Guardian writer Helen takes on top cycling pros

Dean Downing, Nick Cotton from La Squadra cycling club, Helen Josnton and Russ Downing and the post-ride pasta party
Dean Downing, Nick Cotton from La Squadra cycling club, Helen Josnton and Russ Downing and the post-ride pasta party

GUARDIAN features editor Helen Johnston took on the very best South Yorkshire cyclists on Sunday, and lived to tell the tale.

This is her account of the 50km Autumn Strines Challenge, where she rode alongside and received help from Thurcroft professionals Dean and Russ Downing, and Anston’s Team Sky star Ben Swift

Russ and Dean Downing get to work on Helen's bike

Russ and Dean Downing get to work on Helen's bike

HOW many champion cyclists does it take to fix a dodgy front brake?

Three as it turned out.

I was only about half an hour into the 50km Autumn Strines Challenge in the Peak District when I heard one of the front brake pads rubbing.

It was lodged against the wheel, and I couldn’t shift it.

Ben Swift taking a break at the feed station

Ben Swift taking a break at the feed station

I carried on to the main road where I was passed by several cyclists doing the longer 100km route. And then I heard a voice asking how I was getting on.

I turned to discover the Downing brothers, Dean and Russ, alongside me.

These are the top cycling professionals who grew up in Thurcroft and have won a string of titles between them.

They took a quick look at my brake and said I should be able to get to the feed station at Ladybower reservoir where they would fix it. As they were crouched over my bike at Ladybower, they were joined by Team Sky rider and Beijing Olympian Ben Swift, of Anston, who came over to lend a hand.

I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

The Peak District is the regular training ground of the Downings, who ride them two or three times a week when preparing for a major event.

Dean, 37, rides for Rapha Condor Sharp while Russ, 34, rides for Endura Racing and their racing pedigree stretches further than the views from the top of those Derbyshire hills.

The sportive I joined them on was organised by their Out Of The Saddle cycling club in Rotherham and La Squadra club in Sheffield.

Dean, a qualified coach, said: “We set up Out Of The Saddle in 2009 and we want to support young riders and encourage British talent. Eight of our members are under 14.”

My hybrid bike was too heavy for the steep Peak District climbs and, with everyone else on racing bikes, I was trailing behind all the way.

Towards the final stretch Russ offered some words of encouragement: “One more hill to get up and then it’s downhill all the way into Sheffield.”

Except the final climb was the never ending Froggatt Hill and this was where my legs ‘bonked’ – a cycling expression for when your legs turn to lead.

At that moment I vowed this would be my last ride.

I’m not sure how I got back, it’s all a blur, but the generous praise I got from Russ, Dean, and Nick Cotton from La Squadra put me on a high. As for never getting on a bike again... I’m now pricing up racers.

For club information go to www.outofthesaddle.org.uk and www.lasquadra.co.uk