“No,” replied Jon on the final feed station.
“Oh go on, retire me, throw me out. I’m making the club look bad.”
“No, you’ll have to finish, get on with it.”
“Now that’s just mean,” I said – and thought – as I cracked on, even though I was only half serious. As it turned out I was at the end of an extended bad patch that lasted all the way round the Bowland loop of the Goose Eye Grimpeur, and I was, as anticipated, goosed. Not quite the lantern rouge yet, I would however turn out to be the last person to finish, but there would be no need for rouge-faced embarrassment, because to finish the Goose Eye is an achievement in itself, and I had decided I would be doing that whatever. The Goose Eye Grimpeur is one of the hardest sportives in the country at 200 km and 3612 m of ascent (124 miles/11,850’) – that’s 17.99 m of climb per kilometer!
That morning, early doors on the 20th of August, saw a select group of optimists toe the line in Heywood for the Goose Eye Grimpeur Sportive, filled with various levels of trepidation depending on their degree of fitness and how well they understood the enormity of the undertaking before them. Make no mistake, the Goose Eye is one of the toughest sportives in the country, given British Cycling’s maximum level 5 for difficulty. We were blessed with a cool but bright start through lovely Rochdale, whose unusually deserted streets had probably not seen many extended track stands such as the one we were treated to by Jonothan Stott, at least not this early.
We split into groups in the usual fashion, spinning and chatting on the empty roads for 10km helping to get the system going ready for the first climb of Blackstonedge. I’d decided two things for the day: 1. I was definitely going to finish, so I needed to make sure I got to the second feed station before the cut-off; and 2. I was going to ride at my own pace. The two weren’t necessarily compatible. Ok then, I’d get through the cut-off, and then ride at my own pace. Whatever. Bring it on. Things were about to get very lumpy, lumpier than workhouse soup.
Blackstonedge, Mill Bank, and even Stocks Lane up to Wainstalls felt easier than usual: that was the knowledge of so many more climbs to come doing its work. At the top I stopped for a quick chat and to exchange pics with Nadia and Karen who were climbing well and loving the incredible vista and glorious purple heather. They would go on to do it all except for missing the Bowland loop due to an evening commitment, vowing to come back with friends next year for more of this fantastic route.
On through Howarth, the ‘vicious dip’ of Tim Lane and the Goose Eye climb, the hills kept coming, we were surfing static waves, down into the green troughs and up over the purple crests of beautiful countryside and moors.
Due to gravity and eating all the pies I was descending a bit quicker but climbing more slowly than others, so we were to-ing and fro-ing through Lothersdale and over to the first feed station at Broughton, where I caught up, had a sneaky quick stop and bobbed off again. There was no point in hanging around as Mandy flatly refused to give me a refreshing massage despite my throwing myself down in the muck and doing puppy eyes. She may have had a something to do with the delicious home-made goodies on offer, but I made do with a banana and legged it sharpish.
On the easiest section of the rolling lanes through to Gargrave and across to Paythorne Michael, Stephen and Peter caught up and sat on for the short section of the A682. At this point I was pretending I’d done enough training and was pressing on nicely, and on the section through to Bolton By Bowland and Grindleton had a nice conversation with architect Michael about the ins and outs of architectural practice and the social housing issue, which I’d take over gear ratios and tire choice any day of the week. By this time the faster riders were a considerable distance ahead, enjoying the cool fresh conditions, ideal for cycling.
Immediately on setting off, and especially once onto the long drag up onto Easington Fell, I was into a bad patch, which for all I knew would last until the end. Michael was clearly fresher, but he was too much of a gentleman to take up my suggestion that he pressed on ahead, so I had the pleasure of struggling and failing to keep up with him for a few more hilly miles. I knew in principle that the Bowland loop was beautiful from many happier rides here, but somehow that wasn’t foremost in my mind, if the grey bonky jelly which seemed to be sloshing around my befuddled cranium could still be considered a mind.
Through Dunsop Bridge and Slaidburn we plodded, until on the gradual steps up Smalden Lane over the Eastern flank of Easinton Fell, even Michael could see there was a limit to courtesy – and at least as he disappeared I could just worry about my own pace, if you could call it a pace. Once Jon had dismissed my pleas to drop out back at the Grindleton checkpoint I felt better and knew that I’d make it.
The last three climbs were familiar territory, over the Big End of Pendle to Barley, up over Widdop from Colne, and up Cragg Vale to Blackstonedge.
The strange thing about tiredness is that you get to feel bad, and you think you’ll feel worse as you go on – and sometimes you do. But often you have reached a plateau and as long as you manage to eat and drink a bit the wonder that is the bicycle will get you there in the end. I gave a great shout of “YES!” to Dan and Jon, who were kindly on sweeper duty but making it feel like support, as I rolled over the top of Blackstonedge, with only the sweeping descent and a few flat urban kilometres to do to the finish at Heywood Bowling Club. Euphoria kicked in, and I made brisk time on the last section, glad that it was still light, finishing in 11.39. Michael had got round in a well designed and stress-tested 11.08.
What a memorable day it was, and it was nice to get this one tucked away in nice weather. The route is stunningly beautiful, and it is a real test to do at least once in your life – if you make spot for it in your calendar, you won’t be sorry. Ok you might be sorry round about the fifteenth climb, or if you have a mechanical or an injury, or you run out of time…but you’ll be back, for as they say, it is better to regret the things you have done than the things you haven’t. Live large, get over here and get Goosed, we’d love to see you!
Thanks to everyone who made the event happen and helped out on the day
Geoff, ABC Centreville