Two Go Mad in Blackpool (oh, and the Wiggle Lancashire Hotpot 2013)
As well as the usual collection of socks and aftershave at Christmas I also received a voucher for a stadium tour of Old Trafford. At first I thought it was a long way to drive to peep behind Man Utd’s turnstile but my wife suggested I fit it into a weekend away. After a quick search of t'internet I found the Wiggle Lancashire Hotpot Sportive. So the plan was; do the stadium tour Saturday afternoon, have a night in Blackpool and then ride the sportive Sunday – South Cave Road Club was on the road again!
We arrived at Old Trafford in good time so I had the chance to cross off an item from my bucket list. I used to go and watch Man United a lot in the early 80s but as I was only in my early teens I was never allowed to join the rest of the supporters group in the Trafford pub. (Instead I would wander around on my own – what could possibly go wrong?) The Trafford is the closest pub to Old Trafford and as such on match days it was full – and then some – of scarf wearing denim-clad football supporters. It may still get full on match days but the pair of us were the only patrons at 1pm on a non-match Saturday. The only other person not working was a small girl riding around the pub interior on a bicycle (ala The Shining). The pub was decorated as expected with no end of Utd memorabilia and painted red, white and blue. Ordering two sausage sandwiches was just possible as the chef said she would rescue some from the sausage casserole she was preparing.
The tour itself was interesting but I found myself thinking what a fantastic business model the club is. A tour sets off every 20 minutes with each guest paying £20. The guide tried to keep the tour ‘jolly’ but his tales and ‘jokes’ had clearly been told many times and lacked any feeling. I did point out to Scott that he had to push on one door to gain entry and after a short pause he realised what ‘PRESS ENTRANCE’ really meant. At least with all the tour money coming in it will help to pay the £900,000 cost of relaying the pitch.
After Old Trafford it was onto another of the North West’s finest stadia as we were booked to stay at the Blackpool FC Hotel which is part of the new East stand. The hotel was excellent with modern well-equipped rooms (some of which look out onto the pitch) and an inviting bar area – and as hotel guests we accepted the invitation! Whilst leaning against the bar I leant over and had a quick glance at the restaurant reservation list. At 6.30 there was a booking for Armfield x4 and the notes said VIP. In a short while the Armfield booking came in and it was indeed Jimmy Armfield, the ex Blackpool and England captain and now Radio 5 football pundit. A proper footballer who may not have made the money that current stars earn but was unlikely to be embroiled in the scandals that so-called modern day superstars get themselves into. Later, after a shower and liberal use of the complimentary toiletries we headed into Blackpool.
As we walked along the sea front it became apparent that Blackpool had not improved since either of us had last visited. Through the fingers we were using to shield our eyes from the fierce wind that whipped sand up from the beach we could see a procession of drunken youths staggering around. Mini buses and tacky limos were disgorging stag and hen parties of all shapes and sizes into the night. After a hard search we managed to find an eating establishment that actually had a menu as opposed to glossy photos and day glow stars to advertise their wares.
Afterwards there were a number of pubs we didn’t like the look of or we walked in and straight back out of but we settled on ‘Molloys’ as from the outside it seemed okay and appeared to have a healthy number of patrons not wearing L plates or group printed t-shirts. WHAT A PLACE! From the DJ in a sleeveless fluorescent gilet to the much ‘golded’ bar staff it was an experience. Neither Mr Yates nor myself would ever make it as male models but we by far and away the best looking people in there (save for attractive girl – who was just leaving). Still the beer was cheap and Dave Doubledecks played some half decent music.
By eleven o’clock the streets were awash with all manner of human flotsam. PRs were constantly trying to get us to frequent their particular pub, club, kebab house or Lap Dance club so we decided to hail a cab and have a civilised drink back at the hotel. When we announced our destination to the taxi driver he was suitably impressed and said it had a fantastic reputation after only being open twelve months.
After a pleasant night cap we retired to recharge our batteries for the impending 76 miles into the Lancashire hills. I choose to tell Scott about my previous night’s trip to the cinema just as he was about to turn out the light. I had been to see ‘Behind the Candelabra’ and in my best Liberace voice I delivered the line that the great sequined one said to his ‘protégé’ on his first night “But Scotty I promise I will keep to my side of the bed” – Scott laughed nervously and pulled his bed sheets up further!
Breakfast was available 7.30-10.00 but the staff were amazed to see us enter the restaurant at 7.31. The waitress said that on a Sunday there was always a rush at 9.55 but I said that we on a bike ride with a 9am start. With the ride in mind we only had fruit juice, yoghurt and fresh fruit. Ha – only kidding! I have to say the scrambled eggs were superb. Everything was cooked to order and not left to solidify in warming trays like most hotel breakfasts.
We had asked the waitress for directions to Stanley Park and subsequently went the other way as we had seen a sign post for it on the previous evening. Although we did get to the park if we had followed the waitress’s instructions we would have been there sooner as her route missed out the main road. The car park was a massive field adjacent to Stanley Park and we pulled up next to GELMAN! Gelman was a superhero who would gain extraordinary cycle powers from consuming copious gel sachets. He had what can only be described as a utility belt around his midriff with gel sachets stuck in and others stuffed in his pockets. He must have had at least 20 of them about his person. My guess was that he had read in a magazine that top cyclists refuel every 20 minutes and had taken them at their word. The smile from looking at Gelman disappeared when I realised that the ‘South Cave Road Club’ magnetic car sticker had been stolen off the support car (my wife’s SMAX).
The start was brilliantly easy. We had been sent an event pack which consisted of a handlebar and shirt back number and a timing chip sticker which you affixed to your helmet. All you had to do was ride up to the start area and await the drop of the flag. It was by far the smoothest and fuss-free sportive I have started (ten in total).
Up to the start the weather had been okay. A tad breezy, but dry and not too cold (well it is mid-June). I had gone with shorts and a short sleeved top, but arm warmers, gilet and a base layer kept the upper temperature warm and Chapeau balm (posh winter green) kept my legs toastie. Prior to the start we had been made aware to look for pink signs with black arrows and these guided us out of the park and onto the roads. For all the tackiness of Blackpool, less than ten minutes riding brought us into more affluent surroundings followed by pleasant countryside. Ten miles in and the first spots of rain began to fall. We reached the first feed station after 21 miles having set quite a brisk early pace. I heard one rider say there was banana malt loaf on offer. I was slightly disappointed to find out it was a Soreen malt loaf and not a homemade one but then I suppose because it was a Wiggle organised event then the refreshments would be supplied by companies as opposed to individuals. Other options (I say options but took them all) were Mcvities Ginger Bars and Jaffa Cake Bars – to be fair the half bananas weren’t pre packed. Big barrels contained isotonic drinks and water. When we came out of the village hall the rain had developed into a proper effort.
Not long after came the first major climb which was timed. At the time of writing I am still awaiting these results although it’s fair to say I don’t expect to be adorning my SCRC top with any red dots. Up in the hills the scenery was superb. Well I think it would have been if the rain wasn’t stinging my eyes, at least the howling wind was doing its level best to wick away the rainwater before it soaked into my clothing.
We were both reliant on the event signs to guide us as I hadn’t downloaded the route to my Garmin and the other SCRC member had left his in SC! Luckily the signage was excellent and they went with the ‘confirmation’ extra. That is a sign after a turn to confirm you were on the right route after every turn. This system means that it is ( virtually) impossible to take a wrong way. I’ll not mention the pleasant conversation I had with a lady rider whilst waiting for Scott to double back! One road sign gave directions for ‘CITY CENTRE’ – I didn’t even know which city it was for! We decided it was Preston but it didn’t really matter and we didn’t really care. We didn’t actually go into the city centre but on one of the approach roads there was a Policeman alerting us to the fact that oil had been spilt around an oncoming roundabout – needless to say we took it very carefully, the smell of the spillage was quite overpowering.
On the longest climb I came across the first participants walking. I was quite surprised as one of them looked more suited to climbing than me (about the same weight – but loftier). I am proud to say that every hill I have attempted I have ridden up and never resorted to walking, that said Scott has taken to packing a long novel that he can read whilst waiting for me at the climbs summits. At the top of this particular climb a magical thing happened – it stopped raining and the Sun came out – I can only assume we were above the cloud line!
The final third of the ride was mainly flat and the second feed station was at Lancaster University. It was a put up stand in the grounds of the tower that dominates the skyline and was reached through parkland that was busy with families and dog walkers.
The Sun has a magnificent effect on my cycling. At the forty mile mark I was feeling rough and lethargic as the rain beat down, by sixty with the Sun out I was enjoying the ride and began to pick up the pace (buoyed by the first glimpse of Blackpool Tower reappearing). Within eight miles of the finish we were met by another Policeman stopping all forms of transport going over a bridge as there had been a RTA. We stopped at the roadside and was joined by a rider who said that he lived in this area and that the bridge was the only way over the river for twenty miles, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry! Luckily his information was as useless as his climbing ability (he was the walker from the big climb) and a passing pedestrian pointed out that a right turn and then a left would get us back on track. I could have kissed her and punched the rider but I did neither and within two minutes we were once again seeing black arrows on pink card.
There was long stretch of dual carriageway to ride along and then we had to cut across the traffic to make a right turn. I felt that this could have been avoided and if any ‘new’ riders had decided to attempt the sportive scene they would be a bit nervous. Before long we were back in Stanley Park but by now it was busy with people making the most of the Sunday sunshine and two motorists at a Mexican stand off over a sole parking space, so care was needed to find the finishing straight. When we got into the start/finish tunnel there was an announcer doing his best to whip up a frenzied atmosphere amongst the small crowd of spectators. Scott threw down the challenge of a sprint finish (see Etape du Pennines report for inaugural Green Jersey) so we put the hammer down and went for it. Whilst going for it, it became evident that it was quite a small and congested finish line, immediately after the finish line was five stone steps and then a pond!! Yes you’ve guessed it…..we braked in time (ha ha). But we did fly past the girl handing out the Goodie bags for finishers. After walking back to collect our bags we dropped our bikes and looked for a coffee outlet. Imagine our disappointment at ‘finding’ the magnificent Art Deco café that sold not only coffee but ice cold Carlsberg, the best post sportive drink in the world – probably! After the pint we wound our way back to the car. Gelman’s car was still there; and as I don’t like them I took the Gel sachets from my Goody back and left them under his windscreen.
Oh yes – our time after all this was a Sportive. We did it in 5 hours and 32 minutes. Only good enough for a ‘bronze’ – but as a wise man once said “it’s not the taking part but two in the bush is best served cold”
And so we left Blackpool bathed in sunshine minus a car sticker and a phone charger but we both said that the best way to spend Father’s Day is away from the family and riding a bike.