“It was beautiful – absolutely stunning,” says triple jump legend Jonathan Edwards after completing his Etape Pennines training ride. “There was a bit across the moors which must be as picturesque a cycling ride as I’ve ever done.”
Still a world record holder when it comes to the hop, skip and jump, Edwards, 47, is one of a growing number to have caught the cycling bug in a big way since retiring.
As he prepares to tackle his first sportive – the 60-mile, closed-road Etape Pennines on July 20 – Edwards tackled part of the route alongside Great British team pursuit star Steven Burke.
Set against the stunning Pennine scenery in County Durham, Burke was able to offer advice on climbing, fuelling and more general advice on gears, and set-up.
And Edwards is relishing his first mass participation cycling event having completed the training ride.
He told RCUK after the ride: “It’s been a great day and also it’s good to know the route.
“The climbs weren’t easy but they weren’t super difficult, they were nice gradients – it’s not like the Lakes, where the scenery’s beautiful but you can’t even think of looking at it because it’s 20 per cent and you’re about to die.”
The rolling countryside of North East England makes for perfect cycling terrain – steady climbs and long, pacey descents in their plenty.
In total, the Etape Pennines cover 6,000ft of climbing on its 60-mile route, and Edwards was grateful to have been able to have sampled the course beforehand – offering valuable advice to any would-be participants.
“The last section in particular is important to know,” he said. “You think you’re on the last climb but then it dips down and there’s another one, and even that was followed by another one.
“To be prepared for that, and to know to moderate your effort will be really important for the event. What will be interesting for the event will be having 2,000 other cyclists all concertinaed together on the climbs, I would imagine, and on the descents as well.
“The first descent we did at 56mph, but the thought of doing that with lots of other riders around me fills me with terror quite frankly.
“I think probably the valuable bits I learned from Steven were about the hills – it’s about settling into a steady pace.
“What won’t happen in the event is having someone alongside me, going at my pace – he instinctively knew from my shape and breathing what sort of rhythm I needed.
“It will be all about being disciplined and not pushing yourself too hard. The line between being OK and dying a death is not that wide!”
Steven Burke’s climbing tips
Burke himself was at the training ride on the back of participating at the Rutland-Melton International CiCLE Classic with his new road team, Haribo-Beacon.
The Burnley-born rider already shared his sportive tips with RCUK ahead of the training ride and having tackled the Teesdale route offered more thoughts on how to tackle the event.
He told RCUK: “Plenty of hilly rides are needed to prepare for it, that’s for sure. Preparation is very important coming into it and fuelling-wise making sure you have the right food and drink and plenty of carbs and plenty of rest a couple of nights before.
“The first half of it is definitely a case of keeping the gears down, making sure you have plenty of legs for the rest of it.
“I can imagine it could be quite grim in the cold and wet too, so while June 20 should be alright it’s also about making sure you have the right kit too.”
In particular the final climb of the route, which takes the riders up to Bollihope Common en route back to the ride base in Barnard Castle, is one Burke believes riders should be well prepared for.
“The last main climb is one to look out for,” he explained. “You need to get into a good steady rhythm for it.
“It’s steeper at the start so once you have got over that little hard section it’s just a very steady climb – well it drops down slightly, and then kicks back up – but its more gradual from that point.
“For the steep part of the climb I was using the 25. For most of the climb, really, it was low gearing – 42/25, 23 and 21. Especially at the end of the day though, it’s about using the biggest gear you can.”
Get the miles in
With attention turning to the summer sportives, many riders will be looking to build their fitness in time to meet their target times at the likes of the Etape Pennines.
Advice ranges on how to taper your effort, and varies depending on rider and event, but both Burke and Edwards were keen to stress the importance of training.
“I just do quite a lot of general cycling,” Edwards explained. “I go out and about around Newcastle and do a bit in London too – a bit around Battersea Park and bits on the rollers, just general fitness stuff.
“What I might do, having done this route, is just go out and find some climbs – slog it out and do the five-minute hill reps. Though this is longer, there will be a lot of that and I think if you’re going to make an improvement it will be on the climbs.
“You can thrash along the flats and sit in with a fast group and that’s OK but it will be the climbs where it will make a big difference.”
With racing on his agenda – and the small matter of the Commonwealth Games on the horizon – Burke’s own training is naturally much heavier.
But he believes just building a solid base will allow riders to reap the rewards of their preparations come the event.
He explained: “Personally, at the moment, I’ve been doing 25 hours in preparation for road races but that won’t be necessary for the Etape Pennines.
“A couple of good rides per week will give you the shape. Hours on the bike will make things a lot easier come July 20.”
And on his ride partner he added: “I was very impressed with Jonathan. He’s been a world class athlete. He already knows a lot of things so there’s not too much I can advise really.
“I don’t think he’ll have any problems around the circuit. He just needs to keep up the hours per week now.”
Use the fuel stations
Fuelling is also something Burke previously stressed the importance of with RCUK – as has our sportive guru Mike Cotty – and Edwards admitted it is still something he is searching for the right balance with.
He said: “I’ve not done anything like fuelling before during my career. There was never a need.
“I’ve picked up a lot anyway over the three years or so I’ve been cycling – to be honest though, none of them taste particularly nice. Overall I tend to err on the side of not having enough and I’ve found I’ve had quite a lot of headaches after rides because I think I’ve been dehydrated.
“On a route like this with lots of hills it will be important to take it on – there will be nutrition stops so they should be used.”
Why do it?
But what it is that inspires a 47-year-old ex-professional athlete to keep pushing himself to new sporting levels?
Like many other sportive first-timers whom Edwards will join on the start line in County Durham, the answer is quite simple really.
“I just love cycling,” he stated. “I’ve always watched the Tour de France, and to see the way the Brits have come through with Team Sky, and doing cycling for the BBC now as well, I’ve very much caught the bug.
“This will be my first mass participation cycling event. To have so many people on the road will be interesting.
“I think there’ll be a great dynamic about it and also an energy. I’ve covered the London Marathon and Great North Run and there’s an energy about them. People say they do go faster because of the adrenaline. I’m looking forward to experiencing that.”
Entry to the Marie Curie Cancer Care Etape Pennines 2014 is still open. For more information on the 60-mile, closed-road sportive visit http://www.etapepennines.co.uk/