On Saturday, the first edition of The Perfidious Albion came to a close. It’s taken me a few days to process the last week or so, such was the frenetic nature of the race. It’s fair to say that the route was tougher than any of the riders anticipated, especially with a scorching heatwave rolling across the country.
Due to this, of the ten riders that started in Lockerbie, just one finished. With a bit more luck, I think there would have been fewer scratches, but there’s little doubt that it was the punishing gradients on the route that took most victims.
For a detailed overview of what unfolded, please check out the live blog, where you can find daily updates from the race. Below, I want to single out three riders who really impressed, without wanting to diminish the efforts of the others, who all pushed themselves to their limits and beyond.
The Dotwatchers’ Hero: Natalie Smith
Everyone who has ever entered an ultra-endurance race can attest that you learn a lot in your first event. And you mainly do that learning the hard way. That was certainly the case for Natalie, who battled through the punishing gradients and sweltering temperatures with an enthusiasm that only began to waver when she reached Wales.
The challenging climbs around Bala and Vrynwy finally broke her, as did the lack of any opportunities for resupply. Gorging herself in the Llanidloes Co-op car park, she called it a day and messaged to scratch. However, less than an hour later, she un-scratched and was cycling back to the route, much to the dotwatchers’ delight.
She did eventually bow out in Abergavenny a couple of days later, but only after she had conquered all but one of the Welsh climbs on the course, including all of the Cambrian Mountains and Brecon Beacons. Chapeau!
(An honourable mention should go to Cat Karalis, who scratched in Llanidloes as well. When she sent photos of her gruesome blisters, I was truly amazed she had pressed on so far.)
The Entertainer: David Mixell
This was also David’s first race – not that you would have known it. From the outset, he rode with practically no breaks and sleeping by the roadside every night. From the Welsh borders all the way to Salisbury, he and Andrew were locked in head-to-head race that seemed destined to go right to the wire.
Andrew attacked in the night around Exmoor, but David had clawed it back during the following night and was a few hours ahead of Andrew (although riding on no sleep) when his ride finally came to an end just north of Salisbury.
A bad Di2 failure meant that he went from looking like the favourite for the win to scratching within a couple of hours. It was a bitterly disappointing end to an incredible ride, but he took it with now-characteristic class.
The Winner: Andrew Phillips
Finally, I want to recognise our worthy winner. The fact that Andrew was the only finisher might make you assume that it was not a particularly competitive finishing time. But you would be very wrong. He finished in just over six and a half days, meaning he averaged around 370 km a day on this punishing route. When you consider that there were long stretches – such as the Lakes and Exmoor – where it was a challenge to average above 20kmph, that is incredibly impressive.
He has since told me that the route is “too hard” and “the most difficult race he has ever competed in”. Bearing this in mind, I will make a few tweaks to the route, but it’s also just a reminder that the best British cycling is also the most brutal!