of Bowland, the latter to taste the crowning glory of the 160km variant.
The park was quiet as one would expect on a weekday afternoon. Come 19 August, Barnoldswick’s quiet little green-space will hum to the sound of sportivers tightening quick releases, checking gears, stuffing gels in back pockets and generally fretting, prior to the start of the event, promoted to launch the Bradley Wiggins Foundation, which aims to support young people in sport. Wiggins will be there on the day, which combined with activities for all the family, will make the event a real post Olympic, post Tour cycling festival, with one of its biggest protagonists the star turn.
THE ROUTE IN PICTURES
But back to the present... After we did our fair share of eating bananas and faffing around, we rolled out of Victory Park onto the route and straight into the Lancashire lanes, heading north west through Bracewell to intersect the A59. Immediately after quitting the town, you’re onto nice, narrow, rolling roads, perfect to warm up the legs ahead of the day’s big climbs.
Crossing the A59 the roads get ever more narrow, quiet and winding as the route heads west towards the Forest of Bowland, making its first acquaintance with the River Ribble at Paythorne, the road sweeping over a graceful stone arch bridge, at an equally graceful bend in the fast flowing river, brim-full after recent heavy rains.
THE 100KM ROUTE
After Paythorne the route turns south west and sweeps majestically down towards Bolton by Bowland, a well-kept village of stone houses, square towered church and very inviting pub. We foreswore the temptations of the latter and pressed on towards Sawley, Pendle Hill a looming, seemingly ever present sentinel on our left shoulder, and a constant reminder of one of the day’s later challenges.
Speaking of hills, apart from a few rolling, lumpy roads, we hadn’t encountered our first proper climb yet. However we didn’t have to wait too long, for after sweeping through the pretty town of Waddington we were onto its hilly namesake, the long, steady climb of Waddington Fell, famed by Lancashire cyclists as the ideal Etape training hill, due to its long, fairly constant 7% gradient. On the day, it will form part of the event’s ‘King of the Mountains’ competition, with prizes for the best climber up this and the route’s other named ascents.
The reward for climbing Waddington Fell is a the breathtaking vista across Marl Hill Moor and Easington Fell, not to mention the screaming descent all the way down into picture postcard Newton, where the 100 and 160km routes split. The longer variant turns right and heads through Slaidburn and as far north as High Bentham on the edge of the Dales, before sweeping west then south through the Trough of Bowland to rejoin the 100km route at Dunsop Bridge.
We couldn’t resist the temptation to check out ‘the Trough’, its narrow, bracken-clad hillsides giving it an almost Highland feeling of remoteness that belies its proximity to Lancashire’s major towns and cities.
THE 160KM ROUTE
Back on the 100km route we headed south through the Whitewell Estate, with conifer clad fell-sides mixing it up with open moor, farmland and deciduous copses before taking a well earned break at Chipping’s famous and cyclist friendly Cobbled Corner cafe. A pot of tea and a Lancashire Hotpot later, we were on our way, zigzagging south to face the wicked little climb up the side of Longridge Fell, which quickly rewards riders with a superb, panoramic ridge ride before a long, fast descent through Great Mitton, at which point the final phase of the 100km route’s challenge looms large – Pendle Hill and its signature climb – Nick O’Pendle.
Pendle Hill is pretty much always in view on the shorter route and at this point there’s no avoiding it. Once through the town of Whalley, the climbing starts at Pendleton, on the flank of the great, flat topped hill. The gradient is steady at the start before ramping up in the middle as the road passes the Restaurant and ski slope on the right, before flattening off a little towards the top.
There follows a wicked descent into Sabden, where care must be exercised, before a sharp climb after the village which may surprise a few tired riders on the day who think that Nick O’Pendle was ‘the toughie’. However the kick after Sabden isn’t the last on the list – the final notable climb is Barley Fell, on the eastern flank of Pendle Hill, before the final few miles north back to Barnoldswick and the finish in Victory Park, where we were greeting by our van, a change of clothes and some bananas and fruitcake.
However, on the day, riders will be greeted by a full-on cycling festival, with trade stands, kids’ activities, post event pasta and, if you’re lucky a ‘well done’ from a certain Mr Wiggins. And he should know...