The last day of our gruelling ten-day ride, from Plymouth to Land’s End, was always going to be a long, hard day in the saddle. Cornish hills are steep rather than long, so riding over them is a war of attrition, with every successive hill sapping energy and enthusiasm in equal measure.
Our route saw us take the Torpoint Ferry before going cross-country to pick up the Boddanick Ferry to Fowey on the Cornish border. The ride across country was scenic and quiet but, boy, those climbs?! Some of the roads were very little used, so much so they had a grass verge in the middle. And with mud from the recent bad weather, it was only really safe for us to cycle in the tracks left by the occasional vehicle. Chris Grove of bamboo bike fame said his back wheel kept slipping on the dried mud and it’s probably safe to say most of us struggled with the switch from road cycling to mountain biking!
The quieter roads also provided several successive steep climbs and descents (15%+), which suited the mountain goats among us just fine. But physics got the better of a fair few people more than once, forcing many of us to walk our bikes up some of the steepest climbs. The route included at least nine category five climbs (those you see on the Tour de France are category four plus, but then they are the pros!) so although they aren’t especially high with a maximum height gain of 200 metres, they are usually very steep. With smaller hills in between that didn’t merit a particular rating, we spent the whole day relentlessly climbing and descending, and the only break in that pattern was on a section of the A30 where we finally got up a good head of speed.
Our ultimate goal came into sight as we approached Penzance: the Land’s End headland reaching out to sea under a blazing blue sky. But while Penzance is at sea level, Land’s End itself is at the top of a cliff so we all knew there was a battle ahead with one of the most heart-breaking climbs in the British Isles: so very near, yet so, so far! It was six miles of short, hard upward pitches that saw us gain 300 to 500 metres of height, with brief flats or shallower slopes in between. This pain was followed by a gentle rolling road through Sennen to Land’s End. Enormous credit goes to Helene who really suffered during the long climb but made it to the top triumphant!
Sadness descended as we made our final approach to Land’s End and realised our adventure was coming to an end.
As we basked in our triumph at the top of the cliff, many of us who’d previously said we’d throw our bikes into the sea at Land’s End found ourselves talking about other challenges we’d like to try. We have Oli to thank for spotting a pod of dolphins in the bay beneath us and in the end, Richard Fitton’s grotty old trainers were the only things launched to a watery grave.
Our faithful support crew was waiting with the ‘recovery’ drinks, as they have been every evening, along with the bus and bike trailer, ready to take us to the hotel and dinner. Line honours for the day went to the Leeds boys, with Salene taking the ‘maillot jaune’ (Yellow Jersey) for the stage. And of course we were greeted with the news of Bradley Wiggins’ Tour de France triumph. In fact, for the last few days, many of us have been asked where he is by people we’ve passed, which goes to show the increased profile cycling is enjoying in the UK at the moment! And his victory certainly helped us forget about the Gloucester pie queen who drove past and shouted abuse as we climbed out of her city (“Get your fat bottoms up that hill” is the polite version!)
Both T (our masseuse) and Oli (one of our support crew) are thinking of taking up cycling following their involvement with Team BDO, and at breakfast this morning, Ian (our mechanic and confirmed cycling geek) was talking about the bike he has his eye on…a Ribble sportive bike, in case you’re interested.
Chris Grove gave an excellent road captain’s speech at dinner and handed out yet another fine to our reigning Queen of Fines (Julia Daffy). We all missed Jeff Jones – it’s hardly a party without him – but we hear he’s already planning a return trip with friends to complete the sections he missed through injury. Good luck with that one Jeff!
It seems strange to think we’ll all be going our own way tomorrow. We’ve all become very close, including everyone who joined for the day-stages and started as strangers but became members of our ‘family’ by the end of their respective days.
Finally, thanks to everyone who’s taken the time to read this blog – the last ten days have been incredible and we’re very glad to have been able to share the highs and lows with you. We all agree the experience has changed us, and every one of us has found strength, courage, patience and persistence we never knew we had. Some of the most unexpected people have turned out to be ‘giants of the road’. Our indomitable team spirit saw us reach the end, almost intact, helped no end by excellent treatment from T, fine chocolate choices from Tony and boys, and support from our friends and colleagues at BDO. And of course Premier Inn and JLT (sponsor of our vehicle hire). In short, thanks to everyone who helped make this a success, and gave us the opportunity to take part in the ‘great British cycling adventure’.