Organiser Report – Autumn Skylark

Well, the dust (yes dust!) has settled on the 2014 Autumn Skylark’s three routes and the last of the post event tidying up is done. Time for a quick organiser’s reflection on the day.

First of all, many thanks go to the riders who came along and backed the first running of this event. It was a pleasure to meet each and every one of you and, as with the Spring Skylark, we were blow away by your amazing determination and grit in the face of another tough route. You were also unfailingly friendly and positive upon your return to the event HQ and made the day thoroughly enjoyable for all involved in the organising and running of the event.

We’d also like to thank the volunteers who came along to help man the start/finish and the feed stations on the routes. Without you, there simply would not have been an event.

Our day began sometime just after 4am when we did a quick lap of the routes to check all the markers were still in place. A small panic ensued when we found a road had been closed overnight in Sowerby Bridge, but it soon became apparent that the closure actually didn’t affect cyclist and we duly marked this section of route open and briefed as many of you as possible on the “closure” at the start.

Our friends at Marsden Golf Club kept up supplied with coffee as we greeted the first riders in the chilly grey early light. We have a philosophy of allowing riders to start when they are ready and by 8am the first of you were on the road, heading over into Lancashire and the first loop through the hills above Uppermill and then onto the Isle of Skye (A635) climb and then Holme Moss.

The strong winds that made our Spring event so tough were nowhere to be seen and soon the temperatures were rising as the sun broke through.

For the organisers, Sportives are a strange experience. There’s a couple of days of manic activity as you mark out the routes and set up the event HQ. Then, suddenly, sometime on the morning of the event all goes quiet as the last rider leaves.

However, this time, things didn’t go entirely quiet as we heard from one of our feed stations that there seemed to be another cycling event sharing some of our route and that it was not only using very similar signs to the Autumn Skylark, but actually going in the opposite direction. Not ehat you want to hear!

We had no alternative but to send out a car to try to sort out if this was going to cause navigational problems. To cut a long story short, we discovered the local Lions group we running a charity Triathlon. The clash of routes was genuine, so we set about individually marking all our course markers with our event name and writing “Triathlon” on their markers.

We also liaised with their course marshals and soon found that they would be done and dusted before most of the Skylark riders reached the affected roads. They also promised a speedy removal of their signs. Pre-event, we’d searched diligently for clashes, but this Triathlon had slipped in under the radar and they were equally ignorant of our event.

Happily, we were also able to brief the volunteers on feed 2 to let riders know about the clash and to be careful to follow sings for Skylark and ignore the Triathlon ones. We didn’t hear of anyone going off route as a result of the sign clash, so hopefully our actions worked.

It was then back to event HQ, where we began to hear reports of a crash involving a Skylark rider close to the village of Stainland. Although we provide First Aiders, the job of covering well over 100km of roads is a tricky one. We generally station them at event HQ to deal with minor issues like bumps and scrapes and to keep an eye on returning riders who might be exhausted, dehydrated or cold. In reality, any major issues have to be handled by the emergency services as only they have the equipment and resources to get to a rider quickly and so it proved in this case.

The affected rider’s injuries necessitated a trip to A & E in an ambulance. Happily, he was accompanied on the ride by a friend, who travelled with him (and their bikes) to the hospital. We also very quickly received a visit back at HQ by the wives of the two riders, who were able to reassure us that the rider’s condition wasn’t too serious – a suspected broken collarbone and that all was in hand in terms of getting cars and bikes back home.

We later spoke to the rider, who is now making a good recovery from what appears to be a badly separated shoulder. He also hit his head during the crash – the result of hitting a “rumble-strip” – and was quick to point out that his helmet probably saved him from far more serious injuries. To his credit, he also said he’ll be back to tackle the event next year, so we’ve offered him a free place on the basis that he didn’t really get value for money this time round! As an organiser, the safety of your riders is your first and last though throughout the event. Next to that, all else seems trivial.

By lunchtime, riders on the shorter 50km route were returning and a steady trickle of riders followed late into the afternoon. We popped up the road to find the final stragglers and were able to tick of the last returnee at just after 5.30pm.

At the finish all the post-ride gossip seemed to surround the action on the wickedly steep Marsden Lane (also known as Kettle Lane). We know this hill well and have shared your pain on it on numerous training runs. Those who got up it without dismounting were probably in the minority. We’d tried to warn you about the hill in one of our pre-event videos……but video never really does justice to the steepness of a road, does it?

The rest of the route seemed to go down well, though the general feeling was that it was harder and that there was probably more climbing than expected. We’re always sceptical about the accuracy and consistency of GPS devices and there was a big disparity in the volume of climbing claimed by different riders and indeed by ourselves from our own mapping. So, we again have to say how impressed we were with your determination to complete what was clearly a very tough event by UK Sportive standards.

By 7pm we’d shut down the event HQ, paid the caterers (thanks to them for the pie and peas, which once again seemed to hit the spot with hungry riders) and were back out on the roads taking in some of the 200 plus route markers, a job we completed the following morning.

And so we’ve put away the route markers, water barrels, jelly babies and fluorescent jackets for this year. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed running our first two Sportives. With a bit of luck we’ll be back offering more Skylarks in 2015. In the meantime, thanks again for coming along and supporting two brand-new events. There’s been lots of hard work involved in running them, but meeting the riders and listening to their enthusiasm for riding and their positive feedback on the roads and landscapes we love makes it all worthwhile. Safe cycling to you all until we meet again.

Phil Ingham & Wane Law

If you enjoyed the event, we’d love you to tell other people about it and to rate us on Cyclosport.org – a positive review will really help us to develop and grow the event. Many thanks.

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