Sunday 22 July 2012

IRONMAN UK - Bolton 2012 - Cycle Course

IRONMAN UK Bolton - 2.4 mile swim / 112 mile bike / 26.2 mile run

I decided to get up and out quite early on what turned out to be quite a nice summer's day in what was otherwise one of the wettest summers on record.  I'd been out and watched the masochistic athletes cycle their way around the West Pennine Moors (several times) the year before, and fancied going and having a look at them torture themselves again, armed with my new camera.  Apparently the event was returning to Bolton for the 4th year, and had qualifying slots for the 2012 World Championships in Kona Hawaii available.  The organisers said, "IRONMAN UK continues to offer a world class event, in the heart of the beautiful North West Countryside", and I wouldn't argue with that.  Compared to some of the places you might be fortunate enough to cycle, it's probably not the most challenging, nor the most picturesque, but it's pretty good.  Considering that it's a stones throw away from some of the North West's main towns and cities, such as Bolton, Blackburn, Manchester and Preston, the area provides a very pleasant backdrop for any cycling endeavours and affords some pretty good views of the entire North West of England on a clear day.

My First Sight of the Competitors on Moss Lane near Wheelton

I train in the area fairly regularly and it's pretty tough going.  It's really humbling to watch all the competitors cover the 112 mile bike course, including the climbs I often ride, several times (they do three laps of a circuit)  knowing that they've been up from the crack of dawn, have done a long outdoor swim and will follow the bike ride with a marathon run.  Incredible!  I have threatened to have a go, but I'm too soft, and pretty useless at swimming and running.  If it was just the cycling, I'd get round, but otherwise I'm not so sure.

A String of Riders Climbing Towards Wheelton from the Hoghton Arms

The field is quite varied.  There seems to be a good number of very experienced and serious competitors, but there are also many that appear to be taking on the challenge for the first time and attempting to raise money for charity in the process.  I was even more humbled when I was passed by athletes that were missing various limbs.  Doing an event like this when you've got all your body parts in full working order is one thing, but it  must be even more challenging when you are missing arms or legs.  

Not Everybody Bicycles the Bike Leg! Chapeau!
The riders follow the bike course route, after a leg from their swim in Pennington Flash, which travels in an anticlockwise direction around the west side of the West Pennine Moors.  The course passes through Adlington, Rivington, Belmont, Abbey Village, Wheelton, Euxton, Eccleston, Heskin Green and Heath Charnock on it's way and the riders complete three laps.  I normally take several vantage points to view the race and do about half a lap of the course in a clockwise direction (opposite way to the Triathletes).  There are quite a few good spots, for taking photos, where you can see more of the riders as they are naturally slowed when climbing the hills.  I found decent places in Wheelton (as the riders climbed from the Hoghton Arms), Abbey Village, Belmont and finally Buckshaw Village (near Euxton).

A Group of Riders Cycling out of Abbey Village

Powering up the Hill from Abbey Village
Probably one of the best points to see the competitors, on the bike leg, is in the village of Belmont.  There's a good atmosphere here.  There was a reasonably large crowd and all the riders got plenty of cheers and other forms of encouragement.  There is a really good vibe and everybody is in extremely good spirits.  I'd defy anybody to come away from watching the race without have a great big smile on their face.

A Crowd of Spectators at the Black Dog in Belmont
Competitors Ride Through the Onlookers Outside the Black Dog
You just need to be a bit wary of the traffic, as one of the lanes of the Bolton Road (A675) is still open to motor vehicles, so they can be passing behind you if you're on the east side of the road.  Otherwise, there are plenty of good spots to take in the race and (if you're not driving there), you could maybe have a few pints at the Black Dog Inn on the corner, where the athletes get onto the Bolton Road towards Hoghton after descending from the climb after Rivington.

Climbing Out of Belmont - The Bike Course is Pretty Undulating
The Competitors get Plenty of Encouragement from the Onlookers
I'm honestly not sure whether you can successfully go and watch the race on the top of the highest climb, on Rivington Road passing Winter Hill, as the way from Belmont appeared to be blocked by the Marshals.  Maybe if you get there early, you could make your way up from the Rivington side?

Spectators line the Road in Belmont
Even Watching Gets Too Tiring for Some Spectators!
Later, I was going to have a go at the bike course to capture the course data on my Garmin 200 cycling computer, but it looks like somebody had already done this and saved me the job. 

The course itself looks like this, which was taken from a PDF of the OFFICIAL 2012 RACE PROGRAMME.

Bolton Ironman - 22-07-2012 - Bike Course
As the riders will be on their bikes for many hours, and will pass a specific point on the circuit three times, it's  possible to have a break and go away and do other things for a while and still get back to see the racing.  I popped home for a bit and then went off to Buckshaw Village to have one last look at the riders and take a few more photos.  You get a few comments whilst taking pictures, although I think that it was maybe because one or two of the competitors thought I was an official photographer or something.  Some of the more serious competitors keep their heads down and power by, but some of the charity riders give you a big smile, a wave or even compose themselves enough to strike a pose. 

A Real "Ironman" Poses for me in Buckshaw Village

A Group of Competitors Passing Through Buckshaw Village
OK, I'm biased and only made time to go and see the bike leg, but I'm sure the Swimming and Running are  equally worthwhile watching.  All in all a great day out in my local area and a spectacle that's free to watch anywhere on the route.  If I don't summon up the bottle to have a go myself in the future, I'll certainly be back again in 2013 as a spectator.

I finished the day with hundreds of images of the cycling part of the race, but unfortunately I'm not sure that any of the competitors will have ever seen them.  There not the greatest, I'm no photographer, but there are quite a few decent shots.  After I'd weeded out the blurred ones, and my efforts where the shutter lag meant I'd completely missed the subject, I posted the rest up on Google+

The full set can be seen in my IRONMAN UK - Bolton - 22 July 2012 gallery >

Bolton, England | Sunday, 22 July 2012

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