The Lune RCC Coal Road Challenge 2018
Before the Beast from the East arrived in the first week of March 2018, we were treated to ten beautiful (if freezing) dry days in the Cold Dark North. The forecast for the 10th annual running of the Lune RCC's Coal Road Challenge was again dry and breezy but looked likely to be sub-zero temperatures for the duration. In spite of the plunging mercury, we welcomed a record roll call of over 120 riders for this anniversary running of a Northern Spring Classic.
Riders set off in waves from Bull Beck and in stark contrast to the raging tailwind of 2017's edition, they were immediately met by a face full of stiff breeze.
Out of the sunshine in the lanes between Caton and Ingleton there were surprisingly few patches of ice by the roadside but a collective of frozen cyclists flowed through to the first stiff test of the day - the climb up onto the Hawes Road. The usual feeling of relief at cresting the twisting road into the Yorkshire Dales National Park was immediately tempered by the now howling headwind which was as chilling as it was challenging.
Sadly there was more bad news ahead: just past the White Scar Caves a fine spray had blown up from the Ingleton Waterfall just below the road and imperceptibly frozen on the road to create a brief, road-wide, ice rink.
A few riders tumbled, some bounced painfully and others slid with grace across the glossy surface unharmed. In all honesty, an astonishing number of riders ploughed on uninterrupted and unharmed. Others waited or were distracted and missed the train (and with it the chance for the 30km along the Newby Head valley in some kind of shelter).
Those left behind faced over an hour of relentless headwind grinding through the beautiful sunlit countryside to Hawes. The blessed relief of the turn to Garsdale was quickly diminished by the realisation that the Coal Road laid in wait.
The old road from Garsdale Head Station over to Dentdale has been resurfaced since 2017 and must surely now rank in the top-20 or so roads in the UK for road biking - the glistening hard-packed snow drifts by the roadside, the gleaming new tarmac and the now finally enjoyable descent were all sweet reward after the savage climb from Garsdale had warmed up even the coldest riders.
After a tail wind assisted roll through Dentdale valley to Gawthrop the second challenging climb of the day was conquered and the mesmerically beautiful descent along Barbondale awaited.
Perfect conditions now, a tail/cross-wind, bright sunshine and positive temperatures as the scattered pelotons worked together through Kirkby Lonsdale and along the Lune Valley. We returned over the iconic Loyne Bridge and through Hornby along the fast road back to our cars and for some, no doubt, something fried and earned from the Bull Beck Cafe.
We remembered the Lune RCC club President, Tony Sweeney, on the road and in our thoughts on the day. He'd have been proud of some true northern grit being shown in the efforts of all those that joined the 10th Anniversary Coal Road Challenge. No doubt he had a hand in the weather too. Chapeau El Presidente.