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All Points North for Lucas

Last month Lucas Cortini took on an epic ride across Northern England and completed his first Ultra Race. He also added a double ascent of Hardknott and Wrynose Pass on the route, because… why not? Find out how he got on in the 2023 edition of All Points North.

All Points North is a race across 10 checkpoints in the north of England. The race is entirely self-supported, and each rider is required to plan their own route; little did I know this would be one of the main challenges for me. 

Leading up to the race, I planned a route with only 990km (usually routes have more than 1,000km). However, the route I had planned included some hiking trails, which I came to find out on the day before the event it wasn’t allowed. At the last minute, I changed the route, overlooking many sections and including Hardknott and Wrynose Pass twice in the route (silly me!). The day finally came, I packed the bike and headed to Sheffield to the starting point. 

Arriving at “A Different Gear”, the bike shop responsible for organising the event, I did my bike check and rested for a couple of hours before the 7.30pm final briefing. Soon after at 8pm we set off.

The start was chaos but also thrilling! 80 riders sprinting one in each direction, some turning right while others turning left, a unique experience. 3km into the race the climbing started, and I realised this would be a very hilly ride! Every now and then, I crossed paths with other riders (in the beginning, I was taking pictures, but that did not last long).

The first 50 kilometres were very frustrating as I passed a few riders that would later show up in front of me due to my horrible routing! I could not believe as climbs and more climbs would come up in my way. Around 11pm, I reached the first checkpoint at 77km rode and 1,500 metres climbed đź’€ (definitely a tough start to an ultra race).

Until the second checkpoint majority of the riders seemed to have gone in a similar direction, as I could see a few flashing lights along the darkness. At the second checkpoint, I had a quick chat with a few riders riding a very nice custom tandem bike. 

Soon after, in the direction of the third checkpoint, I found myself in trouble when most riders decided to turn right, whilst I decided to turn left, heading to different checkpoints (that decision added c. 1,500 metres of elevation to my journey). The next 80km passing by the third checkpoint were very lonely, not seeing anyone until the morning. 

The sun came out, and at around 9am, I found myself near the Lake District. Excited to be close to the fourth checkpoint, I entered a small road with signs saying, “extremely careful” and “very steep”. Immediately after the signs, my Garmin started flashing, and the climbing pro view came up displaying 300m of elevation in the next 3km (I was on Wrynose pass and didn’t know). A nice descent followed the steep climb, where I found many riders coming in the opposite direction and suffering to go over the climb. After 2kms, deja vu, I was climbing the back of Hardknott (have I mentioned it was a hilly section?). 

A few moments later it clicked, I had about 30km to the fourth checkpoint and another 30km back to the same road. However, this time going over Hardknott pass and climbing the back of Wrynose. It was a struggle to climb one of the UK’s toughest climbs whilst dealing with traffic on a fully loaded bike. But it was climbing the back of Wrynose to the point I decided it wasn’t worth over the long run to keep cycling the +25% sections, and for the first time in my cycling experience, I pushed the bike up the final few meters. At that time, I looked at my distance and was shocked by the elevation I had done, 343km with 6,449 metres of elevation…

Happy to complete the hilliest part of the ride, I headed to the fifth checkpoint. Arriving there, I saw Howard, one of the rookies enjoying the beautiful sunshine and displaying the mood at the time.

I carried on to the sixth checkpoint. Just before arriving there, I faced a 6km 2% climb on a headwind that felt like an eternity! Arriving at the checkpoint and almost half of the ride, I checked my progress 496km and 8,785 metres climbed.

While passing by a small village called Easton a few kilometres later, I saw a pub. I looked at the clock, and it was 8pm, 24 hours after the race started, so I decided to eat and stock up for the night shift. This was the perfect spot for my 3 hour mandatory rest stop. In the town centre plaza, I used the remaining sunshine to keep me warm whilst I had my 1.5 hour nap.

Fully rested at about 11pm, I headed to the ride’s second half. Expecting a cold night/morning ahead of me, I layered up with everything I had. Near the seventh checkpoint, Norham Castle, the mist and cold were brutal (all my layers were not enough), so I decided to jump on an A-road to keep the pace up, hoping to warm up a bit.

Arriving at the castle, 250km separated me from the next checkpoint. Some hours later, when the sun was out and temperatures were a little higher, I decided to lay on a field (wrapped in an emergency blanket) for a quick 15 minutes power nap. Feeling refreshed, I carried on! 

11 hours later, crossing Newcastle and North York moors national park, I arrived at Helmsley, the eighth checkpoint on my route. At this point, my knee started to hurt and swollen. Only two checkpoints separated me to the end, so I convinced myself nothing was stopping me at that point. 

Filey, the next checkpoint, which was 46km on a direct headwind, was probably one of the most challenging sections of the whole ride. After almost 2 hours of slow progress, I arrived there. As expected, the way back from Filey to Easingwold (final checkpoint) was the nicest and flattest section, with a beautiful tailwind leading me to an average of 31km/h.

Finally, I was on the last 100km, a straight shot to Sheffield. I realised then I was on a time crunch for the 52hours cut-off time. If I arrived after the 52hours mark, I would receive 3hours penalty as I only had 1 3hours mandatory rest stop. Time trialling my way back to Sheffield and making good progress, I felt confident I could make it, but it would be very tight! As I arrived in Sheffield, the most frustrating thing happened, my Garmin crashed. I got lost and stopped to sort out my Garmin, which cost me 10 minutes, and I finished the race in 52.08hours 

(55.08 including the 3hours penalty).   

Extremally happy to finish my first ultra-race in 4th place and have a brilliant 2 days-ish on the bike. If you are interested to check out my ride on Strava or follow me on Instagram please do so! Thank you to all “A Different Gear” staff for the brilliant event and KWCC friends that kept me motivated during the ride by sending encouraging messages!

Looking forward to the next adventure.