“YOU’VE got metronomic legs.”

After 36 miles and heading towards l,000 feet of climbing it was just what I needed to hear. Half-way through my planned 75-mile trek through Weardale and Cumbria, my enthusiasm was beginning to wane.

I’d been told the Winking Sheep Sportive was not for the faint-hearted and had prepared accordingly. But the hills had begun to take their toll and with the backs of my knees trying to tell my brain that they were on their way out I was worried I’d end up riding the broom wagon.

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It was then that my admirer intervened.

“You ride at such a steady, consistent pace, I’ve been able to draft you on several climbs,” she said.

It was just the pat on the back I needed, two-and-a-half hours in.

I had set off from St John’s Chapel in good heart.

“Have a good ride and be nice to our residents,” I was told, wondering just what it was they thought I might do to upset them.

I had deliberately waited til there was just a handful of others. Used to cycling on my own, I wanted to set my own pace and not be beholden to others or they me.

Through Ireshopeburn and Wearhead, the terrain is steady away, a gentle introduction with little suggestion of what is to come.

In the direction of Nenthead, the lines of terraced housing gradually thin, until you’d need a very good set of lungs to chat with your neighbour.

The first real ascent comes shortly after Kilhope Mine, small gear a must, I rounded the right-hander to find a little sting in the tail. After a quick catch of the breath, I head on, the road still rising.

There’s a sign for Cumbria and a little light relief as I drop down into Nenthead.

A few miles further and it’s Alston and a different challenge – cobbles. Negotiating the town centre with care, I’m close to the first feed stop, but not before a series of short, sharp hills.

A cup of tea at Garrigill, a word with the lady handling the tea pot and a borrow of a screwdriver from a fellow rider to tighten my cleats and I’m off again.

Immediately you’re into a chest-burning climb. I refuse to stop, finding a rhythm, I ride head down, avoiding looking at the summit. “Well done love, you’re doing great,” says one of the many marshals who have given up their time as I crest the brow, turn right and head into some of the most spectacular country I have ever ridden in.

We are almost in the Gods, the clouds seem within touching distance. The next ten or 15 miles are not easy, but there’s a break from the hills.

At a rest stop back in civilisation at Middleton-in-Teesdale, I ask about the remainder of the ride. Surely, we are over the worst? Apparently not.

I need to come to a compromise with my legs – I’ll stop after 55 miles. It may be called The Lamb, but it takes in 75 per cent of the longer courses and there are still three or four sweat-inducing climbs between there and the finish.

Knowing the end is in sight – metaphorically if not yet literally – I begin to feel a sense of pride as I pass through Stanhope and Eastgate.

I get a cheer as I hit the home stretch and a round of applause as I cross the finish a little later. Clutching a beer for dear life, I’m asked if I’ll be back. ‘’With these metronomic legs? Definitely.’