LIVE: The Perfidious Albion 2021

Live Updates (From 09:00 on Saturday 17th July)

The below will be updated throughout the race, at least once a day. If you have photos to share with us, please email them to hello@zolla.cc.


20:30 Saturday, 24th July 2021 – FINAL UPDATE

Natalie’s Lazarus moment deep in the Cambrian Mountains was probably my favourite part of this entire race. But sadly, although the dotwatchers were dreaming of her riding onwards into second place at the finish, the weather had other ideas.

After days of being baked under the summer sun, Natalie found herself being deluged by storm showers this morning. She made it through the Brecon Beacons, but called it a day in Abergavenny, where an enormous fry-up and lift home were waiting for her.

Despite not making the finish, she still put in an incredible effort, overcoming some of the toughest parts of the route.

With her scratch, The Perfidious Albion has officially come to an end. Ten riders departed from Lockerbie and only one made it to the finish in the Cotswolds. Having designed this devilish route, I don’t feel any pride in this high scratch rate. Every rider emptied the tank trying to make it to the finish, and with a little more luck most of them would have.

This race was initially a last-minute idea to fill a gap in the calendar. But it has been so enjoyable to follow and organise that it will be back next year. For updates, sign up to the mailing list here.

In the meantime, I’m hoping to run The Less Perfidious Albion – a shorter version of the original route – in September if enough people sign up. You can find more info and sign up here.

Finally, thank you to all the riders who took part and to all the dotwatchers who cheered them on. Congratulations again to Andrew and thanks for still allowing me to be your best man after putting you through that hell…

Rob


23:50 Friday, 23rd July 2021

This morning began with a real sense of anticipation for what might unfold at the front of the race, with a sleep-deprived David having a slender lead over a better-rested Andrew. After several days of them being locked together, we were all expecting a fascinating final 400 kilometres.

David’s luck ran out completely today

Sadly, this race’s Di2 curse struck again shortly after the New Forest and tore up the script. David lost all his gears and, despite frantic phone calls and a couple of diversions to bike shops, was unable to resurrect them. Meanwhile, Andrew had closed the gap and sailed past. David had gone from looking like the favourite for the win to having to scratch in a matter of hours – such is the nature of these events.

It was a great ride from David, in his first-ever ultra-endurance race. Andrew has a number of decent finishes under his belt, so it was impressive to see David push him all the way. We will never know what might have happened if he hadn’t had that mechanical…

Instead, the burden fell on Andrew to press on without the buzz of a chase to fuel him onwards. He patiently ticked off the kilometres, tackling a succession of Cotswold valleys as the route cruelly meandered in its final section. But, eventually, he rolled into the Wild Carrot at around 21:20.

He was surprisingly relaxed despite 21 hours of riding since his last rest, finishing in an impressive time of six days, 12 hours and 20 minutes. Given the hot conditions and challenging gradients, this is brutally fast.

But today was not all about Andrew! Further back, Pete decided to trade in an almost certain second place for a shower and a lie-down. After recovering from the heat in Wales to put in some really strong rides, he finally decided to call it a day where the route passed his front door. Whilst it was a shame to not have him finish, he came in worrying that his knee wouldn’t last the first day, so this can be seen as huge victory for him.

Pete’s scratch meant the Natalie was the only rider still going by the time Andrew had finished. After her gutsy un-scratching from yesterday, she is a dotwatcher favourite and she continued on strongly today. Not wanting to ever run out of food again, she has been riding with her bags rammed with supplies. Despite this, she ticked off the Elan and Brianne valleys today, making her way all the way to the foot of Llangynidr Mountain in the Brecon Beacons.

Natalie is still saying she will likely end when the route passes through the Cotswolds the first time, but she still has time to complete the whole loop before the end of next week. Whatever she decides, from tomorrow onwards, this live blog and the GPS tracking are 100% focussed on her!

Natalie at CP3


21:45 Thursday, 22nd July 2021

Yesterday, I wondered when we would see an attack from one of the front two, and overnight I got my answer. As David slept in Lynmouth, Andrew cut short his sleep and attacked in the middle of the night. By the time David was awake and moving, the gap was at about two hours. Throughout the day it has stayed around that, which is a credit to both riders, given the gruelling terrain.

After sunset last night, they both tackled Dunkery Beacon followed by Porlock Hill. Then today began with Chalacombe before they headed south towards Dartmoor. The route through Dartmoor took on Haytor from two sides and now they are battling their way up and down the relentless Devon coastline.

As I write this, it looks like Andrew may finally have shown some weakness. He has been stationary for two hours now, with his tracker last pinging outside a farmshop cafe. David has just passed him, but with over 400 kilometres still remaining, there is plenty of riding still to go for both of them.

We can now begin to predict a finish time and it looks like late tomorrow evening is most likely. Whilst the route does cruelly tease them with a final 200km loop around the Cotswolds, it’s also worth bearing mind that the riding gets substantially easier after the New Forest. So if they’re not too broken, we should see them pick up speed a little

In the middle of the pack, our lone wolf, Peter Naylor, has put in absolutely storming ride today. After being on the verge of quitting last night, he has flown through the Breacon Beacon and the Black Mountains – including my sadistic gravel descent – and is now fast closing in on the climb up into the Cotswolds. It’s an incredible effort after such a tough day yesterday.

But, as with almost every day this week, the real drama has been at the rear of the race. Cat and Natalie were pretty broken by Bwlch y Groes last night, and a lack of resupply points on the route meant that they limped into Llanidloes feeling very hungry and tired. 

After eating an obscene amount of food on the floor outside the Co-op, they each sent a message to say this was the end of the road for them and that they were scratching.

However, just an hour later, Natalie messaged to ask if she could un-scratch. The food had revitalised her and she realised that wasn’t beaten yet. Turning around halfway to the train station, she pedalled back on to the route and is going to continue. Judging by the comments on Instagram from Dotwatchers, this refusal to give up has gained her a lot of respect and so it should do.

As for Cat, her voice note saying she was scratching was more like an Oscar acceptance speech, so it’s fair to say that she has not lost her sense of humour. With better gearing and more luck, she could definitely have made it to the finish. And I don’t know many riders who would have pedalled on for several days with those horrific blisters (see pic below) on their feet!

Finally, if anyone is on the last part of the route tomorrow, please get out and cheer on Andrew and David if you have a free few minutes. They’re suffering like hell and it has been a remarkable ride by both, regardless of who finishes first.

(Edit: I forgot to add that sadly Leighn will not be restarting, which was always likely. Fortunately, he is not seriously hurt, but it has taken him a few days to recover and he now doesn’t have time to make the finish. I hope he will have another crack at some point.)


22:00 Wednesday, 21st July 2021

It’s now five days since the riders set off from Lockerbie and those have been five very long, hot days for all of them. Overnight, Andrew and David slept at slightly different locations but yet again began the day only a few minutes apart. I tracked down both close to Coln St Aldwyn in the Cotswolds and David confessed that he had slept until the sound Andrew’s freehub buzzing past woke him up.

Impressively, that means it is now four nights of bivvying for David, whilst Andrew has found hotels on the three nights that he has slept – showing they have very different sleep tactics despite their similar pace. However, David did confess that he had been struggling this morning. He gave himself five minutes off the bike to have a wash, put on some fresh chammy cream and brush his teeth. These little things helped to refresh him and gave him the lift he needed to press on.

Andrew was also beginning to suffer from saddle sores after some very hot days in the saddle but seemed to be slightly better rested. He was also buoyed by the fact that he was into the final 1,000 kilometres, which undoubtedly felt a lot shorter after a relatively fast stretch since the Welsh border.

Throughout the day Andrew and David have pressed on at a similar pace, although a small gap appeared after Bath, where David was forced to stop to charge his Di2. Currently, they’re climbing Dunkery Beacon with Porlock Hill to follow shortly after. At some point, one of them will surely have to skip sleeping entirely and attack. But the question is, when to do that?

The rest of the pack have all been tackling the hardest section of Wales, which begins just after Bala and last all the way until Llandovery. Pete made good progress early on and managed to make it to CP3 (Lake Brianne) by the afternoon. But after eight hours without shade in such a remote area, he succumbed to the heat and has holed up in a hotel in Llandovery to recover.

Pete enjoying the riding before the heat picked up

Natalie and Cat have also been struggling, as the hot temperatures make the steep climbs such as Bwlch y Groes particularly challenging. Both have been walking a lot and this has undoubtedly contributed to Cat’s horrific blisters, which are the worst I’ve ever seen from cycling shoes. However, both remain on target to finish and there is a significant chunk of easier riding once they’re through Wales. Hopefully, the expected cooler weather will help them if they can keep pushing onwards.


20:30 Tuesday, 20th July 2021

Another day and another scratch, unfortunately. Only an hour after I published last night’s update, Colin called to tell me that his Di2 had completely failed, leaving him in one of his highest gears in a remote area close to Lake Vrynwy. Just to get phone signal, he had to hike up a small hill, leaving his bike at the bottom!

It meant that our front three became a front two overnight. But that wasn’t the only change. As Andrew slept in Rhayader, David passed him and pressed on. Although he stopped for a few hours to sleep in the Elan Valley, he began the day with a very slender lead on Andrew.

By mid-morning, they had both passed through CP3 at Lake Brianne and were within 20 minutes of one another. I caught up with them each on the stunning rollercoaster road that sweeps along the lake’s edge.

Both seemed surprisingly fresh and were riding at a good pace. David was enjoying the landscape and seemed unaffected by yet another night of bivvy sleep. Andrew was feeling rejuvenated after being plagued by Achilles pain yesterday. Some changes to his cleats and a slightly longer sleep in a hotel had apparently completely fixed him, so he was riding far more comfortably now.

Within a few hours, Andrew had caught David and they seem to have been almost within sight of each other since. They have just summited Gospel Pass and should now be rewarded with a good chunk of rolling riding as they cross back into England, having ticked over the halfway mark this afternoon as well.

Our midpack of one, Pete Naylor, is soldiering on solo. He came into the race not knowing if his knee would survive the first day, so it’s already a success for him. He’s just come over Bwlch Y Groes and is now heading towards the Elan Valley and then Lake Brianne – some of the remotest parts of the route.

Lake Vrynwy – taken by Pete this evening

Farther back, Natalie and Cat have been struggling with the heat and attritional nature of the route. Natalie wisely chose to recover in a hotel in Blackburn last night and has made much faster progress since then. The highlight of her day today was being tracked down by a dotwatcher, which apparently “made her feel like a celebrity”!

Cat had been having problems with one of her cleats being twisted, which was causing her knee pain, but apparently managed to get that fixed at a bike shop. She messaged to say she was really struggling today. But after only three hours’ sleep next to a road last night, that is hardly a surprise. A colossal amount of food and a cat nap (pun intended) seems to have fixed that.

Stopped time for the riders. You can see David’s three short bivvy sleeps versus Andrew’s two longer hotel sleeps

After yoyoing past each other all day, Cat and Natalie now appear to be riding within sight of each other. But with many steep Welsh climbs approaching, that is unlikely to last.

(I’m now back in the Cotswolds and will be intercepting the riders as they pass through, so the photos and updates may change slightly from now on. But four days of chasing by train and bike was enough for me!)


21:00 Monday, 19th July 2021

The third day of riding brought yet more heat. Both literally as riders cooked on every climb and also metaphorically as the gap between the front three narrowed.

Overnight, Colin had closed in on David, who had, in turn, closed in on Andrew. The latter’s lead remains a healthy one, but it is nowhere near as large as it was after his initial attack on the first night. It just goes to show that races like this are rarely decided in the first few days.

Outside of Wrexham, I caught up with both David and Colin, who were separated by just 15 minutes. David was in good spirits and actually enjoying the riding, having apparently had a very good sleep on a bench by the road, despite being disturbed by concerned policemen!

Colin was more focused and clearly still frustrated at the time he had lost yesterday morning. Because of that lost time, he said he had pushed on for an hour longer in the night than he had intended to try to claw some of it back. Whilst that may have come at a cost, he must have been buoyed by having David in his sights again. Sadly, that wasn’t to last as a wrong turn in the afternoon saw him lose almost an hour, letting David slip away again.

In the middle of the pack, Pete came over Hardknott during the morning, followed by James early in the afternoon. For a while, it seemed as if James was resurgent after battling heat exhaustion yesterday. Unfortunately, he was soon struggling to keep food down again in the relentless heat and had to call it quits in the evening.

James Fox

The rearguard of Cat and Natalie continue to progress at their steady pace, with both of them coming over Hardknott in the afternoon. Cat is no longer providing the rider group with updates on her food purchases, but she has undoubtedly been distracted by her mechanical issues.

Apparently, her front derailleur no longer works, she can’t shift into her lowest rear sprocket and one of her cleats is so twisted that she’s no longer trying to clip in. Despite this, her focus remains on renaming the event, with her latest suggestion being “Every Hill in England: A Walking Competition”.

As night falls on day three, the field is well and truly spread. But with the front three closing in on CP3, will any of them push on to reach it before they rest? Or will they all prioritise recovery after another tough day?


23:00 Sunday, 18th July 2021

What a day. Sorry for the late update again, but I was chasing dots by bike and train for 15 hours!

Overnight, we saw reshuffle of the pack, with Colin Smith, David Mixell and Andrew Phillips all reaching Great Dun Fell, checkpoint one, within about half an hour of each other. However, David chose to sleep briefly and Colin encountered issues with his Di2, which meant that Andrew put a big chunk of distance into them as he rode through the night without stopping. Incredibly, he was already pinging at checkpoint two, Hardknott Pass, by late morning.

Behind the front three, things began to really splinter as punctures, lack of food and various injuries disrupted riders’ progress. Most alarmingly, Leighn’s ride was put on hold when he was clipped by a wing mirror not far before Keswick. He seems to have avoided any serious injury, but his knee is extremely sore, so he is resting up at his parents’ house before he makes a decision on whether to continue.

Peter Naylor, James Fox and Ed Hawkins all tackled Great Dun Fell – a truly breathtaking climb under clear blue skies – during the morning. But sadly Ed had to scratch not long afterwards when an old knee injury flared up. He was joined on the scratch list by Michael Wykes, who had been flying along and seemed in good spirits, but real life rudely interrupted his ride. We hope both will be back in the future.

In the afternoon, it was the turn of Cat Karalis and Natalie Smith to take on Great Dun Fell. Despite both having to walk large stretches, they remained in good spirits and were focused on the challenge in front of them. Both have already had a very interesting time, with Cat seemingly having eaten every possible food type available to her and Natalie choosing to sleep in a cemetery last night!

As the riders enter their second night, many are choosing to bed down in the Lake District, whose steep passes represent a formidable challenge for already tired legs. But towards the front, Colin and David are onto the Forest of Bowland, closing in on a sleeping Andrew (he only slept 15 minutes in the first 700km). It will be interesting to see if they sleep and for how long for.


23:30 Saturday, 17th July 2021

At 09:00, the riders rolled out from the Somerton House Hotel car park under clear blue skies. With such beautiful conditions and a tailwind to help them on their way, everyone made a fast start as they raced north for a loop of the Scottish Borders. It was clear almost immediately that we definitely have a race on our hands.

Colin Smith set the early pace and has held on to his lead until the time of writing, stopping very little and riding at an impressive speed over the rolling terrain. Despite his fast progress, he seemed in good spirits and appeared to be riding within his limits when I spotted him at kilometres 70 and 140. Behind him, there was a little more movement, with Leighn Csontos Chambers and Michael Wykes pressing hard early on. But as the heat increased throughout the day, Andrew Philips and David Mixell seemed to gain back some lost ground.

In fact, whilst the riders were enjoying the sunny weather in the morning, it was beginning to take its toll by the afternoon. Several riders had to detour off the route to get water and it appears that those carrying water purification options have made a smart choice, even though the route is mainly on road.

Towards the other end of the pack, Natalie Smith and Cat Karalis have been riding a metronomic pace all day, leapfrogging each other at different intervals. Cat had already had a puncture by the time she was spotted at kilometre 70 and she was clearly feeling the heat by the afternoon, judging by her NSFW feedback on the temperature that she texted the group!

The faster riders have now tackled the first stretch of gravel on the route, south of Kielder, but the real challenge awaits in the form of Great Dun Fell. This towering 600-metre climb is an out-and-back part of the route, making it particularly tortuous on the riders. It will be interesting to see who is willing to tackle it in the night, with the hazards of closed gates and sleeping sheep something that the riders have been warned about several times.


20:00 Friday, 16th July 2021

Riders began to roll into a sunny Lockerbie yesterday evening and continued in a steady trickle throughout today. I headed out with Andrew for a quick 30-kilometre leg stretch and we were rewarded by some beautiful Borders riding. None of the first part of the route should be too punishing, but it gets considerably more challenging once the riders head back into England.

The forecast continues to look glorious, so conversation amongst riders focussed more on finding water and what to leave behind, rather than typical British worrying about extra layers. The consensus seemed to be that it is perfect bivvying conditions.

Although it’s a small field of riders, there is a good variety of experience. Alongside some riders who have tackled well-known races across Europe, we have some who are taking on their first big event. Very little was given away regarding strategies, so it will be interesting to see how things unfold tomorrow.

Tune in from 09:00 tomorrow morning to watch the dots begin to bounce.


19:00 Tuesday, 13th July 2021

Welcome to our live update page! In the absence of Dotwatcher coverage, I will be trying to keep this page updated throughout the 11 days of riding as events unfold. Ideally, I’d like to do a morning and evening update, but I suspect that may be a challenge. In which case, I will try to update at least every evening.

Stay tuned for further updates, with everything kicking off at 09:00 this Saturday. At the moment, the weather looks brilliant and the expected heatwave seems to be on its way. The hot conditions will no doubt bring challenges, but it should make for faster conditions all around.

To see who is taking part, check out the rider list.


Rob Gardiner

After several long cross-continental tours in my early 20s, I settled down into the world of work. I then began to foolishly describe myself as “retired” from cycling. How wrong I was.In 2017, I discovered ultra-endurance riding and my retirement came to an abrupt end. I’ve since broken a world record, competed in several races and discovered the delights of extreme sleep deprivation.

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