Report received from Carlos, Academy Captain on 16 July:
"Mrs Cipponeili had found an incredible cottage with a prominent position overlooking Rydal Hall and views all the way to Windermere. You'd expect nothing less for a cottage neighbouring the final home of William Wordsworth.
The WAGs had agreed to let us squeeze in a few short rides, so when we awoke to a misty, windless morning, we were into our team kit as soon as the last of the Kelloggs multi-pack had been polished off.
I'm still not sure if Mario's 'I'll be back by 12pm' was naivety, stupidity, or simply gamesmanship!
Our first ride was going to be the beautifully challenging Wrynose and Hardknott passes from the east, before a U-turn to take on Wrynose from the west, then home.
After bypassing Ambleside town centre by hugging the Rothay River from Rydal we quickly turned off the main route to Coniston at Skelwith Bridge, and were met with a '30% gradients ahead' sign, giving a gentle warning of what to expect. The next two miles of gentle gradient were easily taken in the big ring and at the top of the climb, Mario's comment of 'Wynrose Pass was pretty easy' again had me thinking; naivety, stupidity, gamesmanship?
We had a reached a fork in the road. Right to Langdale, or left to Wynrose with another gradient warning sign. There isn’t much need for the sign, the wall of tarmac beyond it explains all you need to know.
Our combined weights of close to 30 stone helped us both instantly choose our 'granny gear' as we slowly started to gain elevation. We had the road to ourselves, until the screaming clutch of a Corsa behind got our attention. And, being polite cyclists, we stopped zig-zagging across the carriageway to let them past. Our zig-zagging hadn’t been for effect and a full-on assault of Wrynose was too much for Mario. The now unavoidable steepness forced him to stop suddenly, leaving me with nowhere to go but to taste some of the steepest tarmac in the UK, much to the horror of a Corsa driving pensioner. For a moment we thought it was the Prez, then we realised he was incontinent.....oops, on the continent.
After a quick check of body and bike, starting again on such a narrow, steep road wasn’t easy, but after a few failed attempts we made it and the slow slog uphill continued. Mario had been setting the early pace, but after the crash, my adrenaline was pumping and I set off for the summit, waiting for Mario after a descent with views so beautiful it distracted from the dangerously tight hairpins we had to navigate.
After regrouping, we rode to Cockley Beck together along the most beautiful stretch of road we'd ridden in the UK. It's a road straight out of a Top Gear episode, helped by three high end German convertibles roaring past us.
As we approached the start of Hardknott Pass, Mario explained his slowness on Wrynose. His cleats are so well worn, his right foot wouldn’t stay clipped in, stopping him standing up and getting as aggressive as the climb necessitated.
Hardknott is a climb of unrelenting steepness, especially so at the start, with a perfectly straight 100m section of 30% to get you going. The gradient can't be reduced by taking a longer line, the road is so narrow a zig zag isn’t possible, and if you stay in the saddle, every pedal revolution casues the front wheel to lift violently and the feeling of flipping backwards raises the heart rate even more. Mario's one cleated climb was over.
After the initial tarmac 'mur,' a kilometre of 8% feels relatively achievable and gives the body and mind a chance for a moment for slight recovery before the final 500m to the top. The final twists and turns of 30% incline were almost impossible, and without courteous car drivers giving this snail-paced cyclist right of way, it wouldn’t have been possible. As well as helping me stay in the saddle, nearly every car I passed either questioned my sanity or shouted like I was a Tour winner, all helping me reach the top.
Finally I made it. With time for a quick selfie, a pat on the back, I was soon on the hand numbing return to my pal with my brakes on full lock.
Once we'd taken Wrynose from the west, a celebratory pint at the HQ was on the agenda and Mario set a great rhythm, until a puncture halted me in my tracks. On closer inspection, I’d shredded a section of the tyre wall, causing my new inner tube to balloon out and hit the brake pad........ Wrynose on a working bike was going to be tough enough, let alone trying to do it with the brakes on! At least my slowness gave me time to construct my 'I need a new bike argument' once I was back at the ranch.
We limped back to Ambleside, but the problems of the crash, the cleat and the clincher tyres had caused our quick ride to take longer than Mario's optimistic target and we were forced to skip a stop at the Golden Rule to get back for some quality time with family."
|Mario topping out 'The Struggle' from Ambleside|
|Mario says 'my face is too red to photograph'...|
|Carlos says 'see how red my face is.' Presumably blushing with pride after his second ascent of The Struggle.'|
|Oh, little do they know what's ahead...|
|Wrynose Pass from Little Langdale|
|And then on to Hardknott pass!|
|Hardknott Pass...looking east|
|Hardknott Pass...looking west to the summit. Looks easy doesn't it?|
|...except when you obliterate your tyre.|