Our sportive blogger Lorna comes back after an early summer stricken with illness to take part in her local event, the Graeme Obree Sportive.
On the weekend that the nation shared the heartache of Team GB missing out on a medal in the men’s Olympic road race and witnessed the stunning display of grit and determination to gain a silver for Lizzie Armistead in the women’s road race, I was riding my own little bit of hell in an area known affectionately as ‘The Ayrshire Alps’. The occasion? The Graeme Obree Sportive. An event started last July by the man himself to show off the roads he trained on as a youngster.
Last year I rode the 48 mile loop as my first ever sportive. This year I chose to punish myself and went for the 68 mile loop instead. Perhaps not the greatest distance ever for a cycling event but a very lumpy and tough one nonetheless, even on a good day.
Today was not one of those good days! There was a relentless headwind that seemed to be in our faces no matter which way we turned and when we did get small glimpses of respite, it hit us from the side in gusting crosswinds across the open moorland.
The temperature didn’t get above 15 degrees for the whole ride and at some points it was considerably cooler. There was a gentleman in a Hull jersey who asked us at one point, “Is it always this cold in Scotland?” to which my friend replied,” No...... sometimes it’s much colder!” I was nervous about entering my first event since April and had my usual moments of self doubt in the first few miles. My legs took a while to wake up and despite starting in a group I stupidly didn’t call when I was dropped on a climb only four miles in and spent the next few miles wondering if I’d make it at all.
Thankfully my friend and ‘super domestique’ realised I was missing and waited for me a few miles up the road and it is really thanks to his hard work and encouragement that I made it round at all. We plodded on into the wind and hit our first bit of long climbing just after the turn off for the 48 mile route which I very, very nearly decided to take. Thankfully I was talked out of it and proceeded to tap out the miles at a steady pace, getting the chance to glance around at the surrounding hills which were bathed for a few moments in glorious sunshine and watched the Red Kites soaring overhead.
I had ridden this section the last two weekends in a row so I knew what to expect but it just seemed harder today - once or twice I had to utter the infamous Jens Voigt phrase and carry on. I heard ‘Is this the hill they’re all talking about?’ being muttered a few times and had to be the bearer of bad tidings. Worse was to yet to come! The Nick O’ the Balloch is the highest moorland pass in South Ayrshire reaching to a high point of 1276ft and begins on a sharp ascent immediately succeeding the couple of minutes of break in cadence and lung refill on the descent from the col.
Those of you that ride sportives will know that the photographer always chooses to stand at the nastiest section of the nastiest climb to snap away at the dishevelled mess that is your red face, flapping jacket and steamed up glasses as you gasp for air and grimace. Smile for the camera?! I don’t blooming think so! There were certainly no KOM points for me on the climb but I was more than chuffed to get a PR on the Strava segment as the conditions made it far from easy.
A small descent from the Nick followed by a few more energy sapping rolling miles leads onto one of my favourite ever descents. The road down the Tairlaw back to Straiton is simply sublime - recently resurfaced and in tip top condition this really is a joy to ride. We took the opportunity to refuel at the feed station in Straiton knowing full well that a wee beastie of a climb lay just along the road on the moorland pass over to Dalmellington. I have always thought of this road as a bit of a nemesis as I will never forget my first time attempting it. I walked; the whole climb - and I have vowed that I will never do it again. My legs were really hurting on this one and once again we had our friendly photographer waiting at the top! By this stage we had picked up a few extra riders and formed a five man group which was a godsend when the heavens opened and the wind turned up a notch on the ride over a road surface which would not be out of place in the Paris-Roubaix. My ‘super domestique’ did an absolutely phenomenal turn on the front into the wind and pulled us all the way through to the next turn off - we did offer to help but I think he was a man on a mission!
The final 15 miles home were tough, there was no let up in the bumps but they couldn’t be described as truly rolling because there never seemed to be enough of a downhill for momentum into the next upwards section. This was a feature in keeping with the theme of the whole course - the Nick climb was the only section with a fairly even gradient that allowed you to get into a nice rhythm.
The sting in the tail was the climb in Annbank but I knew from last year that once this was by we were home and dry, metaphorically speaking at least. I still feel bad that after all the work Ross did for me today I cheekily just pipped him in a sprint finish for the line. A decision I think I am going to rue in the coming sportives of the next two months, I’m sure he will get his own back!!
To summarise? A great day out. A character-building and challenging cycle on some of the best road surfaces in Scotland. I relied heavily on teamwork, I made some new cycling buddies, I bagged a few Strava sections (not many women round here have cottoned onto Strava yet so shhhh, I like holding QOM’s!) and, most importantly, I actually finished a sportive. Finally…