Location: Ushaw College, Ushaw Moor, Durham
Event: 7 October 2012
Report: Ian Phillips
Sunday morning began way before the crack of dawn with an early start for all, at Sunday’s inaugural Marie Curie Cancer Care Etape Pennines.
With the sun rising, riders gathered on the crisp autumnal morning to start the 78 mile challenge that lay ahead. Tyres were pumped, pockets were well packed and I was ready for the ride in a region that for me until today had been unexplored. I wasn’t so sure what to expect, but thought the territory couldn’t be that different from my resident Yorkshire, which really wasn’t that far away. This would remain true for a good majority of the ride, but the epic baron scale was certainly set to change.
Today would also be a first opportunity to catch up and meet our resident blogger Lorna. She was unfortunately unable to join Gavin, Chris and I at the Ride with Brad, but this wasn’t too far to come having travelled down from Glasgow for the weekend. Having participated in a number of events over the season, Lorna, brother and another all from Glasgow Green Cycle Club made the trip to the rather pleasant Ushaw College, just West of Durham.
Over the days before the event, Lorna kept mentioning that she didn’t want to miss riding with ‘Rob’ and unbeknown to me, she had entered and won a competition to ride and start from the front with Rob Hayles, three time Olympic medallist. On instruction from event organisers, we passed an extensive line up of eager riders and made our way to the front, where following a photo call and an assertive ‘this is not a race’, from Mr Hayles, we were off. Rob along with the other Marie Curie riders, led out the sharp end of the event for the first few miles, which from the off, ran out, down and most certainly up across the stunning moorland hills of County Durham.
The event was one of the relatively rare closed road sportives, which event organisers, IMG Challenger World had executed superbly. Cars were off the road, signs were numerous and well placed, but above all, the route was simply perfect for the day.
The miles ticked past quickly after an early sharpener uphill, which strung out the riders nicely as we headed clockwise, initially south and then west around to the mountain bike hot spot of Hamsterley. Despite the early and in some parts, almost frosty start, there was a good turn out from the locals who lined the whole route in support of every passing rider throughout the day. From general well wishers who sat enjoying their breakfast in the early morning sun, through to an entire five piece family, including dog, who were all impeccably balanced on a quad at the end of a farm drive.
The initial 35- 40 miles knitted a grand series of flowing wide open roads through a fabulously rich, hedged and agriculturally lush rolling landscape. From the shoulder of this high point we turn and see the early morning mist rising in the distance like a calm sea before dropping in to the Tees Valley below. We continued by winding our way along the bottom of the valley parallel to the river before heading to the fabulously named High Force for a well earned food stop.
All was well stocked, though the warning of black ice, albeit disconcerting was still reflective of the time of day, but also the temperature as we began our journey out on to the moor ahead.
From the Forest in Teesdale, we turned up the valley to Landon Beck before hitting the King of the Mountain challenge. This was some relentless climb with an equally impressive descent to Burn Foot and St John’s Chapel, where we were greeted by another impressive turnout from the more than welcoming villagers.
Despite passing the KOM some miles before, the real climbing had only just begun. From here, there was no let up as the route severely bucked and bolted its way over what appeared to be every possible 15-20% climb in the region. We continued over the tops to Blanchard with the up and down dale trend to Waskerley and beyond.
What is difficult to convey is the shear expanse of this exposed moorland area, but also just how stunning this looked on the day. The skies were blue, the views crystal clear and not a breath of wind, or anything to trouble the sportive rider throughout the day. Granted it was around 1.0C when we set off, but it didn’t take long to get warm and stay warm throughout the day.
Having tipped off the moor for what felt like the final time, we dropped in to a series of hedged lined lanes for our run home, however there was to be one last sting in the tail. This was a brutal Shull Bank, which would finally lead us back towards the event HQ. This pitched and rolled with the best of the day, though particularly with the 70 plus miles that had already passed.
Supporters spilled out of local houses and lined the run in before catching a final glimpse of the impressive landscape at 400m to go before we home and dry with smiles, cheers and welcomed applause.
This I say, was quite some event and most certainly a challenge that is not to be forgotten. A great day out in a great location and I will certainly look forward to coming back again.