It may not have been the longest Sunday run this year but it was without doubt the hardest. A reasonable turn out considering the twin distractions of Valentines Day and the start of the Half Term Holidays saw Sean and Niall, John D & Tommo, Myself & Brian, Grimpy and, making his first appearance on a Sunday run Steve Cavell.
Brian & Sean led us at a sensible pace to Keighley where we were joined by Melvin and Steve Barker. JD & Chris took over at the front from Keighley; the pace quickened. I was sat in second in line with Niall hoping that once we got to Silsden they would pull over so Niall and myself could dictate a more reasonable pace over Cringles. I never got the chance to put that into play, they were pulling away even before we got through Silsden, I wasn't able to stop a gap opening, Niall stayed on, Sean & Mel jumped across from behind me.
I was relieved when no one else jumped across fearing that I was about to spend most of the day chasing alone. It was far too early in the day to screw myself in an attempt to close the gap, staying comfortable and saving a bit for later in the day was obviously the best tactic especially as I wasn't alone.
Steve and I were tapping on at the front, about 100m behind the main peloton when I glanced round and saw that Steve Cavell had completely disappeared and Grimpy, even though he had his best cyclo-cross tyres on, was losing contact. Not wanting the run to completely disintegrate so early in the day I kept pulling Steve back by his jersey to give Grimpy the chance to get back on.
Once at the summit they were waiting for us at the junction where Mel had the bright idea of making our way to Bolton Bridge via Draughton rather than the usual route through Addingham. Had my brain been working a little quicker I would have said what a good idea it was and then gone by myself via Addingham giving myself a chance to attack the climb up the A59 to Kexgill in front of the big hitters and then have a gentle potter towards Thruscross Reservoir.
However what did happen is that they set off like an express train over the icy surfaced undulations of Draughton Moor, me at the back on elastic and; sadly, Grimpy, shown no mercy, was left to fend for himself, not to be seen again that day.
As everyone knows the hardest part of the climb up to Kexgill is the first bit from the end of Beamsley Lane but John, Chris, Mel & the Smiths didn't appear to notice the steepness of the incline. I told Brian that I would see him at the cafe but whether by choice or necessity I don't know, he dropped off the back with me and we shared to effort. Steve Barker was the next to drop off so I put in an effort and got onto his wheel. We slipped into a comfortable routine, I took them on a couple of minor diversions just to add a little more interest to the day but they didn't even say thank you. We had slipped into a comfortable rhythm happy in the knowledge that we wouldn't have to get out of breath again this side of Burnsall. That was not to be, they had caught Nigel up at Kexgill (he'd set off from his in-laws in Ilkley), he had told them off for leaving us and made them stop and wait (yeah, great, thanks Nige). We more or less stayed together then to Burnsall Cafe where we found Ian looking pleased with himself, having set off late (again) and gone straight to Burnsall over his favourite climb, Eastby Brow.
Now I had suggested that if the weather was kind and we were feeling fit and keen we could consider coming home via Thorpe, Gargrave, Elslack, Black Lane Ends and the Herders. Never in my wildest dreams did I think there was anyone other than me was daft enough to do this route on a cold icy day in the middle of February during the hardest winter in living memory. My bluff was called. As we rode through Hetton towards Gargrave I thought surely someone is going to tell me that this is just a joke and we are really going to go home straight through Keighley.
No one cracked. We got to the junction at Broughton, Brian mumbled something (I'm not sure what he said, but I know what he was thinking) and turned left and rode off alone. The Herders being my suggestion, I hadn't the bottle to go with him. It went a bit quiet towards Elslack, people were stoking up on gels and chocolate. The climb from Elslack up to Pinhaw is never easy and the damp, greasy surface made it worse than usual. I was relieved that I wasn't the first to go off the back, that dubious honour went to Steve who in recent weeks has spent more time in the gym than on the bike - was it Eddy Merckx whose three top training tips were - (1) Ride the bike. (2) Ride the bike. (3) Ride the bike.
Ian then slipped back a little, then me, Ian came up to me and we continued together. I could see that Nigel was continuing his recent return to form and was up there with his brother setting the pace before he slipped back slightly just before the top. I don't know why I had expected them to stop and wait at the junction but they didn't, although when Ian and I managed eventually to get back on I was assured that they had been riding slowly to allow us to catch up. Not slow enough however as we didn't see Steve again (I suspect it won't be long before he gets his revenge).
Up the drag to Black Lane Ends Ian disappeared out of the back and that was that, no prisoners were being taken.
The start of the Herders wasn't too bad but I did lose contact when it got steeper, Nigel then drifted off the back as did Niall who had been riding very strong all day but was now feeling the distance. We regrouped over the top with Sean dropping back to look after Niall.
The next big obstacle was from the reservoir at Stanbury over Penistone Hill. Chris attempted to be the first cyclist ever to climb this hill on the big ring; I'm sorry to have to report that he failed. It was up the Dog & Gun climb the for John, Chris, Mel and me. Chris and Mel at the front and me dropping off the back. John started to come back to me, I told him not to wait for me, he said he wasn't, he was going flat out. Mel turned off at the D&G and I followed Chris & John from a distance of 50 or 60 yards over the cutting eventually getting back on their wheel at Queensbury for a welcome freewheel home.
PS sorry about the length of this report